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Gerald J. Steinacher

Senior Fellow (1/2021–6/2021) 


Forgive and Forget? The Vatican and the Nuremberg Trials 1945–1955


Web SteinacherThe leadership of the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII and his closest advisors, as well as many cardinals and bishops, were critical of the Nuremberg war crimes trials and the denazification effort after the Second World War. Papal interventions ultimately culminated in demands for a general amnesty. The Vatican tried to derail many initiatives by the Allies (especially the Americans) to bring Nazi perpetrators to justice. Why did the Catholic Church leadership so vigorously oppose the punishment of war crimes through criminal justice? What alternatives did the Vatican and especially the Pope have to deal with guilt and responsibility (concepts of transitional justice)? In the immediate postwar period, many considered Pope Pius XII an outstanding moral authority, and the Catholic Church maintained a powerful position in Southern and Western Europe. Austria and Italy were predominantly Catholic, as was a substantial part of Germany. The position of the Catholic Church on the ‘fair’ punishment of crimes under the previous regimes is therefore particularly important for understanding these societies and the moral tenor of their time.


Gerald J. Steinacher is the James A. Rawley Professor of History at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of numerous publications on twentieth-century German, Austrian, and Italian history, most recently Humanitarians at War. The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Oxford 2017) and Nazis on the Run. How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice (Oxford 2011).


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July 2024
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