What Did the Pope Know and when Did He Know It?

After 11 months of work investigating the Vatican’s role during the Holocaust, a panel of scholars is pressing the Holy See to open up more archives.

The call comes during a report issued last week by the panel, made up of three Jews and three Catholics, that raises 47 questions about the papacy’s wartime record — but offers little new evidence about several disputed topics, including the behavior of the wartime pope, Pius XII.

The report does not leave much hope that questions about how much Pius did to combat the Holocaust will be answered soon.

“A scrutiny of these volumes of Vatican documents does not put to rest significant questions about the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust,” the panel wrote in its introduction to the report, available on the Web at www.bnaibrith.org.

“The bottom line is that in order to carry out the debate” of the Vatican’s wartime role “to a more mature level, that the Vatican should begin to make available to reputable scholars all the documentary evidence that it has at its disposal,” said Michael Marrus, a Holocaust scholar and one of the Jewish members of the panel.

The issue of Pius XII’s wartime actions is the most pressing one addressed by the panel, which scoured 11 published volumes of archival material edited between 1965 and 1981.

The Vatican and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation established the panel last year.

Among the questions raised in the report concerning Pius XII:

Are there documents relating to discussions in 1938 involving Pius, then known as Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, about the Vatican’s reaction to Kristallnacht?

Is there confirmation of a news story that the pope intervened with the leader of Vichy France, Marshal Petain, to stop the deportation of French Jews?

What discussion was there in the Vatican regarding the pope’s response to several appeals from the archbishop of Berlin calling on Pius to publicly appeal to halt the deportations of the Jews of Berlin?

The Vatican says plans for Pius XII’s beatification — the final step before sainthood — are under way, even though some charge that he was an anti-Semite who failed to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Several of the questions in the report relate to Pius XII’s actions before and during the Holocaust. But that issue is only one of many raised in the report.

Others include why a project financially supported by U.S. Jews to obtain Brazilian visas for Catholics of Jewish origin failed; and how did the Vatican react as early as 1942 to the information it knew about the mass murder of Jews in extermination camps?

In Rome last week, the panel met with several Vatican officials, but did not meet with the pope or with officials from the Vatican secretary of state, despite requests to do so.

Vatican officials appear to be debating whether they want to open the archives or keep the records sealed.

One source close to the process told JTA that while it is unlikely that the Vatican will open all of the archives, it might agree to furnish additional documents referred to in the published volumes.

Vatican documents are generally sealed for 100 years, but at least one exception to this rule was made last century, the report noted.

The chairman of IJCIC, as the Jewish interfaith commission involved in the effort is known, said the ongoing process is part of a larger endeavor.

“The archives are being opened everywhere. The Swiss are accounting for gold, the Dutch are returning art that was confiscated from Jews who were sent to camps. It’s a reckoning, a need for the world to understand what happened during this dreadful period of history,” said Seymour Reich.

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