Pope Pius XII and Poland includes Church relations from 1939-1958. During the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, Poland experienced first the German occupation, and, following that, Soviet inspired persecution, especially in the Stalinist years 1946-1956. Pope Pius XII policies consisted in attempts to avoid World War II , extensive diplomatic activity on behalf of Poland and encouragement to the persecuted clergy and faithful.

In Poland, Pius XII made "one of his most controversial decisions" regarding the reorganization of dioceses during World War II.[1]


First months of the papacy

Part of a series of articles on
20th Century
Persecutions of the
Catholic Church

Cristero War  · Iniquis Afflictisque </div>
Saints  · José Sánchez del Río
Persecution in Mexico  · Miguel Pro

498 Spanish Martyrs
Red Terror (Spain) · Dilectissima Nobis
Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War
Martyrs of Daimiel
Bartolome Blanco Marquez
Innocencio of Mary Immaculate

Mit brennender Sorge  · Alfred Delp</div>
Alois Grimm · Rupert Mayer </div>
Bernhard Lichtenberg · Max Josef Metzger
Karl Leisner  · Maximilian Kolbe

Persecution in China · Ad Sinarum Gentem ·
Cupimus Imprimis  · Ad Apostolorum Principis
Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei · Beda Chang
Dominic Tang
Stefan Wyszyński
108 Martyrs of World War Two · Policies
Poloniae Annalibus  · Gloriosam Reginam
Invicti Athletae · Jerzy Popiełuszko

Eastern Europe
Jozsef Mindszenty  · Eugene Bossilkov
Josef Beran  · Aloysius Stepinac
Meminisse Juvat  · Anni Sacri

El Salvador
Maura Clarke  · Ignacio Ellacuría </div>
Ita Ford  · Rutilio Grande </div>
Dorothy Kazel  · Ignacio Martín-Baró </div>
Segundo Montes  · Óscar Romero </div>

Persecution of Christians
Church persecutions 1939-1958
Vatican and Eastern Europe </div>
Vatican USSR policies
Eastern Catholic persecutions
Terrible Triangle
Conspiracy of Silence (Church persecutions)

After his March 1939 election to the papacy, Pope Pius XII was mostly concerned with the possible outbreak of a new war, starting with the Polish-German conflicts.

  • “Nothing is lost with peace, everything may be lost in a war”, was his message immediately after his election.

Consequently he tried to mediate, not by engaging in border or other disputes, but by creating a readiness to communicate and negotiate on all sides. . The Pope himself attempted to invoke a conference of five belligerents,Poland, Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy, excluding the Soviet Union.[2] Italy was willing, Germany showed little interests, France and Great Britain were open but hesitant. Poland felt safe and informed the Holy See, that she managed to keep the Soviet Union disinterested in the dispute with Germany, thus strengthening the Polish position.[2] The Vatican disagreed with this optimistic assessment, and urged communication and caution. After the media reports of a surprising arrangement between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Polish Ambassador Kazimierz Papée informs the Vatican, that Hitler-Stalin Pact actually strengthens the Polish position, because the Soviet Union shows no more interests in European conflicts.[2]

German occupation

After the German and Soviet invasions of Poland, France and other countries beseech the Holy See to protest the unprovoked aggression, and, possibly, condemn national socialism and communism anew. But Vatican under-secretary Giovanni Battista Montini refused, on the basis, that any word against Germany or Russia would be dearly paid for by the Catholics in the occupied territories.[3] Earlier, Pope Pius XII, in order to remain impartial during the war, had ordered Vatican officials and L’Osservatore Romano, to use terms like “socialism”, “communism” and “national socialism” factually not degradingly.[4] thus reserved for the Papacy, which often issued its own news items there, the sole right, to issue possible condemnations and warnings.

German and Polish bishops urged condemnations, arguing, that the enemies of the Church insinuated that the Vatican had given up on Poland.[5][6] At the same time, Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha, the outspoken Archbishop of Kraków, Poland, and, after the premature flight of Cardinal August Hlond into exile, leading representative of the Church in Poland, and others were equally afraid, that Papal condemnations could aggravate the already very difficult situation for Polish clergy and faithful. Poles in exile asked for strong condemnations while those in the countries were more cautious.[7] While Church diplomacy worked in quit ways, the official papal radio station, Vatican Radio was rather frank in its reporting, especially in its transmissions in Polish, Lithuanian and other local languages in the occupied areas. But this backfired, as one Lithuanian bishop protested:

    • These reports should be stopped at once. They only incite local occupation authorities and hurt the persecuted Church in great measure. We know what our situation is like, what we need is news from the Catholic world and Catholic teachings”.[8]

Policy of Pope Pius XII

Unknown at the time were the extensive diplomatic activities of the Holy See on behalf of Poland. During World War Two, the Vatican spent more political and diplomatic efforts on Polish matters, than any on other nation in the world: The elelven volumes of the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale list some five-hundred eightone documents on Poland. They include communication with German and allied authorities, the Polish government in London exile and of apostolic administrators in the “Warthegau[9] The Holy See was aware of complaints against its quiet diplomacy. Asked, why the Vatican had not published it documents and protests, Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione replied

  • They have not made public so that the faithful are not subjected to even more fierce persecutions. Isn’t this what has to be done? Should the father of Christianity increase the misfortunes suffered by the Poles in their very own country [6]

On September 30, 1939, the L'Osservatore Romano reported that the Pope had spoken to the Polish community in Rome:

  • Thousands hundred of thousands of people are suffering at this very moment and a great many have already been sacrificed in this war, which, as you know, we have tried to prevent with all possible means.
  • A vision of deep senseless horror and dark despair passes before our eyes, a multitude of fugitives and wanderers who have no motherland, no home anymore. We hear the heart-rending cry of mothers and brides, weeping for their loved ones, slain on the battlefield. We hear the desperate complaints of those of old age, and those who are week in health, deprived of all help and nursing.
  • We hear the children weep for their parents, who are no more, the cry for help of the wounded and the death rattle of the dying, many of whom never belonged to the fighting forces. We feel their sufferings, their misery and their mourning as our own.
  • The love of the Pope for his children knows no restriction or borders. He wishes that all children of the Church feel at home with the father who loves all equally. This paternal love cares for he afflicted and wishes to care too, for each one of you. This is however not the only comfort. In the eyes of God, of his Vicar, of all decent men, you possess other treasures, which are not kept in steel safes but in your heart and in your soul, first of all, the glory of military courage,....
  • Moreover, in the darkness now hanging over Poland, there still remains the brilliant light of happy memories of your great national past. … In your history, people have known hours of agony and apparent death, but also of revival and resurrection….We do not say, wipe away your tears, Christ who wept over the death of Lazarus and the ruins of his own land, gathers the tears now, shed for your dead and for Poland in order to reward them later. Tears for Poland, that will never die. L’Osservatore Romano October 1, 1939

Pope Pius XII choose the solemn occasion of his first encyclical Summi Pontificatus, October 1939, in which he stated that all races and cultures are of equal value, because he creator did not create inequality. Turning to Poland he said:

  • The blood of countless people, even non-combatants, gives rise to a harrowing funeral lament, especially over Poland, a dearly beloved country. Because of its glorious attainments on behalf of Christian civilization, attainments indelibly inscribed in the annals of history, Poland has a right to the world’s human and fraternal sympathy, and, confident in the powerful intercession of Mary, who is the auxilium christianorum, she awaits the hour of her resurrection in justice and peace.[10]

The Polish episcopate led by Cardinal August Hlond, who had repeatedly urged the Holy See to issue protests, warnings, or condemnations, was "deeply grateful".[11] Still, the papal protest, radio reports, L’Osservatore Romano documentaries and other protests issued later did little or nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Polish people and clergy in the following war years under German and Soviet occupation. In fact the persecutions got worse.[11] The Pope therefore chose his words carefully, because of his basic belief, expressed later that became his policy during the war:

  • Every word from Us should be carefully considered and weighted in the very interest of those who suffer, as not to make their position even more difficult and more intolerable than previously, even though inadvertently and unwillingly.[12]

During the war, Stefan Wyszynski under the pseudonym Dr. Stefan Zuzelski, wrote several articles on this subject, such as Vatican and Poland and Pius XII and Poland,[13]. He explained the position of the Vatican:

  • If sometimes news about Poland were scarce and tragic moments were passed over in silence, this was done only on the request of Polish circles, who had discovered, that the Germans took revenge on our prisoners for programs about their exploits in Poland.[14]

The Pope according to Wyszynski, never ceased to recognize Polish sovereignty and did not make any personal or territorial changes, while the frequent Vatican press reports continued to report about Poland “as a country standing with the free states fighting for a better future”.[14] Still, State authorities tried to discredit Pope Pius XII in the eyes of Polish society. His actual speeches and messages to the people of Poland were not known in Poland.[15] More than a generation later, during the first visit of Pope John Paul II in Warsaw ,Stefan Wyszynski used the occasion to read one of these messages of Pope Pius XII to the Polish faithful. John Paul II explained, how Pope Paul VI, also maligned, had been barred from entering Poland.[16]

Polish losses

It is estimated that, despite all public and private protests and numerous diplomatic initiatives, two-thousand and three hundred and fifty-one (2.351) members of the clergy and religious were murdered (four bishops, 1996 priests, 113 clerics, and 238 female religious). Sent to concentration camps were 5.490 Polish clergy and religious, (3642 priests, 389 clerics, 342 lay brothers and 1117 female religious) a majority of which perished there.[17] In addition the Germans occupiers decreed, that the Church in the Polish territories annexed immediately to the Reich lose all legal standing as an entity and thus all legal recourse.[18] All Church organizations were disbanded, and, Germany outlawed: All baptisms for persons under 21 years, religious education, confessions in Polish language, male and females religious orders, schools, Church charities, Church collections, Catholic cemeteries and Sunday school.[19] The Papal nuncio was appointed as Nuncio to Poland as well, a step which the German government could not object to, since he was already accredited. However, his protests notes and interventions, were not even accepted by the German Secretary of State Ernst von Weizsäcker, an SS officer, who informed the nuncio, that Poland is outside the geographical area of the Reichskonkordat, and therefore not his business.[20]. Attempts by German clerics to improve the Polish situation by including the annexed Polish territory into German hierarchical jurisdiction,[21] and thus make it de facto subject to the protective measures of the Reichskonkordat, were rejected by both the Vatican and the Polish government in exile as a de-facto recognition of the German annexation.[18] The Vatican did however, at the request of desperate Polish clergy appoint temporary German administrators in two Polish dioceses, after the occupation authorities killed the local bishops, blocked the nomination of any Polish national for the vacancies and refused to negotiate with any Polish bishop.[22]

Soviet occupation[23]

With the Second World War over, Soviet forces stationed in Poland and the Communist Party in increasing control of the Polish government, the Pope and the Polish episcopate anticipated persecution and communication problems with the Polish bishops, He therefore granted Facultas Specialis, special powers to Cardinal August Hlond in his dealings with the Church and state authorities. Hlond’s pastoral priority were the "former German territories", now assigned to Poland, and called Recovered Territories by the state, and Western Lands by the Church.[24] August 15, 1945, one week after the Potsdam Conference he created facts by establishing Polish administrators in these areas. The new government, almost as expected, began its campaign against the Church by withdrawing from the concordat and expelling the Papal Nuncio and refusing to accept the appointments by Cardinal Hlond. The Vatican was accused of refusing to accept the authority of the new communist government and for breaking the concordat in the war years, by appointing temporary German administrators in Polish territory.

In 1950, the new Primate of Poland, archbishop Stefan Wyszyński negotiated an agreement with the authorities, which gave the Church minimal breathing space. Pope Pius XII gave his full approval.[25] "The letters of Pope Pius XII confirm, that he approved of, and even praised Cardinal Hlond’s actions in the Western lands" [26] Yet, the political storms continued over the Church in Poland, as PAX and government officials continued to agitate against "German revanchists", "imperialists" and NATO. April 1951, Stefan Wyszyński met the Pope and informed by him of the political complexities in the Western Lands. Pope Pius “approved and blessed all the conduct and methods” of the Primate, and was confident. Polonia fara da se, Poland will take care of itself, was the Pope’s famous remark.[27]

The war being over, Pope Pius XII, faced with a long term problem, discontinued his war-time policy of neutrality. His policies continued to be pragmatic rather than ideological. He condemned the beginning persecution but, as in the case of Nazis before, did not name persons or political parties.[28] He reminded Polish and Soviet authorities that he had abstained from protests during he war, despite of massive persecutions. This did not seem to impress the communist party of Poland, which began to confiscate Church properties in the months thereafter. By late 1947, Catholic educational institutes, kindergartens, schools, orphanages were expropriated as well.[29] Starting in 1948, mass arrest and show trials began to take place against bishops and clergy.[30] Pope Pius XII responded with an apostolic letter Flagranti Semper Animi, on January 18, 1948,[31] in which he defended the Church against attacks and Stalinist persecution tactics. The authorities increased the pressures against the Church via legislation, de facto outlawing religious meetings and organizations. .[29] Pope Pius responded with a letter commemorating the 10th anniversary of the beginning of World War II , Decennium Dum Expletur. Although the Polish people had suffered like nobody else. The war is officially over, but, so Pope Pius, the suffering of the Polish People continues. The Apostolic Letter Cum Jam Lustri commemorates the death of two Polish Cardinals, August Hlond and Adam Stefan Cardinal Sapieha - whom he dearly appreciated - and gives courage to the Church in Poland. The Pope admires the ardent Polish love for the Virgin Mary.

  • The love which burns in you to her, is unparalleled. We received clear proof, during the last war, when Polish soldiers erected an altar in her honour in the smoking ruins of Monte Cassino. Polish soldiers also saved the Basilica della Santa Casa of Loreto from burning and destruction, risking their own lives. But the struggle continues.[32]

In honour of Saint Stanislaw, Pope Pius XII issues Poloniae Annalibus, giving consolation and again expressing his certain conviction, that Christ will win and the persecution end. By 1952 some 1000 priests incarcerated, all seminaries of religious orders closed.[33] On November 19, 1953, the pontiff addressed the Diplomatic Corps to issue a protest against the incarceration of Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński.[34]. After the arrest of the Cardinal, Communist authorities support patrioticPAX priests, who aspire a separation from Rome. At the 300th anniversary of the successful defence of Jasna Góra, Pope Pius XII writes again to Poland, congratulating the courageous defenders of the faith in his time. Gloriosam Reginam salutes the modern day Polish martyrs and expresses confidence in victory of the queen of Poland.[35] He salutes Cardinal Wyszynski upon his return from arrest in October 1956.[36]

In 1957, Pope Pius addressed in strong words the Polish episcopate, which celebrated the 300th. Anniversary of the martyrdom of Andrzej Bobola through the Russians. “The haters of God and enemies of Christian teaching attack Jesus Christ and his Church”.[37] The Pope asks for endurance and bravery.[38] The people and clergy must overcome many obstacles, and even sacrifices in time and money, but they must never give in.[39] Pius comforts his Polish brothers saying that everywhere, there is always a bit of martyrdom in Christian day to day life, if one strives for perfection. Bobola is a model saint because he kept his faith intact and defended it with all means. Polish people should “ look to the reward God promises to all who with perfect fidelity, unflagging readiness, and burning love live, labor, and strive to defend and spread throughout the world His Kingdom of peace”.[40] The Pope urges his bishops in Poland not to be overwhelmed by the situation but to mix courage with prudence, and knowledge with wisdom:

    • Act boldly, but with that Christian promptness of soul, which goes hand in hand with prudence, knowledge, and wisdom. Keep Catholic faith and unity.[41]

The last episcopal appointment of Pope Pius XII

One of the last episcopal appointments of Pope Pius XII and the last appointment of a Polish bishop, was a young priest from the archdiocese of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla. On 4 July 1958 Pope Pius XII named him titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary to Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Kraków.[42]

Some twenty years later, Pope John Paul II recalled meeting the pontiff as a student in Rome at the Belgian College. I want to recall the great Pope Pius XII, who forty years ago was called to the Holy See. He left a most profound impression on me. Introduced by the Rector as a student from Poland, Pope Pius looked at him with obvious emotion, paused for one moment, and said to me in Polish, Praise be to Jesus Christ. Wojtyla felt encouraged by Pope Pius XII, less than two years after World War II , which was a most terrible trial for my country. [43]

Pope Pius XII on Poland

For the war years 1939-1945, twenty-five communications of Pope Pius XII and over two hundred communications of the Holy See- mainly from Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione, Giovanni Battista Montini and Domenico Tardini - with Polish Church and State officials are included in the 600 documents of:

    • Le Saint Siege et la Situation Religieuse en Pologne et dans les pays Baltes, 1939-1945, in Actes et Documents Du Saint Siege Relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1967
    • 1945-1958
    • Per Hos Postremos Annos, Apostolic Letter, June 29, 1945, [44]
    • Czestochoviensis Beatae Mariae Virginis, Apostolic Letter, January 16, 1946, [45]
    • Immaculato Deiparae Cordi, Apostolic Letter, December 23, 1946, [46]
    • Flagranti semper animi, Apostolic Letter, January 18, 1948 [31]
    • Decennium Dum Expletur, Apostolic Letter, September 1, 1949, [47]
    • Cum Jam Lustri, Apostolic Letter, September 1, 1951, [48]
    • Poloniae Annalibus, Apostolic Letter, July 16, 1953,[49]
    • Speech to the Diplomatic Corps regarding the persecution of Cardinal Wyzynski, November 19, 1953,[50]
    • Gloriosam Reginam, Apostolic Letter, December 8, 1955, [51]
    • Message to Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński (after his liberation),[52]
    • Invicti Athletae, Encyclical on Saint Bobola, May 16, 1957, [53]


  1. Blet, 1999, p. 72.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Stehle 213
  3. Stehle 216
  4. Stehle 211He
  5. Blet 82
  6. 6.0 6.1 Blet 84
  7. Blet 283
  8. Actes III, 241 4,257
  9. most but not all of them in Actes III, volumes 1,2
  10. AAS 1939, 413-153.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Blet 70
  12. Blet 165
  13. Micewski, 33
  14. 14.0 14.1 Micewski, 34
  15. Micewski, 418
  16. Micewski, 419
  17. Blet, 71
  18. 18.0 18.1 Blet 74
  19. Actes, 381 Le Cardinal Maglione au nonce a Vichy Valeri May 26, 1942
  20. Blet 74 Germany took the same position for other annexed territories and Austria.
  21. Actes III, 398 L’administrateur apostolique Breitinger au pape Pie XII,July 20, 1942.
  22. Blet 79
  23. all references: Stehle 280-283 unless other sources are cited
  24. Micewski, 46
  25. Micewski, 68
  26. Micewski, 70
  27. Micewski, 71
  28. "Hate sin, love all sinners" (Saint Augustine) was Vatican policy since Leo XIII. Pastoral concerns had priority over political ones, (Blet, Preface)
  29. 29.0 29.1 Giovanetti, 139
  30. Giovannetti, 139
  31. 31.0 31.1 AAS 1948, 324
  32. Cum Jam Lustri letter to the bishops of Poland, September 1, 1951
  33. Giovannetti, 150
  34. AAS, 1953, 755
  35. Gloriosam Reginam 8,12
  36. See below AAS 1956, 761
  37. Invicti Athletae in AAS 1957
  38. Invicti Athletae, summary in AAS 1957
  39. Invicti Athletae 29 in AAS 1957, 321 ff
  40. Invicti Athletae 33 in AAS 1957, 321 ff.
  41. Invicti Athletae 34, in AAS 1957, 321 ff
  42. Wikipedia Pope John Paul II
  43. Spiazzi, 161
  44. AAS, 1945, 205
  45. AAS 1946, 172
  46. AAS 1946, 533
  47. AAS 1949, 450
  48. AAS 1951 774
  49. AAS 1953, 498
  50. AAS 1953, 755
  51. AAS 1956, 73
  52. AAS 1956, 761
  53. AAS, 1957, 321


  • Acta Apostolicae Sedis ( AAS), Roma, Vaticano 1922-1960
  • Actes et Documents di Saint Siege, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, vol. I-XI, 1967
  • Blet, Pierre, and Johnson, Lawrence J. 1999. Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican. Paulist Press. ISBN 0809105039.
  • Owen Chadwick, The Christian Church in the Cold War, London 1993
  • Richard Cardinal Cushing, Pope Pius XII, St. Paul Editions, Boston, 1959
  • Victor Dammertz OSB, Ordensgemeinschaften und Säkularinstitute, in Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, VII, Herder Freiburg, 1979, 355-380
  • A Galter, Rotbuch der verfolgten Kirchen, Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1957,
  • Alberto Giovanetti, Pio XII parla alla Chiesa del Silenzio, Editrice Ancona, Milano, 1959, German translation, Der Papst spricht zur Kirche des Schweigens, Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1959
  • Herder Korrespondenz Orbis Catholicus, Freiburg, 1946-1961
  • Andrzej Micewski, Cardinal Wyszynski, Harcourt, New York, 1984
  • Ludwig von Pastor, (1854-1928) Tagebücher, Errinneringen, Heidelberg 1930, 1950
  • Phayer, Michael. 2000. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33725-9.
  • Pio XII Discorsi e Radiomessagi, Roma Vaticano 1939-1959
  • Joanne M Restrepo Restrepo SJ, Concordata Regnante Sancissimo Domino Pio XI Inita, Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, Romae, 1932
  • Jan Olav Smit, Pope Pius XII, London Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD,1951
  • Raimondo Spiazzi, Pio XII, Mezzo Secolo Doppo, Edizione Studio Domenicano, Bologna, 1991
  • Domenico Tardini Pio XII, Roma, Vaticano 1960

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