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 ( 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.

To read more see:


Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee


er raisuli

Jan Meisels Allen, excellent overview of recently released documents on the roles of the Pope and his closest confidants with respect to the German regime during WWII. 

For anyone interested in this topic, this book is a must read: 

Cornwell, John. Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, 1999

Cornwell had access to Pacelli’s records, held in Vatican archives, as the Vatican Secretary of State and later as Pope, decades before the records were made available to the public earlier this year. 

Particularly relevant are Chapter 8, Hitler and Pacelli, on Pacelli’s direction of the German Catholic Center Party to vote to give dictatorial power to Hitler in 1933, as well as Chapter 17, The Jews of Rome, on the roundup and deportation to Auschwitz of more than 1000 Jews.

The book also addresses the fiction created in Pius XII’s Vatican newspaper during the war that he made humanitarian efforts “behind the scenes” to mitigate the devastation of the Shoah. This myth has been perpetuated since, and, in the film “Holy Silence,” was repeated by Norbert Hoffman, representing the Vatican Commission on Jewish Relations. Through decades of research there has been no evidence presented to support it. 

Joe Tarshish 

Susan J. Gordon

Again, thanks for this, Jan. A few years ago, I visited the former Jewish Ghetto of Rome, which had been established in 1555. Small shops, restaurants and residences still lined the narrow streets, but no gates locked or unlocked the inhabitants.

A plaque on the wall by the Portico d'Ottavia commemorates the roundup on October 16, 1943, which was Shabbat, when most residents would be at home.

Susan J. Gordon


Another painful reminder about our historical saviors and protectors...

Rabbi Baron

Ittai Hershman

"Holy Silence" an excellent 72 minute documentary that was released earlier this year just before the archives were opened, includes Kertzer among others, and aims to be as dispassionate as one can be.  I saw it two weeks ago as part of the (virtual) Jewish Film Institute.  The trailer can be viewed at:

See also the New York Times reporting on Kertzer's new find:

Apropos of Susan Gordon's comment, my wife and I happened to visit Rome on our way back from a wedding in Israel in late January, attended the Shabbat services in the Great Synagogue, and ate a lovely kosher dinner at Su'Ghetto on Via del Portico D’Ottavia (Primi: pasta w/ goose meat, and ravioli w/ sea bass and pears; Secondi: sweetbreads, and steak tartare).   In addition to the plaque, there are also several Stolpersteine on side streets.

Ittai Hershman
New York City