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Letter showing that Pope Pius XII had revealed detailed information from German Jesuits about Nazi crimes

ROME — Newly discovered correspondence suggests that Pope Pius XII, dating from World War II, had detailed information from a trusted German Jesuit that up to 6,000 Jews and Poles were being gassed every day in Soviet-occupied Poland. Germany. The documentation contradicts the Holy See’s argument that it could not verify diplomatic reports of Nazi atrocities to denounce them.

Documentation from the Vatican archives, published this weekend in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is likely to further fuel the debate over Pius’ legacy and his now-stalled beatification campaign. Historians have long been divided over Pius XII’s record, with his supporters insisting he used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives, while critics say he remained silent during the Holocaust. was raging.

Le Corriere reproduces a letter dated December 14, 1942, addressed by the German Jesuit priest to Pieuvre’s secretary, which appears in a forthcoming book on the recently opened files of the Pieuvre pontificate by Giovanni Coco, researcher and archivist at the Vatican Apostolic Archives.

Coco told Corriere that the letter was important because it represented detailed correspondence about the Nazi extermination of Jews, including in ovens, from a well-informed source in the Church in Germany, which was part of the anti-Hitler Catholic resistance and who was able to obtain otherwise secret information. The Vatican.

The letter from the priest, the Rev. Lothar Koenig, to Pius’s secretary, a fellow German Jesuit named the Rev. Robert Leiber, is dated December 14, 1942. Written in German, the letter addresses Leiber as “Dear Friend” and continues reporting that the Nazis killed up to 6,000 Jews and Poles daily from Rava Ruska, a town in pre-war Poland now in Ukraine, and transported them to the Belzec extermination camp.

According to the Belzec memorial opened in 2004, a total of 500,000 Jews perished in the camp. The memorial’s website reports that as many as 3,500 Jews from Rava Ruska had already been sent to Belzec in early 1942 and that from December 7 to 11, the town’s Jewish ghetto was liquidated. “Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 people were shot on the spot and 2,000 to 5,000 people were taken to Bełżec,” the website says.

The date of Koenig’s letter is significant because it suggests that correspondence from a trusted fellow Jesuit arrived in Pius’ office in the days following the emptying of the ghetto and after Pius had received multiple diplomatic notes and visits by various envoys from foreign governments from As of August 1942, it was reported that up to a million Jews had been killed in Poland so far.

Although it is unclear whether Pius XII saw the letter, Leiber was Pius XII’s chief aide and had served the pope when he was Vatican ambassador to Germany in the 1920s, suggesting a working relationship narrow, particularly on questions linked to Germany.

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist David Kertzer’s “The Pope at War,” a senior official in the Secretariat of State, Monsignor Domenico Tardini, told the British envoy to the Vatican in mid-December that the pope could not speak openly about the Nazis. atrocities because the Vatican was unable to verify the information.

“The novelty and importance of this document comes from this fact: that on the Holocaust, there is now the certainty that Pius XII received from the German Catholic Church exact and detailed information on the crimes perpetrated against the Jews” , Coco told Corriere. as told.

However, Coco noted that Koenig also urged the Holy See not to make public what it revealed because he feared for his own life and that of the resistance sources who had provided the intelligence. Supporters of Pius XII long insisted that he could not speak out strongly against the Nazis for fear of reprisals.

In a telephone interview Saturday, Kertzer said the letter could be significant because it could mark the first time that a reference to Jews being gassed in ovens was revealed in a letter that he said would certainly have been taken to Pie’s attention. Kertzer said historians eagerly awaited Coco’s book because, as Vatican archivist, Coco had access to a trove of Pius’ personal files that had not yet been indexed and made available to scholars when the Vatican opened Pius’ archives in March 2020.

“When we started working there, it was no secret — although it took a while to figure out — what kinds of documents were missing,” Kertzer said, pointing out that documents from the Vatican office in Washington during the war years have still not been found. yet been cataloged.

Pius’ legacy and revelations from the recently opened Vatican archives are to be discussed at a major conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University next month, notable for its roster of participants and sponsorship at all levels. The Vatican, the Israeli Holocaust research institute Yad Vashem, the American Holocaust Memorial and the Israeli and American embassies support him, among others.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will open the October 9-11 meeting attended by academics including Kertzer, Coco and Johan Ickx, the archivist of the Vatican Secretariat of State whose own book on the archives, “Pius XII and the Jews” published in 2021, praised Pius and the Vatican’s efforts to care for Jews and people fleeing war.

Coco said Koenig’s letter was actually found in the Secretariat of the Vatican State Archives and was only handed over to the main Vatican Apostolic Archives in 2019 because the documents in the State Secretariat were disorganized and scattered, with some of Pie’s documents kept in plastic containers. a storage attic where heat and humidity damaged them.


Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera contributed from Warsaw, Poland.

ABC News

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