Archives Will Show That Church Helped the Jews, Says Historian

Father Pierre Blet Is Expert on Wartime Records

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ROME, OCT. 31, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The historian who best knows the Vatican secret archives regarding the Holy See's relations with the Nazi regime welcomed the news that the documents will be opened to the public.



The announcement was made Tuesday by Cardinal Jorge María Mejía, librarian of the Holy Roman Church, who confirmed that, beginning Jan. 1, 2005, the Vatican will open this section of its archives.

The cardinal also said that beginning in 2003, documents will be available for consultation relating to the apostolic nunciature in Germany, where Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, worked.

Jesuit Father Pierre Blet is the only survivor of the four-member team of historians whom Pope Paul VI commissioned to study the Vatican secret archives and to publish the most important documents in 12 volumes ("Minutes and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War"). He said he believes the opening of the archives will help to throw light on what the Church did to help the Jews.

French Father Blet, who worked with Jesuit priests Burkhart Schneider of Germany, Angelo Martini of Italy and Robert A. Graham of the United States, has dedicated almost all his life since the 1960s to studying these documents. The first volume of the "Minutes" was published in 1965; the last, in 1982.

"During the whole period of World War II, by specific order of Pope Pius XII, the Holy See took care of the refugees and of people suffering because of the conflict," the historian explained.

"In order to do so, the Information Service was created ... [to gather] requests for help and to try to find relatives of people who disappeared during the war," he said. "Some 3.5 million forms were compiled by this office. This little-known work brought enormous benefits."

All this information will soon be published on six CD-ROMs, as well as in an introductory volume and six books.

"In particular, this work helped Jews. In the German section of the Office of Information there was a special division dedicated to them. This was due to the fact that requests arrived from many parts of the world to know the fate of those Jews who were still in Germany," Father Blet added.

"Between 1941 and 1945, requests relating to Jewish persons numbered 102,026, while investigations concluded by the Vatican Office numbered 36,877," Father Blet explained.

"The difference between the requests and the news transmitted is due to the fact that in Germany the normal means of investigation could not be used," he said. Had they been used, "the persons who were being investigated would have been exposed to an even greater risk," the priest continued.

"Despite this, in 1943 it was possible to respond to 20,375 requests. In 1944 investigations became much more difficult," Father Blet revealed.

"This editorial initiative is extremely interesting because it allows one to know an important part of the aid activities that the Church contributed to suffering peoples and at the same time shows the great willingness that exists on our part to make available all the information contained in the archives."