After World War II, Nazi war criminals used so-called "rat lines" to escape to safe havens outside of Europe. Catholic priests played a large role in helping Nazis get false papers and prepare for their escape.
What is less widely known is that Catholic church leaders also helped Jews escape from Nazi persecution and near-certain death ... and that this work started well before the Nazi rat lines were established.
During the Holocaust, when the Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) was stationed in Istanbul, he ran a "Ratline in Reverse." Quietly cooperating with Chaim Barlas, head of the rescue delegation of the Hebrew community in what would become the state of Israel, the Catholic leader worked hard to save as many Jews as possible.
Professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University, a historian who has written extensively on the Holocaust, gained access to the private papers of Chaim Barlas, who together with the future Pope devised a network of escape routes and tactics to rescue thousands of endangered Jews from Eastern Europe.
Porat describes this material in detail in her book, “Tears, Protocols and Actions in a Wartime Triangle: Pius XII, Roncalli and Barlas.”
Many of the the Jews who were saved were "Transnistria Jews" who had been singled out for extermination by Romania and shipped to the killing fields of Transnistria - an extermination area larger than Auschwitz. Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, occupied Transnistria (including today's Pridnestrovie) during most of World War II, but never made any attempt to formally incorporate the territory into Romania.
German Nazi troops were also in Transnistria at the same time, devising plans for the extermination of the Romanian Jews who were deported to Transnistria as a virtual Nazi-type concentration camp set up by the Fascist Romanian regime which also was allied with Nazi Germany.
With the help of the future Pope and his Jewish friend, thousands of persecuted Jews were saved from near-certain death in Transnistria and other parts of Nazi-held Eastern Europe by enabling them to flee the ongoing Holocaust.
Barlas' archive, kept in private hands in Israel, shows that Roncalli held an intense correspondence with the Vatican and its various offices, constantly warning the Holy See and urging it to act. It shows that in his conversations with Barlas, Roncalli expressed - albeit delicately - his criticism of Pope Pius XII's response to the Holocaust.
During the time he and Barlas worked together, mostly in Istanbul, Monsignor Roncalli sent to Pope Pius the "Auschwitz Protocols", a 32-page document detailing the Nazi extermination efforts based on firsthand reports, revelatory at the time. The new books reveals that all probability Roncalli was the first to send to Rome the "Auschwitz Protocols", which he had received from Barlas.
Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Pope John XXIII was elected as the 261st Pope on 28 October 1958. His Papacy ended with his death on 3 June 1963. Besides saving Transnistria Jews, he also played a decisive role in the establishment of the State of Israel.
Right after World War II, Moshe Sneh of the Jewish Agency contacted Roncalli to ask him to urge the Latin American countries, which were predominantly Roman Catholic, to vote in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution that created Israel.
Monsignor Roncalli agreed, and thanks to the votes from Latin America, on 29 Novemeber 1947 the decision was taken on the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab.
This set the stage for the establishment of the State of Israel, on 15 May 1948.
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