The book entitled “Pius XII and the Holocaust. Current state of research”(278 pp), edited by David Bankier, Dan Michman and Iael Nidam Orvieto, has been on sale at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial bookshop for a few days now.
The book discusses the figure of Pope Pacelli and his actions
during the closed-door international workshop held at Yad Vashem in
Academics from all over the world met to compare
their thoughts on Pius XII.
The conference was organised by the
International Institute for Holocaust Research and the Salesian
Theological Institute in Jerusalem. The Apostolic Nuncio to Israel was
The March 2009 meeting was held not long
before Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Israel. Prior to the visit, a
controversy had broken out over the content of the accompanying caption
to a photograph of Pius XII, on show in the museum. The Holy See
claimed the caption gave too negative and unfounded a picture of the
late pope who reigned during the Second World War.
But the intention of the late David Bankier, who
was head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research – Yad
Vashem from 2000 to 2010, was certainly not to fuel a debate over Pius
XII under the impetus of political and diplomatic pressure linked to the
forthcoming papal visit. The organisers’ intention was simply to
encourage a serious debate, based around the most recent documents and
The 2009 meeting in Jerusalem led to significant
changes being made to the caption on Pacelli by the heads of Yad Vashem
last year. The modified version presents the Pope in a more complex and
objective light. The decision did not go down well either in or outside
Jerusalem but was nevertheless defended by researchers at Yad Vashem,
who backed it up with scientific reasoning. The decision was not
politically or diplomatically motivated, neither did it have anything to
do with Jewish-Christian dialogue.
After a long wait, the meeting
proceedings and a number of documents presented during the closed-door
meeting have now finally been unveiled. One very important element that
emerged during the conference - which was attended by Thomas
Brechenmacher, Jean-Dominique Durand, Dan Michman, Sergio Minerbi,
Matteo Luigi Napolitano, Paul O’Shea, Michael Phayer, Dina Porat e Susan
Zuccotti, amongst others – were the results of the research carried out
by Sister Grazia Loparco, an historian, who is gathering documents and
testimonies relating to Italian Catholic institutions which opened their
doors to the persecuted Jews.
Of approximately 750 religious establishments
(475 female ones and 270 male ones) in Rome alone, “we have
confirmation of more than 200, at least 220 female religious
establishments and 70 male ones hiding Jews. The fact that no concrete
information has been found yet regarding other institutes, does not mean
the assistance offered to the persecuted was not more extensive,
because objective conditions advised caution and a number of witnesses
that gave oral evidence confirm that they did not dare put anything down
in writing at the time, as it was too risky.”
There is much disagreement over how far Pius XII
influenced the convents’ decision. But it seems quite obvious - given
the number of institutions involved and in particular one article
published in the 25-26 October 1943 issues of the Holy See’s official
newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano a few days after the raid on the Jewish ghetto in Rome - that these initiatives had received the Pope’s approval.
A second closed-door meeting on the figure of Pius
XII and various issues that remained open was held between 12-13
November last year.
It was organised by historian Edouard Housson at the
Sorbonne University in Paris.