When the Nazis occupied Rome in September 1943 Pope Pius )01 endeavoured to save as many Jews as possible. He immediately issued directives to all convents and monasteries to open their doors to protect Jews. After the war Cardinal Pietro Palazzini and Italian historian Renzo De Felice researched the number of guests in 155 convents and monasteries in Rome. Although this research has been reported. Pius's detractors have not recognised the extraordinary action taken by the pope and others anxious to carry out his expressed wish that those being pursued by the Nazis be helped in every way possible. On the other hand, three Jewish historians from England. Israel and America — Martin Gilbert, Michael Tagliacozzo, and David Dalin — among others, have refuted the distorted portrayal of Pope Pius XII.
After World War II Cardinal Ersilio Tonini of Ravenna effectively summed up the case against Pius's critics: "They reproach Pius XII with an act of cowardice for his silence. But that is not the case. When he had to speak out, the pope was not afraid. He condemned Hitler's invasion of Belgium, defining it as a crime against every human and divine right. In Rome he ordered that the doors of all buildings belonging to the Vatican be opened for Jews and other political refugees. When Jewish students were forbidden by Fascist law to continue their studies, the pope arranged for the pontifical universities to accept them."
Now that Pius's Cause for canonisation is being vociferously opposed by Abraham Foxinan of the AntiDefamation League, it is imperative that the essential facts concerning the wartime pope's help for Jews be set before the general public. Anyone who would judge Pius not to have assisted Jews in every possible way open to him must first of all reject the scholarship of the three outstanding Jewish writers named above, along with the works of a score of other careful researchers: the editors of the 12-volume Acres, Robert Graham, Angelo Martini, Burkhart Schneider, Pierre Blet, Joseph Lichten, Philippe Chenaux, Michael Chinigo, Oscar Halecki, Jan Olav Smit, Michael O'Carroll, Nazarene Padellaro, J Patrick Carroll-Abbing , Andrea Tornielli, Matteo Luigi Napolitano, William Doino, Ronald J Rychlak and myself.
In addition to these writers, it is crucial that extraordinary eyewitnesses in Italy itself be given serious consideration. Here is the briefest summation possible of witnesses, most of whom risked their lives to hide Jews being hunted down by Nazis and Fascists: 1) The record shows that over 50 refugees were saved in the Vatican Pontifical College for Priests. Their names were compiled by Cardinal Pietro Palazzini in 1995.
2) He also compiled the names of the refugees who were in the Vatican Pontifical Seminary. Interestingly, there are over 200 names and each name is followed by a description (Professor, Student, Ambassador, Military, etc).
3) In 1963 Professor Renzo De Felice compiled a list of the institutions in Rome with the number of Jewish refugees in each convent or monastery. Ten had between 400 and 100; 36 had between 96 and 33; 109 had between 32 and one.
4) The fourth section consists of a partial list of Jewish refugees who were guests of the Religious Teachers Filippini. Professor De Felice calculated that there were 114 in three of their convents in Rome.
5) Then there are the many testimonials in the files of religious orders in Rome and elsewhere in Italy.
As a typical example, consider the records of the Religious Teachers Filippini. They saved Jews in the convents of Via Botteghe Oscure, Via Cabot°, Via delle Fomaci and at Monte Mario and elsewhere in Italy. A few weeks ago I interviewed Sister Ida Greco, who in 1943-44 was stationed at Botteghe Oscure and helped prepare meals for the many Jews hidden there. She signed the following testimonial on July 30, 2007: "1, Sister Ida Greco, was a resident at Via Botteghe Oscure, 42, during the Nazi occupation of Rome. I can confirm that in those days we knew that the Holy Father had given orders to all superiors to open the doors of convents and monasteries to all Jews and other refugees. I remember that I helped prepare meals and that I was there when the Vatican sent us food to help feed the 60 Jewish guests."
In the archives of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in Rome one can read letters of gratitude and thanksgiving written by Jews: "Rome, December 13, 1946: The wedding of my daughter Elsa makes me recall with profound gratitude to you who with such human charity took care of my women during the sad months of the German occupation, saving them from the dangers of the death camps. I also recall the loving comfort given by the Mother President, and the silent faith of Sister Maria that gave us much hope. This splendid act of brotherhood deserves to be written in marble with gold letters so that it will never be forgotten. I enclose a small offering [L 3,000] for you to use as you think best. Adolfo Tabet, via Po, n 162."
Among other letters there is one dated August 10, 1944, from Enrica Anav Brunetti, Via Bodoni 6, Rome: "It is with much delay that I fulfil my duty to you and the very kind Sisters. My office schedule does not permit me to come at the proper hour to extend my greetings and express my most heartfelt thanks for the hospitality given to me and my family during the sad circumstances of the infamous Nazi-fascist persecutions. Because I am sure of further delay, I am sending you this note to reassure you that I shall never forget the benefits received and to remind you that my gratitude will never diminish. Never will 1 forget you who have been impressed on my heart. It will be impossible to forget you. Therefore 1 beg you to excuse me and to accept the expression of my most devout sentiments towards you and the kind Sisters."
According to an unpublished journal of an Augustinian nun in the convent of Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome, Pius XII instructed the mother superior to allow those fleeing from the Germans to enter the cloistered convent and remain there as long as necessary. Not only does the Augustinian author provide details, but she explains that the pope wished to save "the children as well as Jews" and ordered that monasteries and enclosures should be opened to protect those persecuted. She admits she prepared false identity papers for all her guests. "Unfortunately," the nun writes. "with the coming of the Germans in September, the war against the Jews — whom they wish to exterminate with the most barbarous atrocities — included young Italians and political activists who were tortured and subjected to the most horrible sufferings. We adhered to the wishes of the Holy Father."
Other testimonials, dating from October I. 1943, relate to the acceptance of Jews during the persecution and may be found in many religious communities. I cite one from the Congregation of the Adorers of the Most Precious Blood on Via Pannonia 10, Rome, where entire families of Jews found safe refuge. They lived on the third and fourth floors of a wing designated for the school and they remained there for two full years.
Sisters Alma Pia De Rossi wrote to the Vicariate of Rome: "From the lists preserved we can state that the number of Jews was 112, not counting the many children hidden with each family." (Renzo De Felice notes that the total number of Jews hidden in this convent was 136.) Among them was the family of Mr Romeo Bondi, the caretaker of the Jewish school on Lunge Tevere Sanzio. These documents state that "when he knew that his school would be sacked, he wanted to save its contents. He then contacted the Vicariate for help. Mgr Gentileschi advised him to bring everything to areas in our school building. This list is preserved here. It is dated December 14, 1943."
Like so many other communities of Sisters, this group also received the following testimonial: "Whoever saves one life, it is as though he had saved the whole world (Sanhedrin IV, 5). The Jewish Community of Rome to the Institute of the Adorers of the Most Precious Blood, recalling how they risked their own lives to save Jews from the Nazi-fascist atrocities."
Why have these witnesses been ignored during the past 60 years?A complete overview is needed to bring these statistics to light. Collectively. they would prove that the Catholic Church under the direction of Pope Pius XII saved more people from the Nazis and Fascists than any other leader in the world.
Leo Longanesi, a renowned 20thcentury Italian journalist and publisher, was indignant over the anti-clerical campaigns against the Church. One day he suggested to the pope that a particular day be designated when all Italian newspapers in Italy would print the full story about the charitable works of the Church during World War H. Pius XII responded: "Only God must be testimony to what is done for our neighbour" Today, this story must he told in order to stop the calumnies against Pius XI1 and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. True, the Church survived persecutions for 2,000 years and continues its mission of evangelisation. However, today the anti Catholicism prevalent in the media and the negative propaganda about Pope Pius XH mislead many Catholics who do not understand the present controversy revolving around claims of "silence", "moral culpabiiity'' and "anti-Semitism".
Truth and justice demand a re-evaluation of the facts. The political and ideological attacks on Christianity can be refuted by anyone who examines the evidence carefully. In the case against Pius XII the public should be given an opportunity to examine the evidence_ Setting aside the passions of ideology in their deliberations, judges examine the evidence presented by the accused. If this standard were followed, Pius XII would be fully exonerated. The pope had to deal with Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. Benito Mussolini and Fascism, the occupation of Rome by the Nazis, the development of atomic warfare and the spread of Communism across eastern Europe.
World War II began six months after Pius XII was elected on March 2, 1939. The pope condemned the persecution of people based on their race, was in contact with the antiNazi resistance, approved a plot to assassinate Hitler and defended minorities. He vigorously protested against the deportation of Jews and ordered his nuncios to intervene. He authorised Vatican Radio and L'Osservatore Romano to publicly condemn Nazi atrocities.
During the Nazi occupation of Rome, from September 1943 to June 1944, Pius XII made strong protests against the Nazi seizure of Rome's Jews, and took decisive action to protect them. It suffices to mention the extraordinary tributes the Jewish community offered Pius XII for saving Jews and fighting anti-Semitism. How can anyone say the pope was on the side of Hitler and the Nazis when Hitler called him "the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals"? Why would Hitler want to kidnap the pope if he had been on his side? Pius XII was not anti-Semitic. He was prudent and did all he could to save Jews, Catholics and others Hitler wanted to kill. Why have countless eyewitnesses been ignored?
pius XII was prudent, not silent. While some individuals, including Jews, betrayed their Jewish friends, the pope's so-called "silence" saved lives. He did all he could to avoid reprisals against Jews and Catholics. As the spiritual leader of all, including 40 million German Catholics, he could not endanger his flock. It is foolish to think that the assistance given to Jews, in the Vatican and in Rome alone, would have been successful without his knowledge and protection. Not only did he provide money, ships and food, but he also placed his radio station, his diplomacy and his convents at the disposal of the refugees. He feared that by publicly condemning Hitler many more lives would have been destroyed. No one can deny the historical record which shows that Pope Pius XII, through his worldwide network of apostolic delegates, was able to save the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. An important witness to the role of Pius XII in wartime Italy was Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome. In his book Antisemitismo, he stated: "World Jewry owes a great debt of gratitude to Pius XII for his repeated and pressing appeals for justice on behalf of the Jews and, when these did not prevail, for his strong protests against evil laws and procedures."
Personally and through his representatives, Pius XII employed all the means at his disposal to save Jews and other refugees during World War H. He privately took action and. despite insurmountable obstacles, saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers. Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir stated: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims."
Margherita Marchione is the author of Yours Is a Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy (1997). Pius XII: Architect for Peace (2000); Consensus and Controversy (2002); Shepherd of Souls: A Pictorial Life of Pius XII (2002); Man of Peace (2003); Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (2006) and Did Pope Pius XII Save the Jews? (Paulin' Press. New York/Mahwah. 2007)
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