Some of the Jews who wrote seeking Catholic aid were baptized Christians, but many were not. Many petitions were written by intermediaries on behalf of Jews.
“Thousands of people persecuted for their membership to the Jewish religion, or for merely having ‘non-Aryan’ ancestry, turned to the Vatican, in the knowledge that others had received help,” said Gallagher.
Gallagher’s article in Vatican News recounted the case of Werner Barasch, a 23-year-old German university student of Jewish background who was baptized in 1938. His historic file has documents from his effort to be released from a concentration camp in Spain. On Jan. 17, 1942 Barasch wrote to an Italian friend and asked her to seek the intervention of Pius XII through the apostolic nuncio in Madrid.
Barasch wrote: “with this intervention from Rome, others had been able to leave the
concentration camp.” He said he had hoped to join his mother who had fled to the U.S. in 1939 “to prepare a new life for me.” He needed the help “of someone from outside” so that the authorities would grant his release.
“There is little hope for those who have no outside help,” said Barasch’s letter.
The Vatican file shows the Secretariat of State addressed the case in a few days’ time and “newly” brought it to the attention of the nuncio to Spain. There is nothing more to the paper trail. Like the majority of cases, the Vatican files say nothing about what happened to Barasch.
“In our hearts, we immediately inevitably hope for a positive outcome, the hope that Werner Barasch was later freed from the concentration camp and was able to reach his mother overseas,” Gallagher said.
This hope was fulfilled. Barasch was a known Holocaust survivor who recounted his story at the age of 82 in a video interview now at the online collections of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. He was released from the Spanish camp a year after his appeal to the Pope. In 1945, he was able to join his mother in the U.S. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Colorado before working as a chemist in California.
“As for the majority of requests for help witnessed by other cases, the result of the request was not reported,” Gallagher said.
About 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
(Story continues below)
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On June 22, Pope Francis received an international delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group that counts 400,000 member families in the U.S. The delegation presented to the pope a copy of an original report authored and signed by Nazi leader Adolph Hitler in which he called for the destruction of the Jewish people. The document is dated Sept. 16, 1919, long before the Nazis took power.
“What began as one man’s opinion would become state policy of Nazi Germany 22 years later, which led to the systematic murder of one-third of world Jewry,” Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said at the meeting. “This document shows the power of words and is a warning for everyone to take threats of any demagogue seriously.”
Hier noted anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic, which the Simon Wiesenthal Center said confirm “surging anti-Semitism.”
He also used his remarks to criticize a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, which the Vatican has supported. Hier also criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine, charging that Russia was adopting the same tactics as Hitler’s Germany.
The pope accepted the gift of the historic document, which will be placed in the Vatican Archives.
In his remarks, Pope Francis stressed the importance of “recalling history so it can be of service to the future.” He denounced anti-Semitic attacks. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, he said the 1919 letter from Hitler showed that the Nazi leader did not care about the German people but only about promoting a dangerous ideology.