Israeli Official Praises Vatican for WWII Aid to Jews

Church Always Helped When It Could, Says Ambassador

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By Chiara Santomiero

ROME, JUNE 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Claims that the Church and Pope Pius XII failed to help Jews during World War II are simply false, says the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy.

The envoy declared this today when he conferred the posthumous honor of Righteous Among the Nations on Father Gaetano Piccinini, a priest of the Sons of Divine Providence.

"It would be an error to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican or the Pope himself were opposed to activities to save Jews," Lewy said. "It is quite certain that it was the contrary: They always gave the help that they could."

The ambassador recalled that the Vatican was unable to prevent a train from taking Jews to the extermination camps after the Oct. 16-18 Nazi raid. This "can only have contributed to reinforcing the desire, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own premises as a refuge for Jews," Lewy said.

"We must recognize that the train that left on 18 October 1943 was the only convoy that the Nazis managed to organize in Rome for Auschwitz," he added.

The ambassador noted how after the 1943 raid, "monasteries and orphanages run by religious orders opened their doors to Jews and we have reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest authorities of the Vatican who, therefore, were informed about these gestures."

Father Piccinini, in fact, was a protagonist in that effort. Using the network of houses run by his order, he was able to save many Jews, including members of the family who requested his recognition as Righteous Among the Nations.

Lewy said the Jews of Rome "saw in the person of the Pope a kind of protector and hoped that he would save them and avoid the worst."

Asked if this casts a different light on the figure of Pope Pius XII, often criticized for what is called his silence in the face of Nazi atrocities, Lewy said that "Judaism is not monolithic and there are different opinions at the historical level."

"What we know does not allow us to say that it was all white and black," he said, "but one who denies that the Vatican, the Pope and Catholic institutions acted to save Jews is mistaken."

Lewy spoke of the much-anticipated opening of the Vatican Archives for the years of Pius XII's pontificate. "But we cannot expect the complete truth," he opined, "because in such harsh times many things could not even be committed to writing. It is my personal opinion, that, in its totality, the truth of that tragic time is hidden and will remain so."