By Jesus J. Chao

8 of 11


The Holy See made every possible effort to help the Jews.

Ø     Jewish population in Europe as the war begins

When Hitler came to power, about 6 million Jews lived in Central and Western Europe and 3 million inside the Soviet Union. About 600,000 were German, 180,000 Austrian, 270,000 French, 340,000 British, 150,000 Dutch, 360,000 Checks, 500,000 Hungarian, and 3 ½ million Poles. The first attacks against the German Jews started in March 1933 by way of several anti-Semite laws. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and many other important scientists were among the 100,000 Jews who were able to escape between 1933 and 1939.

Indeed, Israeli senior diplomat and scholar Pinchas Lapide, with access to Yad Vashem’s archives has proved that "The Catholic Church relief and rescue program under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi’s hands. That was more than all other Churches, religious institutions and international rescue organizations put together." (17) The Israelis recognized the lives saved by planting a forest, in commemoration, of as many trees in the Negeb, SE of Jerusalem. This forest was shown to Pope Paul VI during his first state visit to Israel.

At the end of the War, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, Albert Einstein, and many other prominent Jewish leaders expressed their deep gratitude toward Pius XII and the Catholic Church. At the funeral of Pius XII (1958), Golda Meir, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a heartfelt eulogy for the Pope before the UN Assembly.

In his scholar book "The Last Three Popes and the Jews", Lapide said that Pius XII was one of the few world leaders outside the Jewry itself who was quick to recognize the danger of Nazism. Lapide demonstrates convincingly the consistent and active protection provided to the Jews in Europe by the papacy. In Lapide’s words:

"When armed force ruled well-nigh omnipotent, and morality was at its lowest ebb, Pius XI commanded non of the former and could only appeal to the latter, in confronting with bare hands, the full might of evil.

A sounding protest, which might turn out to be self-thwarting-or quiet piecemeal rescue? Loud words- or prudent deeds? The dilemma must have been sheer agony, for whichever course he chose horrible consequences were inevitable. Unable to cure the sickness of an entire civilization, and unwilling to bear the brunt of Hitler’s fury, the Pope, unlike many far mightier than he, alleviated, relieved, appealed, petitioned-and saved as most efficient he could by his own lights.

Who, but a prophet or a martyr could have done much more?

The Talmud teaches us that ‘whoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world.’

If this is true-and it is as true as that of most Jewish of tenets, the sanctity of human life-then Pius XII deserves that forest in Judean hills which kindly people of Israel proposed for him in October, 1958. A memorial forest with 860,000 trees." (Emphasis added. "Three Popes and the Jews." pp.267-269)

Ø     Germany

Did not take long for the Nazis to violate the Concordat accords, Catholics schools and associations were closed as soon as The Church vocally opposed the racist and anti-Semite policies of the III Reich. Bishop von Galen of Munich exhorted the faithful to resist the pagan racism of the Nazi regime. Msgr. Walter Adolph, Vicar-General of the diocese of Berlin brought to light unpublished correspondence of Pius XII with Bishop (later Cardinal) von Pressing of Berlin in which the Pope encouraged the German clergy in their protest against every sort of inhumanity. Many German Catholic prelates were murdered as a result of their criticism for the treatment of Jews. Msgr. Bernhard Lichtenberg, dean of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, asked on his congregation to pray "for Jews and inmates in concentration camps" after the pogroms of November 1938. He was arrested in 1942 and died while in route to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp.

The German and Austrian clergy at Dachau (447) were there for realizing that being a good Christian and a good Nazi were as irreconcilable as compassion and sadism. They had run underground presses and underground railways to rescue retarded children from the euthanasia laws (the other abhorrent Nazi crime) and Jews from deportation.

Ø     Italy

Dr. Joseph L. Lichten, wrote in 1963 a monograph entitled "A Question of Judgement: Pius XII and the Jews", while serving as director of the Intercultural Affairs Department for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Dr. Lichten revealed how the Holy See and the Jewish organizations worked together to save Jewish lives. He cites that during the German occupation of Italy, The Church, following the Pope’s instructions, hid and fed thousands of Jews in Vatican City and in Castel Gandolfo (the papal Summer residence outside Rome), as well as in various churches and convents. As a result of this, the Jews in Italy had a much higher survival rate than in other of the occupied nazi countries. There were some 50,000 Jews in Italy in 1939; it is estimated that the Gestapo in Italy took about 8,000 Jews in all. Miraculously, during the whole period of mass hiding of Jews, the Germans made only two raids on the Church’s refuges and captured only a handful of people.

In August 1943, Pius XII received a plea from the World Jewish Congress to try to persuade the Italian authorities to release 20,000 Jewish refugees from internment in Northern Italy. They wrote, "Our terror-stricken brethren look to Your Holiness as the only hope for saving them from persecution and death". In September 1943, A.L. Easterman on behalf of the WJC reported to the Apostolic Delegate in London that the efforts of the Holy See on behalf of the Jews had been successful. He wrote, "I feel sure that the effort of your Grace, and of the Holy See have brought about this fortunate result, and I should like to express to the Holy See and yourself the warmest thanks of the World Jewish Congress."

Around the same time, the German Chief of Police in Rome threatened to send about 200 Jews to the Russian front unless they produced within 36 hours 50 Kg of gold or the equivalent in currency. The Chief Rabbi approached the Holy See, who immediately placed at the Rabbi’s disposal the 15 Kg. of gold they needed to complete the ransom. More than half of the Jews in Rome were sheltered in ecclesiastical buildings opened on the express instructions of Pius XII himself. The Vatican Secretariat of State saved more Jews by faking their baptisms and sending lists of "baptized" Jews to the German Ambassador, Weizsacker, so that they could be evacuated. Many of those saved were helped to escape by the massive issuing of Vatican passports.

Indeed, Adolph Eichman, the Nazi butcher in charge of the deportation of the Jews in Italy, noted in his diary The Church’s role in the rescuing of Jews. The German Ambassador at the Vatican, Ernst von Weizsacker, a humane man who did not approve of the genocide, was receptive to the Holy See’s complaints. According to Eichman, "the objections given and the excessive delay in the steps necessary to complete the implementation of the operation, resulted in a great part of the Italian Jews being able to hide and escape capture."

The chief Rabbi in Rome during the German occupation, Israel Zolli, once said that "no hero in history was more militant, more fought against evil, none more heroic, than Pius XII." In fact, Zolli was so moved by Pius XII, with whom he worked closely in the saving of Jewish lives, that he converted to Catholicism after the war and took the Pope’s own name, Eugenio, as his baptismal name.

Ø     Rome under German occupation

At the beginning of 1944 Rome had already been under German control for four months. More than six months were yet to pass before the German troops would retreat to the North. The churches, seminaries, and convents, even those solemnly bound to the cloister were opened to all categories of refugees, regardless of political leanings, religion or race (the dispensation was granted by the Pope). More than 180 Church’s facilities were used in the rescue effort. They harbored Jews, military officers and members of the resistance. Most of the 15,000 refugees at Castel Gandolfo were Jews. In the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion there was a group of 200 Jewish men and women for several months. In the Roman Seminary of St. John Lateran nearly the entire National Committee of Liberation was hidden-only a few paces from the headquarters of the Gestapo police. In a raid into the extra-territorial Basilica of St. Paul’s Out-side the Walls, the neo-Fascist police found that the monastery was a shelter for the very people they were seeking. The Vatican City was in imminent risk of being occupied by the German troops. Spain and Brazil offered refuge to the Pope, but the Pope adamantly refused any possibility of abandoning Rome.

As Cardinal Tisserant said: "Everyone knew that the Pope was ready to go to a concentration camp." Speaking to the College of Cardinals on February 9, 1944, when the fate of Rome was in question, Pius XII surely manifested his courage:

"There is no need to declare that we, whatever may happen, will never leave the Apostolic See or our beloved Rome. We shall yield only to violence. We do not have anxiety for our lot, but we do for yours, Venerable Brothers. Therefore we dispense you from your obligation to share our fate. Each of you is free to do as he thinks most efficient for his own safety." (18)


Ø     German troops advance towards St. Peter Square

As German troops advanced towards St Peter Square, the Pope ordered the Papal Swiss Guards to move to the white demarcation line with their arms ready while machine guns posts were placed on high alert in the surrounding Vatican buildings. The German troops retreated.

Ø     Romania

The Vatican was thoroughly aware of the Nazi’s ruthlessness and intransigence, especially toward the Jews, and intensified its diplomatic maneuvers in favor of the Jews in Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. The Nuncio in Bucharest, Msgr. Andreas Cassulo, had a close relationship of trust with the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Alexander Shafran and the Jewish community. An exodus operation of orphan Jews under the age of 16 was under way with the Nuncio’s tutelage. Thanks to the Holy See’s intervention the age of those allowed to leave was made to include those until the age of 16 years instead of until the age of 12. In cooperation with Jewish organizations, the aim was to send the children through Turkey to Palestine. On July 11, 1944 the first Rumanian refugee ship arrived in Istanbul carrying 250 children from Costanza.

On May 25, 1945, Nuncio Cassulo transmitted to the Holy See two messages from Rabbi Shafran, in one he referred to Cassulo: "The high moral authority of the Nuncio saved us, he prevailed so that the deportation should not take place. It was he who obtained the repatriation of all the Jews from Transnystria, but for the Jewish orphans in particular he was a loving father. With deep satisfaction did he inform me that they might leave for the Holy Land." (19)

In his message to the Pope, Rabbi Shafran "expressed his gratitude for what has been done for him and for the Jewish community. Now he has begged me (the Nuncio) to convey to the Holy Father his feelings of thankfulness for the generous aid granted to prisoners in concentration camps on the occasion of the Christmas festivities. At the same time he told me he had written to Jerusalem, to the Chief Rabbi Herzog, and also elsewhere, in America, to point out what the Nunciature has done for them in the time of present difficulties." (20)

According to the Jewish historian, David Herstig, who in 1967 in Stuttgart’s newspaper Die Rettung, wrote that he calculated that 360,000 Romanian Jews in Israel owed their life to Pope Pius XII.

Ø     Hungary

The Pope protested strongly against the deportations of Jews in Slovakia, Hungary and Vichy, France, since these were formerly Catholic countries where Fascists had gained control and they still had a majority of Catholic citizens. In Hungary the Nunciature used thousands of blank and forged forms to help Jews escape. A Red Cross worker even complained that the use of forged documents was against the Geneva Convention! The Apostolic Nuncio in Hungary, Msgr. Angelo Rotta, responded; "my son, you need have no qualms of conscience because rescuing innocent men and women is a virtue. Continue your work for the glory of God." And the Nuncio continued with the covert operation.

In Hungary, until 1944, in spite of the enactment of severe anti-Semitic laws, the Jews enjoyed relative safety beyond Nazi control. The Hungarian government of the Regent, Admiral Nicholas Horthy, a Protestant with good relations with the Vatican, did not turn over to the Germans any of its Jews, not even the many refugees from Poland and Slovakia. In fact, he had allowed his country to become the haven of refuge for Jews. Unfortunately, on March 23, 1944, German troops marched into Hungary. Budapest and its outskirts remained under the Regent’s control until October, but massive deportations to Auschwitz from outlying parts of the country began in mid-May. The deportations were interrupted, acting upon direct appeal from the Pope, in early June when Admiral Horthy temporarily regained control. However, the Germans arrested Horthy in October, putting control of all Hungary in the hands of the fanatical anti-Semites of the Arrow Cross, and the massacre of Jews resumed. From that moment the Jews were also being deported to labor camps in Austria. Not until December 23, 1944, did the Eichmann Kommando leave Budapest.

Ø     Jewish organizations and the Holy See work together in the rescue of Jews.

The efforts of the Vatican, in coordination with Jewish organizations, to save the Hungarian Jews during those tragic months is well documented in the chronicles of the Holy See day by day, week by week. On March 25, 1944 the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, Msgr. Cicognani, informed the Vatican that the Jewish War Refugee Board were urging that measures be taken to aid the nearly 2 million Jews from Hungary (and Romania) and the Polish refugees who were living under terror and persecution and now threatened with extinction.

The Nuncios insisted, many times unsuccessfully, that the baptized Jews had all the rights of the non-Jewish Catholics, and for the other Jews they demanded that they be treated according to the norms of fundamental human rights. Nuncio Msgr. Rotta protested to no avail to the prime minister, Dom Sztojay, and to the foreign minister himself: "The very fact of persecuting men merely on account of their racial origin, is a violation of the natural law." It is estimated that Msgr. Rotta alone had given over 80,000 false baptism certificates as a safeguard for the Jews, but, as the Hungarian Foreign Minister replied to the Nuncio’s protestations, "the problem is one of race, which is not changed by baptism."

The atrocities multiplied and the nuncio, as head of the diplomatic corps in Budapest, mobilized the Ambassadors of the four other neutral Nations. On August 21, Rotta and the envoys of Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland, presented a very strong protest to the government. The deportations were "unjust in their motive-for it is absolutely inadmissible that men should be persecuted and put to death jut because of their racial origin- and brutal in their execution"; (21) said the draft note written by Rotta. The indefatigable Nuncio and the Holy See continued their struggle in favor of the Jews.

On October 29, The Holy Father sent an open telegram to Hungarian Cardinal Seredi asking for a special day of prayers and a collection to help the Jews. Encouraged by the Pope, the Hungarian priests and religious opened their houses to the Jews. In the end, in spite of all the efforts, about 550,000 Hungarian and refugee Jews had died; 150,000 survived in Budapest and 40,000 in the provinces. As Jeno Levai, the foremost scholar of the Holocaust in Hungary, said Pius XII "did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime and alleviate its consequences." (22)

Ø     Slovakia

The most heartbreaking and humiliating case for the Holy Father was that in Slovakia the head of State, Tiso, was a Catholic priest and the population mostly Catholic. Slovakia was a protectorate of Germany since 1939, and as such, the racial anti-Semite laws were applied. Dr. Livia Rotkirchen, of Yad Vashem, writes: "In conclusion it may be said that the letters of protest delivered by the Vatican during the years 1941-1944 prove sufficiently that the Vatican objected to the deportation of Jews from Slovakia" and later added, they were backed by numerous oral pleas and protests. As everywhere else, the clergy and religious took Jews into hiding.

Unfortunately, there were other cases where the Catholics supported the Nazis. Some Catholics betrayed one of the main tenets of their faith, "to love your neighbor", and were involved with the Nazi terror. But one cannot blame Pius XII, nor the Church for the actions of those who strayed from the faith-any more than one can not put the blame upon the Jewish leaders for the fact that there were Jewish Kapos and Jewish policemen who helped the Nazis enforce their extermination policies.

There are allegations that The Church helped some Nazis war criminals escape to South America after the end of the war. While it is fully proven and documented that The Church helped over 800,000 Jews to escape from certain death, there is not a single proven case of a Nazi criminal who had been helped to escape by the Vatican. That does not mean that there may exist a case in which a clergy helped a Nazi to escape, but certainly, not with the knowledge, and much less the approval, of the Holy See. We must not forget that over 3,000 Catholic priests were tortured to death by the Nazis.

Ø     Belgium

The Belgian Jews were more fortunate. Seventy-five percent of the 90,000 living during the Nazi occupation were saved. Among the reasons, the German Commander in Chief, General von Falkenhausen, was a humane individual who heeded to the pleas of Queen Elizabeth and Cardinal Van Roey. Countless priests organized rescue networks. Refuge was widely available. The Bishop of Liege gave the Rabbi of the city a cassock and introduced him to the Gestapo as his secretary.

Ø     France

In France of the 350,000 pre-war Jews, 150,000 were deported; including 22,000 children; of the deported only 3,000 survived. The 200,000 that were saved was due to the help of the laity and the courage of three Church leaders, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Saliege of Toulouse, Cardinal Gerlier of Lyons and Bishop Theas of Montauban (later Lourdes). Theas was imprisoned; Saliege would have had the same fate but for his illness; so would Gerlier but for his rank in the Church.

Saliege referring to the "horrible scenes" witnessed in his diocese strongly denounced the crimes. He cried "Jews (who) are our brothers." Theas described the "scenes of indescribable suffering and horror…all men are brothers, created by one God…the current anti-Semitic measures are a violation of human dignity and the sacred rights of the individual and the family. May God comfort and strengthen those who are persecuted." Cardinal Gerlier exhorted: "The deportations of Jews now in course cause such painful scenes that we must lift our voices in conscientious protest…who will stop the Church from loudly confirming in this dark hour the irrefutable rights of men, the sanctity of family ties, the inviolability of the right to asylum, and that brotherly charity which Christ has taught us?" In the middle of the tragedy, the French people, individuals, families, clergy, religious communities all worked together to save the Jews. Many French Catholics went to jail rather than betray the Jews. (23)

Ø     Yugoslavia

In Yugoslavia, Cardinal Stepinac was at the forefront in the defense of the Jews. When in March 1943, the government ordered all the Jews to report to the police for transfer to camps in Poland, Stepinac sent a strong protest to the dictator, and, from the pulpit he condemned the rule: "No civil power or political system has the right to persecute a person on account of his racial origins. We Catholics protest against such measures, and we will combat them." Earlier, Stepinac had led a delegation to protest against the persecution of the Jews, and the anti-Jewish program was canceled.

At the end of the War and with the conquest of Yugoslavia by the Communists, the Catholics were to become the victims again of violent oppression and repression. Priests were killed and imprisoned and Cardinal Stepinac was the victim of a mock trial and condemned to sixteen years of hard labor. The world also remained silent while the onslaught of Christians was going on at the hands of the Communist thugs.

Ø     Pius XII created agencies to coordinate relief work. American Jews and Cardinal Spellman channeled throughout the Pope generous humanitarian aid for the Jews.

From the first days of the war, Pope Pius XII distributed untold sums to aid the Jews all over Nazi occupied Europe. One of Pius XII’s first steps at the beginning of the War was the creation of two official agencies with pontifical rank to coordinate relief work, the Pontifical Aid Commission and the Office for Information. The first body, in liaison with local organizations, channeled supplies of food, medicine, clothing, to the needy, to the prisoners of war in particular. It was a task of vast proportions involving 40 countries; financial grants were provided for the repatriation of 630,000 displaced persons; full responsibility was taken for 53,000 victims. Church authorities joined forces with national and international Jewish agencies. American Jews also trusted on the hands of the Pope large sums that were distributed according to the wishes of the donors. Cardinal Spellman also channeled generous humanitarian aid from the U.S. Catholics.

The Vatican Information Office handled over one and a quarter million requests and succeeded in locating over half a million of the displaced persons, mostly Jews, a success ratio of 44 percent, in spite of the non cooperation from the Nazis and little, if at all, cooperation from the Allies. The communication with prisoners of war was another of its important services. Both Agencies were under the direction of Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.


1. Pius XII and the Holocaust, Myth and Reality

2. Pius XII & the Holocaust - Historical Frame

3. Pius XII and the Holocaust - 1933

4. Was Pius XII "Hitler's Pope"

5. Were Pius XII and the Church really silent during the Holocaust?

6. The Allies were slow in responding to the Pleas of the Jews

7. Pius XII - The forgotten victims of the Holocaust

8. The Rescue of the Jews: The Holy See made every possible effort to help the Jews

9. Pius XII and the Resistance

10. Pius XII- Allies slow in responding to the pleas of the Jews

11. Pius XII - Conclusion


Copyright © 2000 Jesus J. Chao

Printed on June 13, 2001 by Leap of Faith- www.faithleap.org  with Permission from Mr. Jesus J. Chao.


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