The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem (in my view it is both — a memorial and a museum. And often times it is a bit confusing that the space insists on being both) has changed the text of the panel on Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War Two (Yad Vashem Press Release, July 1, 2012). That would hardly be reported by Reuters and others if it wasn’t for this:
Recently, following the recommendation of the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, the panel regarding the wartime activities of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII has been updated. This is an update to reflect research that has been done in the recent years, and presents a more complex picture than previously presented. Contrary to what has been reported, this change is not a result of Vatican pressure.
The press statement also provides the new text. Compare if you will with the “background on Pope Pius XII still on Yad Vashem’s website (here).
Although the Pope himself never spoke out against the atrocities being
committed, other members of the Church did get involved in rescue work.
I think this rather small news item serves as a good illustration of Yad Vashem’s dual function as both the national Israeli memorial (and thus – as any and every memorial in the world – a consolidation of the national narrative og the past and its present political implications*) and as one of the world’s leading Holocaust Museums and research institutions:
As a memorial site, the place must address the century old question of the Christian churches institutionalised antisemitism**. Especially in the face of the experience of the Jewish communities who suffered from it during the Shoah. And a Pope keeping silent is not small matter.
The Pope’s critics claim that his decision to abstain from condemning the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germany constitutes a moral failure: the lack of clear guidance left room for many to collaborate with Nazi Germany, reassured by the thought that this did not contradict the Church’s moral teachings. It also left the initiative to rescue Jews to individual clerics and laymen. His defenders maintain that this neutrality prevented harsher measures against the Vatican and the Church’s institutions throughout Europe, thus enabling a considerable number of secret rescue activities to take place at different levels of the Church. Moreover, they point to cases in which the Pontiff offered encouragement to activities in which Jews were rescued. Until all relevant material is available to scholars, this topic will remain open to further inquiry.
As a research institution, the place is naturally updating its exhibition to reflect the latest research. And the question of the action of different actors in the historical events is continuously being re-evaluated. And the main issue here is the fact that the Vatican is still not granting Yad Cashem full access to their archieves (the Vatican by the way is notoriously known for not opening up their libraries. The only thing – beyond the fact that Paris is the capital of France – that Dan Brown got right in the book ‘the Da Vinci code’).
I personally think it is very likely someone from the Church approached Yad Vashem and asked them to soften the language in the exhibition. That’s the world of politics (and the matter of the Holocaust is very much political). I do however not think the Yad Vashem ‘gave in’ or published a text not supported by research.
*) compare with the Vietnam War Memorial in the USA or the Verdun in France. Or any other national monument commemorating the past
**) the theological antisemitism embedded in certain strains of Christian philosophy and reflected in diffeferent Christian institutions practice is well documented. It’s off topic here, but see e.g. Jacob Katz on the issue. Obviously I am not saying Christians are inherently antisemitic.