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DATE 2023-10-01

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MESSAGE
DATE 2023-10-31
FROM Ruben Safir
SUBJECT Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] repeating cycle
Vatican’s Silence on Holocaust Was Shaped by Antisemitism and Caution,
Archives Show
Francis X. Rocca
10–13 minutes

ROME—For decades, controversy over why Pope Pius XII didn’t speak out
against the Nazi Holocaust has troubled the Catholic Church.

New research has revealed evidence that an antisemitic Vatican aide
played a role in the wartime pope’s silence, as did fear of provoking
violence against Catholics under Nazi rule and against the Vatican itself.

The pope’s belief in the first years of World War II that Germany would
emerge victorious also gave him a motive to keep silent, scholars say.

Vatican officials today continue to defend Pius’s record, saying that he
was the leader of a Catholic resistance to the Nazis that also protected
Jews. The Vatican’s archives on Pius’s reign, opened by Pope Francis in
2020, confirm that the Vatican and other church institutions did help
Jews, but focused their efforts on Jews who were baptized Catholics.

Pius, who led the Catholic Church from 1939 until 1958, never went
beyond allusions to the Nazi genocide in his public statements. The
closest Pius came to a denunciation was an oblique reference in a 1943
speech to “exterminating constraints” suffered by innocent people
“because of their nationality or descent,” according to Giovanni Coco, a
Vatican archivist and historian.

Debate over Pius’s silence has raged ever since Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963
play “The Deputy” portrayed the pope as indifferent to the fate of the Jews.

Dozens of scholars, including critics and defenders of Pius, gathered in
Rome earlier this month for a Vatican-sponsored conference on what
researchers are finding in the recently opened archives. Participants
stressed that they are still early in the process of studying the
approximately 16 million pages of Vatican documents from Pius’s reign.

“It’s like a big puzzle of which we have scattered pieces. The more
pieces we find and manage to put in order, the more we can understand,”
said Coco.

The conference opened two days after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas
militants on Israel, which kept away one of the event’s organizers, Iael
Nidam-Orvieto of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center.
The subsequent war in Gaza has been linked to an upsurge of antisemitic
incidents in Europe.

Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian of the Holocaust who attended
the conference, praised Francis for his decision to open the archives,
even though “he had to know…that the story they were going to tell would
not be a pretty one.”

Francis’ decision will ultimately benefit Catholic-Jewish dialogue, even
if some revelations from the wartime documents are painful, said
Lipstadt, who currently serves as U.S. special envoy to monitor and
combat antisemitism.

Several scholars said the archives show the influential role of a senior
papal adviser who played down reports of the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.
“Exaggeration is easy…among the Jews,” said one memorandum by the aide,
Msgr. Angelo Dell’Acqua, in 1942. In another document, cited at the
conference by American scholar David Kertzer, Dell’Acqua wrote in 1943
that “to be wary of the Jews’ influence…can be quite opportune.” The
monsignor repeatedly discouraged church leaders from speaking out.

Dell’Acqua, who later became cardinal vicar of Rome, effectively the
city’s acting bishop, was specifically assigned to matters involving
Jews and was considered a Vatican expert on the matter, giving his
opinion considerable weight, said Coco. “The least suitable man was
found in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Pius’s silence also reflected a fear of making things worse for
Catholics in German-occupied Europe, including those who were informing
the Vatican about Nazi war crimes, Coco said.

In a December 1942 letter, an anti-Nazi German priest wrote to Pius’s
private secretary, referring to the death camps and crematoria in
German-occupied Poland, but pleaded that the Vatican say nothing to
betray the sources of the information. “Not only is my head at risk but
also the heads of others if [the information is] not used with the
utmost prudence and care,” the priest wrote.

Coco said that, among the Vatican’s leadership at the time, “the fear is
certainly that if they speak out, first of all the Poles who are under
Nazi occupation, and the German Catholics who are already under the
regime, will pay the consequences, and that nothing material will be
able to be done to help the Jews.”

The Catholic Church had an uneasy relationship with Nazi Germany.
Although the Vatican signed a treaty with the regime meant to protect
the church’s rights, some clergy openly criticized the Nazis’ racism and
their euthanasia program, which targeted the physically or mentally
disabled or anyone with a life deemed “unworthy of living.” According to
historian Ian Kershaw, around 400 German Catholic priests were
imprisoned in the so-called Priests’ Block at Dachau concentration camp
alone.

In the early years of the war, Pius’s expectation of a German victory
weighed heavily on his decision not to speak out, scholars said. “The
framework of many of his decisions was, ‘Hitler will win, so what do we
do in this situation?’ ” said French Bishop Étienne Vetö, one of the
organizers of this month’s conference.

Until late 1942, Pius had reason to believe that the Axis would prevail,
according to Kertzer, who drew extensively on the newly available
Vatican archives for his 2022 book “The Pope at War.” During that
period, Kertzer writes, the pope “felt he needed to plan for a future in
which Germany would dominate continental Europe. His first and foremost
duty, as he saw it, was to protect the institutional church.”

After the German army occupied Rome in September 1943, the pope had an
incentive to avoid offending Hitler in order to protect the Vatican and
other church institutions in Rome, Kertzer’s book argues. This helps
explain why Pius didn’t protest the following month when the Nazis
rounded up more than a thousand of Rome’s Jews and transported them to
Auschwitz, Kertzer suggests.

The Vatican had a particular fear that the German occupiers would
destroy its artistic treasures, and after the war sought clemency for an
indicted Nazi war criminal on the grounds that he had protected them,
said Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs
for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and an organizer of the
Rome conference.

Another factor in Pius’s silence was the Vatican’s policy of neutrality
in international disputes, which had been strongly affirmed by Pope
Benedict XV during World War I, according to historians. Maintaining
that policy, Pius didn’t explicitly condemn the Nazi invasion of Poland
in 1939, said Gabriele Rigano, a professor of history at the University
for Foreigners of Perugia.

Controversy over Vatican neutrality has echoes in the current debate
over Francis’ reluctance to criticize Russia by name for invading Ukraine.

Pius’s defenders at the Vatican and beyond say he worked quietly but
effectively behind the scenes. At the opening of this month’s
conference, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state,
portrayed Pius as a champion of the Jews and foe of the Nazis.

“From the beginning of the Second World War until its end, a
considerable number of Catholics, out of religious conviction, but also
out of obedience to the pope, defended the Jews with all their means,
also by taking part in active resistance against Nazism and fascism,”
Parolin said. “Thanks to the recent opening of the archives, it has
become more evident that Pope Pius XII followed both the path of
diplomacy and that of undercover resistance.”

No document has been found showing that Pius personally authorized the
decision by convents and monasteries in Rome to hide more than 4,400
Jews, said Sister Grazia Loparco, a professor of church history at
Rome’s Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium.” But, she
said, those institutions wouldn’t have taken such steps without the
pope’s approval.

The archives of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State contain more than
17,000 requests for help on behalf of Jews, both individuals and groups,
said Johan Ickx, head of the archives at the Vatican’s equivalent of a
foreign ministry. His 2020 book “The Pope’s Cabinet: Pius XII’s Secret
War for Saving Jews” draws on the recently opened archives.

Scholars are far from determining how many Jews were saved owing to
Vatican intervention. A small sample of the requests shows that about
90% were answered, in most cases with some sort of assistance, if only a
grant of money or information on the whereabouts of a missing relative,
said Hubert Wolf, a professor of church history at the University of
Münster, Germany.

The Vatican gave priority to helping people of Jewish descent who were
baptized Catholics, the archives show.

The recently opened archives have revealed a “vast worldwide network in
support of converted Jews under the direction of the Vatican,” said the
Rev. Roberto Regoli, head of church history at Rome’s Pontifical
Gregorian University, which hosted the conference. Papal diplomats
assisted Jewish emigration to the U.S., Latin America and the Middle
East, he said.

When Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, a high-ranking papal aide who
would later become St. Paul VI, evaluated a request from a family of
Jewish Catholics for help in emigrating to Brazil, he urged church
officials to ascertain that they were “good Catholics” and hadn’t
converted merely to facilitate their escape, said Robert Ventresca, a
professor of history at King’s University College at Western University
in London, Canada.

That priority given to Jewish Catholics reflected the mentality of the
time, according to which the church’s first concern was the protection
of fellow believers, said Ventresca. But he said it also showed an
assessment of what was realistically possible, since the authorities in
Nazi-dominated Europe were more likely to recognize the Vatican’s
jurisdiction over the baptized.

“Vatican officials as well as bishops understood, and they went on
record as saying, ‘We do what we can, and by focusing on Jewish converts
we can save as many lives as possible,’ ” Ventresca said.

The archive evidence is unlikely to settle the biggest debate of all,
according to Regoli: whether Pius should have spoken out explicitly
about the Holocaust.

“The facts are known to everyone; the question is how to interpret
them,” Regoli writes in a forthcoming essay. “The question always
remains the same: how to judge those silences.”

Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca-at-wsj.com
--
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that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological
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