“Hate speech”: controversy over play about Pius XII and the Holocaust

The play in question is often blamed for popularizing the notion that Pius XII was sympathetic to the Nazis.   Now it’s receiving a rare staging at a college in Minnesota:

A controversial play scheduled at UMD next week critical of Pope Pius XII for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust has raised the ire of some local Catholics who are calling the event “hate speech.”

The 1963 play “The Deputy” is part of the 19th annual Baeumler Kaplan Holocaust Commemoration held at the University of Minnesota Duluth to raise awareness of the persecution of Jews and others by the Nazis before and during World War II.

Fr. Richard Kunst, a Duluth priest and papal historian, said he spoke with UMD Chancellor Lendley Black briefly Monday and asked him to cancel the play. Other Catholics also have contacted UMD.

In a statement to the News Tribune, Black said the performance of “The Deputy” will go on as scheduled, citing academic freedom.

“Freedom of expression and constructive debate and discussion are a cornerstone for UMD and other public universities,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Activities and events such as the Baeumler Kaplan lecture series, which is now in its 20th year, work to inform people, foster broad discussion, and create understanding.

“The events of the Baeumler Kaplan lecture series, including the staging of part of the play ‘The Deputy,’ will continue as planned, and we look forward to hearing diverse perspectives and involvement by the broader community during the talk back that is being held after the performance.”

The theme of this year’s week-long series of events is “Religious Institutions’ Response to the Holocaust,’’ and it includes discussions of several religious groups’ efforts to save Jews during that time. The UMD events include a performance of one act of “The Deputy,’’ written by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, which claims the pope turned a blind eye to the slaughter of Jews by the Nazis.

But it’s not just the play that’s caused the upset. The postcard invitation mailed out for the Baeumler Kaplan events depicts a faceless bishop and a Nazi officer standing on a Holocaust victim on one half. It’s an image of the painting “The Concordat” by Fritz Hirschberger, a Holocaust survivor critical of Cardinal Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII, for his negotiation of the 1933 “Concordat’’ agreement with Hitler that outlined which religious freedoms would be allowed in Nazi Germany.

The other half of the postcard shows an image of Pope Pius XII above a death camp crematorium.

Kunst called the play and the postcard “nothing more than hate speech against Pope Pius XII and Catholics.’’

“All of the allegations raised in this play have been debunked by scholars. … This has little or nothing to do with history and more to do with attacking the church,’’ Kunst told the News Tribune.

Read the rest.


  1. Those who do evil in the sight of the Lord our God will be handled. I just know this.

  2. The Deputy is a play. It is not hate speech any more than The Merchant of Venice is hate speech, or the Commedia, or any other work of art. Although the play refers to historical events it is not history, it is response to history. That we might disagree with the play’s point-of-view does not make it criminal. It is not hate speech to discuss the role that the Church, and in particular its leaders, played during the Holocaust, any more than it would be hate speech to say that there were people of all faith backgrounds—even, alas, Jews—who cooperated in or did not actively resist the actions of those responsible for the Holocaust. While the publicizers of the conference took a cheap shot by using the photo of Pope Pius XII as they did, it is not the first or the last time religious figures have been used as shorthand by the media and it won’t be the last, nor does it incite hatred of the Church. We’re either bigger than that, and welcome always the opportunity to be part of the conversation about how religious institutions (note the plural) can continue to learn from history about not cooperating with oppression and evil, or we’re petty and defensive enough to confirm people in their ignorance about us.

  3. Unfortunately, the Vatican has given very limited access to only a tiny fraction of the documents on the subject of the Church and the Third Reich. This secrecy has not permitted the inquiry that this subject deserves. Of course, there are many unfortunate examples of photographs illustrating the Catholic hierarchy in Germany giving the extended arm Heil Hitler Nazi salute.

  4. All lies. I don’t understand the attraction of this site to perpetual predictable Catholic bashers who haven’t a CLUE.

  5. Mark Greta says:

    Netflix has a wonderful movie “Pius XII” for online viewing. It covers all that was done in excellent detail. What the bashers can never quite explain is why so many Jews who lived in Rome after the war came out in support of Pius XII for his work in helping them escape the Nazi’s. Nor can they detail what he could have done in the face of the reality of the times. When he did make a public statement early on, the Nazi’s sent a clear message in killing tens of thousands of innocent people. The Pope did not want to have this occur again just to give himself cover after the war. He wanted to do things that actually saved lives. What hateful people trying to distort history to spread their hate and lies depend on is that most people are to lazy to learn history.

  6. naturgesetz says:

    The play is a work of fiction. It does not belong in a supposedly serious scholarly discussion of religious institutions’ response to the Holocaust. It cannot help anyone learn from history, because it is unhistorical. Its inclusion casts real doubt on the devotion of the organizers of the event to honest presentation of the truth.

  7. Chick O'Leary says:

    Would the same academic freedom argument be made were a seminar on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to be held? Probably not because of the recognition that the Protocols are an anti-semitic work of fiction not worthy of presentation in an academic setting. Such is also the case for “The Deputy”.
    I join in Bill Donohue’s (http://www.catholicleague.org/statement-to-the-duluth-community-univ-of-minnesota-duluth-holocaust-event/) hope that the program in Duluth honestly explore all the information regarding the church and the holocaust including the the hundreds of thousands of Jews saved by Pope Pius XII, the recognition of publications such as the New York Times during that era which realized that Pope Pius was a “lonely voice” crying out during this period, and recogniton of historians that “The Deputy” is merely a propaganda piece playing into the attempt begun by the post-war soviet governement to discredit Pius XII.

  8. One hopes that in the “talk back that is being held after the performance” it will be made known that The Deputy was part of a scheme by the Soviet KGB to defame Pius XII and discredit the Catholic Church. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/219739/moscows-assault-vatican/ion-mihai-pacepa

  9. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Some non-Catholic historian once wrote that anti-Catholic bigotry is the anti-Semitism of America’s elite classes.
    It seems every chance they get to prove this historian right, the educational elite goes out of its way to prove him right.
    Whether it is art invoving Christ dipped in urine or our Blessed Mother daubed in feces or plays that would make a pimp blush–the world of higher academe always seems to find excuses to support and promote garbage that even an elementary school level student would recognize as garbage. It apparently takes higher academic degrees to warp people’s minds enough so that one becomes willing to accept the unacceptable and call it a form of broadening one’s mind.
    We should never forget that the horrors of the Holocaust were incubated in the German academic world where highly educated degreed people dreamed up “Master Race” theories and medical schools produced hundreds of (maybe even thousands of) “experimenters” and “researchers” such as Dr. Mengele.
    Maybe that is why some academics feel the need to hide the sins of their educated brethren behind false charges against Pius XII. When will there be a play at the University of Minnesota about the roll the academic world played in the horrors of Nazi Germany????? Never, probably!!!

  10. Most of the archives should be ready to be viewed within a year or two. They are still in the process of being classified, but apparently, they support the view that Pius was most certainly not indifferent to the suffering Jews.

  11. Barbara P says:

    The Church was in a difficult place after Hitler rose to power. But I don’t think it can be denied that the Church did nothing to combat anti semitism before the rise of Nazism. Didnt the Church contribute to that prejudice in the decades and centuries before WWII? Didn’t the shame of the anti semtism that prevailed in Europe give rise to some of the reforms of Vatican II? I love the Church but we need to be honest about its failings to learn and grow from them.

  12. What “Church” are you talking about Barbara?

  13. Ms. McPortland,
    With respect, to call “The Deputy” a work of art is quite a stretch. It is a work of propaganda, written not for the purpose of responding to history, but for the purpose of defaming the reputation of Pope Pius XII. Of course it is not hate speech to discuss the role the Church and her leaders played during the Holocaust. But, that is not what “The Deputy” does. It no more lends to the conversation of the Church’s response to the Holocaust than does “The Birth of A Nation” to the conversation on African-American contributions to the building of the United States.
    The desire to tell the truth and to expose lies is never petty.

  14. Barbara P says:

    The Catholiv Church

  15. Barbara P says:


  16. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Barbara P. We need to be honest about the failings of the Church and our own personal failings and weaknesses. But a university joining in what is clearly a smear job on Pius XII and advancing anti-Catholic bigotry does not help the situation any.

  17. Barbara P says:

    I didn’t say I supported this play or it’s premise. The Church was faced with hard decisions when faced with Nazism. Only God can judge whether it made all the right decisions. And it can never be forgot that many Christians risked and lost their
    lives to save others. I believe the play was written in the early sixties when people were still processing the horror of the Holocaust. I would have no objection to the University presenting the play if it is presented within that historical context and if alternative positions and viewpoints are also presented. If the presentation is one sided than it is unfair to Pope Pius and the Church. But we still can’t ignore the history of the Church’s contribution to European anti semitism. Vatican II did not ignore that history.

  18. I’m wondering how a play written about the forced starvation of Ukranians, carried out, let us be honest, mostly by Soviet Jews, would be taken. Of course to ask the question is to answer it.

    The Church, Barbara, has nothing whatsoever to apologize for during the National Socialist era in Germany. Our Jewish friends, on the other hand, have much to answer for during the same period. So let us put things into their proper perspective for once.

    To use the ridiculous label of “antisemitism”to describe a Church founded by a Semite is, don’t you think, a little over the top? Antisemitism is hatred of a particular race and, as such, is condemned by the Church. The Catholic Church is not and cannot be antisemitic. On the other hand, the Church (and anyone else) is perfectly within its natural rights to criticize the actions of those Jews who seek to defame the Church and, in some cases, persecute Her. This is not antisemitism; it is self-preservation.

    Throwing around the antisemitism charge is getting a bit old by now anyway. And, by the way, since the Palestinians who are being treated miserably, horribly, by the Israelis are also a semitic people, shall we call the Israeli government antisemitic?

    The impudence of our Jewish friends and neighbors over this point is reaching a point where fewer and fewer people are taking them seriously, particularly when the weight of history has proven Pius to be blameless in this matter. If anything, Pius was far more solicitous to the Jews in Germany than his fellow Christians in Russia during the same historical period, and if you wish to criticize him for anything it would be that.

    Let us keep our heads and not make laughable comparisons – like the deluded young lady who would rank “The Deputy” with “The Merchant of Venice”in terms of political significance. Let us put our emotionalisms aside, and start using our heads.

  19. I have forgotten much of what I have studied over the years on this subject, but, one thing sticks in my mind. Pius XII instructed all his bishops to assist the Jewish people in any way they could during WW3. For example, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli [Later to become Pope John XXII] in fact, issued over 15,000 Baptismal Certificates to displaced Jewish folks who fled into Bulgaria. Other Catholics housed fleeing Jewish citizens in their own homes. Remember: There were Catholic Citizens on both sides in this war. Confusion reigned everywhere. God love you all.

  20. Canisisu says:

    You are another modernist influenced by the likes of the Media and the ADL

  21. Canisisu says:

    Dan you stole my thunder,, but good for you…. The Day anything is written or spoken about the Holodomor will be groundbreaking I am not holding my breath not with likes of the verminious ADL around

  22. digdigby says:

    Romanian secret police concocted this ‘play’ under the aegis of the KGB. This was openly and meticulously documented in The National Review ages ago.


  23. Catholicus says:


    You are terribly misinformed. A large amount of material is already available at the Vatican on this subject, and a major effort is underway to make it all available due to this horrible and unnecessary controversy. The personnel at the Vatican Archives have remarked that hardly anybody comes to investigate what is already available, despite the fact that its availability has been widely publicized. It seems that the minds of many people are closed concerning this issue, no matter how public and easily available the contrary evidence is.

  24. What follows are brief summaries of some of the more pertinent and damning points:

    * Pius 12 played host to the mini-Hitler Ante Pavelic on several occasions, and ultimately gave this master of genocide santuary within the Vatican.

    * He negotiated a treaty with Nazi Germany in 1933 as Vatican Secretary of State, a treaty which legitimized Hitler and contained an annex that granted some small protections to Jews who had converted to Catholicism but explicitly defined the fate of unconverted Jews as Germany’s “internal affair,” about which the Church would have nothing to say.

    * He threw a holy fit about the German euthenasia program, and I’ve quoted to you from the official Vatican statement that unequivocally condemned the killing of “life unworthy of life.” This decree went into every diocese in Germany, and was favorably and publicly commented on by the German bishops, but nothing like it was ever offered by the Vatican or the German bishops on behalf of the Jews.

    * He publicly protested the German invasion of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, with separate telegrams to the sovereigns of each (and printed in large type on the front page of the Vatican’s official daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano) but no public protest at all was ever uttered about the slaughter of Jews.

    * He excommunicated all Communists in the world in 1949, including millions who never shed blood, but never excommunicated a single German or non-German who served Hitler– or even the Catholic-born Hitler, Himmler and Goebels themselves.

    * And most damning of all, he sat quietly during one horrible October night while 4000 Jews were taken from within sight of his bedroom window. The very best that can be said Pius’s conduct during this affair is that his Secretary of State Luigi Maglinoe delivered a weak and simpering message* to the German ambassador, but what good was that? After the meeting 1000 more Jews were taken!

    Pius 12 also instructed the Catholic church in France not to return baptized Jewish children to their families after the Holocaust, according to a letter dated November 20, 1946.

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