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Vatican releases thousands of Holocaust-era letters and requests online

An attendant opens the section of the archive dedicated to Pope Pius XII on February 27, 2020 in the Vatican Apostolic Secret Archive, at the Vatican. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
An attendant opens the section of the archive dedicated to Pope Pius XII on February 27, 2020 in the Vatican Apostolic Secret Archive, at the Vatican. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Pope Francis orders the online publication of 170 volumes of its Jewish files from the recently opened Pope Pius XII archives, the Vatican announces, amid renewed debate about the legacy of its World War II-era pope.

The documentation contains 2,700 files of requests for Vatican help from Jewish groups and families, many of them baptized Catholics, so not actually practicing Jews anymore. The files were held in the Secretariat of State’s archives and contain requests for papal intervention to avoid Nazi deportation, to obtain liberation from concentration camps, or help finding family members.

The online publication of the files comes amid renewed debate about Pius’s legacy following the 2020 opening to scholars of his archives, of which the “Jews” files are but a small part. The Vatican has long defended Pius against criticism from some Jewish groups that he remained silent in the face of the Holocaust, saying he used quiet diplomacy to save lives.

One recent book that cites the newly opened archives, “The Pope at War,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kertzer, suggests that Pius was loath to intervene on behalf of Jews, or make public denunciations of Nazi atrocities against them, to avoid antagonizing Adolf Hitler or Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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