Pius XII's Aid to Jews Was So Great That It Stirred Protests

New Revelations of Vatican Archives, Analyzed by Historian

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ROME, JULY 4, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Documentation from the Vatican Secret Archives has revealed that Pope Pius XII's wartime assistance to Jews was so great that it stirred protests in some Catholic circles.



This is confirmed in letters published together with the registers of the Vatican Information Office on Prisoners of War, established by Pius XII, with the title "Inter Arma Caritas."

Press agencies published one of the letters reproduced in Volume 2, pages 950-951, sent to the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, on July 21, 1943, by Archbishop Andrea Cassulo, apostolic nuncio in Romania, in which he referred to "some protests."

Bishop Agostino Pacha of Timisoara, Romania, wrote that in his community there were protests, "as the greater part of messages transmitted to this nunciature are for persons of the Jewish race," to the point that he spoke of the Holy See's "preference" for Jews.

Archbishop Cassulo presented a copy of a letter in Latin, written by a Monsignor Tacha, in which he spoke about the protests of his faithful -- 78% of whom were of German origin -- who accused the Church "openly and publicly" of supporting and having good relations with the Jews, "enemies of the Germanic people."

In the letter, the apostolic nuncio explained that he sent a circular to the Romanian bishops in which he clarified the reasons for the Holy See's assistance "not taking into account any political consideration or any nationality or race." In the missive, the nuncio asked the secretary of state to advise him what he should do.

In order to understand better these new discoveries of the Vatican archives, ZENIT interviewed Father Peter Gumpel, a historian and expert on the matter.

Q: What do the recently published Vatican archives say about the Holy See's relation with Jews and about the protests of some Catholic circles?

Father Gumpel: First of all, it must be recognized that the Catholic Church carried out an enormous work of assistance to Jews.

A. Safran, the rabbi of Romania, expressed on various occasions his gratitude to the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Andrea Cassulo.

On April 7, 1944, he wrote him this message: "In these hard times, our thoughts go more than ever to what the Supreme Pontiff has done in favor of Jews in general and to Your Excellency in favor of Romania and Transylvania. These deeds will never be forgotten." [See Civiltà Cattolica, 1961, Volume 3, p. 462]

Moreover, in Volume 10, pages 428-429, of the "Minutes and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War," in a message sent by Archbishop Cassulo to Monsignor Domenico Tardini [a future secretary of state], the full article appears which was published by the Romanian newspaper Mantuirea, in which Rabbi Safran recounts how, thanks to the interventions of the nuncio and "with the help of God, he succeeded in having no more deportations take place."

Q: What can you say about the protests of Catholics because of the Holy See's help to Jews?

Father Gumpel: The work of assistance to the victims of war and to Jews, ordered in particular by Pius XII, was so extensive and intense that it caused surprise even among some ecclesiastics.

When Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli himself [the future Pope John XXIII], who did so much for the Jews, was apostolic delegate in Turkey, after the umpteenth recommendation by the Holy See to help and foster the Jewish emigration to Palestine, he wrote these words to Maglione on September 4, 1943: "I confess that this sending by the Holy See of Jews to Palestine, which seems a reconstruction of the Jewish Kingdom, beginning by making them leave Italy, causes me some uncertainty in spirit."

Q: Do the testimonies contained in "Inter Arma Caritas" contribute something new?

Father Gumpel: These new historical tendencies deny definitively many articles on the alleged silence and insensibility of Pope Pius XII in regard to the Jews. As can be seen, there were people who criticized the Pontiff for doing too much for the Jews.

Also denied are theses, such as Susan Zuccotti's, according to which the work of assistance to Jews was the result of individual actions, of which Pius XII knew nothing.

From all the correspondence of the nuncios, it is obvious that the work of assistance was determined, directed and organized directly by Pope Pius XII.