Pius XII: Silently saving Jewish lives

VATICAN CITY — The Pave the Way Foundation spent years compiling readily available evidence to help prove Pope Pius XII did not just stand by while millions of Jews were slaughtered during World War II. It sponsored a Sept. 15-17 symposium in Rome to unveil its “stunning” proof that the widespread perception the pope did nothing was “absolutely wrong.”

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, a historian and investigating judge of the sainthood cause for Pope Pius XII, speaks at a symposium on Pope Pius in Rome Sept. 17. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, a historian and investigating judge of the sainthood cause for Pope Pius XII, speaks at a symposium on Pope Pius in Rome Sept. 17. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

The symposium venue was at the immense Palazzo Salviati where five decades ago, 1,000 Italian Jews were rounded up before they were sent off to Nazi death camps. CNS covered that conference and the pope’s address to participants here and here.

The foundation’s Jewish founder, Gary Krupp, reproduced evidence from the Vatican archives, compiled interviews with Holocaust survivors, and searched online in the archives of The New York Times and the Jerusalem Post (which was called the Palestine Post at the time) just using the terms “Pope Pius + Jews.”

While many critics and detractors say a final judgment cannot be made until the rest of the Vatican archives are made public (currently documents dated after 1939 are still being indexed and cataloged by staff at the Secret Archives), Krupp and other symposium panelists said there is more than enough historical evidence already out there.

The foundation assembled much of its “smoking gun” proof into a 200-page book that is being distributed free to scholars, historians, and the general public both in hard-copy form and on the Internet. Click here for the .pdf version.

The Pave the Way Web site has this page dedicated to video testimonies of eyewitnesses to Pius’ humanitarian efforts as well as the transcripts of interviews with Holocaust survivors.

Gary Krupp

Gary Krupp (CNS/CPP)

Krupp told Pope Benedict yesterday that the Catholic Church, under Pius XII’s pontificate helped save 860,000 Jews from death. Some interesting examples symposium panelists offered:

  • Pius XII helped facilitate many Jews’ escape, including his childhood Jewish friend, Guido Mendes, and his family; the Vatican ran a sort of “underground railroad” shuttling Jews to safety; Vatican ships carrying food also smuggled nearly 12,000 Jews to the U.S. through Cuba and Mexico.
  • He hid Jews from the fascists and occupying Nazis on Vatican territory including at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo; the pope’s largely ceremonial Palantine Guard grew from 35 members to 4,000 during the fascist period because the pope enlisted refugees as a way to hide them from deportation.
  • The pope sent food and kosher meat butchered by rabbis hidden on Vatican territory to Jews hiding in convents and religious institutes; when the Germans came to one Catholic hospital in Rome to identify the growing number of patients, workers wrapped the Jews in ointments and bandages and told the officers not to get too close since these particular patients had infectious skin diseases.
  • The pope was ready to sell the Vatican’s portrait of The Transfiguration by Raphael in order to provide food for the Jews in hiding; when Roman Jews were asked to come up with 100 pounds of gold in 36 hours or face deportation. The pope had no problem providing the missing amount, but before the pope could hand it over, Rome’s Catholics had already come up with the 30 pounds that had been needed.
  • The pope sent Hungary’s Regent, Miklos Horthy, a telegram in June 1944 protesting the deportation of the Jews; before he was elected pope, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli protested a proposed law brewing in Poland saying it would be “true persecution” to forbid kosher slaughtering.

As Krupp remarked at the symposium, “Anti-Semites wouldn’t do this.”

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