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March 4, 2020 4:28 pm
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Chief Rabbi of Rome Attacks Vatican’s ‘Suspicious Sensationalism’ in Publication of Pope Pius XII’s WW2 Archive

avatar by Ben Cohen

Artifacts from the wartime archive of Pope Pius XII on display. Photo: Vatican Media via Reuters.

The chief rabbi of Rome accused the Vatican of “sensationalism” after it showcased documents in the newly-opened World War II archive of Pope Pius XII that presented the pontiff’s attitude toward Jews facing Nazi persecution in an uncomplicatedly favorable light.

In an interview with the Italian news agency ANSA, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni expressed concern that an accurate account of the wartime pope’s actions during the Holocaust would be hampered by the Catholic Church’s determination to depict Pius XII as a rescuer of Jews.

For decades, historians have been split on the controversy, with some depicting Pius XII as an antisemite who colluded with Hitler’s regime, and others asserting that thousands of Jews were saved from death by the discreet diplomacy practiced by the pontiff.

“This sensationalism is highly suspicious, with files that are ready, and easy conclusions laid out on a tray,” Di Segni said in Monday’s interview.

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Di Segni added pointedly that “it does not take much to realize that the scarcity of revelations will become a boomerang for the apologists at all costs.”

The chief rabbi was particularly critical of the presentation of one document with its accompanying conclusion that Pius XII had aided Jews in Rome who faced deportation by the Nazis in October 1943, while urging official Vatican silence on the provision of humanitarian assistance — on the apparent grounds that doing otherwise would have exacerbated the Jews’ plight.

“It can be clearly seen that there was no desire to stop the [deportation] train of October 16, 1943 and that the help was targeted at protecting people who had been baptized,” Di Segni countered.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the Vatican’s attention shifted to another tranche of documents discussing Pius XII’s response to rumors that the Nazis intended to occupy the Vatican and imprison him in Germany.

Among the statements was that of the pope’s housekeeper, Sister Pascalina Lehnert: “The rumor spread that Hitler wanted to take the Holy Father prisoner to Germany. He did not want to take any precautions because he said he trusted only in God, who could do whatever he wanted. He did not neglect even the usual walk in the Vatican gardens, despite the fact that authoritative people had advised against it.”

Also highlighted was a third-party account of a meeting between Hitler and Cardinal Michael Von Faulhaber, a senior Vatican official, where the Nazi dictator was said to have furiously railed against Pius XII.

During the encounter at his Berchtesgaden fortress retreat, Hitler was alleged to have told the cardinal, “I would like to know from where that miserable man, who is nothing but skin and bones, draws so much strength to resist me and hinder what I want.”

Hitler was then quoted as saying, “I can’t destroy Rome, which I would have done with great pleasure. How many Jews he [Pius XII] saved, and I was unable to capture him!”

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