.- Further challenging claims of papal inaction in the face of Jewish persecution during World War II, a German historian conducting research in the Vatican archives has said that Pope Pius XII may have arranged for the escape of 200,000 Jews from Germany in the weeks after the Kristallnacht Nazi attacks.
Dr. Michael Hesemann based his claim on his research in the Vatican archives for the Pave the Way Foundation, a U.S.-based interfaith group, the Daily Telegraph reports.
He said that in 1938 the future Pope, who was then Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, wrote to Catholic archbishops around the world to urge them to apply for visas for ânon-Aryan Catholicsâ and Jewish converts to Christianity who wanted to leave Germany.
Hesemann reported that additional evidence suggests that the visas would have been given to ordinary Jews to escape persecution.
âThe fact that this letter speaks of 'converted Jewsâ and 'non-Aryanâ Catholics indeed seems to be a cover,â Hesemann told the Telegraph.
âYou couldnât be sure that Nazi agents wouldnât learn about this initiative,â he continued. âPacelli had to make sure they didnât misuse it for their propaganda, that they could not claim that the Church is an ally of the Jews.â
The letter was dated Nov. 30, 1939, 20 days after Kristallnacht, the ânight of broken glassâ when Jews were attacked in Germany. Cardinal Pacelli could request the visas because the 1933 concordat signed with the Nazi government specifically provided protection for Jews who converted to Christianity.
Dr. Ed Kessler, who is director of the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, told the Telegraph âIt is clear that Pius XII facilitated the saving of Roman Jews.â
While the wartime Pope is on the path to possible beatification and canonization, some Jewish groups have wanted the process stopped until the Vaticanâs wartime archives are unsealed in 2014.
Critics of Pius XII charge that he failed to denounce the Holocaust.
His defenders point to evidence of his work to save Jews and to his veiled condemnations of Nazism. They say the charges of Pius XIIâs âsilenceâ primarily originate with the 1963 play âThe Deputy,â by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth.
In an April 2009 interview with CNA, Pave the Way Foundation president Gary Krupp said that each time Hesemann enters the archive he comes out with an âastoundingâ document about Pius XII fighting anti-Semitism or saving Jewish lives.
âThis information is so readily available, but nobody has gone to look,â Krupp continued, saying historians and critics of Pius XIIâs pontificate do not have to wait for the sealed archives to open when they have âso much material they can look at.â
âThatâs the disappointing part.â