Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Defenders of Pius XII, whose alleged silence on the Holocaust is a source of tension between Jews and Catholics, met in Rome this week to project a more positive image of the wartime pope. While that’s perhaps not remarkable, the aegis under which they gathered certainly is – a foundation called “Pave the Way,” dedicated to interreligious understanding and led by an American Jew.

The organizer of the Sept. 15-17 conference at Rome’s Palazzo Salviati, which included a number of Jews both as speakers and attendees, is New York businessman and philanthropist Gary Krupp. While making his living in the medical supply business, Krupp became a benefactor of a hospital in southern Italy founded by the legendary Capuchin stigmatic Padre Pio, and is today one of just a handful of non-Catholics to belong to the papal Knights of St. Gregory.

Improbably, Krupp, who says he grew up “hating” Pius XII, has emerged as a passionate defender of the pontiff once famously excoriated as “Hitler’s Pope.”

“It’s our obligation to recognize somebody who saved more Jews than all the other world leaders and religious leaders combined,” Krupp said in an interview with NCR. “This man should be raised up as righteous among the nations, not demonized."

Krupp referred to the negative portrayal of Pius XII in some Jewish circles -- including a critical placard at Yad Vashem, the main Holocaust memorial in Israel -- as a shonda, the Hebrew word for "shame."

While Krupp represents a distinctly minority view within Judaism, he is not alone. Sir Martin Gilbert, the distinguished Jewish historian in England, has praised Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews, and American Rabbi David Dalin has proposed that Yad Vashem recognize Pius as “righteous among the nations.” Probably no one, however, has devoted more time and energy –including a considerable portion of his own financial resources – to the defense of Pius XII.

Krupp argued it’s in the best interests of Judaism and Israel to pursue better relations with the Catholic church.

“Today, we’re faced with people such as the president of Iran who want to see us wiped off the map,” Krupp said. “Don’t you think that 1.2 billion friends might be good to have?”

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