Vatican Orders Partial Release of WWII “Jewish Files” – Where are the Rest???
Edited by: Fern Sidman
Pope Francis has ordered the online publication of 170 volumes of its Jewish files from the recently opened Pope Pius XII archives, the Vatican announced Thursday, amid renewed debate about the legacy of its World War II-era pope, as was reported by the Associated Press
The documentation contains 2,700 files of requests for Vatican help from Jewish groups and families, many of them baptized Catholics, so not actually practicing Jews anymore. The files were held in the Secretariat of State’s archives and contain requests for papal intervention to avoid Nazi deportation, to obtain liberation from concentration camps or help finding family members.
The AP reported that the online publication of the files comes amid renewed debate about Pius’ legacy following the 2020 opening to scholars of his archives, of which the “Jews” files are but a small part. The Vatican has long defended Pius against criticism from some Jewish groups that he remained silent in the face of the Holocaust, saying he used quiet diplomacy to save lives.
One recent book that cites the newly opened archives, “The Pope at War,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kertzer, suggests that the people the Vatican was most concerned about saving were Jews who had converted to Catholicism, the offspring of Catholic-Jewish mixed marriages or otherwise related to Catholics, as was reported by the AP.
Kertzer asserts that Pius was loath to intervene on behalf of Jews, or make public denunciations of Nazi atrocities against them, to avoid antagonizing Adolf Hitler or Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
In August of 2020, the JTA reported that in an article published in The Atlantic magazine, Kertzer discovered that the Vatican both fought efforts to reunite two Holocaust orphans with their relatives and urged Pope Pius XII not to protest the Nazi deportation of Italian Jews.
Kertzer’s findings came after his investigation into Vatican documents which were unsealed in March 2020.
The focus of the investigation revolved around a set of Jewish twins named Robert and Gérald Finaly. According to the JTA report, the boys were kidnapped and baptized by French Catholic priests. A Vatican Secretariat of State official named Angelo Dell’Acqua played a pivotal role in the smuggling of the Finaly twins from France to Spain. Dell’Acqua later became the cardinal for Rome, as was reported by JTA.
The smuggling of the children came in the aftermath of orders handed down by French judges. The twins were hidden from the Nazis at a Catholic monastery, and ordered to be handed over to their aunt, as was reported by JTA. That finally happened in 1953, and the twins now live in Israel.
Until his death in 1958, Pope Pius XII, who led the Holy See during World War II and the Holocaust years, had been legitimately accused of being callously indifferent to the plight of European Jewry as he did nothing to bring attention to the genocide perpetrated against them by the Nazis.
Towards the end of World War II, a story circulated that Pope Pius finally called upon Hitler to stop the wholesale slaughter of Europe’s Jews, however by this time, almost all Jews in Europe had already met their end in the Nazi death camps. It is said that when Pius issued his request to Hitler to cease the killings, Hitler retorted with, “We are only finishing the job that the Catholic Church started centuries ago.”
Kertzer’s findings serve to buttress this widely-accepted impression of Pius, according to the JTA report. Among his findings is a memorandum advising Pius against formally protesting the rounding up of about 1,000 Jews in Rome in 1943 for deportation to Auschwitz.
Pius XII was counseled by Dell’Acqua to hold private discussions with a German ambassador about the roundup in a talk “recommending to him that the already grave situation of the Jews not be aggravated further,” according to Kertzer’s investigation. JTA also reported that he asked the pope not to protest the move publicly and he complied with this directive.
On Wednesday, a 30-member Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) international delegation met with Pope Francis on to present a facsimile of an original report authored and signed by Adolf Hitler in which he openly espouses the destruction of the Jewish people by “a government of national strength.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies, including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).
The facsimile, whose original is displayed at the SWC’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, was presented to His Holiness by SWC founder and CEO Rabbi Marvin Hier and Dawn Arnall, chairwoman of the leading NGO for Jewish human rights.
In Rabbi Hier’s remarks to Pope Francis, the Jewish leader first enumerated the horrific statistics on both sides of the Atlantic, which confirm surging anti-Semitism, including violent hate crimes.
In Pope Francis’ remarks, he responded by thanking the Simon Wiesenthal Center for protecting the memory of the past. Rabbi Hier then spoke about the human rights organization’s namesake, Holocaust survivor turned Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, and how he would react to current events.
“Against such a tidal wave of hate, Simon would ask, ‘How could it possibly be that the world’s leaders knowing what’s happening still want to make a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons when her leaders deny that there ever was an Auschwitz or a Treblinka; who continues to preach that no Jews were ever murdered in gas chambers? How can the United Nations and the world trust a regime, which for the last 43 years, has never deviated from those notorious lies?’”
“If that is not scary enough, look at what Putin’s Russia is doing to the people of Ukraine. How can a country, which suffered the wrath of Hitler, turn around and adopt his very same tactics? Slaughtering innocent people, bombing hospitals, orphanages and schools.”
“Your Holiness,” Rabbi Hier continued, “We stand before you today, 80 years after the infamous Wannsee Conference, where 15 Nazi officials, eight of them PHDs from some of the finest universities, made the decision, agreeing with Hitler’s orders, to mass murder all of Europe’s Jews. By May 1945, in addition to six million Jews, millions of non-Jews, including gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and other enemies of the Reich, were also killed.
“That is why, your Holiness, we’ve come here today to present to the Vatican Archives one of the most significant documents in the history of humankind; a copy of an original letter, typed and signed by Hitler on Sept. 16, 1919, in which he openly maps out the need for the final removal of the Jewish people in Europe.”
Hitler, in the letter, wrote: “Our final aim … must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether. Both are possible only under a government of national strength, never under a government of national impotence.”
“What began as one man’s opinion,” Rabbi Hier noted, “would become state policy of Nazi Germany 22 years later, which led to the systematic murder of one-third of world Jewry. This document shows the power of words and is a warning for everyone to take threats of any demagogue seriously.
“As the Psalmist teaches, “the Heavens belong to G-d, but the land was given to man.” [Psalms 15-16] It is ‘we the people,’ men and women, who must lead the fight against anti-Semitism, bigotry and genocide.
“Your Holiness, our world needs your leadership now more than ever. As Simon Wiesenthal reminded all of us, “Freedom is not a gift from Heaven, it is something we have to fight for each and every day.”
The Pope denounced the current wave of anti-Semitism and cautioned that the threat of populism continues to be a threat. The Pontiff noted that the letter written and signed by Hitler in 1919 revealed that Hitler did not care about the German people, only promoting a dangerous ideology.
Pope Francis urged the SWC to continue to serve as a bridge between the past and the future. Continue “recalling history so it can be of service to the future.”
The AP reported that the Vatican’s foreign minister Paul Gallagher said it was hoped that the digital release of the “Jews” files would help scholars with research, but also descendants of those who had requested Vatican help, to “find traces of their loved ones from any part of the world.”
In an article for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Gallagher said the files contained requests for help, but without much information on outcomes.
“Each of these requests constituted a case which, once processed, was destined for storage in a documentary series entitled ‘Jews,’” he wrote, as was reported by the AP.
“The requests would arrive at the Secretariat of State, where diplomatic channels would try to provide all the help possible, taking into account the complexity of the political situation in the global context,” Gallagher wrote.
The AP reported that he cited one case found in the files: A Jew who was baptized Catholic in 1938, Werner Barasch, who sought help from the pope in 1942 to be freed from a concentration camp in Spain. According to the archives, his request was forwarded to the Vatican embassy in Madrid, but the documentation then went cold.
“As for the majority of requests for help witnessed by other cases, the result of the request was not reported,” Gallagher wrote, according to the AP report. “In our hearts we immediately inevitably hope for a positive outcome, the hope that Werner Barasch was later freed from the concentration camp and was able to reach his mother overseas.”
Subsequent online research, including at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, found that Barasch did indeed survive and was able to join his mother in the United States in 1945, Gallagher reported. (Sources: AP, JTA, SWC.com)