The entire archival series containing the requests for help addressed to Pius XII by Jews from all over Europe, after the start of the Nazi and fascist persecutions, is now accessible on the Internet, announced the Archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State on February 21, 2023.
These 170 volumes, or almost 40,000 unique files, belong to the Section for Relations with States and International Organizations (ASRS), and come from the Fund of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (AA.EE.SS.), referring to the pontificate of Pius XII (part I: 1939-1948).
This particular documentary heritage is distinguished from other series of archives by the name assigned to it: Ebrei (Jews, in Italian). The complete digitization of the documents published on the site of the Historical Archives of the Secretariat of State, is accessible in English and Italian. A second expanded edition of the analytical inventory, which reports all the names of people who made more than 2,500 requests for help, is also available.
The opening of these archives required an extensive inventory of preparation and digitization started in 2006, under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Johan Ickx, historian and director of the Historical Archives of the section for Relations with States, participated extensively.
In a book published in French in September 2020, The Office, the Jews of Pius XII (Michel Lafon ed.), the Flemish historian presented the content of the collection, after the opening of the archives to the public of the first part (70% ) in March 2020.
“Relying on thousands of unpublished documents, the Vatican archivist, Johan Ickx, reveals the extent of the activity of the Holy See in favor of the Jews during the Second World War,” wrote Jean-Christophe Buisson in Le Figaro Magazine of September 25, 2020.
Ongoing Vatican Assistance to Jews Across Europe
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) had instructed Msgr. Angelo Dell'Acqua, of the Secretariat of State, to process the requests sent to him “with the aim of offering all possible assistance.”
Requests could relate to obtaining visas or passports for expatriation, obtaining asylum, family reunification, release from detention and transfer from one concentration camp to another, the reception of news about deportees, provision of food or clothing, financial support, and spiritual support.
Pius XII knew very early on what was going on in the heart of Europe. He personally saved at least 15,000 Jews, German historian Michael Feldkamp told Vatican News, “through his own efforts: opening monasteries, transforming cloisters so that people could be hidden there, etc.”
And he clarifies: “Regarding the systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe, Pius XII sent a message to American President Roosevelt in March 1942 – two months after the Wannsee conference. He warned him that something was happening in Europe in the war zones. These messages were not considered credible by the Americans.”
“We know today… that Pius XII confronted the persecution of Jews almost daily. All the reports were presented to him, and he created his own office within the second section of the Secretariat of State, where the staff dealt exclusively with these matters.”