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NEW YORK - The American Jewish Committee on Sunday criticized Pope Benedict XVI for saying his World

'The darkest abyss of our history'

Jews say Pope Pius XII never publicly expressed any condemnation or regret after World War II.

War II-era successor, Pope Pius XII, "did all he could to save people," in the current pontiff's new book.

"There is certainly enough evidence to refute those who charge that Pius XII stood idly by while the lives of Jews and others were imperiled," said rabbi David Rosen, the AJC's international director of interreligious affairs.

"On the other hand, not only did Pius XII never directly challenge the Nazi regime regarding the extermination of the Jews; perhaps even more dramatically, he never publicly expressed any condemnation, let alone express of regret, subsequent to World War II."

Rosen said that "the Shoah (Holocaust) represents the darkest abyss of our history and perhaps of human history. For us (and perhaps for all), one can never say that any persons did all they could have done in the face of such evil unless they laid down their life to oppose it ?!"

The current pontiff said Pius "did all he could to save people," in a book of interviews due out Tuesday in Pope Benedict's native Germany, obtained by AFP.

Pope Benedict noted that Pius XII in 1938 prior to his reign as pope had written to all Catholic bishops urging them to intervene to support visa requests for Jews trying to leave Germany.

"Naturally, one can always ask: 'Why did he not protest more strongly?' I believe he saw that the consequences could have been a public outcry," said the pope.

"He personally suffered enormously, we know this. He knew that he needed to speak and yet the situation prevented him," he said.

While Pius XII was pope, the Nazis rounded up more than 1,000 Roman Jews for deportation on October 16, 1943. Only a handful returned from the death camps.

An estimated six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

In December last year, Jews were up in arms when Pope Benedict moved Pius XII a step closer to sainthood with a decree bestowing the title "venerable."

The Roman Catholic Church has long argued that Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, saved many Jews who were hidden away in religious institutions, and that his silence was born out of a wish to avoid aggravating their situation.

In 2008, the pope infuriated the Jewish community with a decision to lift the excommunication of a known Holocaust denier, English bishop Richard Williamson.

Asked about the potential beatification of Pius, Rosen said that in his view "nothing should be done for as long as direct victims of this terrible period are still with us in this world."

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