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The Popes Against the Jews

The Popes Against the Jews

Subtitled: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism

The Vatican’s 1998 report “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah” purportedly exonerated the Church of complicity in the Holocaust. In The Popes Against the Jews, David I. Kertzer argues that the report is “not the product of a Church that wants to confront its history.” Kertzer’s book refutes the Church’s thesis that the Holocaust grew out of “an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and political than religious.” In fact, Kertzer asserts, those dimensions of European anti-Semitism developed “in no small part due to the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church itself.” The racial laws of fascist Italy and the Nuremberg Laws of 1930s Germany, for example, were directly modeled on the Church’s own rules governing treatment of Jews: until the collapse of the Papal States in the late 19th century, Jews living in these territories were forced to wear yellow badges and live in ghettos. Kertzer’s arguments make for compelling reading because they’re presented in story form, based on the actions of the popes themselves. Access to long-sealed Church archives allowed Kertzer to reconstruct some of the most shocking, secret conversations that occurred in the Vatican in the decades leading up to World War II. — Michael Joseph Gross

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