St. Louis’s Statue of Pius XII: A Double-StandardRoundup
tags: racism, Catholic Church, statues, antisemitism
Dr. Eunice G. Pollack is the author of Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950 to the Present and coeditor (with Stephen H. Norwood) of the two-volume Encyclopedia of American Jewish History.
Over the past several days, the campaign to rid the city of St. Louis of the statue of its namesake (Louis IX, King of France, 1226-70) has gathered steam. Louis IX was honored with sainthood not only in recognition of his crusades against Muslims, but for ordering the confiscation and public burning of 12,000 copies of the Talmud in 1242. To the Church, the Talmud was “the root of Jewish evil,” which undermined Christianity’s interpretations of passages in the Torah. William of Chartres observed of Louis IX, “Jews he hated so much that he could not bear to look on them.” By removing his statue, Jews will no longer have “to look on” him.
But the campaign to topple the statue of St. Louis has overlooked the city’s statue to another renowned anti-Semite, Pope Pius XII (1939-58), seated grandly before the Pius XII Memorial Library of St. Louis University, a Jesuit school. The conjunction of statue and library is jarring because it was he, as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, secretary of state to his predecessor Pius XI, who said nothing when Nazis burned “Jewish and other non-German books” all across Germany, in May 1933. Indeed, it was Pacelli who played the central role in drawing up the 1933 Concordat with the Hitler regime, which, according to his biographer John Cornwell, left the Nazis “free to resolve the Jewish question” and “helped seal the fate of Europe,” by guaranteeing the Church’s nonintervention. Nor did Pacelli, now Pius XII, protest in October 1943, when the German SS rounded up Jews in the former ghetto of Rome, loaded them in freight cars, and shipped them from the railway station to Auschwitz — where Nazis were burning Jews, not Jewish books. In March 2020, the Vatican finally opened its archives, revealing that, in 1942, the pope was able to confirm, from his own sources, the mass murder and massacres of Europe’s Jews — and, exactly 700 years after the burning of the Talmud under the orders of Louis IX, Pius XII chose not to reveal what he knew.
The statue depicts Pius XII blessing the faithful. Clearly, one should not place a blindfold on the image, because he recognized the evil, but one could attach a gag — conveying his refusal to speak about it. Or one could add a backdrop of the infamous sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei” — as he looks the other way.
To be sure, St. Louis University is a private school. But Yale has erased the name of John C. Calhoun, an apologist for slavery, from a residential college, and Princeton is expunging the name of Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school, “due to [his] racist thinking.” Surely, St. Louis University should do as much.
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