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Pius XII and the Holocaust

Wartime Role Questioned

Controversy still rages over why he did so little.

VATICAN CITY — Catholic and Jewish scholars reviewing the Church's role during the Holocaust said on Wednesday the Vatican's version of events was incomplete and asked for full access to the Holy See's wartime archives.

The preliminary report was highly significant because while Jews have in the past asked the Vatican to open up its wartime archives it was the first time Catholic scholars had made such a ringing call for clarity.

The 18-page report, released by the Jewish group B'Nai B'rith International ahead of a news conference on Thursday, was filled with hundreds of questions asking for more information about specific cases.

But behind the specific requests was an underlying call for across-the-board clarity that would help them determine what Pope Pius XII did or did not know while the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews and why he did not speak out more.

"We appreciate that even if full access to the archives were granted, this would not necessarily lay to rest all of the questions surrounding the role of the Holy See and the Holocaust," the report said.

"Nevertheless, we believe that this would be a very significant step forward in advancing knowledge of the period and enhancing relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities," it said.


After examining 11 volumes of Vatican wartime papers already released, the researchers concluded: "A scrutiny of these volumes...does not put to rest significant questions about the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust.

"No serious historian could accept that the published, edited volumes could put us at the end of the story," it said.

The six researchers -- three Jews and three Catholics -- were appointed by their respective sides a year ago after widespread Jewish discontent with a Vatican document that defended the role of Pius XII.

"There is evidence that the Holy See was well-informed by mid-1942 of the accelerating mass murder of Jews. Questions continue to be asked about the reception of this news and what attention was given to it," it asked.

"How thoroughly informed was the Vatican regarding details of the Nazi persecution and extermination? What was the Holy See's reaction, and what discussions followed reports that flowed in describing evidence of the 'Final Solution'?"

The wartime role of Pius XII, who did not speak out strongly against the Holocaust despite the extensive information the Vatican had about it, has been one of the thorniest issues in post-war Catholic-Jewish relations.

The Church has defended Pius, saying he worked behind the scenes to save Jews and avoid provoking further Nazi horrors.


The researchers asked for more information on nearly 50 cases, saying that the documents already published "often raise more important questions to which they do not provide answers."

Noting the Vatican had no official reaction to Crystal Night, the 1938 pogrom in which Nazis smashed windows of Jewish-owned shops across Germany, they sought documents detailing internal discussions on the Church's response.

Polish Catholics wrote many letters warning about repression against priests, especially the large number sent to the Dachau concentration camp, but the Vatican has never published any responses. The historians asked if there were any.

Other questions dealt with how the Vatican handled letters and testimony about the deportation and slaughter of Jews provided by the Catholic bishop of Berlin, the Eastern Rite Catholic metropolitan in Lvov, the Catholic cardinal of Krakow and an Italian hospital chaplain.
Reuters, 10/25/00

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