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Vatican newspaper recalls German Jew hired by Pius XI

April 20, 2011

L’Osservatore Romano has paid tribute to Hermine Speier (1898-1989), a German Jewish archeologist hired by Pope Pius XI in 1934 as an archivist. During the Nazi occupation of Rome, Speier was hidden by nuns. Following World War II, she converted to Catholicism, after which her family broke ties with her.

“The story of Speier can be read in different ways and through a variety of perspectives: as a page from the history of intellectual Jewish emigration from Germany, as a salient step in the affirmation of a feminine presence in the Vatican, or as an important moment in the work undertaken by the Holy See in the 1930’s and 40’s to aid a persecuted minority,” reflects Paolo Vian, director of the manuscripts department at the Vatican Library.

“But it is the story of the archeologist which, on closer look, appears to be a parable rich in significance: a German Jew, student of classics, finds refuge in the Vatican during the dark nights of 20th-century barbarism, and discovers in the shadow of St. Peter’s a place from which to shelter and witness a sense of that humanism which is the highest inheritance of the most authentic German spirit.”


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