At the request of Pope Francis, part of the archives of the Secretariat of State concerning the aid provided by Pope Pius XII to the Jews during the Second World War, has just been posted online. This is a way of putting an end to the black legend of a pope who collaborated or was indifferent to the suffering of millions of men and women.
Accredited researchers who have had access to it for a few years call it the “Pacelli list,” in reference to the famous “Schindler's list.” It occupies 170 volumes – which represents 40,000 digital files – and traces the story, often unknown, of 2,700 people of Jewish origin who asked for help from the Holy See during the Second World War.
From all over Nazi-occupied Europe came dozens, if not hundreds, of cries for help daily. In order to manage the situation, Pope Pius XII appointed an official of the Secretariat of State – Bishop Angelo Dell’Acqua – to manage the requests that were addressed to the successor of Peter, with the aim of providing all possible assistance.
The fault of these men, women and children? Being of Jewish origins. In his presentation of the precious digital material now accessible to all, Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary of the Holy See for relations with States, specifies the requests that were made.
They were related to obtaining visas or passports for expatriation, obtaining asylum, family reunification, release from detention or transfer from one concentration camp to another, the receipt of news regarding deportees, provision of food or clothing, financial support, spiritual support, and more.
Each of these requests constituted a case which, once processed, was intended to be preserved in a series of confidential documents entitled Ebrei. It contains more than 2,700 cases. And the prelate of Curia cites, among others, the emblematic case of Werner Barasch, a German Jew who converted to Catholicism in 1938.
Held prisoner in the Spanish concentration camp of Miranda de Ebro, the twenty-three-year-old-young man, on January 17, 1942, addressed Pope Pius XII in direct terms: “If I write to you today, it is to ask you to help me from afar.”
A few days later, the Secretariat of State took up the case, intervened through the nuncio of Madrid, and freed the young man, allowing him to obtain a visa for the United States. In 2001, Werner Barasch told how Pius XII's decisive action probably saved his life. It was also discovered that the Vatican issued some 959 visas to Catholics of Jewish origin in order to allow them to emigrate to Brazil.
“This Brazilian option was the fruit of an agreement between the Holy See and Brazil. One of the conditions was that the applicants be Catholics of Jewish origin who had converted no later than 1935,” underlines Nina Valbousquet, who insists on the fact that the archives put online by the Vatican “cannot be well understood without accessing other collections from this period.”
Indeed, it would be easy to describe Pius XII as a pope preoccupied with helping only Jews who had converted to Catholicism, in disregard for those who remained attached to the religion of their fathers. The historian, a member of the French School of Rome explains: “If the Vatican then balked at taking care of Jews who had not converted to Catholicism, it was because it was perceived at the time as interference in the politics of foreign countries.”
And to dispel the black legend of the papacy during the war, it is enough to remember how convents and religious houses opened their doors in Rome, on the orders of Pope Pius XII, in order to hide many Jews, during the worst time of the Nazi occupation.