Vatican Condemnation of Nazi War Crimes: Pope Pius XII's Denunciation of Wartime Atrocities


Donald H. J. Hermann


Faculty editor: Michael Ramsey
Publication: International Law Journal
Volume: 19
Issue: 1
Start Page: 1
Month: November
Year: 2017
Type: Article
Instititional Repository (IR) location of full article:


Since World War II, the development of international and regional organizations provide forums for condemnation of atrocities committed during periods of international conflicts and national programs of persecution and genocide of targeted populations. However, during World War II, the lack of such international forums meant that leaders of neutral countries and individuals of prominence, including major religious leaders, were looked to for statements criticizing unjust war activities and persecution of vulnerable populations. One such person to whom the world looked for condemnation of the war time abuses and atrocities committed by National Socialist Germany (Nazi Germany) was the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII, the subject of this Article, has become a controversial historical figure as some urge his canonization for saintly piety, while others condemn him as a moral coward; or even worse, as a condoner of the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Criticism of Pope Pius XII in relation to the Holocaust has emphasized an apparent lack of public protest by the Pope against the atrocities committed by the German National Socialist Government against the Jews and others. There seems to be ample proof of appeals from clergy in Germany and occupied countries, as well as requests from international diplomats to Vatican authorities, for the Pope to make a public statement condemning the killings and persecutions of Jews and others by the Nazi’s. It is generally accepted that if one limits consideration to “the area of public pronouncements,” the charge of silence against the Pope “may be arguable.” However, alternative reading of public statements by Pius XII suggests that the Pope indeed condemned Nazi atrocities, but did so in an opaque manner reflecting traditional Vatican style of rhetoric and institutional reticence which reflected a desire to stand aloof from the ongoing international conflict.