Preliminary Report on the Vatican During the Holocaust
by The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission
The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission
(Historical Commission) is comprised of a group of three Catholic and
three Jewish scholars appointed, respectively, by the Holy See’s Commission
for Religious Relations with the Jews (Holy See’s Commission) and the
International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC),
to whom we are submitting this preliminary report.
The six scholars chosen to serve on the Historical
Commission are: Dr. Eva Fleischner, Professor Emerita of Montclair State
University in New Jersey; Reverend Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J., William
R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Religious Studies and History, University
of Virginia; Dr. Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor
of Holocaust Studies and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, University
of Toronto; Reverend John F. Morley, Associate Professor, Department
of Religious Studies, Seton Hall University; Dr. Bernard Suchecky, Researcher
at the Department of Social Sciences, Free University of Brussels; Dr.
Robert S. Wistrich, Professor of History and holder of the Neuberger
Chair in Modern Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The scholars serve without compensation.
Coordinators for the project are Dr. Eugene Fisher,
Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National
Conference of Catholic Bishops (USA), on behalf of the Holy See’s Commission
for Religious Relations with the Jews; Seymour D. Reich, Chairman of
the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations
(IJCIC); and Dr. Leon A. Feldman, Professor Emeritus of Hebraic Studies,
Rutgers University, and Secretary of IJCIC. Ariella Lang, doctoral candidate
in Italian at Columbia University, served as research assistant to the
Historical Commission and assisted in the drafting of this report.
IJCIC’s membership consists of the American Jewish
Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, World
Jewish Congress, Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations and
representatives of the three major branches of Judaism: Orthodox Union
and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox); Rabbinical Assembly and
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (Conservative), and Central
Conference of American Rabbis and Union of American Hebrew Congregations
The project was announced in Rome in October, 1999
by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, President of the Holy See’s Commission
and Mr. Seymour D. Reich, Chairman of IJCIC. The Historical Commission
began its work with the proposal put to it by Cardinal Cassidy to examine
critically the eleven volumes of archival material published by the
Holy See’s Secretariat of State (external division) between 1965 and
1981, entitled Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde
guerre mondiale (ADSS). Each volume considers a different topic
and time frame. Included in these documents are the diplomatic correspondence
of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State with its representatives and
foreign officials, as well as notes and memoranda from meetings with
diplomats and Church leaders from various countries. These documents
are published in the languages in which they were originally written
(primarily Italian, French and German, but also some in Latin and English),
and each volume, apart from Volume 3 which is divided into two books,
has a separate introduction. These introductions have been recently
summarized by the last surviving member of the team of Jesuit editors
for the ADSS, Rev. Pierre Blet, S.J.1
The mandate given to us by our sponsoring bodies was
to review the volumes that make up the ADSS and to raise relevant questions
and issues that, in our opinion, have not adequately
or satisfactorily been resolved by the available documentation, and
to issue a report on our findings. In our review of the material, we
have felt compelled to request additional documentation that could answer
questions that arose as a result of our research. We first met in December
1999 in New York, followed by meetings in London in May, in Baltimore
in July, and again in New York in September.2
Having reviewed the ADSS, we have prepared this preliminary report
based on our assessment of the documents within the volumes. In fulfillment
of our mandate, the major portion of this report consists of a selection
of questions arising out of our study of the documents, after a brief
summary of the circumstances that led to the establishment of this Commission.
The intense polemics surrounding Pius XII’s reputation and the role
of the Vatican during the Holocaust began in the early 1960s with the
controversy surrounding Rolf Hochhuth’s play The Deputy. This
was also a period when a number of historians published highly critical
accounts of the wartime Pope that contrasted sharply with the praise
he had received both during and after the war, and until his death in
Many scholars, from the 1960s to the present, have taken seriously
the mandate for historical objectivity and have written balanced accounts
(albeit in many cases still critical of the Holy See). Others appear
to have simply assumed that a particular allegation, if deemed to be
damaging to Pius XII’s reputation, must therefore
be true. Still others, reacting to the charges against the Pope, have
developed apologetical defenses, some of which are highly polemical.
As a result, there have developed over the years increasingly contentious
portraits, both condemnatory and adulatory, of a man whose office, the
papacy, is revered by many as a sacred institution.
In 1964 the Vatican responded to the controversy and set in motion
the editorial process that led to the publication of the ADSS. In authorizing that publication, Pope Paul VI made the unprecedented
decision to override partially the Vatican’s usual policy of not releasing
such recent archival material.3 The task
of publishing these documents was entrusted by the Secretariat of State
to three Jesuits, Blet himself, Angelo Martini, and Burkhart Schneider.
Subsequently Robert Graham, another Jesuit, was added to the team.4 Father Blet later explained that the publication of the ADSS was the
Vatican’s response to "accusations" brought against Pius XII
at the beginning of the 1960s.5
The volumes of the ADSS reveal the complexity and variety of the activities
which the Holy See pursued on behalf of the "victims of the war"
One of their valuable contributions is to illustrate the priorities
of the Vatican during this conflict. At that time the Holy See was primarily
concerned with its sacramental ministry, the institutional rights and
even the survival of the Catholic Church, as illustrated, for example,
by its diplomatic policy of relying on concordats.
The variety of the documents, and the moral questions that arise from
some of them, attest to the serious endeavor on the part of the editors
who prepared them, and the inclusion of documents that then, and subsequently,
raised questions about the role of the Holy See speaks to the editors’
efforts at objectivity. Indeed, the fact that such questions have been
repeatedly raised within the Church itself illustrates the extent to
which the Church’s understanding of its role in the world has evolved
dramatically since the events described in our report.
However, a scrutiny of these volumes of Vatican documents 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. This is due neither
to the complexity nor to the difficulty of the questions themselves,
nor to the editorial quality of the documentary volumes. Rather, it
reflects the fact that many of the documents are susceptible to different
interpretations. Interpretation is unavoidable in the work of historians;
it is particularly relevant and sensitive in this case because the Historical
Commission is dealing with what the editors of the documents themselves
acknowledge to be only a portion of the available evidence.7 One of our goals is to understand the actions of Pius XII and the Vatican
during World War II, how they decided upon the policies they followed,
and why. But the ability to do so is limited by the fact that our Commission,
and scholars in general, have at their disposal only a selection of
the Vatican documents. One of the inevitable results of this limitation
is that some commentators have relied more heavily on speculation than
is desirable, and some have succumbed to sensationalism.
The published documents themselves often raise important questions
to which they do not provide answers. The mere presence of a document,
after all, says nothing about how it was received, what attention was
devoted to its reception, or how it was regarded or treated in the various
circles of Vatican diplomacy. Furthermore, the editors of the ADSS conceived
of their project in a certain light, as do all scholars, and thus we
are not only faced with the task of analyzing the contents of the volumes,
but also of examining the aim and focus of the editors.
Many questions can be answered by reading the lengthy introductions
that accompany each volume, a summary of which Father Blet has provided,
but other questions still remain. In the introductions, the editors
quote numerous documents, some of which are published in the volumes,
and others of which are referred to but not published. In Volume 1,
for example, the editors mention letters sent to the Pope by "anxious
souls", who remain unnamed, beseeching him to work for peace, sometimes
even submitting plans of action to him.8 These appeals, however, are not included in the body of the volumes.
Similarly, in the introduction to Volume 2 the editors explicitly quote
in footnotes from some of the correspondence of the German Catholic
hierarchy to the Pope. But the text of the volume contains only letters
from Pius XII to the German bishops.
The editors themselves acknowledge that they used certain criteria
in selecting the documents they published. In the Preface to Volume
1, they explain that the Secretariat of State
receives reports and sends instructions that concern both the internal
life of the Catholic Church and the religious life of its faithful,
and which have nothing to do with international relations. This is why
the present volume is limited to the publication of documents that serve
to explain the Holy See’s involvement in issues relating to the war
The editors likewise make the point in Volume 2, where they note that
"the Pope deals with a great many issues that are strictly ecclesiastic
and concerning religious life.10"
A generation later, historians might find relevant to their inquiry
issues that previously appeared to be strictly ecclesiastical or religious
What then can we bring to the discussion that others have not? We do
not claim expertise on all of the subjects covered in the published
volumes, although we are all part of the ongoing research and dialogue
surrounding the Church and the Holocaust. Each of us came to the commission
with distinct viewpoints based on previous work. We hope to provide
a multiple dimension to the report that reflects scholarly difference
and opinions inherent in any research. Our collaboration and joint review
of the published documents has not only been mutually enriching but
has also generated a forum for investigation and dialogue. This does
not mean, however, that we have reached unanimous agreement on the interpretation
of every document.
In accordance with our charge, we began our work with an analysis of
materials that have been in the public domain for over two decades.
We agreed to undertake this task for a variety of reasons. First, these
volumes have been little used and little known, outside a small circle
of specialists. Second, given the highly controversial and emotive nature
of the subject matter, we agreed that it would be useful to engage in
an independent inquiry by three Catholic and three Jewish scholars with
a view to promoting a deeper and more mature level of historical discourse
between and within our two communities. Third, we believe that such
a common examination of the published documentation is a first step
toward achieving access to further archival documentation and historical
In discharging our mandate, we hope to establish a more secure documentary
basis for analyzing the actions and policies of Pius XII and the Vatican.
Our task is not to sit in judgment
of the Pope and his advisors. Rather, through analysis and study of
their actions, statements and letters, we hope to contribute to a more
nuanced understanding of the role of the papacy during the Holocaust.
What follows are some examples of questions that arose in our examination
of the documents. For convenience we have grouped these questions into
three categories: the first, of a very specific character arising from
particular documents in the collection; the second, of a more general
character, involving themes that appear in one or more of the volumes;
and the third, general questions that occurred to us as we considered
the broader picture.
a. Questions arising from particular
Eugenio Pacelli, then Secretary of State, and German cardinals
played a central role in drafting the 1937 encyclical "Mit
brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern"), which
was a forceful condemnation of National Socialism. Soon after he
was elected Pope, Pacelli met with the same group of German cardinals
to discuss how they should deal with Nazism. In order to understand
Pacelli’s evolving policies as Secretary of State and as pope, can
we see the drafts of Mit brennender Sorge, or any other relevant
material pertaining to that encyclical or his meeting in 1939 with
the German cardinals after his election?11
In 1938, after the Kristallnacht pogrom, only one prominent German
prelate, Bernhard Lichtenberg, rector of Saint Hedwig’s cathedral
in Berlin, had the courage to condemn the outrages publicly. Pacelli
was given a detailed report by the papal nuncio in Berlin12 but there appears to have been no official reaction by the Vatican.
This issue is especially important because Archbishop Amleto Cicognani,
Apostolic Delegate to the United States certainly informed the Vatican
of the public broadcast of the American bishops’ condemnation of
Kristallnacht. Do the archives reveal internal discussions among
Vatican officials, including Pacelli, about the appropriate reaction
to this pogrom?
In June 1938 Pope Pius XI commissioned Father John LaFarge S.J.
to draft an encyclical on racism and antisemitism. The editors of
the ADSS affirmed that nothing was found in the Vatican archives
on this subject.13 However,
in an article that appeared in the Osservatore Romano in 1973, Father Burkhart Schneider, one of the ADSS editors,
stated that "the texts prepared, as well as many on other topics,
have ended up in the silence of the archives14".
May we review the drafts and materials relating to that document
from the archives?
A substantial part of Volume 6 is devoted to the aborted efforts
to obtain Brazilian visas for Catholics of Jewish origin. Numerous
questions have been raised concerning the failure of this project.
In addition, it is known that a part of the money destined for the
refugees came from funds raised by the United Jewish Appeal in the
United States.15 Is there further documentation
as to why this money was allocated to the attempted rescue of converted
Jews rather than to Jews?
From the outbreak of the war, appeals rained down upon the Vatican
for help on behalf of the population of Poland, brutally victimized
in a cruel and bloodthirsty occupation. And from the earliest days
of the fighting, observers, ranging from the exiled Polish government
to the British and French ambassadors to the Vatican, recounted
the opinion of many Catholic Poles, both inside and outside Poland,
that the Church had betrayed them and that Rome was silent in the
face of their national ordeal.16 Is
there any further documentation beyond what is already in the volumes
concerning deliberations within the Vatican with regard to these
insistent appeals on behalf of the Poles?
On November 23, 1940, Mario Besson, Bishop of Lausanne, Fribourg,
and Geneva, sent a letter to Pope Pius XII expressing deep concern
at the grave conditions of thousands of prisoners, including Jews,
in concentration camps in southwest France.17 In his report he pressed for a public appeal by the Pope against
the persecutions and a more active Catholic defense of the rights
of all the victims. We know that it must have been taken seriously
by the Vatican, especially since its observations were confirmed
by the papal nuncio to Switzerland, Archbishop Filippo Bernardini,
who forwarded Besson’s message to the Pope.18 The subsequent responses by Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State,
also indicate that he considered it worthy of attention, and he
certainly would have discussed it with the Holy Father.19 Is there any evidence that Pius XII, Maglione or any other high
Vatican official considered, then or subsequently, responding in
the manner requested by Besson?
In August 1941 the French head of state, Marshal Philippe Pétain,
asked the French ambassador to the Holy See, Léon Bérard, to ascertain
the views of the Vatican on the collaborationist Vichy government’s
efforts to restrict the Jews through anti-Jewish legislation. The
response came, reportedly from Giovanni Montini, substitute Secretary
of State, and Domenico Tardini, Secretary of the Congregation of
Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, who stated that there was
no objection to these restrictions so long as they were administered
with justice and charity and did not restrict the prerogatives of
the Church.20 Was the Pope consulted
on this matter? Are there any additional materials in the archives
regarding this issue that are not contained in the ADSS?
In Romania, where Catholics were a small but significant minority,
both the local Catholic authorities and the Vatican clung to the
concordat of 1929 as defining the relationship between the Church
and the dictatorial regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu. During 1940
and 1941, as persecution of the Jews intensified, the Vatican received
a stream of communications from the nuncio, Archbishop Andrea Cassulo,
relaying the strain that the anti-Jewish laws put upon what the
Church saw as its prerogatives – among others, the protection of
the civil and religious rights of Catholics who had converted from
Judaism. Cassulo repeatedly reported on his efforts to secure the
"freedom of the Church" by insisting upon the need to
exempt converts from anti-Jewish laws, their rights to attend schools
and vocational institutions.21 Did
Cassulo or his interlocutors in the Vatican view these interventions
as the only practical means by which a blanket of protection, or
at least some protection, might be extended to Jews who were not
converts? Are there any further documents to elucidate this issue?
Cassulo had very good relations with Jewish leaders in the core
Romanian provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia. He appealed directly
to Antonescu to limit deportations planned for the summer of 1942.22 He toured Transnistria in the spring of 1943, visiting one of the
principal killing grounds for Jews during the Holocaust. Cassulo
reported extensively on his activities to Maglione.23 He traveled to Rome in the fall of 1942 and was received by the
Pope. Do any documents record what transpired during that visit?
Were his actions approved by the Holy See?
At the end of August 1942, the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv
(Lwow), Andrzeyj Szeptyckyj, wrote to the Pope and described with
stark clarity the atrocities and mass murder being carried out against
the Jews and the local population.24 No other high-ranking Catholic Churchman, to the best of our knowledge,
provided such direct eye-witness testimony and expressed concern
for Jews qua Jews (and as primary targets of German bestiality)
in the same way. Moreover, he indicated to the Pope that he had
protested to Himmler himself. Finally, he publicly denounced the
massacres of Jews in circumstances in which some Ukrainian Catholics
themselves were collaborating with the Germans in these murders.
Is there evidence of a discussion or a reply to Szeptyckyj’s plea?
The Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, Adam Sapieha, in a letter of
February 1942 to the Pope, vividly described the horrors of the
Nazi occupation, including the concentration camps that destroyed
thousands of Poles.25 However, neither
in this nor in any other communication to Rome, of which we are
aware, did Sapieha make any specific reference to the Jews. Nor,
to the best of our knowledge, did the Vatican ever request any information
on the subject from him. Yet Sapieha undoubtedly knew what was happening
in Auschwitz, which was within his archdiocese. Was there any unpublished
communication of Sapieha to Rome in which he alluded to the fate
of the Jews? Can the archives tell us more regarding the interaction
on this and related matters between the Vatican and Polish church
On 18 May 1941,Pope Pius XII received the head of the Croation
fascist state, Ante Pavelic. While the Vatican had received Pavelic
as an individual Catholic, not as head of state, there were political
implications as a result of this reception. Before his reception,
the Yugoslav minister to the Holy See brought to the Vatican’s attention
Pavelic’s involvement in committing atrocities against the Serbs
and protested the reception of Pavelic in any capacity because he
was the head of an "illegitimate" puppet state.26 Subsequently, Pavelic's regime was responsible for the massacre
of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, gypsies, and partisans.
It is not known how the Pope reacted to these atrocities. Are there
any archival materials that can illuminate this issue?
Many unanswered questions also surround the Archbishop of Zagreb,
Aloysius Stepinac, beatified in 1999. While in 1941 he initially
welcomed the creation of a Croatian state, he subsequently condemned
atrocities against Serbs and Jews and established an organization
to rescue Jews. Are there any archival documents or materials from
the beatification process that can illuminate this matter?
On several occasions Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, had
vainly appealed to the Pope to protest specific Nazi actions, including
those directed at the Jews. On 17 January 1941 he wrote to Pius
XII, noting that "Your Holiness is certainly informed about
the situation of the Jews in Germany and the neighboring countries.
I wish to mention that I have been asked both from the Catholic
and Protestant side if the Holy See could not do something on this
subject, issue an appeal in favor of these unfortunates.27"
This was a direct appeal to the Pope, which bypassed the nuncio.
What impression did von Preysing’s words make on Pius XII; what
discussions if any, took place about making such a public appeal
as the German bishop requested, and was any further information
about Nazi anti-Jewish policy sought?
On 6 March 1943, von Preysing asked Pius XII to try and save the
Jews still in the Reich capital, who were facing imminent deportation
which, as he indicated, would lead to certain death: "The new
wave of deportations of the Jews, which began just before 1 March,
affects us particularly here in Berlin even more bitterly. Several
thousands are involved: Your Holiness has alluded to their probable
fate in your Christmas Radio Broadcast. Among the deportees are
also many Catholics. Is it not possible for Your Holiness again
to intervene for the many unfortunate innocents? It is the last
hope for many and the profound wish of all right-thinking people.28"
On 30 April 1943, the Pope indicated to von Preysing that local
bishops had the discretion to determine when to be silent and when
to speak out in the face of the danger of reprisals and pressures.29 Although he felt that he had to exercise great prudence in his actions
as Pope, he made it clear that he felt comforted that Catholics,
particularly in Berlin, had helped the "so-called non-Aryans"
(sogenannten Nichtarier). He particularly singled out for "fatherly
recognition" Father Lichtenberg, who had been imprisoned by
the Nazis and who would die shortly afterwards. Are there earlier
examples in the archives of the Pope’s solicitude for Father Lichtenberg
or any reference to the bishops’ stand against the persecution of
the Jews going back to 1938? Is there any evidence of discussion
in the Vatican regarding the deportations from Berlin?
Apart from von Preysing’s direct observation of
the Nazi deportations of Jews from Berlin, and what was reported
to him, we know that he had been kept informed about the persecution
through his frequent contact with Helmut James Graf von Moltke (the
driving force of the anti-Nazi Kreisau
Circle). Did the Pope receive other information from von Preysing
about the Holocaust? Do the archives contain any additional information
regarding von Preysing’s and other German bishops’ interaction with
the Vatican about the persecution and murder of Jews?
The Pope’s reply to von Preysing did not give a specific commitment
to make any public appeal for the Jews. But on 2 June 1943, just
over a month later, the Pope in a speech to the Sacred College of
Cardinals did elusively refer to those "destined sometimes,
even without guilt on their part, to exterminatory measures.30"This
was the second and last occasion on which Pope Pius XII would make
any (indirect) reference to the Holocaust during the war years.
Its proximity in time to his reply on 30 April 1943 to von Preysing
suggests that there may have been a connection, though once again
only a closer investigation of the Vatican archives could reveal
whether this was the case. What unpublished documents regarding
the Pope’s speech and his reply to von Preysing do the archives
In a letter to von Preysing in March 1944, the Pope stated: "Before
me lie your eight letters of 1943 and five letters of 194431".
Do these letters exist in the archives and can we see them?
Astonishingly detailed accounts of killings are reported in Volume
8. In one striking instance, on 7 October 1942, the Vatican received
information on the massacres of Jews compiled by an Italian hospital
train chaplain, Father Pirro Scavizzi, reporting two million deaths
by that point.32 It has been suggested
that Scavizzi had four audiences with the Pope – two of which go
unmentioned in the eleven volumes.33 Relaying the views of Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna, Scavizzi deplored
the timorous reactions of Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, nuncio to
Germany, to matters such as this, writing directly to the Pope in
May 1942.34 Were reports such as these
ever discussed within the offices of the Secretary of State? Did
the Pope himself refer to such accounts at meetings or in other
conversations within the Vatican? Is there material from other Italian
military chaplains in the archives?
In August and September 1942, there were vigorous protests against
the deportations of Jews from France by Archbishop Saliège of Toulouse,
Bishop Théas of Montaubon, and Cardinal Gerlier of Lyons.35 According to The New York Times, in an article published
10 September 1942, the Pope "sent to Marshal Pétain a personal
message in which he intimated his approval of the initiative of
the French Cardinals and Bishops on behalf of the Jews and foreigners
being handed over to the Germans. It is understood the Pope asked
the French Chief of State to intervene.36"
Is there confirmation in the Vatican archives of this news account?
Casimir Papée, the Polish ambassador to the Holy See, on 28 April
1943, sent Maglione an extract from a Zurich newspaper, describing
the martyrdom of many Polish priests interned at Dachau. He reminded
the Cardinal of the sentiments awakened among all civilized and
Christian nations by German cruelty in the occupied territories
adding: "My colleagues and I never failed to draw Your Eminence’s
attention to these painful facts." In concluding his letter,
Papée asked what the Holy See had been able to do "to save
lives precious to the Church," and which measures it proposed
to take "in the face of so much injustice37".
There is no evidence of a reply in the ADSS, though the grievances
of the Poles were noted on several occasions.38 Appeals such as these had been coming to the Vatican since 1939.
Are there any materials in the archives regarding internal discussions
as to how the Vatican was to respond?
There are letters from the bishops of Northeast Italy to the Holy
See between 1943 and 1945 (for example, Giuseppe Nogara, bishop
of Udine, Antonio Santin, bishop of Trieste, and other bishops).39 They provide a detailed picture of the political-religious
situation in those dioceses, such as the persecution of the Jews,
the shooting of hostages, the dangers posed by the partisans, and
the suffering of the Italians. Are there more such letters from
these and other Italian bishops in the archives?
Early in 1944, the World Jewish Congress appealed to the Holy See
through Archbishop Cicognani in Washington to intervene with Hungarian
authorities, and to accept and assist Jews from Poland. During this
period, Hungary was seen as a place of refuge for Jews. Maglione
informed Angelo Rotta, nuncio to Hungary, of this appeal and instructed
him to take whatever steps he thought "possible and opportune."40Other
appeals came to the nuncios and delegates from various Jewish groups.41 The nuncios then sent telegraphic summaries of these appeals. May
we see the original documents to determine how closely they are
reflected in the summaries?
In February 1944, the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City
State (Pontificio Commissione per lo Stato della Città del Vaticano),
the administrative agency of Vatican City, recorded the presence
of Jews and others who were given refuge within the Vatican.42 Are Pontifical Commission records and communiqués available with
respect to the housing of refugees? Are there records of other people
finding refuge in pontifical institutions, for example, the papal
villa at Castelgondolfo?
In April 1944, on the eve of the deportations of the Jews from
Hungary, Rotta reported that the head of the Hungarian government
assured him that he wanted to maintain cordial relations between
the Holy See and Hungary. These assurances came after new anti-Jewish
laws had been enacted under German influence. A note at the bottom
of Rotta’s report indicates that it had been seen by the Pope, but
such notation is missing from most other such documents.43 Is there any record of which reports the Pope actually saw? What
was his reaction to Rotta’s reports? Were there any discussions
regarding the papal relationship with the Hungarian government?
Rotta was the only nuncio to cooperate with the diplomatic representatives
of neutral states, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. On three
occasions in late 1944, he and his diplomatic colleagues submitted
protests to the Hungarian government in defense of Jews and took
active measures to save them.44 The
Vatican expressed its approval of Rotta’s actions at this juncture.45 Is there evidence of earlier Vatican approval or encouragement of
- In 1933, Edith Stein wrote to Pius XI asking him to issue an encyclical
condemning antisemitism.46 This may have
been the first of many appeals made to the Vatican for intervention
on behalf of the Jews. Though the date falls beyond the parameters
of our mandate, the document is relevant because of its content. How
was this letter received? Is the letter itself in the archives, and
if so may we see it?
b. Questions arising from themes pertaining
to one or more volumes
Pius XII’s spirituality was shaped by the times and circumstances
in which he lived, and profoundly affected his outlook on such matters
as the Jews and other victims of the war (such as Poles, Serbs,
Gypsies, German civilians, Italian POWs and others). For example,
in his letters to the bishops of Hamburg and other places, his theology
of suffering deeply influenced how he responded to reports of persecution,
bombing and other attacks on civilian populations. Are there other
unpublished letters and documents that would shed further light
on how the Pope viewed the Church’s role during the war?
Under the Secretariat of State, the Congregation of Extraordinary
Ecclesiastic Affairs dealt with relations between states. Meetings
of the Congregation would discuss reports from nuncios and delegates
and the Congregation’s drafts of instructions to them. Minutes of
these meetings would provide valuable information about the Vatican’s
reaction to activities of the Church within Nazi dominated Europe.
Are there minutes of these meetings covering the war period? If
so, could we have access to them?
Finances are occasionally mentioned in the context of the relief
of civilian suffering.47 For example,
an accounting of the disbursement of funds is given in cases where
Jewish organizations donated funds to the Vatican for relief and
rescue. However, the volumes contain no documents regarding the
Vatican’s own financial transactions relating to such efforts. Is
there any archival evidence to indicate how the Vatican collected
and disbursed its own or other funds in carrying out such activities,
such as the annual Peter’s Pence collection?
During the war the Vatican followed its traditional policy that
Jews who had converted to Catholicism were full members of the Church,
and therefore entitled to its protection. This protection was sometimes
guaranteed by concordats, thereby according to the Church the means
by which to intervene in specific and general cases. Was the recourse
to such interventions derived purely from considerations of efficacy
or were there moral or other considerations that were discussed
among Vatican officials? Was there a broad strategy, policy guidelines,
or theological discussions among Vatican officials to determine
what principles should be applied to such interventions on behalf
of converted Jews?
In the repeated interventions against the application of racial
laws and appeals on behalf of some of the deportees that appear
in these volumes, the emphasis upon "non-Aryan Catholics" or converted
Jews is striking to the contemporary reader. This is all the more
so because of the lasting resentment, among Jews, of the Church's
promotion and encouragement of such conversions. From the standpoint
of the Vatican, of course, the purported reasons for this emphasis
are threefold: first, what the Church understood as its responsibility
to look after its own; second, that the Vatican did not believe
that Jewish organizations took care of Jewish converts to Catholicism;
and third, the claim that it was only in the cases of this particular
class of "Jews" that the Vatican had locus standi with aggressive
and dictatorial regimes – and hence some prospect of success. To
what degree was the latter a rationale for inattention to Jews qua
Jews? And how accurate was it to refer, as many regularly do, to
interventions on behalf of "Jews" when that term frequently connoted
baptized Jews? Are there any documents that would clarify this ambiguous
use of terminology?
Almost alone of the Vatican diplomats, Mgr. Domenico Tardini, principal
assistant to Maglione, wrote memoranda and office notes on a wide
variety of topics, many of which are published in the ADSS. Did
he write other notes relating to the fate of the Jews not published
in the ADSS?
On March 18, 1942, Gerhart Riegner of the World Jewish Congress
and Richard Lichtheim, representing the Jewish Agency for Palestine,
sent a remarkably comprehensive memorandum on the fate of Jews in
Central and Eastern Europe to Archbishop Filippo Bernardini, the
nuncio in Switzerland, and a day later Bernardini forwarded the
document to Maglione himself. While the report gave no clear sense
of a European-wide "final solution", it left little to the imagination
in its description of horrors organized on a continental scale.48 Is there any indication in the archives about what response, if
any, was made to this report? For example, did the Holy See notify
hierarchies or its diplomatic representatives regarding the contents
of the report?
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. How thoroughly informed was the Vatican regarding details
of Nazi persecution and extermination? What was the Holy See's reaction,
and what discussions followed the reports that flowed in describing
evidence of the "Final Solution"? What, more specifically,
were the steps leading up to the Pope’s Christmas message of 1942?
Are there drafts of this message?
In light of the above, in September 1942 there were requests for
a papal statement from the British, Belgian, Polish, Brazilian and
American diplomatic representatives to the Holy See. In Volume 5
of the ADSS, only the response to Myron Taylor, the American representative
to the Pope, is published. Might the responses to the other representatives
be made available?
Questions have been raised regarding the attitude of the Vatican
toward a Jewish national home in Palestine during the Holocaust
period. Maglione generally responded to requests for assistance
in sending Jews to Palestine by reminding appellants of all that
the Holy See had done to help the Jews, and of its readiness to
continue to do so. But in internal notes published in the volumes,
meant only for Vatican representatives, the Secretary of State and
his aides explicitly reaffirmed the Vatican’s opposition to significant
Jewish immigration to Palestine, stating that "the Holy See
has never approved of the project of making Palestine a Jewish home…Palestine
is by now holier for Catholics than for Jews.49"
The documents also reveal that Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope
John XXIII), apostolic delegate to Istanbul, aided Jews to reach
Palestine notwithstanding his uneasiness concerning Jewish political
aspirations there.50 Is there documentation
regarding guidelines for rescue efforts and their implications concerning
the Vatican policy with regard to Palestine?
On March 12, 1943, a consortium of rabbis in North America sent
a passionate appeal to Maglione, describing the horrors in Poland
and the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, and asking for help from
Rome.51 It is curious that there are
no references in the volumes to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Are
there any documents relating to this event in the archives?
The Vatican chargé d’affaires in La Paz (Bolivia) wrote
about the "invasive" and "cynically exploitative"
character of the Jews – allegedly engaged in "dishonest dealings,
violence, immorality, and even disrespect for religion.52"
His highly charged account may have negatively influenced Maglione,
especially since he received similar reports from some other nuncios,
such as Aldo Laghi, in Santiago (Chile). This nuncio claimed that
Jewish immigration to Chile had already created "a serious
problem". The Jews, he claimed, instead of becoming farmers
as promised, had turned to small commerce and trade, provoking popular
protests from secular and clerical circles in Chile. The nuncio,
in advising against the immigration of "non-Aryan" Catholics
took into account the violent mood triggered by what he called "the
invasion of the Jews".53 If other
reports of this kind exist in the Vatican archives, could we see
them? What internal discussions did this kind exist in the Vatican
archives, could we see them? What internal discussions did they
provoke and did they influence policy on the "Jewish question"
at a time of pervasive antisemitism?
How regularly did Maglione, Tardini and Montini brief the Pope
on wartime events, the activities of papal nuncios, and the policies
they were handling? Are there notes of these discussions? Did Pius
XII or his aides maintain diaries which alluded to these discussions?
- The Vatican radio from time to time addressed issues relating to
Nazi persecution, and extracts from these broadcasts appeared in the
London Tablet. It is said that Pius XII may have written or
edited the texts for some of these broadcasts. Is there any documentary
evidence regarding Pius XII’s role and are the original broadcast
c. General questions
The case has repeatedly been made that the Vatican’s fear of communism
prompted it to mute and limit its criticism of Nazi atrocities and
occupation policies. We are struck by the paucity of evidence to
this effect and to the subject of communism in general. Indeed,
our reading of the volumes presents a different picture, especially
with regard to the Vatican promotion of the American bishops’ support
for the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union
in order to oppose Nazism.54 Is there
further evidence on this question?
In several of the volumes, the editors cite hundreds of documents
which are not themselves published. For example, in Volume 10 alone
the editors list 700 such documents. In some cases, the documents
are briefly summarized or quoted. It would be helpful if these documents
could be made available.
The Poles were major victims of the Nazis. Members of the Polish
Government in Exile in London and some Polish bishops were often
very vocal in their criticism of Pius XII’s role. It has been reported
that the Vatican commissioned the Jesuits to prepare a defense of
its Polish policy.55 Is this correct
and, if so, may we see the report? More generally, the subject of
Vatican-Polish relations is an essential element for understanding
the role of the Holy See during the Holocaust period and deserves
further investigation in the Vatican archives. Is there other pertinent
information on this subject in the archives that is not in the volumes,
and may we see it?
The volumes contain urgent appeals to the Vatican for assistance,
articulated by desperate Jewish petitioners. These petitions frequently
are couched in language of effusive praise as well as gratitude
for actions already undertaken.56Yet
the volumes contain few examples of the assistance already given
that gave rise to such expressions of praise and gratitude. What
information can be obtained from either the archives or other sources
concerning the concrete assistance already given which gave rise
to these expressions of gratitude?
In countries in which Vatican representatives clashed with the
local authorities over the application of racial laws, there are
repeated references to conversions. Governments, occupation authorities,
nuncios, the Secretariat, and local Churches all raised questions
about the sincerity of these conversions. Were such conversions
a means to avoid the disabilities of discriminatory laws, regulations,
and even worse, deportation and murder? To anyone familiar with
the wartime persecution of the Jews – and this must include Vatican
officials whose voices are represented here – such questions may
appear cruel, or at best naïve. In light of certain Church officials
issuing false identity papers to unconverted Jews, were such Vatican
expressions of concern that conversions be "sincere" intended
to hold persecuting and even murderous officials at bay? Or were
these rather a genuine reflection of the priorities of the Church
jealously guarding the integrity of its sacramental life, especially
baptism, and unhesitatingly promoting, even in the midst of the
Holocaust, what it felt to be its apostolic mission for the souls
put in its care? Are there any documents that could shed light on
Did Pope Pius XII have serious doubts about the wisdom or correctness
of his policy of "impartiality", whether it related to
Jews, Poles or any other victims of the Nazis? The published documents
unfortunately provide little evidence, although Volume 2 gives us
a valuable insight into his thinking during the wartime period,
especially about the German Church, to which he felt particularly
close.57 In his diary, Roncalli reports
of an audience on 11 October 1941 with the Pope who asked whether
his "silence" concerning Nazism would be badly judged.58 Are there any personal papers of Pius XII or records of his discussions
with leading advisers, diplomats or important foreign visitors that
would illuminate this issue, and, if so, could we see them?
Our preliminary investigation of the eleven volumes has generated many
significant questions. Those listed in this document are only a selection
of those that could be asked. Raising such questions is not intended
to detract from the work of those who edited these volumes several decades
ago. No edited collection can put such an important historical issue
definitively to rest. Just as every historian works by choosing to emphasize
some facts and not others, to introduce some personalities and not others,
and to tell some incidents and not others, so the work of the editors
was also based upon their choices, exercised individually or as part
of a team. Indeed, one of the four original editors, Father Robert Graham
related the great difficulties the team experienced in selecting "what
they judged to pertain to Pius XII and his Secretariat of State during
World War II."59
In assessing the adequacy of the eleven volumes for an understanding
of the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust, let us bear in mind
that no history of the role of any government in a matter so broad as
the Holocaust could be effectively undertaken on the basis of diplomatic
exchanges alone – even when supplemented, as the ADSS occasionally are,
with notes prepared as aides mémoires or other records. Furthermore,
historians need to know what material is not in those volumes.
Even without an inventory of the archives of the Holy See, it is plain
from the ADSS that important pieces of the historical puzzle are missing
from that collection. Some of these are the records of day to day administration
of the Church and the Holy See. In addition, there are the numerous
internal communications that every administration leaves behind – diaries,
memoranda, appointment books, minutes of meetings, draft documents,
and so forth that detail the process of how the Vatican arrived
at the decisions it made.
Apropos the usefulness of having documents outside the official archives,
it would be helpful to have access to the papers (spogli) of
such prominent protagonists as Luigi Maglione, Amleto and Gaitano Cicognani,
Giovanni Montini, Domenico Tardini, Alfredo Ottaviani, Valerio Valeri,
Giuseppe Burzio, Angelo Rotta, Eugene Tisserant, Filippo Bernardini
and other Vatican officials of the period. Similarly, it would be useful
to have access to the various archives of the Society of Jesus, particularly
for the papers of Wlodimir Ledochowski, Robert Leiber, Pietro Tacchi-Venturi,
Gustav Gundlach, and Robert Graham.
More than thirty years have passed since the appearance of the first
volumes of the wartime Vatican documents. Since that time many if not
all of the then-living individuals referred to in those pages have died,
removing some of the constraints upon publication that might have existed
when the documents were first released. Restrictions which may have
been appropriate then, need no longer apply.
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. Nevertheless, we believe
that this would be a very significant step forward in advancing knowledge
of the period and enhancing relations between the Jewish and Catholic
communities. Finally, we would like to recall what we said at our first
meeting in December 1999: "It seems to us that the search for truth,
wherever it may lead, can be best promoted in an environment in which
there is full access to archival documentation and other historical
evidence. Ultimately, openness is the best policy for a mature and balanced
Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, trans. Lawrence J. Johnson
(New York: Paulist Press, 1999).
statement from that first meeting in New York on December 7, 1999 set
forth our common goal: As Jewish and Catholic scholars
we are mindful of our joint responsibility and the gravity of the task
we have undertaken. Our efforts, we hope, will assist the pursuit of
truth, historical understanding, and better relations between the Jewish
and Catholic communities. We recognize that the Vatican’s role during
the Holocaust has been a difficult and painful subject, the discussion
of which has not always proceeded in a climate of historical understanding
and dispassionate debate. It seems to us that the search for truth,
wherever it may lead, can be best promoted in an environment in which
there is full access to archival documentation and other historical
evidence. Ultimately, openness is the best policy for a mature and balanced
historical assessment. While maintaining full access and openness as
our overriding objective, we are undertaking a critical examination
of the eleven volumes of Vatican archival material, published between
1965 and 1981, which relate to the Holy See’s role during the Holocaust.
We expect to raise questions both with respect to the general issues
noted above and to material not contained in these volumes.
3The Vatican had an unofficial
policy of keeping its archives closed for 100 years after an event.
Paul VI changed this policy by opening the archives for the entire pontificate
of Pius IX (1846-1878). Following that precedent, John Paul II subsequently
opened the archives first for the pontificate of Leo XIII (1878-1903)
and then for those of Pius X (1903-1915) and Benedict XV (1915-1922).
4 Pierre Blet, Osservatore
Romano, no. 17, April 29, 1998, pp.16-17.
5Blet, Pius XII and the
Second World War.
6 "Les victimes de la
Guerre" is the expression used in the title of several of the volumes
of the ADSS.
7For example, see ADSS, 8,
pp. 767-781; ADSS, 9, pp.641-651; ADSS, 10, pp.637-652, which list the
documents that are cited but not published.
8 ADSS, 1, pp.11-13.
9 ADSS, 1, p.VII.
10ADSS, 2, p.60.
11 See ADSS, 2, Appendix
12ADSS, 6, appendix 4, pp.536-7.
13 ADSS, 2, note 12, p.407.
14 Burkhart Schneider, "Un’enciclica
mancata," Osservatore Romano (5 April 1973).
15 ADSS, 6, nr. 60, p.137;
nr. 125-6, p.211-14; nr. 131, p.219; nr. 137, pp.224-5; nr. 341, pp.437-9
provide several examples of the discussion of these funds. Even within
these documents, other reports are referred to but not published, and
these letters could be of importance to historians.
16 In the ADSS, 1 there are claims advanced that the Pope viewed events in Poland with
the greatest sorrow; that he agonized over how to respond; that everything
possible that could be done was being done; and that to be more forceful
was certain to prompt retaliation
17 ADSS, 6, nr. 378, pp.477-480.
18 ADSS, 6, nr. 378, note
3, p. 479.
19 ADSS, 6, nr. 378, notes
20 ADSS, 8, nr. 165, pp.
295-7; nr. 189, pp. 333-4.
21 ADSS, 8, nr. 581, pp.
22 ADSS, 8, nr. 421, pp.
23 Many of these documents
appear in ADSS, 8.
24 ADSS, 3.2, nr. 406, p.625-29.
25 ADSS, 3.2, nr. 357, p.
26 See Gerhart Riegner, "Observations
on the Published Vatican Archival Material," unpublished paper,
December 5, 1999, p. 6. ADSS, 4, nr. 398, pp
27 ADSS, 9, nr. 82, p.170.
A letter from von Preysing to the Pope, dated 17 January 1941. The original
letter read: "Eure Heiligkeit sind wohl über die Lage der Juden
in Deutschland und en angrenzenden Ländern orientiert. Lediglich referierend
möchte anführen, dass von katholischer wie von protestantischer Seite
an mich die Frage getellt worden ist, ob nicht der Heilige Stuhl in
dieser Sache etwas tun könnte, einen Appell zugunsten der Unglücklichen
erlassen?" Von Preysing presents this request as coming from third
parties, rather than in his own name, as if he were only the messenger
– though in reality it clearly was a matter of some importance to him.
It is interesting that the request has a more general Christian character
(not self-evident at the time, given the strength of the Catholic-Protestant
divide). Most significant of all, it tends to suggest that the German
bishops (or at least some of them) were keeping the Pope well-informed
about the condition of the Jews or they were aware that he knew about
the Jewish plight in the German Reich
28 ADSS,9, nr.82,
p.170. See also note 9, ADSS, 2, nr. 105, p.323.
29 ADSS, 2, nr 105, p.318-327.
30 ADSS, 3, nr. 510, p.801;
7, nr. 225, p.396-400. It is also mentioned in ADSS, 9, nr. 213, p.327.
31 ADSS, 2, nr. 123, p.376.
32 ADSS, 8, nr. 496, pp.
669-70. In particular, see note 4.
33 Sergio Minerbi, "Pius
XII: A Reappraisal," paper presented at the symposium, "Memories,
Intertwined and Divergent: Pius XII and the Holocaust, Kings College,
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, April 9-11, 2000.
34 ADSS, 8, nr. 374, p. 534.
35 ADSS, 8, nr. 454, pp.625-7;
nr. 463, pp.635-6; nr. 468, pp.638-40; nr. 484, p.658.
36 New York Times,
September 10, 1942, p. 7,8,9.
37 ADSS, 3.2, nr. 497, p.
38 In addition, Papée is
on record as saying that not all of his memos appear in the ADSS volumes.
What do his other letters contain? It would be important to know the
contents of these communiqués in order to better understand the Polish
39 For example, see ADSS,
10, nr. 165, p.239-42; nr. 463, p.554.
40 ADSS, 10, nr. 40, p.115.
41 For example, see ADSS,
10, nr. 127, p.198; nr. 249, p.335; nr. 253, p. 341, nr. 254, p.342,
n.1; nr. 260, p. 347; nr. 270, p. 357, n.3; nr. 273, p. 359; nr. 295,
42 ADSS, 10, nr. 53, p.129
43 ADSS, 10, nr. 153, p.224-29;
44 See Rotta’s activities
as described in ADSS, 10.
45 ADSS, 10, nr. 408, p.497.
46 Stein herself describes
her letter, stating: "I know that my letter was sealed when it
was delivered to the Holy Father some time later, I even received his
blessing for myself and my loved ones. But nothing else came of it.
Is it not possible that he recalled this letter on various occasions
later on? My fears concerning the future of German Catholics have been
gradually realized in the course of the years that followed." "Je
sais que ma lettre était cachetée quand elle a été remise au Saint-Père ;
quelque temps plus tard, j’ai même reçu sa bénédiction pour moi-même
et mes proches. Mais il n’en est rien sorti de plus. Est-il impossible
que cette lettre lui soit plusieurs fois revenue à l’esprit par la suite?
Mes appréhensions en ce qui concerne l’avenir des catholiques allemands
se sont progressivement vérifiés au cours des années suivantes."
Notes d’Edith Stein citées par Teresia Renata de Spiritu Sancto, Edith
Stein, Nuremberg, Glock und Lutz, 1952.
47 See ADSS, 8.
48 ADSS, 8, nr. 314, p. 466.
The memorandum is reprinted in John Morley, Vatican Diplomacy and
the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1943 (New York: KTAV, 1980),
Appendix B, 212. As Riegner notes, this important document was not included
in the ADSS, only the letter of transmission by Bernardini. See Gerhart
Riegner, "Observations on the Published Vatican Archival Material,"
unpublished paper, December 5, 1999, pp.9-10. "I consider the omission
in the Vatican documentation of [this document of March 18] and the
accompanying letter of appeal to the Vatican a serious mistake,"
writes Riegner. "It would have shown that important Jewish organizations
had called the attention of the Vatican already in a very early stage
of the application of the final solution (six weeks after the so-called
Wansee Conference) to the tragic situation of European Jewry."
49 "La Santa Sede non
ha mai approvato il progetto di far della Palestine una home ebraica…La
Palestina è ormai più sacra per i cattolici che … per gli ebrei." "The Holy See has never approved the project of making Palestine
a Jewish homeland…Palestine is by now more sacred for Catholics than…for
Jews." ADSS, 9, nr.94, p.184.
50 ADSS, 9, nr. 324, p.469.
51 ADSS, 9, nr. 91, p.182.
52 ADSS, 6, nr. 29, pp.92-4.
53 ADSS, 6, nr.134, p.222.
54 ADSS, 5, nr. 189, pp.361-2.
55 See Richard Lukas, Forgotten
Holocaust: the Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944 (Lexington
56 One of many examples appears
in ADSS, 8, nr. 441, p.611, in which the chief Rabbi of Zagreb appeals
to the Pope for help. See also Maglione’s response in a footnote to
this letter, in which he says that the Holy See "has not neglected
to involve itself…in favor of the recommended persons" (611-612).
57 For example, in a letter
to the Bishop of Wurtzbourg, Matthias Ehrenfried, on 20 Febrary 1941,
Pius writes , "There where the Pope would like to shout, he is
forced to wait and keep silence; where he would act and help, he must
wait patiently…" (ADSS, 2, nr.66, p.201); and in a letter to the
Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Frings, on 3 March 1944, Pius writes "It
is painfully difficult to decide whether reserve and prudent silence,
or frank speaking and forceful action are called for." (ADSS, 2,
58 In a passage of Roncalli’s
diary concerning an audience with Pius XII of October, 10 1941. Roncalli
writes that the Pope "Si diffuse a dirmi della sua larghezza di
tratto coi Germani che vengono a visitarlo. Mi chiese se il suo silenzio
circa il contegno del nazismo non è giudicato male." "Continued
to tell me of his generosity towards the Germans who visit him. He asked
me if his silence regarding nazism was not judged badly." See Alberto
Melloni, Fra Istanbul, Atene e la guerra. La missione di A.G. Roncalli
59 Blet, Pius XII and
the Second World War, p.xiii
Sources: B'nai B'rith