• The Pope at War

  • The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler
  • By: David I. Kertzer
  • Narrated by: Arthur Morey
  • Length: 17 hrs and 33 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (215 ratings)

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The Pope at War

By: David I. Kertzer
Narrated by: Arthur Morey
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Publisher's Summary

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The most important book ever written about the Catholic Church and its conduct during World War II. . . . The best nonfiction book of the summer.”—Daniel Silva on the Today show

Based on newly opened Vatican archives, a groundbreaking, explosive, and riveting book about Pope Pius XII and his actions during World War II, including how he responded to the Holocaust, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Pope and Mussolini

When Pope Pius XII died in 1958, his papers were sealed in the Vatican Secret Archives, leaving unanswered questions about what he knew and did during World War II. Those questions have only grown and festered, making Pius XII one of the most controversial popes in Church history, especially now as the Vatican prepares to canonize him.

In 2020, Pius XII’s archives were finally opened, and David I. Kertzer—widely recognized as one of the world’s leading Vatican scholars—has been mining this new material ever since, revealing how the pope came to set aside moral leadership in order to preserve his church’s power.

Based on thousands of never-before-seen documents not only from the Vatican, but from archives in Italy, Germany, France, Britain, and the United States, The Pope at War paints a new, dramatic portrait of what the pope did and did not do as war enveloped the continent and as the Nazis began their systematic mass murder of Europe’s Jews. The book clears away the myths and sheer falsehoods surrounding the pope’s actions from 1939 to 1945, showing why the pope repeatedly bent to the wills of Hitler and Mussolini.

Just as Kertzer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Pope and Mussolini became the definitive book on Pope Pius XI and the Fascist regime, The Pope at War is destined to become the most influential account of his successor, Pius XII, and his relations with Mussolini and Hitler. Kertzer shows why no full understanding of the course of World War II is complete without knowledge of the dramatic, behind-the-scenes role played by the pope. “This remarkably researched book is replete with revelations that deserve the adjective ‘explosive,’” says Kevin Madigan, Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University. “The Pope at War is a masterpiece.”

©2022 David I. Kertzer (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“A magisterial new study of how the Vatican navigated World War II and why Pope Pius XII stayed silent in the face of the mass murder of Jews, The Pope at War is a powerful and carefully argued book based on documents from the newly opened Vatican archives revealing how institutional self-interest dictated the pope's actions.” (Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies, New York University)

“In this rigorous and riveting book, David Kertzer uses newly declassified Vatican documents to provide a far fuller portrait of the wartime pope than ever before. Kertzer offers a number of discoveries, including the diplomatic mission of a Nazi prince to the Vatican, showing how Hitler and Mussolini intimidated the pope, who believed there were ‘good fascists.’ The Pope at War is the most authoritative study of Pope Pius XII to date, and Kertzer’s findings will not bolster the cause of those who seek this pope’s canonization but the cause of those who are not afraid of history.” (Jonathan Petropoulos, author of Goering's Man in Paris)

 “David Kertzer has outdone himself and crowned his extraordinary career with this volume on Pope Pius XII.  Relying especially upon recently released documents at the Vatican Archives, Kertzer writes a simply riveting account with a worldwide cast of characters that includes Mussolini, Hitler, FDR, Churchill, and Eisenhower.  For decades, scholars have wondered if the Vatican archives would contain new findings about the controversial Pope and the Roman Curia, especially in relation to the Jews of Europe during and after the Holocaust. They need wonder no more. This remarkably researched book is replete with revelations that deserve the adjective ‘explosive’ - and with so much more. The Pope at War is a masterpiece.” (Kevin Madigan, Winn professor of ecclesiastical History, Harvard University)

What listeners say about The Pope at War

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A remarkable book. Incredibly important. Should be read by every Catholic and everyone

The material presented in the book is very uncomfortable but so important. Pope pious the 12th, is exposed on the basis of facts that have been hidden in the archives for 70 years. Silence was a misnomer for moral bankruptcy.
Thousands of lives could have been saved but for the silence of the Pope and church.

3 people found this helpful

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An Important Book

We'll researched showing not only the Church's role in the worst of WWIi but also a reminder of how powerful and "respectable" institutions can easily engage in the greatest evils and then lie about it.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting history

This is about Pope Pius XII during WW2. It’s based on a lot of new material. The Vatican had sealed Pius XII’s papers from this period until Pope Francis released them in 2020.

Pope Pius XI was very much against the racism and Anti Semitism of Hitler and Mussolini. He was prepared to release an encyclical saying so in 1939, but died just before delivering it. His top assistant was selected to be the new Pope and in honor of his boss took the name Pius XII. He did not however take his former boss’s stance against the Fascists.

Throughout WW2, Pius XII would never denounce Hitler or Mussolini or their actions even after it became known that Hitler was exterminating the Jews. The question is why? The book does not have a smoking gun, definitive answer. The reader is allowed to look at the actions of Pope Pius XII and come to his or her own conclusions. Did Pius XII agree with the Hitler? Doubtful. Was he afraid for his own safety? Maybe. Was he afraid for the fate of the Catholic Church? Possibly. Was he hoping by staying neutral to broker a peace at the end of the war and increase his own power as a result? That’s an option. In fact there are numerous potential reasons and the true reason probably consisted of several of them. The only thing that is certain is that Pius XII’s silence was noticeable to all and history has judged him harshly for it.

I picked this one because of my recent visit to the Vatican. WW2 buffs would probably find it more enjoyable than I did. For me it was a little more detail than I wanted, but I did learn a lot.

1 person found this helpful

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A long way from Canossa.

I wanted to find out more about Pope Pius XII during World War II and bought this book rather than “Hitler’s Pope” because I wanted a more balanced view of the period. That choice turns out to not have mattered as the facts are clear and paint a damning picture of how Pontiff’s actions during World War II. Much of this is taken directly from the recently opened secret archives of Pope Pius XII and thus do not seem open to any other conclusions than those given by the author.

First, the book is well researched and contains enough quotes from the unsealed archives to make the facts clear. Pope Pius XII appears to have actively helped the Italian Fascist government stay in power and bend over backwards to give it what it wanted. As for the Nazis, it seems clear that Pius XII worried so much about how his actions would be viewed by Hitler that he went out of his way to avoid doing anything that would antagonize him and put those Germans who were Catholic in any danger. He was so concerned about the German Catholics that he does not seem to have even thought about what was happening to the Polish Catholics, or not to have cared.

The Papacy under a strong Pope has enormous powers, both moral and ecclesiastical, and one only has to look at how Pope Gregory VII humbled the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV through the use of excommunication and the thread of the interdict, or how Pope John Paul II aided in the downfall of the Soviet Union, but the Papacy under a weak or timid Pope is a very different thing and Pius XII was a long way from Canossa and Gregory VII.

The book is an excellent history of the 6 years from the start of World War II in Europe to the end of the European theater of the war and much of it is eye opening. The clearly anti-Semitic statements of members of the Curia, quoted from their written comments, the reluctance of the Pope to take any action that would be seen as opposed to Nazi aggression or which would give any aid and comfort to those being exterminated by the Nazis make the failures of the Papacy during this period clear. I suppose in the end the question is what is the responsibility of the Pope. Should his main concern be the good of the Church? Or should he act as a moral exemplar to influence events for the good of all people. And are those two viewpoints really separate? That is, can actions which are clearly not moral lead to any good for the church in the end? If the Pope’s responsibility is the first, then perhaps Pope Pius XII was partially successful. If his responsibility is the second, then his Papacy was a complete and utter failure and helped contribute to the slaughter of millions of innocents.

The narration of the book is excellent and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the European Theater of World War II and how the moral force of the church was wasted.

1 person found this helpful

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Solid Historical Research

Kertzer does a great job of bringing to light a long kept view of Pope Pius XII. The missing perspective from within the walls of the Vatican during WWII provides more context. I thought disagree with the Kertzer's view that Pius XII was not supportive of both the Nazi or Italian fascist regimes.
Throughout the book, the clear focus of Pius XII was to leverage the fascist governments to expand and grow Catholicism's reach and power throughout Europe, without creating friction with American Catholics, whom provided much of the resources for the church at the time. To say that since Pius XII was not vocally supportive of the fascist governments so he was neutral is a far stretch. Pope Pius XII was and always will be Hitler and Mussolini's Pope and the stain of the atrocities of WWII will remain on the Catholic Church.

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Anti Moral Pope at War

Having been born in 1945 but learning of the negativism about Pius XII’s lack of support for the Jewish People through his silence made me want to know more of what created his thoughts. Sometimes the details were a little overwhelming for me. The epilogue at the end of the book helped to clarify some of those issues for me. Having been raised a cradle Catholic and spending 6 years as a Sister of Providence (St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN) during Vatican II made me appreciate the book with its development of history.

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A Story That Needs To Be Told

This is a must read book for any Catholic or fan of WWII. It gives a wonderful and in depth look into the workings of the Vatican and the Pope and their dealings with the Nazis. Be forewarned, this book will elicit a lot of emotions.

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Captivating Story!

Very intriguing involvement of the Pope during WWII with recently released documents from the Vatican!

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Thought provoking…

…to know that this has all come to light after the Vatican preemptively sanitized it’s Pius the VII archives before opening them to historians. Additionally, it’s hard not to see a parallel situation with what is currently playing out Russia concerning the Orthodox Church and the war in Ukraine. Again the world turns a blind eye.

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Every Catholic needs to read this.

Pope Pius 12 is a moral failure. Did everything to preserve the Roman church in Italy but failed to challenge Musilioni and Hitler. Was a weak Pope who thought he could broker peace. Did nothing to halt the decoration of Italian Jews. That this guy is now Saint makes me so glad that I am a Lutheran.

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  • Gillian Lazarus
  • 07-23-22

The Acquiescent Pope

Using documents released by the Vatican in recent years, David Kertzer shows how Pope Pius XII prioritised protecting the Church and its privileges throughout tWorld War II while maintaining a cautious silence regarding nazi and fascist atrocities even when the Jews of Rome were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-28-22

He saved his own ass

I read Hitlers Pope years ago….this backs up the sad truth of this man…he did everything to save his church and not human beings regardless of religious belief….he did nothing but save his own ass

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-16-22

Impressive historical account of the Pope in WWII

I found this an excellent, well cited and impartial account of the papacy during World War II. The narration was clear and very easy to listen to. I finished it very quickly as the story was quite gripping, though disturbing. The author sets out the documentary evidence in a detailed chronological fashion, drawing particularly on the newly released documents of the Vatican's own archive material for the period. This allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what may have motivated the pope's actions and inactions during the war. It is an important history to be told and acknowledged, lest the same terrible mistakes be made by the Vatican again.