Hitler’s Pope,” Pope Pius XII, may have arranged for 200,000 Jews to leave Germany after Kristallnacht, The Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.
German historian Dr. Michael Hesemann told the paper that Pius, then known as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, wrote to archbishops around the world, asking them to obtain exit visas for “non-Aryan Catholics” and Jewish converts to Christianity.
Hesemann is doing research in the Vatican archives sponsored by the Pave the Way foundation, a US interfaith group.
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Elliot Hershberg, chairman of Pave the Way, reportedly said: “We believe that many Jews who were successful in leaving Europe may not have had any idea that their visas and travel documents were obtained through these Vatican efforts. Everything we have found thus far seems to indicate the known negative perception of Pope Pius XII is wrong.”
Pius was nicknamed “Hitler’s Pope” because he did not publicly denounce the Holocaust, the Nazis or Adolf Hitler.
“The fact that this letter speaks of ‘converted Jews’ and ‘non-Aryan’ Catholics indeed seems to be a cover,” Hesemann told the Daily Telegraph, adding that evidence suggests that visas would have been given to Jews who didn’t convert, as well.
“You couldn’t be sure that Nazi agents wouldn’t learn about this initiative,” he reportedly said. Therefore, the then-cardinal worded his letter in a way that would not allow Nazis to claim that the Catholic Church was an ally of the Jews and use it as propaganda.
The appeal was dated November 30, 1938 – 20 days after Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”
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Cardinal Pacelli was the Vatican’s secretary of state at the time. He was able to ask for the visas because of an agreement he signed with the Nazis, which protected Jews who converted to Christianity.
In December, Pope Benedict XVI declared Pius “Venerable,” a title that means the Church believes he lived a life of “heroic virtue.” If two miracles performed by Pius are found, he will be canonized as a saint.
However, some Jewish groups demanded that the canonization process be frozen until the Vatican opens its secret World War II archives in 2014.
Sir Martin Gilbert, a British historian and Holocaust expert, has said that Pope Pius XII should be considered as a “Righteous Gentile” by Yad Vashem.