Records From Secret Vatican Archive Offer New Clues to Response to Holocaust #holocaust
Jan Meisels Allen
Now that the secret Vatican Archives are open, the world is able to see what the Vatican did during World War ll regarding silence about what the Nazis did to the Jews. Vatican officials have always insisted Pope Pius XII did everything possible to save Jewish lives during World War II. Pope Pius XII thought that he should not take sides in the war," says Brown University professor David Kertzer, "and that therefore he should not be criticizing either side of the war, including the Nazis."
Kertzer published his early findings in an article in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/the-popes-jews/6157). The newly unearthed documents — some imbued with anti-Semitic language — are shedding light on the pontiff's behavior during the Nazis' massacre of Jews. They also reveal the pope's role in preventing orphans of Holocaust victims from being reunited with their relatives.
NPR reports that Kertzer found two documents that reveal an intense debate was under way in the Vatican in 1943, when the Nazi occupiers of Rome rounded up more than 1,000 Jews and detained them in a military college 800 yards from St. Peter's Square before packing them off to the Auschwitz concentration camp. As the German ambassador to the Vatican reported to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the roundup occurred under the pope's "very windows." Only 16 of the deportees survived.
A letter written by the Pope’s emissary to the Fascist Italy regime urged the pope to make a private, oral protest to the German ambassador. He suggested Pius tell the ambassador that there is no reason to use violence against Italian Jews because the racial laws instituted five years earlier by Benito Mussolini's dictatorial regime were "sufficient to contain the tiny Jewish minority within its proper limits."
Pope Pius asked advice from his Jewish affairs expert, Monsignor Angelo Dell'Acqua. However, a second document Kertzer found is , "is Dell'Acqua's thoroughly anti-Semitic document explaining why he thought the pope should not, in fact, speak out." Dell'Acqua later became cardinal vicar of Rome.
Kertzer's findings also cover the case of two Jewish orphans secretly baptized in France after their parents were deported to Auschwitz: The Finaly Brothers—Robert and Gérald . Nuns, monks and a mother superior were put in jail for kidnapping when they defied court rulings to hand over the boys to their surviving relatives. The Vatican issued instructions telling them to resist the law.
In 1945, the Finaly brothers were two of the estimated 1,200 French Jewish orphans in France alone in non-Jewish families or institutions. Across Europe, Kertzer believes, there were thousands more — secretly baptized and never reunited with their Jewish relatives. Following his discoveries in the archives, Kertzer contacted Robert Finaly, who described to him what it was like when he and Gérald were being shuffled around in hiding in various convents.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee