Seven German researchers from the University of Munster announced that they had studied documents from the Vatican archives that were recently made available concerning the activities of Pope Pius XII’s during World War II. The research revealed that the pope knew from his own sources about the Nazi death camps and Hitler’s attempts to exterminate the Jews but the pope chose not to reveal this to his contacts with the U.S. government. Pope Pius decided that the reports were inaccurate after an aid convinced him that the main sources, Jews and Ukrainian, could not be trusted because they lied and exaggerated.
The study of the Vatican papers comes while the Catholic Church is considering declaring Pope Pius XII a saint. The head of the research team, Hubert Wolf, is a proponent of Pope Pius XII but noted that the study could affect this decision.
“If Pius XII comes out of this study looking better, wonderful. If he comes out worse, we must accept that,” he told a Catholic weekly.
The study comes at least in part to cope with claims that Pope Pius had knowledge of the Holocaust but did not do enough to prevent is. 40 years ago, the Vatican published 11 volumes of selected archival documents to prove his innocence, claiming he used quiet diplomacy and encouraged convents and other religious institutes to hide Jews. The study, led by Wolf, delved into documents that were excluded from the 11 volumes.
In September 1942, a U.S. diplomat gave the Vatican a secret report on the massacre of 100,000 Warsaw Ghetto Jews plus 50,000 murdered in German-occupied Lviv, Ukraine.
The intel came from the Jewish Agency for Palestine’s Geneva office. The U.S. government requested from the Vatican, which received information from Catholics around the world, could confirm this from its sources, if they could confirm this report. The Vatican has claimed that it had no information on the subject at the time. But the newly opened archive has a note confirming Pius read the American report. Two letters to the Vatican independently corroborated massacres in Warsaw and Lviv, Ukraine. A month before the American request, Lviv’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky sent Pius a letter reporting 200,000 Ukrainian Jews massacred under “outright diabolical” Nazi occupation.
In another case, an Italian businessman named Malvezzi told Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future pope Paul VI, of the “incredible butchery” of Jews he had seen during a visit to Warsaw.
Wolf says the decision to withhold this information came at the behest of Secretariat of State’s Angelo Dell’Acqua, who became a cardinal, who wrote a memo warning Pius to distrust the report because Jews “easily exaggerate” and “Orientals” — meaning Archbishop Sheptytsky — “are really not an example of honesty.”
This is a key document that has been kept hidden from us because it is clearly anti-Semitic and shows why Pius XII did not speak out against the Holocaust,” Wolf concluded in his report on his research.
In September, an Italian businessman named Malvezzi told Mgr. Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, of the “incredible butchery” of Jews he witnessed during a recent Warsaw visit. Montini reported this to his superior, the Vatican’s secretary of state.
The archives also held three photos of emaciated concentration camp inmates and corpses in a mass grave. A Jewish operative gave them to the Vatican ambassador in neutral Switzerland to send to the Vatican which confirmed receipt in a letter two weeks later.
Wolf noted that despite the new information about the pope’s knowledge of the Holocaust, the documents do not contain Pope Pous’s responses.
“Either they do not exist, or they are in the Vatican,” Wolf told AFP.
“There is no doubt that the pope was aware of the murder of Jews,” Wolf said. “What really interests us is when he learned about it for the first time, and when he believed that information.”
Pope Pius XII, born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, was head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 2 March 1939 to 1958 when he died. While the Vatican was officially neutral during World War II, t his leadership of the Catholic Church during the war remains the subject of controversy including allegations of public silence and inaction about the fate of the Jews. After the war, he advocated peace and reconciliation, including lenient policies towards former Axis nations. His predecessor, Before he became pope, Pacelli made official anti-Semitic statements, referring to Jews as those “whose lips curse [Jesus] and whose hearts reject him even today.” His predecessor, Pope Pius XI, was made aware of Kristallnacht, nation-wide anti-Jewish violence in Germany in November 1938, but Pacelli, the Cardinal Secretary of State at the time, persuaded him to refrain from condemning it. In 2005, Corriere della Sera published a document dated 20 November 1946 showing that the pope himself had ordered that orphaned Jewish childrenin war-time France be baptized and kept in Catholic custody rather than turn the children over to Jewish organizations.
In January 1943, Pius XII declined to denounce publicly the Nazi discrimination against the Jews, following requests to do so from the president of the Polish government-in-exile, and Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin. John Cornwell argues in his book, Hitler’s Pope, that the pope was weak and vacillating in his approach to Nazism. Cornwell asserts that the pope did little to challenge the progressing holocaust of the Jews out of fear of provoking the Nazis into invading Vatican City.
It should be noted in the pope’s defense that also in 1943, when deportations from Italy were imminent, 477 Jews were hidden in the Vatican itself and another 4,238 were protected in Roman monasteries and convents and 80% of Roman Jews were saved from deportation. In 1944, the pope ordered the papal nuncio in Budapest and other papal legates to hide and shelter Jews
The archives were made available on Morch 2 but closed due to the pandemic. 200 scholars, including American and Israeli, had initially intended to take part in the study but were prevented due to pandemic restrictions.