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Expert’s latest investigation dispels myths about Pius XII and Rome’s Jews

By Andrea Gagliarducci for CNA

Pope Pius XII is pictured at the Vatican in a file photo dated March 15, 1949. (CNS file photo)

Rome, Italy, Aug 29, 2021 / 07:54 am (CNA).

Pope Pius XII was not silent in front of the Shoah nor inactive. He was, instead, very much committed to saving Jewish families, spoke out constantly against the Nazi Regime, and set up a series of formal and informal initiatives that show that he was anything but “Hitler’s Pope.”

These are the conclusions of a series of investigations on archive material carried out by Deacon Dominiek Oversteyns, of the Spiritual Family “The Work.”

Oversteyns’ investigations include “The Book of Memory” by Liliana Picciotto, a Jewish researcher, which collects the names of all deported and killed Italian Jews; the “History of Italian Jews under Fascism” by Renzo De Felice, which outlines the history of 148 convents that saved many Jews, and the Vatican archives on Pius XII now open to the public.

A former engineer, Oversteyns crossed data and used the math technique of extrapolation to analyze the numbers of killed and deported Italian Jews. His studies, presented in a series conferences and which he shared with CNA, shed light on Pius XII’s intervention before and after the Nazi raid in Rome’s Jewish ghetto.

According to his study, there were 8,207 Jews in Rome before the Nazi raid on the Jewish ghetto on Oct. 16, 1943.

Out of these, 1,323 — or 16% — found refuge prior to the raid. Eighteen went to the Vatican extraterritorial properties, 393 to villages in the mountains around Rome, 368 to the private homes of friends, 500 to 49 different Roman convents, and 44 to parishes and pontifical colleges in Rome, Oversteyns reported.

Pius XII was also able to help 152 Jews hidden in private homes under the protection of DELASEM, the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants. In all, Pius XII gave support to some 714 Jews.

The study also points out that Pius XII welcomed at least 30 Jewish scholars to the Vatican, where they worked and carried out their research in the Vatican Museums and Archives after being fired from their institutions due to racial laws. Among them were Hermine Speier, who began working in the Vatican as early as 1934; Fritz Volbach, hired in the Vatican in 1939, and Erwin Stuckold.

Eight different testimonies reveal how Pius XII asked at least 49 convents to hide and house Jews, and declared those convents to be extraterritorial areas under the authority of the Vatican, Oversteyns found.

According to Oversteyns, these numbers demonstrate that Pius XII was actively in favor of Jews well before the Nazi raiding of the ghetto in 1943. That Saturday, at dawn, 365 Nazi soldiers rounded up 1,351 Jews. Of them, 61 were released immediately, and another 258 were released after they were kept in a military college. Finally before the train departed from Rome’s Tiburtina Station for Auschwitz, two other Jews were released.

A little known fact is that Pius XII and his collaborators were responsible for the release of 249 Roman Jews on that day, about one-fifth of those rounded up, Oversteyns said.

Early in the morning of the day of the raid, according to Oversteyns’ documents, Pius XII contacted the German ambassador Ernst von Weizsäcker to convince him to call Berlin and stop the roundup, but the ambassador did not act, Oversteyns said.

Then, through Father Pancratius Pfeiffer, a well-regarded German priest superior of the Salvatorians, Pius XII contacted General Reiner Stahel, head of the German army in Rome at that time, who telephoned Himmler directly and convinced him to stop the raid at 12 noon. At the same time, the SS commander Dannecker received instructions from Berlin to free all Jews in mixed marriages and in service of “Aryans.”

The raid in the central area of ​​the city ended between 11 and 11:20 a.m., while in the outskirts of Rome, it ended by 1:20 p.m. Of the 1,030 Jews deported to Auschwitz on Oct. 18, only 16 would return after the war, according to Oversteyns.

Documents from the Pontificate of Pius XII released by the Vatican Apostolic Archive. . Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Documents from the Pontificate of Pius XII released by the Vatican Apostolic Archive. . Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

The Germans kept their activity of searching, arresting, and deporting Jews even after the raid. From Oct. 18, 1943, to January 1944, 96 Jews were arrested, according to Oversteyns. Then, from February 2, 1944 onwards, 29 Jews were arrested in five Catholic colleges and 19 Jews in the abbey of San Paolo, which was an extraterritorial territory of the Vatican.

In March 1944, the situation became even more severe. From March 21 to April 17, about 10 Jews were arrested and deported daily. And from April 28 to May 18, five Jews were arrested and deported daily. Finally, the Jews had no choice but to flee or go underground.

Pius XII hid 336 Jews in parishes and diocesan hospitals, Oversteyns found. At the same time, he continued to send food and financial aid to DELASEM.

Sources show that there were just 160 Jews in the Vatican and its 26 extraterritorial locations. This is because Pius XII’s strategy was to hide Roman Jews in small groups in convents in Rome.

From Sept. 10, 1943, to June 4, 1944, Pius XII carried out 236 interventions in favor of Jews arrested in Rome and on their way to deportation. Following his interventions, 42 arrested Jews were released.

In addition to the official channel of the Secretariat of State (through the then-substitute Giovanni Battista Montini, who would later become Pope Paul VI), Pius XII widely used the informal channel established by Fr. Pfeiffer.

Father Pfeiffer, according to documents, visited the Secretariat of State every other day during the eight months of intense Nazi persecution in Rome. In those meetings, he gave information on those arrested and received requests for release.

Oversteyns says that more clarity about Pius XII’s commitment to Roman Jews will come to light now that the Vatican archives of his pontificate have been open to investigators.


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About Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency 19 Articles
Andrea Gagliarducci is Vatican analyst for Catholic News Agency.

10 Comments

  1. Do we have the courage to tell Yad Vashem that it is past time for Pope Pius to be honored among “The Righteous Among the Nations?”

  2. I am not belittling this scholarship because the author has supplemented his material on studying the archival material, but this information was well-known to the generation of Jews and Catholics who lived through World War II. Pinches Lapide, the ambassador for Israel to Milan wrote ‘Three Popes and the Jews’ with all this information in 1963 as he was so outraged by the lies told about Pope Pius XII by the fictional play ‘The Deputy’. Jeno Levi, a Hungarian Jew, wrote the same history regarding Hungarian Jewry. The lies against Pius XII originated from a disinformation operation by the KGB, originally under Stalin and later under Kruschev. Ion Pacepa, a defector from Rumania, was part of the highly skilled operatives as a member of the Rumanian equivalent of the KGB. Unfortunately the lie seems to have been taken up by others who found it politically expedient to attack the moral authority of the Catholic Church or, if within the Church herself, the conservative papacy of Pius XII. Those who lead the Church during the Nazi Holocaust were so heroic, so self-giving and of such faith that their moral authority should be inspirational to all of us. The fact that modernists within the Church allowed the defamation to persist or furthered it (as for whom – John Cornwall, of Hitler’s Pope fame, claims to be ‘Catholic ‘ – whatever that means), says a lot about those characteristics that were absent in the generation following. The facts are more than apparent by a perusal of the newspaper articles of the time, all of which, Jewish and secular, praised Pope Pius XII as the only person in the western leadership who spoke out. The New York Times had two editorials to that effect in 1941 and 1942, and yet were perfectly capable of printing articles describing Pius as ‘silent’, ‘anti-Semitic’ etc, with an apparently extraordinary wilful blindness and a notable refusal to look up their own archives. This massive collusion in the defamation of such a brave and holy man must be met with complete rebuttal by the Church and by every one of us.

    • “this information was well-known to the generation of Jews and Catholics who lived through World War II.”

      What’s sickening is that the lies keep being repeated and gullible nitwits keep believing them without troubling to do even the tiny bit of research that would show the facts.

  3. The future Pope Eugenio Pacelli was Papal Nuncio in Germany before ,during and after the Nazis rise to power . He negotiated a treaty with Germany and had the Catholic political party disbanded . The Catholics without a voice in politics unfortunately many chose the NDSP … the rest is history

  4. The future Pope Eugenia Pacelli was Papal Nuncio to Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s . He was there before ,during and after the Nazis took power . He negotiated with them and had the Catholic Center party disbanded . Catholics were set adrift politically and many then supported the NSDP .The rest is history

    • And by “history” you mean fiction. CWR gets it’s information from actual archives and documents, not Chick Tracts and propaganda by dead communists.

    • The ‘negotiation’ was the usual Concordat that gave the Church its freedom in religion with new governments. The full fury of the National Socialists was still years away and, in retrospect, it provided more legal cover to fight the Nazis when it counted, especially in helping the Jewish people in Germany and Italy.

      The Catholic Center Party was well on its way out with the burgeoning National Socialists in ascendency before any ‘negotiation’.

    • 1: Some small observations to the comment of Robert Eckenrod:

      1.1: Robert Eckenrod wrote: “The future Pope Eugenia Pacelli”.
      It is clear that Robert Eckenrod means: “The future Pope Eugenio Pacelli”.

      1.2: Robert Eckenrod wrote: “The future Pope Eugenia Pacelli was Papal Nuncio to Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s . He was there before ,during and after the Nazis took power.”
      This statement is historical wrong as Eugenio Pacelli was Nuncio in German from May 16, 1917 until December 1929. So he was NOT as Nuncio in Germany in the years 1930.

      1.3: Robert Eckenrod wrote “The future Pope Eugenio Pacelli was Papal Nuncio to Germany during the 1920’s …. He was there before ,… the Nazis took power. “
      This reconstructed statement is historical right and confirmed by primary source research.
      More: Recent academical international historical research of new primary sources published in 2020 proved that Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli in Germany criticized 326 times publicly Hitler and the Nazi – violent – NSDAP – program from November 14, 1923 until December 10, 1929!!!! Each fact is described in the study: Dominiek Oversteyns: Hitler contestato 326 volte dal Nunzio Pacelli in Germani dal 14 novembre 1923 fino al 12 dicembre 1929 (Dominiek Oversteyns: http://www.papapioxii.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Fig.-3.14.2.-Hitler-contestato-326-volte-dal-Nunzio-Pacelli-in-Germani-dal-14-novembre-1923-fino-al-12-dicembre-1929.pdf). This study is already available on internet for the international audience from January 1, 2020. On page 94 one can find a table that resumes the activity of Nuncio Pacelli in condemning Hitler and the Nazi violence in the years 1923 – 1929 and how he was even defending the Jews already 8 times in this indicated period. On notice that these results are only based on primary source documents that can be checked as they are printed in original language and translation in Italian if necessary. This publication put an end to any accuse based on secondary literature against Nuncio Pacelli for the period 1921 until 1929. It proves indisputable anymore how already Pacelli was combatting Hitler as Nuncio in this period.
      One of the many examples of discourses of Eugenio Pacelli in criticizing Hitler in that period is his discourse of September 1, 1929 in Germany in which he criticized 44 times publicly Hitter and the violence of the NSDAP program. This was a furious reaction of Nuncio Pacelli on Hitler and the NSDAP who 3 weeks before on 4 august 1929 start his rise to take power 4 years later. The 44 critics are completey explained on : http://www.papapioxii.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Un-esempio-Le-44-contestazioni-e-critiche-di-Eugenio-Pacelli-contro-Hitler-e-il-programma-del-NSDAP-che-il-nunzio-fece-nel-suo-discorso-XLII-del-1-settembre-1929.pdf.
      NB 1: One notice that such 40 discourses a lot of times Nuncio Pacelli did before public audiences of 120.000 persons! If a person is not able to read Italian or German, then he can use the program deepl.com that is making very good translations. So the interested person can help himself to upgrade his knowledge to the actual state of international research on Pius XII and the Jews.
      NB 2: It is a typical very great weakness in the discussions on Pope Pius XII and the Jews is in the English spoken world that are used to much very simple, superficial, subjective, secondary source arguments that found their origin in : “My cat hat dreamt that and told me that … “, “I think that …”, “I hope that … “, “I feel that …”, “It was said that …”. This era of secondary argument sophistic discussion in Europe started to finish from March 12, 2014 on when the results of systematical primary source research were able to reveal directly the historical errors in all those secondary based accuses against pope Pius XII. For that reason, international academic historical research is systematical confronting each accuse known with the great amount of already available primary source based historical arguments. The result is amazing: until today September 4, 2021 no accusation remained.
      So we can say that from August 29, 2021 on with the publications of this article of Andrea Gagliarducci this new method in arguing with only pure primary source result arguments has entered into the discussion about Pope Pius XII and is proving its efficiency in confronting this comment with the historical sources. Applied this method to this comment the historical errors used in the argumentation becomes directly clear: include their rejection as unhistorical. What then means: end of discussion!
      NB 3: For this reason it is wise for a person that wants to right an international comment on Pius XII to check if each argument he is using has its origin on primary source or only on unhistorical secondary source, as when a person is still using secondary unhistorical accuses with one or more arguments of the already identified primary source arguments that cover on August 29, 2021 the historical period of Eugenio Pacelli from 1890 until 1945 is revealed the historical error in the secondary based accuses inclusive its rejection.

      1.4 Robert Eckenrod wrote: “The future Pope Eugenie Pacelli was Papal Nuncio to Germany during the 1920’s …. He was there ….,during … the Nazis took power.”
      This statement is historical wrong as: “Eugenio Pacelli was NOT as Nuncio in Germay when Hitler took the Power in 1933”!
      This statement is for a second time wrong as: “Eugenio Pacelli was in 1933 not a Nuncio but Cardinal Secretary of State in the Vatican.”!!
      NB 1. Only these 2 simple example of errors of minimum normal standard knowledge about Pius XII proves that in the discussion perhaps 99,99 % are not at home in the argument they want to discuss. And for this reason, are working with very simple superficial nonacademic unhistorical argomented comments that are revealed in a very simple and easy way with a short confrontation with the great amount of primary sources-based arguments that cover the whole period van 1890 until 1945. One note that after confronting this method with the comments of Robert Eckenrod: no argument in his comment of three lines survived. Each argument was proved simple to be unhistorical and rejected. With the end conclusion that no comment historical based rested after this confrontation.
      NB 2: This 2 examples of historical errors in arguing in discussing in the USA about pope Pius XII are symptomatic for the quality of the arguments of millions of discussions about Pius XII that you can find in the English – written world. This means that from August 29, 2021 on with only using a few purposed primary source based arguments, directly is revealed in millions of discussions about Pope Pius XII the historical error and the rejection of this secondary literature based argument. Liliane Picciotto classifies unhistorical based arguments as fanta – history.

      1.5 Robert Eckenrod wrote: “He [Eugenio Pacelli] negotiated with them and had the Catholic Center party disbanded .”
      Also this statement is historical wrong as primary source historical research based studies about this argument proved from 2006 on after the archives documents in the Vatican until March 1, 1939 were opened and free for investigation, that the president of the Centrum Party Prelate Kaas him selves disbanded his party, and that Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli was angry to him about this fact.
      One note that this was already published about 12 years ago. So if a person wants to comment Pius XII a good positive advice is that he first studied and then comments, to avoid, his argument is rejected in one second!

      1.6 Robert Eckenrod wrote: “Catholics were set adrift politically and many then supported the NSDP .”
      Again this statement is historical wrong as the German Catholics started in massa to drift to the NSDAP not from July 1933 on, but already from March, 1924 on, as primary source research pointed out. And Nuncio Pacelli was combatting this drifting already from August 31, 1924 on. With his 326 critics to Hitler and the violent NSDAP – program Nuncio Pacelli was warning the Catholics not to do and great part of them returned in the beginning of May 1924!!! These historical facts and others can be found in: Dominiek Oversteyns: http://www.papapioxii.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Fig.-3.14.2.-Hitler-contestato-326-volte-dal-Nunzio-Pacelli-in-Germani-dal-14-novembre-1923-fino-al-12-dicembre-1929.pdf: p. 11 – 244.

      NB 1 A small extra information for upgrading and updating the knowledge of interested persons who like to intervene discussions about pope Pius XII is that are existing and identified already more than 200 primary source based condemnings of Hitler and the Nazi violence NSDAP program spoken out by Cardinal Pacelli Secretary of State from January 1, 1930 until March 1, 1939. And if you look to their contents, one can see how heavily Cardinal Pacelli was combatting Hitler and the Nazis in this period!
      So if a person wants to discuss about events of this period it is not bad to study these arguments, otherwise in 1 second his secondary source unhistorical arguments are revealed as unhistorical ad rejected and discussion is over and out, with lack of historical proved primary source accuses. And one does not have to study only the static of an argument: its contents, but also its dynamic effects in relation with all other primary sources of that time that exist in all the open archives.
      NB 2: Another small advice for a person that likes to accuse with unhistorical based secondary accuses Pius XII from 1939 until 1945 is that are already identified in this period more than 3,000 protests, critics and condemning of Hitler, the Nazi – violence NDAP program, more than 1,500 defenses of the Jews, 600 condemning of the Deportations of Jews, more than 900 defenses of the Polish peolpe and more than 15.000 different help actions for more than 30.000 Jews!!!
      So we kindly advice before writing international critics study very carefully the published documents already available to avoid that a superficial comments containing unhistorical secondary based accuses are in 1 nano-second revealed as academical not historical and rejected. So is worked in we do that here in Europe!

      1.7 Robert Eckenrod wrote “The rest is history”.
      This is a just historical statement of Robert Eckenrod: Indeed, the rest is primary source proved history.
      And the comments of Robert Eckenrod are read in the light of the results of the international primary source on its credibility. It was proved that they were based only on unhistorical secondary source literature and needed a little to be purified and upgraded to the historical image known by the actual international standard to explain what Robert Eckenrod wanted to point out.

      2. Conclusion comment:
      2.1 The reader becomes aware after reading this few comments on an average typical English language discussion comment on accuses against Eugenio Pacelli that those discussions are based for the most great part on unreliable secondary source arguments that can easy be rejected in nano – seconds to day as unhistorical and rejects them as the results of primary sources are very well known and cover from 1890 until 1945.
      2.2 This means that each person in the USA and English spoken world is urged and invited to start changing arguments in the discussion about Pius XII from secondary unhistorical based arguments to primary source arguments, if this person wants to be present in the discussion about Pope Pius XII in the coming years.
      2.3 As the primary source studies and sources are available in the Italian language, it is not bad for the person who in the future still want to be present in the actual discussion about Pius XII to study Italian, German and Dutch, to be able to have primary source accuses. And if these not exist, the discussion is over with lack of accuses to Pope Pius XII.

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