ROME (JTA) — Italian Jewish leaders have sharply criticized an Italian TV mini-series that portrays Pope Pius XII as working forcefully to save Jews during the Holocaust.
"Under the Roman Sky," starring James Cromwell as Pius XII, was aired Sunday and Monday on state-run RAI television. Set in 1943, it shows Pius remaining in Rome despite a plan by the Nazi occupiers to kidnap him.
"Despite all his efforts, Pius XII is not able to prevent the horrors that take place in Rome," the synopsis on the film’s website states. "On October 16, 1943, the SS carry out an unexpected and violent raid on the Jewish Ghetto. Over one-thousand victims are deported to Auschwitz, only fifteen will eventually return. This tragedy for the Jews is shared by the Pope. History will testify that over 10,000 Jews were saved in churches and convents in Rome, more than in any other occupied city."
Rome Jewish community president Riccardo Pacifici called the portrayal "unacceptable revisionism."
Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni described the series as "junk" that had the "precise goal of demonstrating the absolute goodness of that pope and the political and moral justification of everything that he did."
Controversy over Pius’ role during the Holocaust has long strained Catholic-Jewish relations. The Vatican and other supporters say Pius worked behind the scenes to save Jews during the Holocaust — the scenario presented in the miniseries.
Critics accuse Pius of having ignored Jewish suffering in the Shoah and have called on the Vatican to open its secret archives to clarify the matter. Current Pope Benedict XVI angered many Jews by formally moving Pius closer to sainthood last December.