On July 25 the American Pave the Way Foundation (PTWF) declared to the Catholic news agency Zenit that it had new documents from WWII.
These documents attested to the personal action of Pius XII to save Jews from an enormous Nazi round-up in Rome in October 1943 (cf. DICI no. 212 dated March 20, 2010).
Gary Krupp, general director of the foundation, bases his findings on many original documents discovered in the archives of the German church of Rome, Santa Maria dell’Anima, by historian Michael Hesemann, the German representative of the Pave the Way Foundation.
The Nazis had planned to arrest Roman Jews, and during the night of October 15-16, 1943, a group of SS forces began to search for them door to door with the help of lists prepared in advance. The first victims of the round-up, numbering about a thousand, were taken to the Collegio Militare on the Lungotevere [a Roman boulevard running along the Tiber River]; after three days—reports Fr. Pierre Blet, S.J. in his book Pie XII et la seconde guerre mondiale (Perrin), p. 243—utterly destitute and brutalized, they were locked into sealed wagons and expedited to Germany, where they perished.
The first information about these arrests seems to have been brought to the pope by the young Italian princess Enza Pignatelli-Aragona, early on the morning of October 16. No sooner was the news known in the Vatican than Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Vatican Secretary of State, summoned the ambassador from Germany to the Holy See, Ernst von Weizsäcker.
Despite the confidence that the Vatican had in the ambassador’s intervention, Fr. Blet continues, Pius XII wanted to back it up by semi-official measures.
That same day an Austrian prelate known for his sympathy toward the Third Reich, Bishop Alois Hudal, rector of the German church in Rome, received a visit from the nephew of Pius XII, prince Carlo Pacelli. Following their conversation, Bishop Hudal wrote a letter to the German governor of Rome, General Rainer Stahel, asking him to put a stop to the arrests.
The news agency Zenit has published several lines from Bishop Hudal’s letter to General Stahel:
Just now, a high Vatican source [...] reported to me that this morning, the arrest of the Jews of Italian nationality has started. In the interest of a peaceful dialogue between the Vatican and the German military command, I ask you in all urgency to give the order to stop these arrests in Rome and the surrounding area immediately. Germany’s reputation in foreign countries demands such a measure, as does the danger that the Pope might openly protest against it,
at a moment when it was in Germany’s best interest to treat him with respect, Fr. Blet explains.
General Stahel is said to have forwarded the message immediately to the local Gestapo, and to Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo, who ordered the arrests suspended “in view of the special status of Rome”.
The round-up ended as abruptly as it had begun, Fr. Blet concludes. The original plan was to seize all Roman Jews, of whom there were 8,000.
Another document entitled “Direct actions to save countless persons of the Jewish nation” affirms that Bishop Hudal succeeded—thanks to his contacts with General Stahel and Colonel von Veltheim—in arranging that “550 religious institutions and colleges (would be) exempted from inspections and visits by the German military police”. Indeed, when the Jews of Rome realized the imminent danger in mid-October 1943, they sought refuge chiefly in religious communities. The restrictions of canonical cloister were then lifted by the pope to allow men and women to go into the convents of men and women religious. ( You can also read : On the Beatification of Pius XII The Vatican: Archives of the Pontificate of Pius XII Are Not Yet Opened because of Technical Issues Beatification of Pope Pius XII provokes controversy The Slow Beatification of Pius XII The Polemic concerning Pius XII and the Holocaust