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 “non-Aryan Catholics” 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.
“The fact that this letter speaks of 'converted Jews’ and 'non-Aryan’ Catholics indeed seems to be a cover,” Hesemann told the Telegraph.
“You couldn’t be sure that Nazi agents wouldn’t learn about this initiative,” he continued. “Pacelli had to make sure they didn’t misuse it for their propaganda, that they could not claim that the Church is an ally of the Jews.”
The letter was dated Nov. 30, 1939, 20 days after Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” 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 “It is clear that Pius XII facilitated the saving of Roman Jews.”
While the wartime Pope is on the path to possible beatification and canonization, some Jewish groups have wanted the process stopped until the Vatican’s 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 XII’s “silence” primarily originate with the 1963 play “The Deputy,” 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 “astounding” document about Pius XII fighting anti-Semitism or saving Jewish lives.
“This information is so readily available, but nobody has gone to look,” Krupp continued, saying historians and critics of Pius XII’s pontificate do not have to wait for the sealed archives to open when they have “so much material they can look at.”
“That’s the disappointing part.”