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Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust – what the Archives reveal

Presentation at the UN-HQ
by Dr. h.c. Michael Hesemann
The negative public image of Pope Pius XII, especially regarding his alleged silence and lack of action during the Shoah, is the result of a campaign of fakenews, distortions and misrepresentations, beginning with the communist defamation campaign which resulted into Rolf Hochhuths scandalous play “The Deputy”[1] and ending with John Cornwell’s pseudohistorical biography “Hitler’s Pope”[2].
A careful study of thousands of already released documents in the Archives of the Holy See – the Apostolic Archive of the Vatican, formerly knows as the Vatican Secret Archive, and the Historical Archive of the 2nd Section of the Secretariat of State – results in a completely different image, which is the topic of this presentation. I spent twelve years of research in the Archives to come to this conclusion, which I can only summarize, due to the lack of time; you find all details in my book “The Pope and the Holocaust”[3], which was published in German in 2018 and will come out in English later this year at Ignatius Press. Please allow me, Ladies and Gentleman, to present you the facts which can be verified by anyone who will access the Archives in March of this year, when they are officially opened for every qualified historian:

1. Eugenio Pacelli and the Jews

Was Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, a typical child of his time, which had its antisemitic or, at least, antijudaist tendencies even in the highest ranks of the Catholic church? No, he was different. Although he belonged to Rome’s “black nobility”, his parents sent him to a secular school, the Visconti High School, where his best friend became a young Jew, Guido Mendes, of a family of famous Jewish physicians. He invited him in his parent’s home and was invited to join the Mendes family shabbat and Pessach celebrations. He studied the works of Jewish scholars and promised to learn Hebrew one day to understand their deeper meaning. And he never forgot his friend – when Mussolini introduced the racial laws in 1938, he helped the Mendes family to escape to Switzerland and from there to Palestine, just to receive Guido Mendes on several occasions after the war, when he was Pope.[4]

This school friendship and affiliation with Judaism explains why Pacelli always had an open ear for Jewish matters when he started his career as a diplomat of the Holy See. As undersecretary for external affairs, he received Zionist leader Nahum Sokolov in 1917 and made him meet Pope Benedict XV.[5] Sokolov was so enthusiastic about the warm reception he received at the Vatican that in 1925, when Pacelli was already in Berlin, he visited him again and consulted him how to proceed with the new Pope (Pius XI) in office and after the signing of the Balfour declaration.[6] Indeed, when he was Nuncio in Munich (1917-25) and Berlin (1925-29), Pacelli always supported the Jewish and Zionist cause.[7] He used all channels of Vatican diplomacy to help the Rabbi of Munich to get palmleaves for Sukkoth, when, during WWI, the borders to Italy were closed.[8]

When, in 1917, the Jewish settlers in Palestine were threatened by the Turks with extermination, following the same pattern as in the Armenian genocide (claim of conspiracy with the enemy, expulsion from their homes, massacre of men, death marches to concentration camps in the Syrian desert etc.), the Zionist committees requested help from Benedict XV and the Pope, who had not been able to stop the Turks from slaughtering the Armenians, this time  asked Pacelli to act.[9] Indeed, the Nuncio managed to bring their fate on the agenda of the Berlin Foreign Office.[10] Turkey’s most important ally, the Reich, forced the Turks to replace their responsible commander for Syria and Palestine, Cemal Pasha, by a German General, von Falkenhayn, who stopped the massacres, protected the Jews and eventually handed Jerusalem over to the British “to avoid a bloodshed at the Holy Sites”.[11] So already in 1917 Pacelli saved tenthousands of Jews from a certain genocide. In 1930, Pope Pius XI made Pacelli, already called back to Rome, his new Secretary of State, the No. 2 in the Vatican.

When on 1 April 1933 the Nazis attacked Jewish shops in Germany, he brought this subject to the attention of the Pope and asked the new nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, and the head of the German Bishop’s conference, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, whether a diplomatic intervention by the Holy See would help “in the case of the antisemitic excesses in Germany”.[12] Both denied: The campaign against the Jews came from the Nazi government, a support for the Jews would “add to the war against the Jews another war against the Catholics”[13], as Faulhaber stated.

But still, he made his position known. When, in March 1939, he was elected as Pope and became Pius XII, the “Jewish Veteran” reflected the reaction of the Jewish community, calling his election “a source of great satisfaction to Jews”. Why? “Pope Pius XII is known as a staunch friend of Jews and on several occasions expressed his strong opposition to the persecution of Jews in Germany and Italy.” He served “distinguished Jewish visitors to the Holy See … kosher food” and is “known as a vigorous champion of the Vatican’s anti-Nazi policy” so that the “antisemitic fascists tried hard to prevent Cardinal Pacelli’s election.”[14] 

Indeed, even in 1938, as Secretary of State Pacelli intervened on behalf of the Polish Jewish population, which was threatened by a law that would have forbidden ritual kosher slaughtering.[15] When the Zionist delegate Moshe Waldmann met the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Dr. Prato, on 26 May 1938, he learned: “The hostility of the Vatican against the new paganism of National Socialism is fundamental. Due to this fact, a peculiar psychological state had developed, i.e. a greater open-mindedness regarding Jewish demands.”[16]
Also as Pope, Pacelli never denied his sympathy for Jews. His first encyclical, “Summi Pontificatus” of 20 October 1939, contained a very important segment on the unity of the human race, condemning racism and quoting St. Paul: “There is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision”.[17] In his Christmas address of 24 December 1940, he appealed for support in his endeavours to “console, with the moral and spiritual assistance of Our Representatives or with the offering of Our subsidies, a huge number of refugees, expatriates and emigrants, including the “non-Aryans”, those of the semitic race.”[18]

When on 28 November 1941, young Heinz Wisla (21) smuggled himself into an audience of German soldiers to appeal to the Pope to help his 500 fellow Jewish refugees shipwrecked in the Aegean sea and waiting for rescue in an Italian refugee camp on Rhode island/Greece, the Pope greeted him with open arms and told him repeatedly: „You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always be proud to be a Jew” and “My Jewish friend, go with the protection of the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!“[19] Of course he also helped: Within weeks, the 500 refugees were brought to the Ferramonti camp in the South of Italy, where, under control of the Nuncio and a resident Capuchin father, they received regular supply of goods and gifts from the Pope and survived the war in good health and humane conditions.[20]
But how did Pacelli/Pius XII think about the Nazis? Did he maybe consider them a lesser evil, compared to communism? The documents indicate a different position:


2. Eugenio Pacelli and the Nazis

Indeed no one in the Vatican knew Germany or the Nazis as good as Eugenio Pacelli, who lived in Germany more than 12 years, both in Munich and Berlin, and witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party from the very beginning out of closest proximity. Already in 1923, when Hitler tried his first revolt in Munich, he sent a report to the Vatican, entitled “The anticatholic character of the Nazi revolt”. He notes a “violent agitation against the Catholic clergy”, “slander and mockery against priests” and especially Cardinal Archbishop von Faulhaber who “during his homily in the Cathedral (of Munich) denounced the persecution of the Jews”.[21] Pacelli never revised his negative view on the Nazis, but also in 1924 spoke of the “fanatically anti-catholic Nazi party”[22]. He even called Nazism “probably the most dangerous heresy of our times”[23] since it “puts state and race above all, above true religion, above the truth and above justice.”[24]

The above-mentioned Cardinal von Faulhaber, a personal friend of Pacelli, joined the clerical circle “Amici di Israel”, consisting of 19 Cardinals, 287 archbishops and bishops as well as 3000 priests pleading for a reconciliation of Catholicism and Judaism.[25] The result of their campaign was a decree of 25 March 1928 by the Holy Office, condemning “without exception any hate against the God-chosen people, a hate which is commonly known as antisemitism.”[26]

Supported by Pacelli, in 1930 several German bishops and archbishops called National Socialism “a heresy”[27]. The diocese of Mainz, followed by the Bavarian and Rhinish bishops, published a decree declaring it “forbidden for every Catholic to become a registered member of the Hitler-Party” under threat of immediate excommunication.[28] This was officially supported by the Holy See, with a detailed report in the “Osservatore Romano”, launched by Pacelli.[29] Still in 1932, according to the German Bishop’s Conference, it was declared “not allowed” for Catholics to “belong to the Hitler-Party”, since its program “contained heresies”.[30]

When he became Pope, the American consul in Cologne, Alfred Klieforth, recalled a meeting with Pacelli, already Secretary of State, in 1937, and wrote to the US State Dept.: „His (Pacelli’s) views ... surprised me by their extremenesss. He said that he opposed unalterably every compromise with National Socialism… He regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person ... not capable of moderation. (…) He told me that he supported the German bishops in their anti-nazi stand. The risk of losing a large part of the Catholic youth in Germany, he said, was not as great as the consequences to the Catholic Church in general … in surrendering to the Nazis.“[31]

So he warned the world when he spoke at Lisieux, Lourdes, Paris and Budapest about the Neo-Paganism of the Nazis and “a cross that Is contrary to the cross of Christ”[32] and the sent 55 notes of protest, up to 45 pages in length, to the Nazi regime[33], condemning their violations of the Concordat of 1933, which was the only legal mean to preserve and protect the rights of the Catholic Church in Hitler’s Reich[34]. It was, by the way, not the first bilateral treaty offered to Germanys new and freely elected government, but followed the Quadriparti Agreement (with France, England and Italy) of 7 June 1933 and was signed just a month before the Ha’avara-Agreement with the Jewish Agency of 25 August 1933.[35]

Consequently, Pacelli was instrumental in the launch of the Papal Encyclical “Mit brennender Sorge”[36] for which he invited the most outspoken German Anti-Nazi-Bishops to Rome, just to toughen their draft. He also arranged that a condemnation of the basics of the racist Nazi ideology, extracted from a review of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, was sent to all Catholic educational institutions in 1938, the year of the introduction of racial laws in Italy and was published on 3 May, the day of Hitler’s visit to Rome. It is also called the “anti-racist syllabus” and was directly directed, I quote, “against the extremely pernicious defamations and doctrines of racism”.[37]  

Before Hitler arrived in Rome, Pope Pius XI and Pacelli withdrew to Castelgandolfo, “due to the foul air in Rome”[38], ordered all Roman prelates to stay away from receptions for the Nazi leader[39] and closed the Vatican Museums just in case the art-loving “Führer” would suddenly decide to visit them. “On the Feast of the exaltation of the Cross, a cross which is not the cross of Christ, is exposed in Rome”, Pius XI told newly wed couples at an audience in Castelgandolfo on 3 May 1938[40]. And on 6 September 1938, on an audience for pilgrims from Belgium, he stated: “Spiritually we are all Semites”.[41]

3. Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli and the Progrom night of 9 November 1938

When the synagogues of Germany burned, Pacelli realized that the time for words is over: it was time to act. Just three weeks later, on 30 November 1938, he sent a circular to all Nunciatures, ordering the Papal diplomats to ask hospitals and universities for possibilities to employ Jewish academics from Germany and Italy.[42]
Exactly two months later, on 9 January 1939, when the busy Christmas season was over, he sent another circular, this time to all Catholic archbishops of potential immigration countries, 51 at least[43], asking them to do everything possible to obtain Visa from their governments to enable 200.000 German “Non-Aryans” an immediate immigration and offer them in their new destinations “religious buildings and schools so that they can continue to follow their religious traditions”, clearly indicating that he does not refers to converts to Catholicism but indeed to Jews[44] – at a time when indeed 233.846 “racial” Jews still lived in Germany, among them less than 19.916 converts to both, Catholicism and Protestantism.[45] Although the Holy See was even willing to finance the mass emigration – and asked for donations – this impressive project failed due the lack of cooperation from the states. Brazil promised 3000 visa[46] but issued only 1000[47], Argentina and Venezuela offered 1000 each[48]. Only the Domenican dictator Trujillo was more generous, issuing up to 800 visa each time every half a year when the Nuncio personally requested them in the name of the Pope.[49]

4. Conspiracy against the War

In the first months of his pontificate, beginning with his election on 2 March 1939, Pacellis priority was to prevent the outbreak of World War II. “With peace, nothing is lost. With war, everything might be lost”[50] were the words of his flaming appeal on 24 August 1939. Too late – a week later, Hitler invaded Poland. Hitlers announcement of the invasion during a secret meeting with his generals on 22 August 1939 at the Berghof, his plea to use uttermost brutality and perform a genocide (“Who still talks about the Armenians?”) shocked the Commander of his Military Intelligence, Admiral Canaris, and others.[51] After the invasion of Poland, they conspired to plot against Hitler. Since they did not want to risk another “Versailles treaty” with territorial losses and immense financial compensations, they needed an intermediator to negotiate with England and France to guarantee the newly formed post-Hitler government would be recognized and Germany would continue to exist in its borders of 1938. They knew Pacelli from his time as Nuncio in Berlin, they trusted him and so they decided to ask him to become that intermediator. For this purpose, they recruited the Munich Catholic lawyer Josef Müller who flew to Rome to contact Fr. Georg Leiber SJ, the inofficial personal secretary of the Pope. After a night of prayer, on 13 October 1939, Pius XII. agreed. With this decision, he broke the neutrality of the Vatican as guaranteed in the Lateran treaty of 1929 and sided with the enemies of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. He literally risked his state and head for the higher good, to get rid of Hitler and Nazism in this early phase of the war.[52]

Unfortunately, the conspirators failed. Only after the defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943 they found volunteers willing to kill Hitler – but not even the bravest of them, Col. von Stauffenberg on 20 July 1944, was successful. Eventually, all conspirators were arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and killed; just Josef Müller survived. In November 1944, after interrogating them under torture, Gestapo-Chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner wrote a report for Hitler, confirming the contact with Pius XII since October 1939[53]. In August 1944, an officer of the CIA-forerunner OSS interviewed Fr. Leiber on “The Background of the Attempt on Hitler’s life” and learned: „The conspirators almost invariably kept him (Pius XII) informed on their activities, in an effort to find out the Pope‘s reaction to their designs. Fr. Leiber identifies three distinct plots during the years preceeding the assassination attempt of last month.[54]“ Harvard historian Harold Deutsch and, lately, my colleague Mark Riebling carefully investigated and documented the Pope’s incredible participation in a conspiracy to kill Hitler, what would have stopped the holocaust and the war immediately.


5. How the Pope learned about the Shoah

Please note that the Shoah or the Holocaust happened in two phases, first the massacres in German-occupied Poland and the Ukraine since September 1939 and then the mass killings in the death camps Belzec, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor and others since June 1942, following the Wannsee conference in January 1942. About the massacres, Pius XII was informed by the German military resistance. In the fall of 1941, he sent a Roman priest, Don Pirro Scavizzi, field chaplain of the knights of Malta, to Poland and the Ukraine to verify those reports.[55] After Don Pirro returned to Rome he was received by Pius XII on 26 November 1941, whose reaction was he described with the words: “He cried like a child and prayed like a saint”[56].

On 26 September 1942, US representative Mylon Taylor informed Pius XII on rumors that “The Jews … are being sent into the slaughterhouse”[57]. The Vatican had received similar reports but without confirmation or evidence. The Polish exile Ambassador Papée knew that “according to a citizen of the Axis powers, who visited those places, the Jews are concentrated in a camp and murdered there.”[58] The Joint Allied declaration of 17 December 1942[59] (“From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettos established by the German invader are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labor camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.”) was confirmed by the Pope in his Christmas address a week later.[60] Evidence for the mass murder in concentration camps was only delivered by Vrba and Wetzler, two Slovak Jews who escaped from Auschwitz, in the summer of 1944[61], which reached the Vatican before September 1944.[62] At the same time, the name “Auschwitz” is mentioned for the very first time in Vatican documents.[63]

The Allied Forces never released any more details since December 1942 and failed to bomb the traintracks to Auschwitz, although their plans shot dozens of aerial photos of Auschwitz in the spring and summer of 1944, at a time when up to 12.000 Jews a day were sent to the death camp. On some of them you see the smoke emerging from the giant chimney of the crematories.[64]

6. The three Papal protests in 1941, 1942 and 1943

On 1 August 1941, Radio Vatican, the Voice of the Pope, quoted the pontiff: “A great scandal is presently taken place, and this scandal is the treatment suffered by the Jews; it is why I desire that a free voice, the voice of a priest, should be raised in protest. In Germany the Jews are killed, brutalized, tortured because they are victims bereft of defense. How can a Christian accept such deeds? (…) Those men are the sons of those who 2000 years ago gave Christianity to the world.”[65]

On 24 December 1942, in his Christmas address, Pius XII confirmed the Joint Allied declaration on the persecution of the Jews and stated: “Humanity owes this vow (to create peace) to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline.”[66]

On 2 June 1943, in his allocation to the College of Cardinals, broadcast on Radio Vatican and printed in the Osservatore Romano, Pius XII spoke openly of "the anxious supplications of all those who, because of their nationality or their race, are overwhelmed by the greatest trials and most acute distress, and at times even destined, without any personal fault, to measures of extermination."[67]

With those three statements he spoke out three more times than the Allies, who had access to far more detailed information on the Shoah.

7. Why no more open protest?

In his speech of 2 June 1943, quoted above, Pius XII added: “Every word that We addressed to the responsible authorities and every one of Our public declarations had to be seriously weighed and considered in the interest of the persecuted themselves in order not to make their situation unwittingly even more difficult and unbearable.”[68]

Instead of the alleged “silence” we can rather observe a reduced public outcry for several good reasons. Pius XII knew from his experience with the Armenian genocide in 1915, that Papal protests – at that time two autographs of Pope Benedict XV to the Turkish Sultan – did not save a single life but just increased the speed of the deportations and massacres.[69] When Radio Vatican reported about the Nazi atrocities against the Catholic Polish population, the Polish bishops asked him to stop those programs, fearing further repercussions by the Nazis.[70] Still, in 1942 Pius XII wrote a pastoral letter of encouragement to the Poles and sent copies for distribution to Adam Sapieha, Archbishop of Cracow. Sapieha just burned those copies in his chimney[71], telling the Papal delegate that it would just serve the Nazis as a pretext for a more severe persecution of the Polish Church.[72]

When the Nazis deported the Jews of the Netherlands, Dutch Archbishop de Jong protested in a pastoral letter[73]. As a result, the Nazis started to arrest all converts, originally excluded from persecution, and deported them to Auschwitz.[74] Those experiences taught Pius XII to be careful “ad maiora mala vitanda” (to avoid a greater evil), as he wrote to Berlin Archbishop Konrad von Preying in 1943[75].

Indeed, the inmates of the Dachau concentration camp, mostly Catholic priests, feared any outside protest on their behalf, especially from the Vatican, since the guards made them feel their anger, as Jean Bernard, a priest from Luxembourg, remembered.[76]

Adolf Hitler himself stated in 1939, that any “support from foreign countries is granted to those specifically who want to destroy the Reich. We will consider it just a compelling cause to toughen our measures.”[77]

Additionally, from September 1943 until June 1944, Pius XII was literally a hostage of Hitler. The Germans had occupied Rome, German paratroopers controlled the Vatican borders and Hitler had given orders to SS General Karl Wolff to invade the Vatican, arrest the Pope and bring him to Germany or even stage a clash between SS men dressed up as Italian partisans, occupying the Vatican and killing the Pope and the German Wehrmacht “liberating” it, in case that Pius XII. would openly protest against the Holocaust.

Robert Kempner, representative of the US at the Nuremberg trials, stated that “any propaganda attempt by the Catholic Church against Hitler’s Reich would not only be a provoked suicide but would have caused the killing of an even higher number of Jews and Priests”.[78] Gerhart Riegner, Secretary General of the Jewish World Congress, stated that any public protests “would have just increased the speed of killing.”[79] Harold Tittmann, US representative at the Holy See, was convinced that the Pope “saved many lives … by not speaking out”: “Who can say what the Nazis would have done in their ruthless furor had they been further inflamed by public denunciations coming from the Holy See?”[80]

Also, his contact to the German military resistance required him to act prudently, since he was needed as a “neutral” intermediator. Any action of the Vatican would have made the German Catholics even more suspected than they were and would have greatly restricted their freedom of action in their work of resistance to the Nazis – what included hiding thousands of Jews or smuggling them out of Germany[81].

So instead of a more outspoken public protest, a provocation with the risk of an escalation, Pius XII decided to concentrate his energy on two aims: To get rid of Hitler either by a coup-d’etat or an allied victory – he allowed US Catholic soldiers to fight side by side with Stalin’s Red Army[82] – and, before, save as many Jews as possible by helping them to leave Europe or, at least, stopping or delaying their deportation into the Nazi death camps.

8. More than 40 diplomatic interventions to save innumerable Jews 

When on 14 March 1940, Germany’s Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop visited the Holy See, Pius XII, according to the “New York Times”, “came to the defense of the Jews in Germany and Poland”[83] – without any success. On 21 June 1943, after seven unsuccessful diplomatic interventions at the Foreign Office[84], he sent his Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo to meet Hitler in person on the Berghof. But as soon as the Nuncio mentioned the Jews, Hitler turned around, smashed his glass of water on the floor and ended the audience. Later, Orsenigo was warned by the Foreign Office, never again to bring up the subject of Jews.[85]

Still, there were Hitler’s vassal states, several of them with a Catholic head of state.

In Italy, the Papal diplomacy was successful: As long as Mussolini was in power (until July 1943), not a single Jew was handed over to the Germans.[86]

In September 1942, the Pope protested at the French Vichy government of Marshall Petain against the deportation of Jews.[87] For three months, until the Germans and Italians occupied the South of France, they were stopped. Now the Church smuggled tenthousands of Jews into the Italian zone where they were safe. Thousands of Jews were hidden in monasteries, thousands of Jewish children were adopted into Catholic families.[88]

When the Nazis requested the deportation of the 375.000 Romanian Jews in 1941, the Vatican convinced the Antonescu regime to spare all converts and deport the Jews to Transnistria instead of German occupied Poland.[89] Immediately the Nuncio distributed 40.000 baptism certificates. Since the situation in Transnistria was unpleasant, Pius XII sent millions of Lei to support the deportees and to bring Romanian Jewish children via Turkey to Palestine.[90]

In Bulgaria, the government agreed to hand its 48.000 Jews over to the Germans in the summer of 1942. Immediately the Vatican reacted. Its Nuncio was the confessor of the Queen and used his influence[91]. His predecessor Angelo Roncalli, now Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, had baptized the Crown Prince and wrote to the king.[92] Eventually King Boris ordered to stop the deportation and keep the Jews in Bulgaria where they were safe.

In Slovakia, with a former Catholic priest (Tiso) as president, of seven official diplomatic interventions by the Holy See, one caused a delay of a transport of Slovak Jews to the Polish death camps and five even halted the deportations.[93] They were only continued in September 1944, when the Germans took over control in Slovakia.[94] At that point, even a personal telegram of Pius XII to president Tiso, delivered on 4 November 1944, could not help.[95]

In Hungary, the Germans took over control in March 1944 and started the deportation of the 850.000 Hungarian Jews. Any diplomatic interventions of the Papal nuncio remained unsuccessful[96] until Pius XII himself, just liberated by the Allied Forces from the Nazi occupation of Rome, sent an open telegram to head-of-state Miklos Horthy on 25 June 1944, begging him to “do everything in your power that so many unfortunate people may be spared other afflictions and other sorrows.”[97] Indeed, within a week, Horthy stopped the deportations and half of the Hungarian Jews were saved.[98] When Eichmann himself, ignoring regent’s order, organized another transportation of 1700 Jews on 6 July, Horthy himself stopped the train before it reached the Hungarian border.[99] Only after Horthy was arrested by the Germans on 15 October 1944, the atrocities continued.

In the late summer of 1944, the Vatican learned not only about Auschwitz but was also informed on 25 September by Poland’s exile Ambassador Papée that the Germans planned to massacre “the 45.000 prisoners” of the KZ “Birchenau”[100]. The Vatican immediately commissioned the Nuncio in Berlin, Orsenigo, to intervene “in the most efficient way”.[101] The Foreign Office responded and called the claims “enemy propaganda”; the concentration camps would be under control of the International Red Cross.[102] When, on order of the Vatican, Orsenigo requested information “when the Red Cross visited Birchenau the last time”, there was no reply.[103] Still, on 25 January, when news about the Russian liberation of Poland reached the Vatican, Orsenigo was ordered to “prevent massacres of the inmates of the Auschwitz camp by the withdrawing German troops”[104]; two days later Auschwitz was liberated.

As I prove in my book “The Pope and the Holocaust”, 947.000 Jews[105] were saved between 1939 and 1945 thanks to actions and more than 40 diplomatic interventions by the Catholic Church and the Holy See under Pius XII.

9. “Under his very windows” – The deportation of the Roman Jews

Although the Nazis had assured to spare the ca. 8000 Roman Jews, Hitler ordered their deportation “as hostages to Mauthausen” (a work camp in Austria)[106]. The arrests begun with a razzia in the early hours of 16 October 1943. But on the very same day, at 12.00 AM, after “only” 1259 Jews were arrested, the “Judenaktion” was suddenly stopped – and 252 coverts and Jewish partners in mixed marriages were released.[107] What has happened?

Just after he learned of the arrests, in the early morning, Pius XII’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Maglione, ordered German ambassador Ernst von Weizsäcker into the Vatican and officially protested. Weizsäcker warned him of the consequences of an open protest and promised to help, but did not do anything.[108] Consequently, Pius XII sent his nephew Carlo Pacelli to the Austrian bishop in Rome, Alois Hudal, who had some sympathies with the Nazis and was respected by the German town commander, General Stahel. Under instruction by Pacelli, Hudal wrote a letter to Stahel, requesting him to stop the deportation, since otherwise “the Pope would protest publicly against it”, with grave consequences.[109] Stahel understood and called Himmler, warning of a public revolt in Rome and problems for the nearby front, so that the Reichsführer SS “gave order to stop those arrests immediately”, as Stahel informed Hudal the next day.[110] Stahel paid a high price for this help; two weeks later, when Himmler had learned about the background of his appeal, he was sent to the Russian front; he died as a POW in Russia.[111]

Unfortunately, the 1007 already arrested Jews could not be saved; their train was sent to Auschwitz instead of Mauthausen, although the Vatican – as documents reveal – inquired about their fate until January 1945 and believed they were still alive[112]; when actually most of them were murdered in the Gas chambers right after their arrival. But in Rome, the Pope knew exactly what to do. On 25 October, he  stated in “L’Osservatore Romano”: “The August Pontiff… has not for one moment ceased employing all means in His power to alleviate the sufferings … the universally paternal charity of the Supreme Pontiff … does not pause before boundaries of nationality, religion or race. This manifold and incessant activity of Pius XII has been greatly intensified recently by the increased sufferings of so many unfortunate people.”[113]

Once again he sent Carlo Pacelli to Bishop Hudal to request 550 placards calling Roman monasteries and seminaries “Property of the Holy See, exempt from house search and confiscations”[114]. During the next eight month of the German occupation, both Wehrmacht and SS respected those declarations and spared the buildings in question. Now the religious houses received an order from the Pope to accept Jewish refugees, as the Diary of the Augustine Sisters of SS Quattri Coronati[115] and other evidence indicates. Indeed, in 235 monasteries and convents, 4205 Jews were hidden, plus 160 in Vatican City.[116] Eventually, about 6400 of the Roman Jews or 80 % survived the holocaust. Also in the Papal Summer residence of Castelgandolfo, 3000 refugees, among them many Jews, were hidden[117], as well as in the sanctuaries of Assisi, Loreto and Padua.[118]

10. Jewish reactions and gratitude

The post-war Jewish community knew and recognized the great help it received. “The Pope and the Vatican were indefatigable in working to save Jews and many hundreds were sheltered in monasteries and convents in Rome and in Vatican City”, the Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, told the “New York Times”[119]. In 1946, the “Council of the Jewish Communities in Italy” presented a placard in Rome, stating: “The Jews will always remember what the Church on order of the Pope did for them in those terrible times”[120]. Italy’s Jews declared 17 April 1955 the “Day of Gratitude” for the help of the Pope[121] and on 19 May 1955, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Paul Klecki came to the Vatican to play Beethoven for Pius XII “as a gesture of gratitude for the help his Church has given to all those persecuted by Nazi fascism.”[122]
Similarly, Chaim Weizmann, 1st president of Israel[123], Mosche Scharett, 2nd Prime Minister of Israel[124], Golda Meir, legendary Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister of Israel[125], Isaak Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel[126], Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, Secretary General of the Jewish World Congress, who donated US$ 20.000,-- to the Holy See[127] and Dr. Raffael Cantoni, President of the “Union of Jewish Communities in Italy”[128] acknowledged the unique help and great effort of Pius XII to save Jews during the most tragic hour of their history, well, in the darkest hour of human history, the Shoah. We are here to remember both, the dreadful crimes of the Nazis, the murder of six million innocent men, women and children of Jewish faith, but also the heroic efforts by those who risked their lifes, their position and privileges, to follow their conscience and faith, to save those innocent brothers and sisters. May both, darkness and light, never be forgotten.

[1] Hochhuth, Rolf: Der Stellvertreter, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1963
[2] Cornwell, John: Hitler’s Pope, London 1999
[3] Hesemann, Michael: Der Papst und der Holocaust, Stuttgart 2018
[4] „Ramat Gan Physician Recalls Schooldays with Pius XII“, in: Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem, 10.10.1958
[5] “Sokolow relates former Pope’s view on Palestine Question”, in: Jewish Daily Bulletin 6.2.1925; see: AA.EE.SS., Turchia, 1921-1936, pos. 7, fasc. 23, p. 28
[6] AA.EE.SS. Germania 1917, pos. 1619-1622, fasc. 852, p.7-8
[7] Jehuda Reinhart, Dokumente zur Geschichte des deutschen Zionismus 1882-1933, Tübingen 1981, p. 378
[8] AA.EE.SS., Germania 1917, pos. 1619-1622, fasc. 852, p. 2-6; Jewish Daily Bulletin, 16.2.1925, Arch. Nunz. Berlino 93, fasc.4, p. 136
[9] A.S.V., Arch. Nunz. Monaco d.B. 385; Fasc. 2; Pos. XIII, Guerra Europ. Palestina # 1, Popolazione Giudaica e della Citta Santa della Palestina, p. 2-4
[10] Ibid., p.5-6
[11] Lenny Ben David: „Erster Weltkrieg: Verhinderte ein deutscher Offizier in Israel ein Massaker an den Juden?“, in: Jüdische Rundschau, 7.7.2016
[12] AA.EE.SS., Germania, Pos. 643 (P.O.), fasc. 158, p. 4
[13] AA.EE.SS:, Germania, Pos. 643 (P.O.), fasc. 158, p. 11
[14] “The Jewish Veteran”, April 1939
[16] Courtesy of the Central Zionist Archives, S25/3759
[17] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20101939_summi-pontificatus.html
[18] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1940/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19401224_venerabili-fratelli.html
[19] Wisla, Heinz: „A Papal Audience in War-Time“, Palestine Post, 28.4.1944
[20] See A.S.S. 1942, Razza 4, cit. ADSS (Blet, Pierre/Graham, Robert/Martini, Angelo/Schneider, Burkhardt: Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre mondsiale, Vol. I-XI, Città del Vaticano 1965-81) VIII, No. 335, p. 490, A.S.S. 49912, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 371, p. 532; A.S.S. 1942, Razza 4, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 348, p. 505-507; , A.S.S. 49912, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 371, p. 532; see also Francis R. Nicosia, Archives of the Holocaust, Vol. 4, Central Zionist Archives Jerusalem 1939-1945, London 1990, p. 185
[21] AA.EE.SS., Baviera, 1922-1925, pos. 151, fasc. 3, p. 9r-10r.
[22] AA.EE.SS., Germania, 1924-1930, pos. 546, fasc. 69, p. 43-44.
[23] AA.EE.SS., Germania, 1924-1930, pos. 546, fasc. 69, p. 49rv.
[24] AA.EE.SS., Germania, 1924-1930, pos. 546, fasc. 69, p. 54-55
[25] See Wolf, Hubert: Papst und Teufel, München 2008, p. 101 f.
[26] Decree of 25.3.1928, in: AAS 20, (1928), p. 103 f
[27] Gruber, Hubert: Katholische Kirche und Nationalsozialismus 1930-1945, Paderborn 2006, p. 5
[28] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 621 (P.O.), fasc. 138, p. 5 & 15
[29] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 621 (P.O.), fasc. 138, p. 33
[30] AA.EE.SS.., Germania, pos. 621 (P.O.), fasc. 138, p. 16-17
[31] Klieforth to Moffat, 3.3.1939, cit. Krupp, Gary: Pope Pius XII and World War II, New York 2012, p. 18
[32] Cit. Bankier, David/Michman, Dan/Nidam-Orvieto, Iael (Ed.): Pius XII and the Holocaust, Current State of Research, Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) 2012, p. 56
[33] “Papst der Deutschen”, in: Der Spiegel, 18.11.1964
[34] L’Osservatore Romano, 26./27.7.1933
[35] Cit. Bankier, David/Michman, Dan/Nidam-Orvieto, Iael (Ed.): Pius XII and the Holocaust, Current State of Research, Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) 2012, p. 65
[36] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/de/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge.html
[37] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 738 (P.O.), fasc. 354, p. 51-52
[38] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 735 (P.O.), fasc.353, p. 30
[39] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 735 (P.O.), fasc.353, p. 19 & 23
[40] AA.EE.SS., Germania, pos. 735 (P.O.), fasc.353, p. 31, see “L’Osservatore Romano”, 5.5.1938
[41] Cit. Fattorini, Emma: Pio XI, Hitler e Mussolini, Torino 2007, p.212
[42] AA.EE.SS., Stati Ecclesiastici, pos. 574-575 (P.O.), fasc. 606, p. 78
[43] AA.EE.SS., Stati Ecclesiastici, pos. 575 (P.O.), fasc. 606 bis, p. 21
[44] AA.EE.SS., Stati Ecclesiastici, pos. 575 (P.O.), fasc. 606 bis, p.27-28
[45] „Die Juden und jüdischen Mischlinge im Deutschen Reich“, in: Volkszählung. Die Bevölkerung des Deutschen Reiches nach den Ergebnissen der Volkszählung 1939. Statistik des Deutschen Reiches, Bd. 552, H. 4, Berlin 1944.
[46] AA.EE.SS. 3880/39, cit. ADSS VI, No. 33, p. 98
[47] ADSS VI, p. 254
[48] AA.EE.SS. 6359/39, cit. ADSS VI, No. 57, p. 133
[49] Krupp, Gary (Ed.), Nomination for Righteous Among Nations for Eugenio Pacelli, New York 2010, p.89-98
[50] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1939/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19390824_ora-grave.html
[51] Albrecht, Richard:  "Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?“ - Adolf Hitlers zweite Rede vor den Oberkommandierenden am 22. August 1939 auf dem Obersalzberg, Essay, 2007, p. 4
[52] See Deutsch, Harold: The Conspiracy against Hitler in the twilight war, Minneapolis 1968; Müller, Josef: Bis zur letzten Konsequenz, München 1973; Riebling, Mark: Church of Spies, Cambridge 2015
[53]  Kaltenbrunner an Bormann, 29.11.1944, cit. Jacobsen, Hans-Adolf (ed.); Spiegelbild einer Verschwörung, Stuttgart 1984, vol. I, p. 509
[54] OSS-Document 65, 18 August 1944: Interview w. Fr. Georg Leiber - 2. The Background of the Attempt on Hitler‘s Life
[55] A.S.S: Guerra, Polonia 226, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 206, p. 352 f.
[56] In „La Parrocchia“, Mai 1964, cit. Falconi, Carlo: The Silence of Pius XII, Boston/MA 1965, p. 151
[57] cit Blet, Pierre: Papst Pius XII. und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Paderborn 2000, p. 162; the report is missing in the ADSS
[58] AA.EE.SS. 7258/42, cit.. ADSS VIII, No.497, p. 670
[59] „11 Allies Condem Nazis War on Jews“, in: New York Times, 18.12.1942
[60] https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1942/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19421224_radiomessage-christmas.html
[61] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-vrba-wetzler-report-auschwitz-protocols
[62] AA.EE.SS. 5892/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 330, p. 423
[63] AA.EE.SS. 6073/44, cit. ADSS X, Nr. 335, p. 427
[64] http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/through-the-lens/auschwitz-aerial-photos.asp
[65] Ickx, Johan: „The Holy See and the Refugees (1933-1945)“, in:  Steven T. Katz/Juliane Wetzel/International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (Hrsg.): Refugee Policies from 1933 until Today: Challenges and Responsibilities, Berlin 2018, p. 63-96
[66] https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1942/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19421224_radiomessage-christmas.html
[67] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1943/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19430602_onomastico-pontefice.html
[68] http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1943/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19430602_onomastico-pontefice.html
[69] http://michaelhesemann.info/14_5.html
[70] AA.EE.SS. 1227&40, cit. ADSS IIIa, No. 108, p. 208 and AA.EE.SS. 950/40, cit. ADSS IIIa, No. 96, p. 194-197
[71] Paganuzzi, Quirino: Pro Papa Pio, Roma 1970, p. 53-58; Falconi 1970, p. 149-150
[72] AA.EE.SS. 9126/42, cit ADSS IIIb, No. 437, p. 669-70
[73] http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com
[74] Kempner, Robert: Edith Stein und Anne Frank, Freiburg 1968
[75] AA.EE.SS., carte Pio XII, cit. ADSS II, No. 105, p. 318-327
[76] Bernard, Jean: Pfarrerblock 25487, Luxembourg 2004, p. 72
[77] Speech of 30.1.1939, cit. Domarus 1973, p. 1047-1067
[78] Cit. Krupp 2012, p. 260
[79] Cit. Lapide, Pinchas: Rom und die Juden, Bad Schussenried 2005, p.243
[80] Tittmann, Harold: Inside the Vatican of Pius XII, New York 2004, p. 122 f.
[81] Müller 1975, p. 84; Tittmann 2004, p. 213
[82] ADSS V, No. 72, p. 199-200
[83] New York Times, 14.3.1940
[84] Biffi, Monica M.: Mons. Cesare Orsenigo. Nunzio Apostolico in Germania (1930-1946), Milano 1997, p. 241
[85] AA.EE.SS. 5393/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 325, p. 470
[86] AA.EE.SS. 2568/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 152, p. 254-56; AA.EE.SS. 3899/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 228, p. 338
[87] “New York Times”, 10.9.1942
[88] AA.EE.SS. 8095/42, cit ADSS VIII, No. 523, p. 690
[89] Ioanid, Radu: The Holocaust in Romania, Chicago/IL 2000, p. 241ff.
[90] A.S.S. 61437, cit. ADSS IX, No. 53, p. 129; A.S.V., Arch. Nunz. Buc., cit. ADSS X, No. 35, p. 107 f.;.Ancel, Jean: Documents Concerning the Fate of the Romanian Jewry During the Holocaust, Vol. XI, Jerusalem 1986, p.461
[91] AA.EE.SS. 2365/43, cit.. ADSS IX, No. 141, p. 242; Lapide 2005, p. 135 f.
[92] A.S.V., Arch. Deleg. Turch., cit. ADSS IX, No. 251, p. 371-72
[93] AA.EE.SS. 2141/42, cit.. ADSS VIII, No. 298, p. 453; AA.EE.SS. 2027/42, cit.. ADSS VIII, No. 305, p. 459-60; , AA.EE.SS. 2553/42, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 322, p. 475; AA.EE.SS. 2555/42, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 332, p. 484; AA.EE.SS. 2615/42, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 346, p. 504; , AA.EE.SS. 4374/42, cit. ADSS VIII, No. 400, p. 561; AA.EE.SS.1376/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 81, p. 170; AA.EE.SS. 1494/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 87, p. 179-80; AA.EE.SS. 3084/43, cit.. ADSS IX, No. 147, p. 245-250;  AA.EE.SS. 2731/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 176, p. 275; AA.EE.SS. 5917/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 329, p. 422-23
[94] AA.EE.SS. 6992/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 377, p. 461
[95] AA.EE.SS. 6992/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 378, p. 461-462
[96] AA.EE.SS. 3317/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 172, p. 247-49; AA.EE.SS. 5591/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 207, p. 283-288; AA.EE.SS. 3285/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 209, p. 288-89; AA.EE.SS. 3317/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 216, p. 297; AA.EE.SS.5689/44, cit. ADSS X, Nr. 227, p. 308-313; AA.EE.SS. 3889/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 233, p. 320-21; AA.EE.SS. 3982/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 242, p. 327-8
[97] AA.EE.SS. 6101/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 243, p. 328
[98] AA.EE.SS. 4581/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 265, p. 351 f.
[99] Lapide 2005, p. 119 f.
[100] AA.EE.SS. 5892/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 330, p. 423
[101] AA.EE.SS. 5892/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 330, p. 423
[102] AA.EE.SS. 6300/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 354, p. 444
[103] AA.EE.SS. 6300/44, cit. ADSS X, No. 360, p. 448
[104] AA.EE.SS.545/45, cit. ADSS X, No. 439, p. 532
[105] Hesemann 2018, p. 398
[106] Friedländer, Raul: Pius XII. und das Dritte Reich, München 2011, p. 181
[107] Cit Kühlwein, Klaus: Pius XII. und die Judenrazzia in Rom, Berlin 2013, p. 216
[108] AA.EE.SS. 2606/43, cit. ADSS IX, No. 368, p. 505-6;
[109] Archiv S. Maria dell’Anima (ASMA), No. 373; AA.EE.SS. Germania 742, cit. ADSS IX, No. 373, p. 509-510
[110] Ibid.
[111] Molinari, P. Paolo SJ/Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum, Prot. No. 1088, Beatificationis er canonizationis Servi Dei PII XII (Eugenii Pacelli), Positio Super Vita et Virtutibus, Summarium, Pars II, Roma 1999, p. 1009
[112] A.S.S. 74825/S, cit. ADSS X, No. 13, no. 83; A.S.S. 006198, cit. ADSS X, No. 43, p. 119; further requests are documented for 18.3.1944, 21.4.1944, 13.5.1944, 16.5.1944 and 22.1.1945, see A.S.S. Razza, 45&2, cit. ADSS X, p. 531
[113] „La caritá del Santo Padre”, LOR 25-26 Oct, 1943
[114] Hudal, Alois: L’azione pratica per salvare innumerevoli persone di nazione ebrea, ca. 1944, ASMA Hudal; AA.EE.SS. Germania 742, cit.. ADSS IX, p. 518; See also: Samerski, Stefan: Pancratius Pfeiffer, der verlängerte Arm von Pius XII., Padernorn 2013, p. 89; Riccardi Andrea: Der längste Winter, Darmstadt 2017, p. 178
[115] Cit. Krupp 2010, p. 78-82
[116] http://www.papapioxii.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/1.7.pdf
[117] „Palestine Post“ Jerusalem, 24.6.1944; New York Times, 17.6.1944; Lapide 2005, p. 94
[118] Hudal, Alois: L’azione pratica per salvare innumerevoli persone di nazione ebrea, ca. 1944, ASMA Hudal; AA.EE.SS. Germania 742, cit.. ADSS IX, p. 518
[119] New York Times, 17 June 1944
[120] Cit. Krupp 2012, p. 146
[121] Cit. Lapide 2005, p. 203
[122] Jerusalem Post, 29.5.1955
[123] Cit. Krupp 2012, p. 149
[124] Cit. Lapide 2005, p. 202
[125] Cit. Lapide 2005, p. 204
[126] Cit. Krupp 2012, p. 151
[127] Cit. Lapide 2005, p. 202
[128] Cit. Lapide 2005, p. 94