Book Recounts Vatican Aid for Pius XII's Friend

Research Continues Into Pope's Assistance to Jews

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ROME, OCT. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A new element has come to light in the investigation into Pope Pius XII's assistance to Jews before and during World War II.



The New-York based Pave the Way Foundation, which has nominated Eugenio Pacelli to receive the Yad Vashem's designation of Righteous Among the Nations, has made available an English-translation of a book by Meir Mendes.

Meir's father, Guido, was a boyhood friend of Pacelli. Meir's book, "Le Vatican et Israel" [The Vatican and Israel], details some of what happened to Guido and the assistance offered him by the Vatican.

On pages 24 and 25, he cites a particular episode related to his father, which he believes to throw some light on the official attitude of high-ranking Vatican officials on the eve of World War II:

"To complete this historical overview, I would like to report here a fact which directly concerns me, and which casts a different light on Pius XII. My father, Professor Guido Mendes, had stayed in contact with Pius XII, his friend and former classmate. Although [Mendes] was Jewish, he was named a consulting physician in several Vatican institutions, [whose officials] did not fail, on several occasions, to express to him in writing their gratitude. In 1938, the anti-Semitic campaign began in Italy, and my father was forced to give up his responsibilities -- his teaching at the faculty of medicine of the University of Rome, his role as director of the Italian Red Cross’s Cesare Battisti anti-tuberculosis sanatorium, and his responsibility as secretary-general of the Anti-Tuberculosis League. He was also given an absolute discharge from the army, in which he held the rank of general in the reserve forces.

"The Holy See reacted forcefully, and Cardinal Tisserant (who was at that time the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches) sent the following letter to my father:

'This sacred dicastery has learned with unhappiness that you have left your role as director of the Cesare Battisti sanatorium. Recalling the attentive and more than fatherly care that you showered on the young men of the Pontifical Ethiopian College who had to be hospitalized in the sanatorium, your trips there several times for consultations, and your attentiveness to their state of health, this sacred congregation wishes to send to you today a word of comfort, and, at the same time, to express to you its wholehearted gratitude and its esteem for the precious work you have performed. With this in mind, please accept, Professor, the commemorative pontifical medal for the year just ended, as a sign of homage from this sacred dicastery, which will always be happy -- if the occasion should arise -- to be of usefulness to you.'"

The letter is signed Jan. 14, 1939.

Leaving Rome

The book goes on to recount how Guido Mendes would appeal to the Vatican for help in obtaining an entry visa to Palestine, which was granted in 1939.

Mendes writes: "I have preserved in my personal archives the letters of the secretary of state, Cardinal Maglione; of the apostolic nuncio to Switzerland, Archbishop Filippo Bernardini; of the apostolic delegate to Palestine, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Testa; of the commissioner for the Jerusalem district, and other ranking figures, who were involved with these visas -- and there is even a letter from Cardinal Pacelli himself."

The Pave the Way foundation is carrying out extensive research into Pius XII's efforts on behalf of the Jews.

In addition to the nomination as Righteous Among the Nations, the foundation has compiled a book that reproduces 255 pages of some 3,000 original documents about Pius XII.