The truth and the black legends against the figure of Pius XII
Yad Vashem has published the documents of a closed-door meeting held in 2009, which led to the controversial caption underneath Pacelli’s picture being changed
The book entitled “Pius XII and the Holocaust. Current state of research”(278 pp), edited by David Bankier, Dan Michman and Iael Nidam Orvieto, has been on sale at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial bookshop for a few days now. The book discusses the figure of Pope Pacelli and his actions during the closed-door international workshop held at Yad Vashem in March 2009.
Academics from all over the world met to compare their thoughts on Pius XII. The conference was organised by the International Institute for Holocaust Research and the Salesian Theological Institute in Jerusalem. The Apostolic Nuncio to Israel was also present.
The March 2009 meeting was held not long before Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Israel. Prior to the visit, a controversy had broken out over the content of the accompanying caption to a photograph of Pius XII, on show in the museum. The Holy See claimed the caption gave too negative and unfounded a picture of the late pope who reigned during the Second World War.
But the intention of the late David Bankier, who was head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research – Yad Vashem from 2000 to 2010, was certainly not to fuel a debate over Pius XII under the impetus of political and diplomatic pressure linked to the forthcoming papal visit. The organisers’ intention was simply to encourage a serious debate, based around the most recent documents and research.
The 2009 meeting in Jerusalem led to significant changes being made to the caption on Pacelli by the heads of Yad Vashem last year. The modified version presents the Pope in a more complex and objective light. The decision did not go down well either in or outside Jerusalem but was nevertheless defended by researchers at Yad Vashem, who backed it up with scientific reasoning. The decision was not politically or diplomatically motivated, neither did it have anything to do with Jewish-Christian dialogue. After a long wait, the meeting proceedings and a number of documents presented during the closed-door meeting have now finally been unveiled. One very important element that emerged during the conference – which was attended by Thomas Brechenmacher, Jean-Dominique Durand, Dan Michman, Sergio Minerbi, Matteo Luigi Napolitano, Paul O’Shea, Michael Phayer, Dina Porat e Susan Zuccotti, amongst others – were the results of the research carried out by Sister Grazia Loparco, an historian, who is gathering documents and testimonies relating to Italian Catholic institutions which opened their doors to the persecuted Jews.
Of approximately 750 religious establishments (475 female ones and 270 male ones) in Rome alone, “we have confirmation of more than 200, at least 220 female religious establishments and 70 male ones hiding Jews. The fact that no concrete information has been found yet regarding other institutes, does not mean the assistance offered to the persecuted was not more extensive, because objective conditions advised caution and a number of witnesses that gave oral evidence confirm that they did not dare put anything down in writing at the time, as it was too risky.”
There is much disagreement over how far Pius XII influenced the convents’ decision. But it seems quite obvious – given the number of institutions involved and in particular one article published in the 25-26 October 1943 issues of the Holy See’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano a few days after the raid on the Jewish ghetto in Rome – that these initiatives had received the Pope’s approval.
A second closed-door meeting on the figure of Pius XII and various issues that remained open was held between 12-13 November last year. It was organised by historian Edouard Housson at the Sorbonne University in Paris.