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How Pius XII treated Jewish orphans after World War II

September 9, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Denver Newsroom, Sep 9, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Scholars of Pope Pius XII have countered claims that the wartime pope and the Catholic Church hierarchy were complicit in a controversial post-war custody battle over two Jewish orphans who were baptized Christians in France, then hidden from their relatives.

Researcher William Doino Jr. told CNA a recent article on the topic in The Atlantic is “both flawed and misleading, because it misrepresents and cites out of context a small portion of the newly released archives to advance a one-sided view of Pius XII– and omits key documents and evidence which contradict the article’s main allegations.”

He responded to historian David I. Kertzer, writing in The Atlantic, who has claimed that the archives have now revealed “the central role that the Vatican and the pope himself played in the kidnapping drama.”

“The Vatican helped direct efforts by local Church authorities to resist French court rulings and to keep the boys hidden, while at the same time carefully concealing the role that Rome was playing behind the scenes,” Kertzer wrote Aug. 27.

Those claims have also drawn criticism from Matteo Luigi Napolitano, professor of history of international relations at Italy’s University of Molise said in L’Osservatore Romano Sept. 3.

“Things are obviously much more complex if we look at the Jewish sources,” he said. “The Rabbinate wanted to maintain dialogue with the Vatican, while other organizations would have gone to the clash, to be exploited on the media level.”

The archives on Pope Pius XII’s pontificate were opened in 2020 for only four days before being closed again due to coronavirus restrictions. Napolitano said scholars have only had about forty days’ worth of work on the new material.

Napolitano is thus critical of the claims of Kertzer regarding the wartime papacy of Pius XII and the Finaly brothers controversy.

In February 1944, agents of the Gestapo arrested a refugee Jewish Austrian couple, Fritz and Annie Finaly, in a French village. They were transported to Auschwitz and killed. Their children, three-year-old Robert and two-year-old Gerald, were taken in by a Catholic woman, Antoinette Brun, who ran a foundling home in Grenoble.

Brun began the legal process to adopt them in 1945, when she learned their parents had been killed. At the same time, the boys’ relatives sought to take custody of them. An aunt from New Zealand asked the boys be sent to her, but Brun resisted. In 1948, she baptized the boys, making them Catholic in the eyes of the Church.

A custody struggle ensued, with both religious and national elements, citing the father’s reported desire to have his sons brought up in France, the boys’ reported desire to stay with Brun, calls to have the boys brought up Christian, and calls to return the boys to their family.

When courts said the boys should be placed with their relatives, the boys were taken by friends of Brun and hidden near France’s border with Spain.

Brun, a Catholic nun who helped her, and several Catholic clergymen were arrested.

“Several arrests were made, and the Church got some bad press. Contrary to what the critics claimed, however, the Catholics involved were not acting on behalf of the institutional Church,” said Ronald Rychlak, a law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law and an expert on the history of Pius XII and the Nazis in the Second World War, wrote in an essay he sent to CNA in late August.

“When she was asked by the press about her Catholicism, Brun said she ‘didn’t give a fig for the pope.’ Bishop Alexandre Calliot of Grenoble took to the radio airwaves to demand that anyone with information about the missing boys contact the authorities. One of the first to comply was a priest in Spain who reported on their whereabouts.”

Doino characterized Brun as “a renegade Catholic.”

“She and a small group of collaborators evaded Church officials at every turn, after they demanded she return the children to their Jewish relatives,” he told CNA.

Doino pointed to an article he co-authored with Rychlak for Inside the Vatican Magazine’s a January-February 2005 issue, which used primary source documents and first-hand testimonies to disprove a claim he helped refuse to return baptized Jewish children to their surviving family members after the Second World War.
He told a Polish Catholic woman to return a baptized child to its father, saying it “was her duty as a Catholic not only to give back the child, but do it with good will and in friendship,” said Doino, who recommended Peter Hellman’s 1980 book Avenue of the Righteous.
Rychlak said Pius XII approved an agreement negotiated between Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyons and the chief rabbi of Paris: the children would go to their relatives in France, but would be allowed free choice of religion. The pope approved this despite some leading advisors who wanted to reject any agreement in which Catholic children would live in a Jewish home.
In Kertzer’s telling, a Vatican document from Catholic sources in Grenoble appeared to describe positively Brun’s refusal to return the children.
Napolitano, however, said that Jewish sources show that the Bishop of Grenoble and the Archbishop of Lyons both worked with the judicial authority to track down the brothers after they were concealed in Spain.
Jewish sources reported that “the French clergy have already intervened with the Spanish clergy and that they are on the point of taking the children home.”
Napolitano said Vittorio Segre, press officer at the Israeli Embassy in Paris during the controversy, shows a “much more complex picture.”
In Segre’s account, the embassy officer said it is “logical to assume that there was support from the Vatican” for the agreement of Cardinal Gerlier through the former secretary of Charles de Gaulle, who was charged with tracking down the Finaly brothers.
According to Segre, there was “never a conflict between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community.” De Gaulle’s former secretary “worked in complete freedom, without encountering obstacles in the hierarchies.”
“There were difficulties, but they came from a much lower level,” said Segre.
While Kertzer’s essay claimed that relevant documents were now reported for the first time, Rychlak compared his work to a 2004 controversy in which the New York Times reported on a document from a French archive purporting to show Vatican authorization for church authorities not to return “hidden” Jewish children to their families if they had been baptized.
“To those of us who had studied the work of Pius XII, the directive immediately seemed suspicious, and for good reason,” Rychlak wrote. “The real directive, dated October 23, 1946, and authorized by Pope Pius XII, was quickly found in the Vatican archives. It was quite different from what had been reported in the news.”
“The directive told the rescuers to return these children, baptized or not, to blood-related relatives who came to get them,” Rychlak said. “Over and above that, if no relatives survived to reclaim the children, and if individuals or organizations unrelated to the children now wished to adopt them or transfer them to a new environment, each request was to be examined on a case-by-case basis, always with a sense of justice for the child, and with a sense of what their parents would have wanted for them.”
“This directive is perfectly in line with Judeo-Christian compassion and responsibility. It is also very probative of Pius XII’s mindset on these issues,” he said, saying this is far better evidence than internal memoranda.
Kertzer said other newly revealed documents justify repeated claims that Pius XII had been persuaded “not to speak out in protest after the Germans rounded up and deported Rome’s Jews in 1943.” He claimed memoranda was “steeped in anti-Semitic language.”
“The silence of Pius XII during the Holocaust has long engendered bitter debates about the Roman Catholic Church and Jews,” he said, repeating a claim long disputed by the Pope’s defenders.
For Kertzer, one piece of evidence is a December 1943 memo from Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua, an official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, about whether it was right to openly and officially protest mistreatment of Jews by Germans. Kertzer interpreted the memo as a sign of anti-Semitism and Church silence.
However, Napolitano said the note came just two months after the Oct. 16, 1943 Nazi raid on Rome’s Jewish ghetto, which resulted in over 1,000 Jews being deported to Auschwitz.
Vatican officials objected to that raid, but were also aware of the danger of reprisals from the Nazis. Napolitano cited the diary of Slovakian ambassador Karl Sidor, which said: “On the orders of the Holy Father, more than one hundred Jews and Italian officers are hidden in the Jesuit Generalate. Likewise, Jews with their entire families are hidden in every convent. The Holy Father provides for their nourishment. Money and food arrive from the Vatican. This is very important news. This is the way the Vatican is dealing with the Jews.”
Documents from the Pius XII papacy, Napolitano said, come in the context of Church efforts “not to compromise the network of aid that had been activated throughout Rome to ensure that Jews and wanted people of all kinds escaped arrest and deportation.”
“It does not seem that Kertzer takes this into account,” Napolitano wrote in L’Osservatore Romano.
He also faulted Kertzer’s depiction of Dell’Acqua as an anti-Semite, given that the priest was a close collaborator with Pope John XXIII, who would not have named him a bishop and apostolic nuncio to France “if he had the slightest suspicion of his anti-Semitic inclinations.” Similarly, Paul VI, another pioneer in Catholic-Jewish relations, would not have elevated Dell’Acqua to the cardinalate.
“These are logical discrepancies that Kertzer does not resolve,” said Napolitano. “But history, like nature, does not allow for leaps.”



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Scholars dispute charge of Pius XII Holocaust cover-up

May 1, 2020 CNA Daily News 3

Denver Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Scholars say charges that Pope Pius XII covered-up the Vatican’s knowledge of the Holocaust are based on exaggerated claims and do not represent the truth.

Fr. Hubert Wolf, a professor of history at the University of Munster, claimed last month that in the Vatican’s recently opened archives on Pope Pius XII, he had found an anti-Semitic memo which suggested that Pope Pius XII knew about the Holocaust in Europe before the U.S. government did, but made efforts to conceal his knowledge.

But Ronald Rychlak, a professor at the University of Mississippi’s law school and the author of “Hitler, the War, and the Pope” told CNA that Wolf’s argument doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny.

What Pope Pius XII knew and did during World War II has been a source of controversy for years. That controversy was reignited in early March, when the Vatican opened to researchers its archives on Pius XII. Wolf was among the researchers. But a week after the archives were opened, the coronavirus lockdown in Italy forced researchers to pause their work.

Undeterred, Wolf told German and American media this month that he had found a key document which, he said, could prove that Pius XII lied to the U.S. government by claiming in 1942 that he could not verify intelligence reports, which came from the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Geneva, about death camps for the mass murder of Jews in Poland and Ukraine.

When the U.S. entered World War II in 1942, it did not yet have knowledge of the scale of atrocities committed against Jewish people across Europe, especially the mass murder of Jews in Eastern Europe. It had received reports of those atrocities, however, and was making efforts to verify them.

In 1942, the Vatican, too, had received reports, mostly from Church leaders, about the mass murder of Jews by Nazi forces.

Nevertheless, in September 1942, when a U.S. official asked the Vatican to verify a report from the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Vatican officials said they could not independently confirm the information it contained regarding the existence of death camps, but that the Vatican did know, and had received reports, about atrocities committed by Nazi forces, adding that “the Holy See is taking advantage of every opportunity offered in order to mitigate the suffering.”

Rychlak told CNA that the Holy See’s concern to be judicious about verifying any report “can logically be traced to WWI, when false stories of atrocities were often circulated,”

But after examining the Pius XII archives for a week in March, Wolf pointed journalists this month to a 1942 memo from a staffer in the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Msgr. Angelo Dell’Acqua, who later became a cardinal. The memo, which has not been released to the public, apparently cautioned against verifying the report from the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

Wolf told journalists that the memo warned against believing the report because Jews “easily exaggerate.”

“This is a key document that has been kept hidden from us because it is clearly anti-Semitic and provides background information on why Pius XII did not speak out against the Holocaust,” Wolf told a Munster Catholic newspaper.

German journalist Michael Hesemann was also among the researchers who examined Pius XII’s archives in March. In a statement sent to CNA, he said that Wolf has made his claim about Pius XII without understanding the meaning of the memo he found, or its significance.

He added that the memo “warns not to draw premature conclusions on the new information, [stating]: ‘It is necessary to assure that they are true, since exaggerations happen easily, also among Jews.’ With other words: Trust but verify!”

“For Wolf, this is evidence for the Vatican’s anti-Semitism during the pontificate of Pius XII. For him, it means, and this is how he paraphrases it in several interviews with German media: ‘All Jews are liars,” Hesemann said.

“But it means nothing like that, Hesemann said, explaining that the memo was intended to urge caution against any exaggeration.

“And indeed the Jewish Agency’s report contained several rumors which were not true at all, as we know today. It claimed that ‘in all Eastern Poland and the occupied Russian territories, not a single Jew is alive anymore.’ We know that thousands survived in the underground or became partisans.”

“No government in the world would act on a single report, but waits for an independent verification – that’s why President Roosevelt asked the Vatican, in the first place,” Hesemann added.

In either case, Hesemann said, the memo “did not influence papal policy, which remained the same before and after, nor does it contain any new information. It is one man’s reminder to trust and to verify and nothing more.”

The memo is not included in an 11-volume cache of Vatican documents from the Second World War. To Wolf, this is a reason to be skeptical about the volumes, according to the Washington Post.

But to Hesemann, the memo was not included “not because of a Vatican cover-up, but because it’s irrelevant.”

Hesemann cautioned that Wolf, who has “promoted conspiracy theories” about Pius XII in the past “draws premature conclusions, blames the Vatican of a cover-up and creates sensationalist headlines,” to further “his own agenda,” namely, “stop the ongoing beatification process of Pius XII – at least until he and his team have evaluated the last of the pages Pope Francis made available for historical research.”

Rylchak pointed out evidence, presented in his book, of Pius XII’s concern to oppose the Nazis, which he says was well-recognized by journalists and bishops during the Second World War. He also pointed out that Pius XII, through “ a long series of communications with the American bishops,” encouraged opposition to Nazi ideology.

“Despite all of this, Wolf would have us believe that Pius did not make his opinion known due to a cover note from a low-level assistant,” Rylchak said, calling the assertion “ridiculous.”



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Scholar hopes Vatican archives will give ‘fuller, transparent’ picture of Pius XII

March 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A researcher from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum told CNA that she hopes the recent opening of the Pius XII archives in the Vatican will give historians a fuller, more transparent image of the wartime pope. 

Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, the museum’s director of international academic programs, has been unable to travel to Rome to view the archives due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but told CNA that she hopes to make the trip in April. 

Brown-Fleming spoke to CNA Thursday about what she expects to find in the archives. 

The Vatican officially opened the archives, which cover Venerable Pius XII’s entire pontificate — March 1939 through October 1958 — on March 2. It is the first time scholars have been granted access to the  approximately 16 million documents they contain. 

Pius XII remains a disputed figure, with some historians criticising him for not making a more explicit denunciation of Hitler and the Nazis, and others pointing to Mit brennender Sorge, his 1937 encyclical to the Church in Germany, and the limits imposed on him by the Lateran Treaty.

After examining the documents in the archives, Brown-Fleming said that historians will “definitely have a more fair reading of [Pius XII].”

“I think that on both sides of the argument there has been picking and choosing as to ‘let’s show this document and interpret it this way and ignore these five documents,’ and his critics have done the same,” she said. “So I’m not sure either side has been completely fair, because there’s been no access to the full documentation.” 

Brown-Fleming thinks that the public opinion will likely end up “somewhere between the two polar opposites that we’re seeing now,” but that this will not happen until the archives have been fully studied. 

“But it will be a fair and transparent reading,” she said. 

Pius XII died in 1958, his cause for canonization was opened in November 1965, by Pope (now Saint) Paul VI during the final session of the Second Vatican Council. On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared him “Venerable,” meaning the Church has determined that he led a life of heroic virtue.

A practicing Catholic, Brown-Fleming told CNA that she hopes she is able to find documentary proof that the Church and individual Catholics in Europe invoked the tenets of their faith and tried to save their Jewish neighbors. 

“Did they respond in a uniform ‘love thy neighbor’ way, or did they parse in their minds? I think it’s going to be very interesting to know,” she said. 

A big question, and one that Brown-Fleming hopes will be answered by the archives, concerns Pius XII’s actions in September 1943, when Rome’s Jewish population was rounded up and deported. 

“There’s a big question around whether Pius XII gave orders to have Roman Jews hidden. Many Jews were hidden including on Vatican grounds,” she said. “Did he order that? Did he know about it and say, okay, ‘this is not a good idea because it puts Vatican property in danger’? Did he say, ‘yes, please do this and save who you can’?” 

“We know that Jews were rescued by Catholic families in Italy and in France,” said Brown-Fleming. She told CNA that she was hopeful her time in the archives will reveal the motivations behind why these families chose to risk their lives to save people: “Was it because of messaging from the pope or was it spontaneous?”

Another question Brown-Fleming wants the archives to answer is what Pius XII knew in the post-war era, when a Vatican “ratline” enabled many former Nazis to escape to South America.

“In the Cold War period, many Nazis escaped to South America with the help of the Vatican–lower level officials,” she said. “But how much did the Pope know about this? That’s a very big question.” She is also hoping to find information about Pius XII’s personal attitude towards the Jewish people, which is “something that’s very hard to discern in public messaging.” 

Once she is granted permission to travel to Italy and examine the archives, Brown-Fleming intends on starting her research in the Vatican Apostolic Archive. She explained that there are four reading rooms in the archive, and that the first room is dedicated to indices. She says the plan is to look for certain keywords in the indices.

Once those keywords are found, Brown-Fleming will request the entire folder. She hopes that, similar to the 2003 opening of Pius XI’s archives, the United States Holocaust Museum would be given permission to reproduce the some of the contents of the archives and keep them in Washington.

Regardless of what is found, Brown-Fleming said she is glad that there will finally be answers about the legacy of Pius XII, and she is confident that whatever is uncovered will be a positive move for the Church.

The archives will “kind of settle those questions” regarding Pius XII and the actions of the Church during World War II, “even if the answers aren’t always good. And I don’t think they always will be, because we’re talking about human beings and even a pope makes mistakes.” 

“We’re going to find a mixed record, but at least we know what it is,” she said. “And then once we know what it is, we can really wrestle with that.”