The long-awaited opening of Pope Pius XII’s wartime records only lasted a week before the coronavirus shut the Vatican archives down again,but that was long enough for documents to emerge that reflect badly on the pontiff accused of silence during the Holocaust, according to published reports.
In that week alone, German researchers found that the pope,who never directly criticized the Nazi slaughter of Jews, knew from his own sources about Berlin’s death campaign early on. But he kept this from the U.S.government after an aide argued that Jews and Ukrainians — his main sources —could not be trusted because they lied and exaggerated, according to the researchers.
These reports are coming out in Germany, home to seven researchers from the University of Münster who went to Rome despite the coronavirus crisis there for the historic opening of Pius’ wartime papers on March 2. Other researchers from the United States and Israel had been expected to attend the opening but apparently stayed home because of the pandemic.
Leading the German team was Hubert Wolf, 60, a historian ofthe Catholic Church who has researched in the Vatican’s Secret Archive — now called the Apostolic Archive — since his student days. A Catholic priestandprolific author, he enjoys a reputation as an objective researcher and outspoken analyst.
“We have to first check these newly available sources,” he toldKirche + Leben, the Catholic weekly in Münster, last Friday. “If Pius XII comes out of this study of the sources looking better, that’s wonderful. If he comes out looking worse, we have to accept that, too.”
Now the archive has been opened, and the Münster team of researchers has begun to publish its first findings; they do not look good for Pius or the Catholic Church. The details are a bit complicated, but Wolf’s conclusions are quite clear.
The chain of events goes back to September 27, 1942, when aU.S. diplomat gave the Vatican a secret report on the mass murder of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. It said about 100,000 had been massacred in and around Warsaw and added that another 50,000 were killed in Lviv in German-occupied Ukraine.
The report was based on information from the Geneva office of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. Washington wanted to know if the Vatican,which received information from Catholics around the world, couldconfirmthisfrom its own sources. If it could, would the Vatican have any ideas about how to rally public opinion against these crimes?
The archive included a note confirming that Pius read the American report. It also had two letters to the Vatican independently corroborating the reports of massacres in Warsaw and Lviv, according to the researchers.
A month before the American request, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic archbishop of Lviv, Andrey Sheptytsky, had sent Pius a letter that spoke of 200,000 Jews massacred in Ukraine under the “outright diabolical”German occupation.
In mid-September, an Italian businessman named Malvezzi told Mgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, of the“incredible butchery” of Jews he had seen during a recent visit to Warsaw.Montini reported this to his superior, the Vatican’s secretary of state (prime minister), Cardinal Luigi Maglione.
But the Vatican told Washington it could not confirm the Jewish Agency report.
The basis for this, Wolf told the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, was a memo by another staffer at the Secretariat of State, Fr. Angelo Dell’Acqua, who later became a cardinal. In that memo, he warned against believing the Jewish report because Jews “easily exaggerate” and “Orientals” — the reference is to Archbishop Sheptytsky — “are really not an example of honesty.”
That memo is in the archive but was not included in the11-volume series of wartime documents the Vatican published to defend Pius’ reputation. “This is a key document that has been kept hidden from us because it is clearly anti-Semitic and shows why Pius XII did not speak out against the Holocaust,” Wolf told Kirche +Leben.