With a Big Archives Release, a Pope's Legacy Is at Stake

Current pontiff Francis orders online posting of 'Jewish' files from archives of WWII era's Pius XII
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 24, 2022 2:41 PM CDT
Pope Orders Posting of 'Jewish' Files From Pius XII Archives
Brown University professor David Kertzer holds his book "The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe" in his office on April 20, 2015, in Providence, RI.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Pope Francis has ordered the online publication of 170 volumes of its so-called Jewish files from the recently opened Pope Pius XII archives, the Vatican announced Thursday, amid renewed debate about the legacy of its World War II-era pope. The documentation contains 2,700 files of requests for Vatican help from Jewish groups and families, many of them baptized Catholics (so not actually practicing Jews anymore). The files were held in the Secretariat of State's archives and contain requests for papal intervention to avoid Nazi deportation, to obtain liberation from concentration camps, or to help find family members, per the AP. The online publication of the files comes amid renewed debate about Pius' legacy following the 2020 opening to scholars of his archives, of which the "Jews" files are but a small part.

The Vatican has long defended Pius against criticism from some Jewish groups that he remained silent in the face of the Holocaust, with the Vatican saying he used quiet diplomacy to save lives. One recent book that cites the newly opened archives, The Pope at War, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kertzer, suggests that the people the Vatican was most concerned about saving were Jews who'd converted to Catholicism, the offspring of Catholic-Jewish mixed marriages or otherwise related to Catholics. Kertzer asserts that Pius was loath to intervene on behalf of Jews, or make public denunciations of Nazi atrocities against them, to avoid antagonizing Adolf Hitler or fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

In an article for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's foreign minister, Paul Gallagher, said the files contained requests for help, but without much information on outcomes. "Each of these requests constituted a case, which, once processed, was destined for storage in a documentary series entitled 'Jews,'" he wrote. "The requests would arrive at the Secretariat of State, where diplomatic channels would try to provide all the help possible, taking into account the complexity of the political situation in the global context," Gallagher wrote. He added that it was hoped that the digital release of the "Jews" files would help scholars with research, but also descendants of those who'd requested Vatican help to "find traces of their loved ones from any part of the world."

(More Pope Francis stories.)

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