Submitted to The Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations

Diario Judío México - Preface

The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission (Historical Commission) is comprised of a group of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars appointed, respectively, by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (Holy See’s Commission) and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), to whom we are submitting this preliminary report.

The six scholars chosen to serve on the Historical Commission are: Dr. Eva Fleischner, Professor Emerita of Montclair State University in New Jersey; Reverend Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J., William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Religious Studies and History, University of Virginia; Dr. Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, University of Toronto; Reverend John F. Morley, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Seton Hall University; Dr. Bernard Suchecky, Researcher at the Department of Social Sciences, Free University of Brussels; Dr. Robert S. Wistrich, Professor of History and holder of the Neuberger Chair in Modern Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The scholars serve without compensation.

Coordinators for the project are Dr. Eugene Fisher, Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (USA), on behalf of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews; Seymour D. Reich, Chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC); and Dr. Leon A. Feldman, Professor Emeritus of Hebraic Studies, Rutgers University, and Secretary of IJCIC. Ariella Lang, doctoral candidate in Italian at Columbia University, served as research assistant to the Historical Commission and assisted in the drafting of this report.

IJCIC’s membership consists of the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, World Jewish Congress, Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations and representatives of the three major branches of Judaism: Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox); Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (Conservative), and Central Conference of American Rabbis and Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform).

The project was announced in Rome in October, 1999 by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, President of the Holy See’s Commission and Mr. Seymour D. Reich, Chairman of IJCIC. The Historical Commission began its work with the proposal put to it by Cardinal Cassidy to examine critically the eleven volumes of archival material published by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State (external division) between 1965 and 1981, entitled Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale (ADSS). Each volume considers a different topic and time frame. Included in these documents are the diplomatic correspondence of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State with its representatives and foreign officials, as well as notes and memoranda from meetings with diplomats and Church leaders from various countries. These documents are published in the languages in which they were originally written (primarily Italian, French and German, but also some in Latin and English), and each volume, apart from Volume 3 which is divided into two books, has a separate introduction. These introductions have been recently summarized by the last surviving member of the team of Jesuit editors for the ADSS, Rev. Pierre Blet, S.J.1

The mandate given to us by our sponsoring bodies was to review the volumes that make up the ADSS and to raise relevant questions and issues that, in our opinion, have not adequately or satisfactorily been resolved by the available documentation, and to issue a report on our findings. In our review of the material, we have felt compelled to request additional documentation that could answer questions that arose as a result of our research. We first met in December 1999 in New York, followed by meetings in London in May, in Baltimore in July, and again in New York in September.2

Having reviewed the ADSS, we have prepared this preliminary report based on our assessment of the documents within the volumes. In fulfillment of our mandate, the major portion of this report consists of a selection of questions arising out of our study of the documents, after a brief summary of the circumstances that led to the establishment of this Commission.

The intense polemics surrounding Pius XII’s reputation and the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust began in the early 1960s with the controversy surrounding Rolf Hochhuth’s play The Deputy. This was also a period when a number of historians published highly critical accounts of the wartime Pope that contrasted sharply with the praise he had received both during and after the war, and until his death in 1958.

Many scholars, from the 1960s to the present, have taken seriously the mandate for historical objectivity and have written balanced accounts (albeit in many cases still critical of the Holy See). Others appear to have simply assumed that a particular allegation, if deemed to be damaging to Pius XII’s reputation, must therefore be true. Still others, reacting to the charges against the Pope, have developed apologetical defenses, some of which are highly polemical. As a result, there have developed over the years increasingly contentious portraits, both condemnatory and adulatory, of a man whose office, the papacy, is revered by many as a sacred institution.

In 1964 the Vatican responded to the controversy and set in motion the editorial process that led to the publication of the ADSS. In authorizing that publication, Pope Paul VI made the unprecedented decision to override partially the Vatican’s usual policy of not releasing such recent archival material.3 The task of publishing these documents was entrusted by the Secretariat of State to three Jesuits, Blet himself, Angelo Martini, and Burkhart Schneider. Subsequently Robert Graham, another Jesuit, was added to the team.4 Father Blet later explained that the publication of the ADSS was the Vatican’s response to “accusations” brought against Pius XII at the beginning of the 1960s.5

The volumes of the ADSS reveal the complexity and variety of the activities which the Holy See pursued on behalf of the “victims of the war”. One of their valuable contributions is to illustrate the priorities of the Vatican during this conflict. At that time the Holy See was primarily concerned with its sacramental ministry, the institutional rights and even the survival of the Catholic Church, as illustrated, for example, by its diplomatic policy of relying on concordats.

The variety of the documents, and the moral questions that arise from some of them, attest to the serious endeavor on the part of the editors who prepared them, and the inclusion of documents that then, and subsequently, raised questions about the role of the Holy See speaks to the editors’ efforts at objectivity. Indeed, the fact that such questions have been repeatedly raised within the Church itself illustrates the extent to which the Church’s understanding of its role in the world has evolved dramatically since the events described in our report.

However, a scrutiny of these volumes of Vatican documents does not put to rest significant questions about the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust. No serious historian could accept that the published, edited volumes could put us at the end of the story. This is due neither to the complexity nor to the difficulty of the questions themselves, nor to the editorial quality of the documentary volumes. Rather, it reflects the fact that many of the documents are susceptible to different interpretations. Interpretation is unavoidable in the work of historians; it is particularly relevant and sensitive in this case because the Historical Commission is dealing with what the editors of the documents themselves acknowledge to be only a portion of the available evidence.7 One of our goals is to understand the actions of Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II, how they decided upon the policies they followed, and why. But the ability to do so is limited by the fact that our Commission, and scholars in general, have at their disposal only a selection of the Vatican documents. One of the inevitable results of this limitation is that some commentators have relied more heavily on speculation than is desirable, and some have succumbed to sensationalism.

The published documents themselves often raise important questions to which they do not provide answers. The mere presence of a document, after all, says nothing about how it was received, what attention was devoted to its reception, or how it was regarded or treated in the various circles of Vatican diplomacy. Furthermore, the editors of the ADSS conceived of their project in a certain light, as do all scholars, and thus we are not only faced with the task of analyzing the contents of the volumes, but also of examining the aim and focus of the editors.

Many questions can be answered by reading the lengthy introductions that accompany each volume, a summary of which Father Blet has provided, but other questions still remain. In the introductions, the editors quote numerous documents, some of which are published in the volumes, and others of which are referred to but not published. In Volume 1, for example, the editors mention letters sent to the Pope by “anxious souls”, who remain unnamed, beseeching him to work for peace, sometimes even submitting plans of action to him.8 These appeals, however, are not included in the body of the volumes. Similarly, in the introduction to Volume 2 the editors explicitly quote in footnotes from some of the correspondence of the German Catholic hierarchy to the Pope. But the text of the volume contains only letters from Pius XII to the German bishops.

The editors themselves acknowledge that they used certain criteria in selecting the documents they published. In the Preface to Volume 1, they explain that the Secretariat of State receives reports and sends instructions that concern both the internal life of the Catholic Church and the religious life of its faithful, and which have nothing to do with international relations. This is why the present volume is limited to the publication of documents that serve to explain the Holy See’s involvement in issues relating to the war of 1939-1945.9

The editors likewise make the point in Volume 2, where they note that “the Pope deals with a great many issues that are strictly ecclesiastic and concerning religious life.10 ” A generation later, historians might find relevant to their inquiry issues that previously appeared to be strictly ecclesiastical or religious in character.

What then can we bring to the discussion that others have not? We do not claim expertise on all of the subjects covered in the published volumes, although we are all part of the ongoing research and dialogue surrounding the Church and the Holocaust. Each of us came to the commission with distinct viewpoints based on previous work. We hope to provide a multiple dimension to the report that reflects scholarly difference and opinions inherent in any research. Our collaboration and joint review of the published documents has not only been mutually enriching but has also generated a forum for investigation and dialogue. This does not mean, however, that we have reached unanimous agreement on the interpretation of every document.

In accordance with our charge, we began our work with an analysis of materials that have been in the public domain for over two decades. We agreed to undertake this task for a variety of reasons. First, these volumes have been little used and little known, outside a small circle of specialists. Second, given the highly controversial and emotive nature of the subject matter, we agreed that it would be useful to engage in an independent inquiry by three Catholic and three Jewish scholars with a view to promoting a deeper and more mature level of historical discourse between and within our two communities. Third, we believe that such a common examination of the published documentation is a first step toward achieving access to further archival documentation and historical evidence.

In discharging our mandate, we hope to establish a more secure documentary basis for analyzing the actions and policies of Pius XII and the Vatican. Our task is not to sit in judgment of the Pope and his advisors. Rather, through analysis and study of their actions, statements and letters, we hope to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the role of the papacy during the Holocaust.

Las opiniones expresadas aquí representan el punto de vista particular de nuestros periodistas, columnistas y colaboradores y/o agencias informativas y no representan en modo alguno la opinión de y sus directivos. Si usted difiere con los conceptos vertidos por el autor, puede expresar su opinión enviando su comentario.


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