Pope’s Efforts to Save Converted Jews from Nazis Revealed by Vatican
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Pope’s Efforts to Save Converted Jews from Nazis Revealed by Vatican

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Efforts by Pope Pius XII to rescue baptized Jews from the Nazis and send them to safety in Brazil during the early stages of World War II largely failed because of bureaucratic delays by Brazilian authorities and opposition from the Gestapo. That disclosure was contained in one of two volumes of secret wartime documents released by the Vatican yesterday dealing with war victims during the period March, 1939-Dec., 1940. The documents indicated that the Holy See concentrated on saving baptized Jews on the ground that they were without assistance from the Jewish community and their only hope was The church they had joined.

But of 3000 visas promised, only 1000 were ever distributed, the documents report. The documents also raised anew the question of how much information the Pope had on the mass slaughter of Jews by the Nazis–a question pertinent to the long-standing controversy over why the Pontiff failed to speak out publicly against the murder of millions of Jews.

According to the documents, Papal efforts on behalf of refugees from the Nazi domain began soon after the “Kristallnacht” (Crystal Night) Nov. 9-10, 1938 during which hundreds of synagogues and Jewish shops and business establishments were destroyed in Germany. Pope Plus XI who died in Feb. 1939 asked his diplomats overseas to try to convince governments to increase their quotas for immigrants but met with little success, the documents stated.

In March, 1939, the Catholic bishops of Germany asked Pope Pius XII to help speed up the emigration of Christian Jews because of growing Nazi pressure against them. After prolonged negotiations, President Getulio Vargas of Brazil granted as “a special favor to the Pope” 3000 visas for converted Jews who were willing to work on the land. One thousand of the visas were assigned to the Brazilian Ambassador to the Vatican and were distributed to Jewish converts who had already succeeded in leaving Germany and were waiting in Holland, Belgium and other countries for some country to take them in.

But the other 2000 visas were never used and consequently lapsed because of the opposition of the Gestapo and of Brazilian agents in Germany, the Vatican documents indicated. Even the release of the first 1000 visas was a race between bureaucratic sluggishness and the onrushing Nazi war machine. In Holland, 150 baptized Jews were caught in the Nazi invasion and sent to extermination camps while waiting for their Brazilian visas to arrive, the documents reported. Bureaucracy, not of the Vatican’s making, was the chief culprit.

According to the released records, the Vatican had to wrangle with the Brazilian government to lessen restrictions surrounding the visas, for example the demand for an entrance tax of 2800 gold marks per family.

Aides To Pope Knew Of Extermination Camps The documents revealed that close aides to Pope Pius XII were aware of the mass deportations of Jews to Nazi extermination camps. One of them was the then Archbishop Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII. The records show that Roncalli raised the matter of the annihilation of Polish Jews with the Nazi Ambassador to Turkey, Franz Von Pappen in Ankara during Easter, 1943. Roncalli reported his conversation with Von Pappen to Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, now Pope Paul VI who was at the time acting Secretary of State in the Vatican and one of the closest aides of Pope Pius XII.

Documents published by various official sources since the end of World War II indicate that Pope Pius XII was in receipt of reports through diplomatic and other channels of the-mass killings and deportations of Jews. The controversy over his silence was heightened ten years ago with the production of the play “The Deputy” by a young German Protestant playwright, Hans Hochhuth. The play denounced the Pope for failing to issue a public condemnation of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews.

(In London today. The Times published a letter from Gerard Noel, editor of the Catholic Herald, the official organ of the Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain, who declared that he could not exonerate Pope Pius XII for his silence on the Jews although he could not wholly condemn him. Noel, who said he was a translator of official documents relating to “the Holy See and the war in Europe” wrote that “I find attempts to do either unrealistic and depressing.”)

The documents released by the Vatican referred to a request from the Raphaelsverein, a German association aiding converted Jews, for it’s support in schemes to resettle Jews in Angola, Australia and Alaska. But the Vatican decided not to lend its assistance to such plans. The Raphaelsverein was suppressed by the Gestapo in 1941.

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