Pope Pius XII: Vatican opens archives

More than 60 years after the death of Pius XII, the Vatican has opened its archives from the era of this controversial pope. Several hundred researchers now plan to investigate the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and clarify what the then pope knew about the persecution of Jews and why he did not speak out against it. Will they succeed?

Open/close all quotes
Atlantico (FR) /

Discretion as a rescue strategy

The examination of the archives will be very enlightening, Atlantico believes:

“Those who take the time to patiently peruse the documents will be amazed at how the pope worked tirelessly to save the Jews and all other victims of the Second World War. They will also understand that the famous 'silence' had a purpose: to save lives without attracting attention, and without provoking the furious madmen who ruled in Berlin and occupied all of Europe. Indeed, Pius XII sent out many messages. On 11 November 1940 he sent a list of all the Nazi crimes committed in occupied Poland to [Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany] Ribbentrop. He denounced the crimes against humanity in his 1942 Christmas message. And above all, in order to save the Jews in Rome he threatened Weizsäcker, the German Ambassador, with making a public statement in October 1943. Thanks to this threat the raids stopped.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Wanted: neutral historians

An unbiased evaluation of the documents could be doomed to failure from the outset, fears the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, in La Stampa:

“Alongside the purely technical difficulties there is also the problem that the material concerns a dramatic historical period which remains the object of passionate debate. The ideal historian would be one who works as if in a sterile and isolated room, free from all prejudices and influences, focused solely on the documents and their meaning. But where do we find such historians for the subject we are talking about? On the one side there are the apologists, on the other the dogged accusers, and each presents their own arguments.”

Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

A victim of the Cold War

Although Pius XII was previously seen as a saviour of the Jews he later fell victim to Cold War propaganda, the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet puts in:

“The respective head of the Catholic Church was always a thorn in the side of the East Bloc leaders. For that reason they did all they could to damage the image of Pope Pius XII. ... Soviet propaganda fell on fertile ground ... Even if the vast amount of the material now made public is reviewed and interpreted, Pope Pius will probably never be able to take his rightful place in history.”