UPDATES 1 & 2: (See bottom of post.)
[I]t seems fairly certain that [Pope Pius 12th] was, overall, a strenuous defender of Jews who saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. While 80 percent of European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, 85 percent of Italian Jews survived, thanks in large part to the Vatican’s efforts.
At Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence, 3,000 Jews found refuge — a fact never mentioned in Cornwell’s anti-Pius writings or in those of Susan Zuccotti. Kosher food was served there, and Jewish babies were born in the pope’s private apartment, which had been transformed into an infirmary. At Seminario Romano, another Vatican property, 55 Jews remained in hiding from the Nazis, and, notes Dalin, “observance of the Jewish dietary laws was not only permitted but encouraged.”
[Rabbi David] Dalin includes references to numerous papers from the Vatican, along with memoirs of Holocaust survivors and non-Jewish rescuers, showing that Pius directly ordered church representatives across Europe to hide Jews and provide other forms of material sustenance, including cash. In Hungary alone, 170,000 Jews evaded Auschwitz because of Pius’ personal intervention.
Another Righteous Gentile of the era, Angelo Roncalli, who saved thousands of Slovakian Jews by signing their visas for immigration to Palestine (he later became Pope John XXIII), explained that “in all those painful matters, I referred to the Holy See and afterward I simply carried out the pope’s orders.”
Two years ago, I was speaking with a Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva about a halakhic matter. Suddenly, while commenting on the Catholic Church's view of an issue, the rosh yeshiva blurted out, "The Pope, yemach shemo, …." ["The Pope, may his name be blotted out," a traditional curse reserved for the greatest enemies of the Jewish people, like Hitler and Haman, now directed at Pope John Paul 2, the Pope who had done the most to restore relations with the Jewish people.] Can one imagine Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik speaking about the Pope this way?
I wonder how many anti-Nazi gentiles the Va'ad Hatzalah saved? How many retarded? How many Gypsies? Actually, I know the answer: zero. You would think the Va'ad along with Lubavitch and the other Orthodox groups would have saved a few of the non-Jews who were also targeted by Hitler. But they did not. Why?
UPDATE 1: It seems the new issue of First Things has an article written by a cardinal explaining the Catholic theology underlying the Vatican's reapprochment with the Jewish people. The upshot of the article is apparently this: The Catholic Church does not advocate the conversion of Jews, but – and here lies the nub of the issue – it believes that in the End of Days, Jews will accept Jesus as their messiah. This riles some Jews (for example, see comments to that post), and, for some of those, it is enough to justify continued hatred of the Church.
This is foolish (and hypocritical) on many grounds, not the least of which is, in the End of Days, we expect Catholics and other non-Jews to accept the Jewish God (although not become Jewish) and reject their current theological beliefs.
But let us look at Judaism's theology – as expressed by Jewish law – regarding non-Jews. Compared to the Church, we're raving antisemites.
Update 2: The author of the above-mentioned First Things article, Cardinal Dulles, is on the conservative side of the debate within the Catholic Church regarding eventual conversion of Jews. As Matthew Wagner reported in the October 27, 2005 Jerusalem Post:
The Catholic Church should categorically reject any attempts to convert Jews, the American Jewish Committee's Rabbi David Rosen said Thursday.
"Even though the Nostra Aetate says that no attempts should be made to convert Jews, many Catholics continue to express a hope for conversion," he told The Jerusalem Post from Rome during the Vatican's 40th anniversary celebration of the Nostra Aetate document, which revolutionized the Catholic Church's relations with Jews.
Rosen, the AJC's international director of interreligious affairs, has been involved in Vatican-Israeli negotiations for more than a decade.
He and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a retired Paris Archbishop and Jewish convert, were to be the keynote speakers Thursday evening.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry, is hosting the event.
The Nostra Aetate was one of the key documents to emerge from the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council meeting of Catholics and clergy that modernized the Catholic Church.
In it, the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the deicide charge that blamed the Jews for Christ's death.
Rosen, commenting on the issue of Catholic proselytizing, said many
prominent Church theologians such as Kasper consider any attempts to convert Jews, even unobtrusive invitations, inappropriate and unnecessary.
"But some theologians, like Cardinal [Avery] Dulles interpret the Nostra Aetate differently," he said. "Although they eschew proselytizing, they hold that an open invitation to convert is permitted."
Rosen said differences of opinion on conversion of Jews might stem from varying theological positions on redemption for Jews.
Catholic theologians who hope for the conversion of Jews believe that although Jews are not condemned by God, they are not in His favor.
Therefore, it is legitimate to hope for Jews conversion to Catholicism.
Those who reject conversion as inappropriate and unnecessary would be more likely to accept the idea that Jews are eligible for spiritual redemption in the world to come, he said.
Notwithstanding his criticism on the issue of conversions, Rosen called the Nostra Aetate a "mind-boggling revolution in the Catholic Church's theology."
"This might sound like a hyperbole, but there is nothing quite comparable in the history of humankind," he said. "Imagine a billion followers who had been taught contempt for the Jews and Judaism, who had been inculcated with the idea that the Jew was in league with the devil, suddenly being taught that the Jews are the people of the covenant. Or as Pope John Paul II put it, the Jews are 'our dearly beloved older brother.'"
Rosen said the Nostra Aetate also opened the way for diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Vatican by recognizing the land of Israel as the ancestral home of the Jewish people.…