Lately there have been repeated discussions in the Jewish and Israeli news as well as the secular American press about Pope Pius XII, the pope during World War II who has been criticized for not speaking out against Nazi genocide. The present pope, Benedict XVI, wants to beatify Pope Pius XII.
It is interesting that I do not see any mention of Rabbi Zolli, who was chief rabbi of Rome during the Mussolini years and together with his family converted to Catholicism about eight months after the American and European forces occupied Italy. He did this despite pressure from American Jewry not to do this. I have not been able to find any literature about the reason for his conversion. Whereas in Italy he did not suffer as much as the Jews of Poland, he must have had some family there as he himself was from Brody, in Eastern Poland. Not long after the war I wrote to his children – he was by that time dead – and his daughter’s answer to me was that she did not know the reason. Why should such an important fact not be a part of Holocaust history?
The editor responds: According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Rabbi Israel Zoller changed his name, upon his conversion, to Eugenio Maria (in homage to Pius) Zolli. “[W]hen the Germans entered Rome,” according to the encyclopedia, “he abandoned the community and took refuge in the Vatican. At the end of the hostilities he reappeared to assume his position as rabbi, but was rejected by the community because of his unworthy behavior at the time of great danger.”
It’s possible, therefore, that he converted out of pique, rather than faith.