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Uncovered: Correspondence Of Pius XII

by Antonio Gaspari

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    New evidence from the correspondence of Pope Pius XII that he gave direct orders to help the Jews during the Nazi era.
  • Larger Work:
    Inside The Vatican
  • Pages: 14 - 16
  • Publisher & Date:
    Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, February 2003

New documents, discovered by Inside the Vatican reporter Antonio Gaspari, provide unprecedented proof that Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), accused by many historians in recent years of having done nothing to help Jews persecuted under the Nazi regime, in fact did directly order significant assistance to be given to Jews during the war years.

The evidence, previously unknown to scholars in the field, is of fundamental importance in the debate over Pope Pius' war-time role, for it fills a documentary gap exploited up to now by those who have attacked Pius. Prior to the discovery of these documents, many scholars have maintained that there is no clear written evidence proving that Pope Pius himself gave direct orders to help persecuted Jews. The acts of individual Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople on behalf of Jews during the Second World War (and many such acts are acknowledged) are said by these scholars to have been on the personal initiative of these people, not on the instructions of the pontiff. Thus, these scholars have depicted Pius as "silent" and compliant in the face of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Now, these documents disprove that depiction, for they prove that Pius gave direct orders for Jews to be helped.

We expect more such documents to emerge in the weeks and months ahead, as the Vatican archives for Pius XII's pontificate are opened to scholarly research, and as our own search for such evidence continues.

Below, Antonio Gaspari summarizes the evidence of these important documents. — The Editor

On September 13, 1944, in Fiume, a Croatian city which was then part of Italy, the German Gestapo arrested Giovanni Palatucci, the city's Questor (a high administrative office). The accusation: "High treason."

The death penalty for such a crime was ordinarily automatic, but Palatucci's sentence was commuted to imprisonment at Dachau after the bishop of Fiume intervened on his behalf. Palatucci died at Dachau on February 10, 1945, at 35 years of age.

What had Palatucci done to merit the charge of treason? After the war, at the first World Jewish Congress held in London in 1945, the delegate from Italy, Rafael Danton, revealed that Palatucci had saved the lives of 5,000 Jews.

Upon his arrival in Fiume in 1937, Palatucci had been put in charge of the office which handled documentation of foreigners in the city. After the promulgation of Italy's racial laws in 1938, Palatucci engaged in a wide range of activities to support the Jews present in the city, including supplying them with travel papers.

There was a flourishing Jewish community in Fiume which grew even more numerous when the Nazis occupied Poland and Slovakia. Many Eastern European Jews gathered in Fiume as they sought to leave Nazi-dominated Europe.

On September 8, 1943 — the day the Nazis took over the government of Italy — there were an estimated 3,500 Jews in Fiume.

But Giovanni Palatucci, instead of providing the Germans with information about these foreigners so that they might be deported, hid them and provided them with documents to leave.

He did all this in close collaboration with his uncle, Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, bishop of Campagna, a small town near Salerno, where the largest internment camp in southern Italy was located. Rodolfo Grani, a Jew from Fiume, after the war explained how he had managed to survive the Nazi persecution thanks to the help of Palatucci: "It was his job to grant the necessary residence papers to Jewish refugees in Fiume," Grani wrote in a 1952 article. "After war broke out in June 1940 and the Jews of Fiume and its environs were arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Campagna, Palatucci often made a special effort to recommend these unfortunates to the benevolence of his uncle, His Excellency Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, Bishop of Campagna, who received us with exquisite courtesy and noble generosity, displaying to us his deep humanity and philo-Semitism."

Thus, when the path of emigration closed for the Jews and the authorities were sending them to the Campagna concentration camp, Palatucci entrusted them to the protection of his uncle, the bishop. He did this knowing that the camp, despite all the discomforts for those interned there, would be a kind of refuge in comparison to the Yugoslav region.

"Bishop Palatucci will never be forgotten by thousands and thousands of our people," Grani wrote in "The Vatican's Rescue Efforts for the Jews" in the Jewish journal Haboker (August 10, 1952). "He helped us and was profoundly generous to us; he even had his photograph taken with us though we had been cast out of ordinary social life."

The American magazine Life in November 1943 published a photo essay on life in the Campagna internment camp. Today, a plaque in the convent where the Jews lived from "the Jews of Long Island City" expresses gratitude for the way the Jews were treated in Campagna.

But there was not only coordination between Palatucci and his uncle the bishop; there was also collaboration between the bishop and the Vatican — and this is something for which written evidence up to now has been lacking.

In a book just published in Italy by the government's Department of Public Security entitled Giovanni Palatucci: The Policeman Who Save Thousands of Jews, previously unpublished letters are reproduced which show that the bishop and the Holy See — that is, Pius XII — were working closely together throughout the war years.

Letter No. 28436, sent by the Vatican to the bishop on October 2, 1940, notifies Bishop Palatucci that Pope Pius XII has agreed to grant to him the sum of 3,000 lire. The letter, signed by Cardinal Maglione, Pius XII's secretary of state, then states: "This sum is preferably to be used to help those who suffer for reason of race" ("questo denaro e preferibilmente destinato a chi soffre per ragioni di razza"). In those years in Italy, these words — "a chi soffre per ragioni di razza" — could only have referred to the Jews.

In a second letter, No. 31514, the future Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Montini, then an official in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, notifies Bishop Palatucci that Pope Pius XII has granted him the sum of 10,000 lire "to distribute in support of he interned Jews" ("da distribuirsi in sussidi agli ebrei internati").

These two letters are very clear. Pope Pius was sending direct aid to help Jews interned in southern Italy. There can no longer be any doubt about the Pope's direct knowledge of and support for efforts on behalf of the Jews like those of Bishop Palatucci.

These letters by themselves disprove the thesis of authors like Susan Zuccotti that there is no documentary proof of the direct involvement of Pope Pius XII and the Holy See in helping the Jews.

But we expect more letters of this type to emerge in the near future, making clear that Pius XII was a Pope who consciously and consistently helped the Jews suffering from Nazi persecution.

What prompted Palatucci, his uncle the bishop and Pope Pius himself to seek to protect the Jews in the face of the Nazi threat against anyone who dared to help the Jews?

The lawyer for the bishop of Fiume during the war period, Barone Niel Sachs, recounted this story: "Learning that a Jewish woman was threatened with imminent arrest, Giovanni Palatucci entrusted her to one of his colleagues, saying: 'This is Mrs. Schwartz. Treat her, I beg you, as if she were my sister. In fact, no: treat her as if she were your sister, because in Christ she is your sister.' They want us to think that the heart is only a muscle, and so to prevent us from doing what our heart and our religion tell us to do."

To the question of why Palatucci risked — and lost — his life for people he often did not even know, Monsignor Giuseppe Amato, one of Bishop Palatucci's assistants, once said: "Giovanni Palatucci had faith in God and saw Jesus in the unjustly accused Jews."

And it is in part for this example of Christian charity that a process for the beatification of Giovanni Palatucci has been introduced.

© 2003 Robert Moynihan

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