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Opening by Vatican of WWII archives of Pius XII, the pope who failed to condemn the Holocaust

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Pope Francis announced last year the archives would be unsealed in March 2020, eight years ahead of schedule, saying the Roman Catholic church was “not afraid of history”.

”Due to sustained efforts between the global Jewish community and the Catholic Church in the decades since the war, the Vatican has become a friend and ally to the Jewish people. The opening of the archives represents a pivotal moment in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and our ongoing interfaith dialogue.”

On Monday March 2, the Vatican opens the secret war archives of Pius XII, the pope who  manifestly failed to protect the Jews of Europe or effectively protest their fate, even those who were under his own nose in Rome, during the Nazi Holocaust.  

Pope Francis announced last year the archives would be unsealed in March 2020, eight years ahead of schedule, saying the Roman Catholic church was “not afraid of history”.

Welcomed by Jewish groups, Pope Francis’decision to unseal the millions of pages marks a step forward in transparency of that era’s history.

The opening will provide new layers of evidence that should offer unprecedented clarity on what the pope and the church did and didn’t do in the face of the greatest moral challenge in the history of Europe.

Even more importantly, perhaps, the archive would provide answers to the complaints about Pius’s silence during the Holocaust, exemplified by the fact that he never once mentioned the Jewish people as a victim group of the Nazis in his entire time as pope.

According to a display in Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, Pius did not intervene when Jews were rounded up and deported from Rome to Auschwitz.

His critics have also said he was enthusiastic about Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power and failed to stand up for priests who spoke out against the persecution of Jews and in many cases helped them and others escape being sent to Nazi concentration camps.

Pius’s public reticence over condemning the Holocaust was despite efforts by many in the church, as well as diplomats from allied countries, to persuade him to speak out.

For many in the Jewish world, the opening of the archive will be a seminal moment in the relationship between Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council of 1965 famously exonerated the Jewish people of the charge of “deicide”—collective, eternal responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus.

In 2009, Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, angered many Jews when he approved a decree recognising Pius’s “heroic virtues”, a first step toward sainthood.

Yad Vashem welcomed the Vatican’s decision to release the archives, saying it had been calling for years for the archives to be opened to “enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues relating to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic church in general, during the Holocaust”.

Naomi Di Segni, head of of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said she hoped the material in the archives would “further clarify the position of the church” during the Holocaust.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder stated that ‘’in inviting historians and scholars in to publicly access the Vatican’s World War II archives, Pope Francis is demonstrating a commitment to learning and airing the truth, as well as to the significance of Holocaust memory.’’

“Due to sustained efforts between the global Jewish community and the Catholic Church in the decades since the war, the Vatican has become a friend and ally to the Jewish people. The opening of the archives represents a pivotal moment in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and our ongoing interfaith dialogue,” Lauder added.

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