Relatives of Holocaust survivors and victims can now view the records of more than 2,700 Jews who sought help through Vatican channels to escape Nazi persecution before and during World War II. The archives have been made public on the Internet at the request of Pope Francis.
The files are “a precious heritage because they bring together the requests for help addressed to Pope Pius XII by Jews, baptized and unbaptized, after the start of Nazi and Fascist persecution,” said Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary. for relations with states and international organizations, said in a June 23 article for Vatican News.
This heritage is “now easily accessible to the world thanks to a project to publish the complete digitized version of the archive series”, he said. “Making the digitized version of the entire Jews/Jewish people series available on the Internet will allow descendants of those who have asked for help to trace the traces of their relatives from any part of the world. At the same time , this will allow researchers and anyone interested to freely examine this particular archival heritage, remotely.
The files are hosted on the Historical Archives website of the Relations with States and International Organizations Section of the Secretary of State. The archive houses a photographic reproduction of each document and an analytical inventory that names everyone who asks for help.
The series relates to the papacy of Venerable Pius XII, elected pope on March 2, 1939, just six months before the start of the war.
Some requests written by Jews or on behalf of Jews were for help obtaining visas or passports, finding asylum, or reuniting families. Others asked to be released from detention or to be transferred to another concentration camp. They were looking for news of the deportees or asking for food or clothing, financial support, spiritual support, etc.
Requests went through the Secretariat of State and Church diplomatic channels tried to provide “all possible assistance,” Bishop Gallagher said.
In 2020, when these archives were first opened to researchers, Vatican officials referred to the documents as “Pacelli’s List”, using the surname of Pope Pius XII to allude to Schindler’s List, Stephen Spielberg’s film about a German who saved Jews from the Holocaust.
“Although the two cases differ, the analogy captures perfectly the idea that the people in the halls of the institution in the service of the pontiff, worked tirelessly to provide practical help to the Jewish people,” Archbishop Gallagher said.
Critics of Venerable Pius XII said he did not do enough to oppose Nazism or help Jews during the Holocaust. His defenders point to the pope’s record before and during the war, including significant evidence of Vatican assistance to Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis.
The archive series has 170 volumes in total, or approximately 40,000 digital files. About 70 percent of the material will be made available immediately, but the final volumes are still being incorporated into the collection, the Holy See Press Office said in a June 23 bulletin published in English, Italian and Hebrew.
Most of the Secretary of State’s foreign relations files were named after geographic subjects, not a race or religion of people. The Ebrei archive series was named “Jews” or “Jewish people” in Italian because “its purpose is to preserve the requests for help from the Jewish people throughout Europe, received by the Pope during the Nazi persecutions and fascists,” the press office said. .
In the mid-twentieth century, the Section for Relations with States was known as the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, the equivalent of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Msgr. Angelo Dell’Acqua had a diplomatic role in this office called minutante. He and his office oversaw requests from Jews and sought “to provide petitioners with all possible assistance,” the archive page says. Dell’Acqua would later become cardinal and vicar general of Rome under Saint Paul VI.
Some of the Jews who wrote asking for Catholic help were baptized Christians, but many were not. Many petitions were written by intermediaries on behalf of Jews.
“Thousands of people persecuted for belonging to the Jewish religion, or simply for having ‘non-Aryan’ ancestry, turned to the Vatican, knowing that others had received help,” Archbishop Gallagher said.
Archbishop Gallagher’s article in Vatican News chronicled the case of Werner Barasch, a 23-year-old German university student of Jewish descent who was baptized in 1938. His historical file contains documents about his efforts to be released from a concentration camp in Spain. On January 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 were able to leave the concentration camp”. He said he had hoped to join his mother who had fled to the United States in 1939 “to prepare a new life for me”. He needed the help of “someone from the outside” to get the authorities to grant his release.
“There is little hope for those without outside help,” Barasch’s letter said.
The Vatican file shows that the Secretariat of State looked into the matter within days and “recently” brought it to the attention of the nuncio in Spain. There is nothing more to the paper trail. Like the majority of cases, the Vatican records say nothing about what happened to Barasch.
“In our hearts we immediately inevitably hope for a positive outcome, the hope that Werner Barasch was then released from the concentration camp and was able to join his mother abroad,” Bishop Gallagher said.
This hope has come true. Barasch was a known Holocaust survivor who told his story at age 82 in a video interview now in the US Holocaust Museum’s online collections. 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 United States. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado before working as a chemist in California.
“As with the majority of requests for assistance evidenced by other cases, the outcome of the request has not been reported,” Bishop Gallagher said.
About 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
On June 22, Pope Francis received an international delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group with 400,000 member families in the United States. The delegation presented the pope with a copy of an original report written and signed by Nazi leader Adolph Hitler. in which he calls for the destruction of the Jewish people. The document is dated September 16, 1919, long before the Nazis took power.
“What began as the opinion of one man became the state policy of Nazi Germany 22 years later, leading to the systematic murder of a third of world Jewry,” he said. said Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, during the meeting. “This document shows the power of words and is a warning for everyone to take seriously the threats of any demagogue.”
Yesterday noted anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic, which the Simon Wiesenthal Center says confirms “the rise of anti-Semitism.”
He also used his remarks to criticize a nuclear arms deal with Iran, which the Vatican has backed. Yesterday also criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine, accusing Russia of adopting the same tactics as Hitler’s Germany.
The Pope has accepted the donation of the historical document, which will be deposited in the Vatican Archives.
In his address, Pope Francis stressed the importance of “recalling history so that it can be at the service of the future.” He denounced anti-Semitic attacks. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, he said Hitler’s 1919 letter showed the Nazi leader did not care about the German people but only about promoting a dangerous ideology.