A group of historians convened by a Vatican research institution announced Thursday the discovery of documents naming thousands of Jews of Rome who received safe refuge in Catholic convents and monasteries during the Nazi occupation of World War II.
Historians have long known that some Catholic institutions in Rome sheltered some Jews during that period; The documents provide some of their identities for the first time.
However, experts say that, although the discovery represents a contribution to studies about the time, it does not fundamentally change the historical understanding of the actions of the Church and Pius XIIthe Pope of the time.
Nearly 2,000 Jews, proximately one sixth part of Rome’s Jewish population, were deported from Rome and murdered during the Nazi occupation, from September 1943 to June 1944, while Pius remained publicly silent.
“Now we have concrete names and numbers, so, from a historiogrhical point of view, it is clearly a great satisfaction,” said Liliana Picciotto, a historian at the CDEC Foundation, a Jewish research institute in Milan, referring to the documents, which In fact they were discovered 15 years ago but studied only recently.
“But it does not change the historical judgment” on Pius, “which it’s still hard“, said.
The history of the Church’s involvement in the persecution of the Jews long predates Pius and the massacres of the last century.
For more than a millennium, Jews were subjected to forced conversions, expulsions, censorship, mass murders at the hands of itinerant Christian mobs and life in ghettos.
And that was all before the Inquisition got underway.
In 1964, Pope Paul VI He became the first Pope to visit Israel, and in 1965, the Church published the Latin document “Nostra Aetate,” or “In Our Time,” which deplored antisemitism and said that the Jews could not be collectively blamed for the death of Jesus.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II offered a broad ology for the mistreatment of Jews by Catholics, although it was not specifically ologized for the role of Church leaders in the most serious crimes, including the Holocaust.
In 2019, the Pope Francisco He ordered Pius’ archives to be opened, saying: “The church is not afraid of history.”
Initial evidence from those archives painted a picture of Pius as a pope whose fear of communism, belief that the Axis powers would win the war, and desire to protect the interests of the church and avoid alienating millions of German Catholics, and Nazi sympathizers motivated him to avoid confronting or offending Hitler.
David Kertzer, a Brown University professor who unearthed some of that evidence and who has written several books on early 20th-century popes, said in a telephone interview that it was “pretty clear” to historians that Pius XII “never asked the Catholic institutions in Rome to shelter the Jews during the German occupation and, although he was aware that this was hpening, he was actually quite nervous about it, as he did not want to antagonize the German authorities.
Tweet “certainly I didn’t want hidden Jews in Vatican City, and very few were,” he added.
Defenders of Pius XII, whose case for sainthood is still being evaluated, have long maintained that he worked behind the scenes to help Jews.
They have attributed the criticism to anti-Catholic animus.
Other scholars say it will take years to examine documents referring to Pius XII and sketch a complete picture of his pacy.
The documents identified by historians on Thursday have been archived at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, affiliated with the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
They show that some 4,300 people They were sheltered in 155 convents and monasteries during the nine months of the Nazi occupation, according to a statement issued by historians.
The names were not made public for privacy reasons.
Claudio Procaccia, director of the cultural department of the Jewish Community of Rome, a nonprofit civic group, said that more than 3,200 of these names were of Jewish origin, but that research into the documentation, which was presented at a workshop held in Rome on Thursday morning, was still at a very early stage.
“Confirmation is always very complicated,” Procaccia said.
He is studying the documents together with colleagues at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Bible Institute.
“Obviously, this is sensitive material that must be treated with due confidentiality and delicacy,” he added, stating that possible conversions to Catholicism, which the Church welcomed and encouraged, would need to be verified.
Iael Nidam-Orvieto, director of the Yad Vashem institute, said the documents “allow us to ask many questions.”
Historical study into Pius’s role during World War II has intensified since the Vatican opened its sealed archives on his pontificate in March 2020.
There was already evidence that Catholic institutions across Italy took in tens of thousands of people during the war, including anti-fascists, Allied soldiers fleeing the Nazis, Italian soldiers who went AWOL, and families whose homes had been destroyed.
The CDEC foundation had identified the names of about 1,000 Jews whom the institutions had welcomed, said Picciotto, its historian.
“Rome was overflowing with refugees of all kinds, and the Church was generous to many of them,” Picciotto said.
But Brown’s Kertzer said the archives opened by the Vatican also made clear “that there were many convents that they refused to welcome Jews,” even when the Vatican asked them to do so and even in the case of Jews who had converted, he said.
Some religious institutions welcomed Jews only if they were paid.
He said he was “curious” to see the documents identified Thursday.
The Italian historian Renzo de Felice had published a list of the Catholic institutions that welcomed Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome in the pendix to his 1961 history of Italian Jews under fascism.
“But all the documentation was considered lost,” says the Rev. Dominik Markl, professor of Hebrew biblical studies at the University of Innsbruck (Austria) and the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
In 2019, Markl was made aware of the documents the Bible institute announced on Thursday, and encouraged collaboration with Yad Vashem and the Rome Jewish civic group.
“The value is in the many names,” Markl said in a telephone interview.
“It is a wealth of detailed historical knowledge for historians engaged in research on this period.”
The focus, he said, should not be on Pius, “but on the fate of the many who were persecuted, and on those who helped them survive.”
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