Pope Pius XI, strikes and petrol fires: Pictures from around the 1938 world


On its back page, the Arabic daily Filastin published a selection of news photos from around the world. The Christian-owned broadsheet, published out of Jaffa since 1911, was one of the highest-circulating Arabic newspapers at the time. Its main competitor was the Muslim-owned daily, al-Difa’, also based in Jaffa, which was established in 1935. In a previous post, I shared some photos from Filastin’s 16th November edition. Here are some more from 14th November:

Filastin, 14th November, 1938, 6.

1. Striker arrested in France. This photograph shows police arresting a factory worker. The caption explains that the strike had started “recently.” It doesn’t specify where exactly – or indeed, when – the strike took place. France saw a wave of strikes and labour organisation between 1936 and 1938 amid an economic crisis that started in the early 30s, in the aftermath of the Great Depression.


From Filastin, 14th November, 1938, 6.

2. This photograph shows Pope Pius XI, who served as head of the Catholic church from from 6th February, 1922 until his death on 10th, February, 1939. The caption says that Pius is shown giving a speech, but it is not clear from the caption when it took place. I came across one mention of a speech he gave on 6th November, 1938, perhaps this was it. Pius XI is known for his criticism of the Mussolini government and the Nazi regime. His comments to a group of Belgian pilgrims in September 1938 that “spiritually we are all Semites” are often mentioned as proof of this. The following excerpt from Michael Phayer’s book, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: 1930-1965, explains the circumstances and implications of this incident:

Historian Ronald Modras has pointed out the unique circumstances surrounding Pius’s words, “Spiritually we are anti-Semites,” spoken to the Belgian pilgrims. Pope Pius spoke spontaneously after reading a text in a Mass book about Abraham, who he referred to as “our Father, our Ancestor.” “Anti-Semitism,” the pope went on, “is not compatible with the sublime thought and reality which are expressed in this text.” The pope then paused, overcome with emotion, before continuing. “It is not possible for Christians to participate in antisemitism.” Pius’s identification of Christians and Jews as belonging to the same tradition became widely known among Catholics in western Europe.

The spontaneity with which the pope spoke was remarkable. Equally remarkable were the circumstances surrounding the publication of his words. Realising that since he had spoken to the Belgian group before the beginning of a general audience his statement would not be printed in the official publication Acta Apostolicae Sedis or in the Vatican’s newspaper, Pius asked that the Belgian Catholics, who were in the Communications field, see to its publication. Because of this, Pius’s phrase – “we are Semites” – provided inspiration for Catholic rescuers during the Holocaust.

There is some disagreement among scholars about the significance of his words, and how staunch his stance against the Nazi persecution of Jews really was. Phayer himself points out Pius’s silence regarding Kristallnacht in November 1938, in contrast to his remarks against German and Italian racism throughout that year. However, he is certainly considered to have taken a far stronger stance against Fascism and racism than his successor, Pope Pius XII.

Filastin, 14th November, 1938, 6.

3. A petrol fire in New Jersey. The photo caption says: “View of the vast fire which broke out in a petrol warehouse in New Jersey in America, the loss of this fire was estimated at $400,000.” There is no indication of when the fire took place, or its exact location, and I did not come across any references to such a fire in New Jersey at the time. If anyone has any idea, let me know.

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