The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler (Hardcover)

The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler By David I. Kertzer Cover Image
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The most important book ever written about the Catholic Church and its conduct during World War II.”—Daniel Silva

“Kertzer brings all of his usual detective and narrative skills to [The Pope at War] . . . the most comprehensive account of the Vatican’s relations to the Nazi and fascist regimes before and during the war.”—The Washington Post

“Tolstoyan.”—Cynthia Ozick

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.”

About the Author

David I. Kertzer is the Paul Dupee, Jr., University Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University, where he formerly served as provost. He is the author of twelve previous books, including The Pope and Mussolini, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a National Book Award finalist. In 2005 he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Kertzer and his wife, Susan, live in Rhode Island and Maine.

Praise For…

“A masterly character study of a flawed, tormented leader and a cautionary tale about the perils of both-sides-ism.”The New Yorker

“Kertzer brings all of his usual detective and narrative skills to [The Pope at War] . . . the most comprehensive account of the Vatican’s relations to the Nazi and fascist regimes before and during the war.”—The Washington Post

“Definitive.”—The Boston Globe

“Kertzer has spent decades excavating the Vatican’s hidden history . . . [His] new book . . . documents the private decision-making that led Pope Pius XII to stay essentially silent about Hitler’s genocide and argues that the pontiff’s impact on the war is underestimated. And not in a good way.”—The New York Times

“Remarkable.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Engrossing . . . exciting . . . moving.”—Richard J. Evans, London Review of Books

“David Kertzer, the son of a World War II U.S. Army chaplain, is a historian who studies Vatican documents newly opened to public scrutiny. In [his] books, he uncovers, in prose with the pace of Tolstoyan revelation, the motives and powers of popes and inquisitors who rule over the intimately personal and communal lives of Jews under their reign. . . . [His books] are neither polemics nor threnodies. They stand instead as the imperatives of scrupulous scholarship.”—Cynthia Ozick, Mosaic Magazine

A damning picture of a holy man who chose to remain silent about the mass destruction of European Jewry.”Haaretz

“A highly readable, a character-driven history well-paced with textured personalities, and a wealth of granular detail . . . [Kertzer] rarely editorializes—the facts are numbingly powerful.”—National Catholic Reporter

“A riveting history and valuable lesson for our time about the perils of neutrality.”Kirkus Reviews

“Combin[es] extraordinary documentation and elegant writing.”BookPage

“A captivating account of palace intrigue . . . [his] revelations . . . make sense of a papal tenure often excused away by apologists and, until now, not fully understood by scholars.”The Forward

“The most authoritative study yet [of Pius XII] . . . a searing indictment.”HistoryNet

“Fascinating, horrifying . . . a damning portrait.”Providence Journal

“Thoroughly researched and beautifully narrated.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Kertzer present[s] a highly unflattering evidence of the pope’s role during the Second World War and his silence regarding the Holocaust.”—Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler: A Biography

The Pope at War is the best historical nonfiction book I have ever read.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams

“With Kertzer’s magnum opus, the book on Pius XII is written, the dispute resolved, the case closed.”—James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword

“Brace yourself for a story full of horrors.”—Garry Wills, author of Why I Am a Catholic

“Kertzer has outdone himself and crowned his extraordinary career with this volume on Pope Pius XII.”—Kevin Madigan, Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard University

“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.”—Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies, New York University
Product Details
ISBN: 9780812989946
ISBN-10: 0812989945
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 672
Language: English