In the long and painful debate over whether he should have done more to halt the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators in World War II, Pope Pius XII has an unusual defender.
Gary Krupp, who is Jewish, says he grew up hating the late pontiff. Now, at 62, the retired Long Island businessman is caught up in the controversy over the Vatican’s effort to make Pius a saint. He says that as a Jew he’s not interested in the sainthood issue — he just wants to defend the wartime pope’s reputation from “the worst character assassination of the 20th century.”
That puts him among a handful of Jews who have bucked a widely held view of Pius as a pope who failed to pit his moral authority against Hitler’s Holocaust, and who therefore is not entitled to sainthood. Some prominent Catholic scholars concede many questions linger about Pius’s tenure, but his defenders say he saved thousands of Jewish lives by working behind the scenes.
Krupp’s efforts are drawing high-profile criticism. An influential New York rabbi said this week he is quitting Krupp’s Pave the Way Foundation, which attempts to foster understanding among religions. A Roman Catholic scholar, one of 19 who wrote to the Vatican last month pressing for deeper study of Pius’ conduct, says Krupp has revealed nothing new on the subject.
The Web site of Krupp’s foundation features many of the documents he uses to support his arguments. He has also published the third edition of a book, “Pope Pius XII and World War II, The Documented Truth.”
Krupp is not the first Jew to defend Pius XII. Israeli diplomat and author Pinchas Lapide wrote in a 1967 book that Pius XII and the Catholic Church should be credited with saving between 700,000 and 860,000 Jews from certain death. Holocaust scholars reject the figure as guesswork, noting the absence of documentation and the lack of access to Vatican archives on Pius’ pontificate.
“Lapide’s calculation was based on voodoo math,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C. “There were so many factors involved in whether someone survived, which Lapide did not consider.”
In a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, 19 Catholic scholars wrote that “proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the forseeable future,” according to the Catholic News Service.
Krupp contends “a crime has been committed against this man (Pope Pius XII),” but the scholars say more research is needed before sainthood can be approved.
“History needs distance and perspective before definitive conclusions can be reached,” the panel of scholars wrote to the Vatican last month.
Krupp has been praised by the Vatican for spearheading a plan to put 11 volumes of Pius XII material on the Internet for public viewing. However, scholars who reviewed that material nearly a decade ago say it does not answer critical questions about Pius’ behavior.
They want to review the full Vatican archives on Pius” papacy, but the Vatican says the 16 million files won’t be ready for viewing until at least 2014.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis, who was a Krupp supporter, said he sent his resignation from the board of directors of Pave the Way.
“Many of us are very troubled by the stance Mr. Krupp has taken,” he said. “Thus far there’s only been a superficial examination (of Pius XII). Given the seriousness of the subject, we need to be much more deliberate and have as much historical factual information.”
Krupp said he had yet to receive Potasnik’s letter, but did not criticize Potasnik’s stance.
Rabbi Eric Greenberg, director of Interfaith Policy at the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, also criticizes Krupp.
“Whether he understands it or not, he is waging a campaign of misinformation,” Greenberg said. “He’s been given out-of-context documents and is coming to overblown conclusions about Pius XII’s personal involvement and that is a disservice to historians and to the historical truth.”
The German-born Pope Benedict rekindled outrage among Jewish groups in December when he signed a decree asserting Pius’ heroic virtues, paving the way for the wartime pontiff to be beatified once a miracle attributed to his intercession is confirmed.
That history overshadowed the pontiff’s January visit to a synagogue in Rome. Without mentioning Pius, Benedict told Jewish leaders the Vatican “itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.” He contended Catholics acted courageously to save Jews even as their extermination “tragically reached as far as Rome.”
At the same event, Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici, whose grandparents were killed at Auschwitz while his father was saved by Italian nuns in a Florence convent, said Italian Catholics worked to save Jews but the “silence” of Pius “still hurts as a failed action.”
Krupp, who operated kidney dialysis and diagnostic imaging centers on Long Island, has a close relationship with the Vatican. A decade ago, Pope John Paul II made him “Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great,” after Krupp helped raise $12 million for high-tech equipment for an Italian hospital.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, assistant professor of the Talmud at Yeshiva University, said he is cautious about endorsing a defense of Pius XII, but supports Krupp’s enthusiasm.
“I am not a historian and have not seen the papers, but I admire his effort,” he said. “I value what Gary is doing and very much hope that Gary is right. I know his motive is pure.”
Krupp says that he spends up to 20 hours a day researching the issue at his modest Long Island home, and that he has seen documents and research that exonerate Pius XII. Critics, he argues, “just don’t know. They have not seen any documented proof. All we’re doing is retrieving documents, nothing else.”
The Rev. John Pawlikowski, professor of ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, argues Krupp’s evidence has already been studied by experts.
“What he seems to have is stuff that is out there,” Pawlikowski said. “We know that Pius did some things that were good, but they tended to come rather late, they were mostly behind the scenes and were relatively minor gestures.”
Pawlikowski was among the 19 Catholic scholars who wrote to the Vatican last month, saying more study of Pius XII is required,
“Too often the issue of Pius XII is portrayed as one of Jewish concern,” the letter said. “We wanted to make it clear that some Catholics who have worked on Holocaust issues have serious concerns about advancing the cause of Pius XII at this time.”
Pave the Way’s 2008 financial report to the Internal Revenue Service shows that Krupp and his wife, Meredith, were the organization’s only two employees, earning $112,500, and $35,000, respectively. The organization, which Krupp says is largely funded by about 20 members of a board of directors, took in approximately $470,000 in income in 2008. After salaries, the largest chunk of organization spending was on travel expenses.