Thursday, July 7

The Vatican publishes classified documents on how Pius XII helped thousands of Jews


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Convinced that «history must be remembered to prevent it from repeating itself» and trying to do justice to one of his predecessors, the Pope Francisco has ordered by surprise that, from this Thursday at three in the afternoon, the
Vatican Archive website
the former “secret Vatican archive” publishes thousands of reserved documents from the pontificate of Pius XII.

Specifically, it deals with
the documentary series «Ebrei»
(the Italian word for “Jews”), which brings together the “petitions for help addressed to the Pope by Jews from all over Europeafter the start of the nazi-fascist persecution», from 1939 to 1948.

According to Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, the new documents “will allow the descendants of those who have asked the Pope for help to seek traces of loved ones all over the world.

At the same time, it will allow scholars and anyone interested to examine this special archival heritage freely and from a distance.’

The documents were available to scholars who visited the archive since March 2020. It is “170 volumes, digitally equivalent to almost 40,000 files.” The Vatican has explained that it now publishes 70% of the total materialand that it will be completed as the missing volumes are processed.

A request for help from Miranda de Ebro

To get an idea of ​​the weight of the initiative, the Vatican has selected the letter sent to the Pope by a german prisoner of the concentration camp of Miranda de Ebro, where the Jews who crossed the Pyrenees to escape from the Nazis were imprisoned. They are two pages, on ivory paper, written in Italian with clean and careful calligraphy,
signed by a certain Werner Barasch in “Miranda” on January 17, 1942
.

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«If I am writing to you today, it is to beg you to help me from a distance», a German university student requests from there «of Israeli origin» 23 years old to a Roman friend. She explains that her mother is in the US and that the possibility of taking a boat from Lisbon, but that the authorities demand an external guarantee. He begs you to ask Pope Pius XII to intervene with the nuncio, “because others with this intervention from Rome have been able to leave the concentration camp».

Extract from one of the letters from Miranda de Ebro
Excerpt from one of the letters from Miranda de Ebro – Vatican City Archive

In the documents published by the archive, it is stated that the Vatican “indicates it again” to the then Pope’s nuncio in Madrid, but right there they are interrupted.

Google helps complete the story. In 2001, Werner Barasch, 82, gave an interview to the US Holocaust Museum and he said that in 1943, a year after the letter, he was able to leave the concentration camp. In 1945 he came to the US, studied at Berkeley and Colorado, and worked as a chemist in California.

“This patrimony, by the will of Pope Francis, is now easily made accessible to everyonethanks to a project aimed at publishing the complete digitization of the series on the Internet» explains Gallagher.

Gallagher assures that in the letters they especially requested «visas or passports for the expatriation, shelterreunification with a family member, release from detention, transfer from one concentration camp to another, news about a deported person, provision of food or clothing, financial support, spiritual support, among other things”. These requests were dealt with by what was then called «Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs», equivalent to the Vatican Foreign Ministry.

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received some 2,700 requests for help. “They were requests for help from families or groups of entire people,” explains Paul Richard Gallagher. “Thousands of people persecuted for their membership of the Jewish religion, or for mere ‘non-Aryan’ ancestry, went to the Vatican knowing that others had been helped, as Werner Barasch did,” he adds.

It shows how in the Vatican, at the request of Pius XII, “diplomatic channels were activated to try to provide all the help possibletaking into account the complexity of the political situation on a global scale’.

The current foreign minister of the Vatican recalls that when in March 2020 the opening of the archives related to the pontificate of Pius XII“this particular list of people was called “Pacelli’s list», with the surname of Pius XII, evoking the famous ‘Schindler’s List’». He adds that, “although the two cases are different, the analogy perfectly captures the idea of ​​how, in the corridors of the institution serving the pontiff, enormous efforts were made to provide the Jews with concrete help.”

With each of these requests, a file was opened which, once processed, was kept in the file series called «Jews». Which is now fully available on the Internet.

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