Under pressure from Vatican, Yad Vashem rewords Pius XII wall text
By Nir Hasson | Jul.01, 2012
Yad Vashem is due to unveil a new wall text on Sunday describing the actions of Pope Pius XII during World War II, softening a previous message which stated that the head of the Catholic Church had not protested verbally or in writing to the murder of Jews by the Nazis.
The initial wall text sparked a diplomatic incident in 2007. The new wall text still blames Pius XII for the fact that the Church did not intervene on the Jews’s behalf at the time. But it paints a more complex picture of his conduct and contains veiled criticism of the Vatican for refusing to open its archive to allow historians to scrutinize the actions of the Holy See during the war.
In April 2007, the papal nuncio to Israel, Antonio Franco, refused to take part in the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony because of the wall text, installed when the new Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum opened in 2007. Yad Vashem said the wall text would be changed only if the Vatican opened its archive to researchers, and if subsequent research revealed new information about the actions of the Holy See during the war. Franco did eventually attend the ceremony.
The old wall text, entitled “Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust,” read: “Pius XII’s reaction to the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust is a matter of controversy. In 1933, when he was Secretary of the Vatican State, he was active in obtaining a Concordat with the German regime to preserve the Church’s rights in Germany, even if this meant recognizing the Nazi racist regime. When he was elected Pope in 1939, he shelved a letter against racism and anti-Semitism that his predecessor had prepared. Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the Pope did not protest either verbally or in writing.
“In December 1942, he abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews. When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the Pope did not intervene. The Pope maintained his neutral position throughout the war, with the exception of appeals to the rulers of Hungary and Slovakia toward its end. His silence and the absence of guidelines obliged Churchmen throughout Europe to decide on their own how to react.”
The new wall text is headed: “The Vatican and the Holocaust.” It notes that it was Pius XII’s predecessor, Pius XI, who signed the Concordat with Nazi Germany. It reiterates the fact that Pius XII did not sign the Allied declaration but mentions that a few days later, during a Christmas radio broadcast, the Pope mentioned “the hundreds of thousands of persons who without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or ethnic origin have been consigned to death or slow decline.” The wall text notes that Pius XII did not mention the Jews specifically.
The new wall text also mentions the Pope’s nonintervention during the deportation of the Jews of Rome to Auschwitz in contrast to his appeal for the Jews of Hungary and Slovakia, and uses the term “moral failure” − which the previous wall text did not.
“The Pope’s critics claim that his decision to abstain from condemning the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germany constitutes a moral failure: the lack of clear guidance left room for many to collaborate with Nazi Germany, reassured by the thought that this did not contradict the Church’s moral teachings,” it reads.
“It also left the initiative to rescue Jews to individual clerics and laymen. His defenders maintain that this neutrality prevented harsher measures against the Vatican and the Church’s institutions throughout Europe, thus enabling a considerable number of secret rescue activities to take place at different levels of the Church.
Moreover, they point to cases in which the Pontiff offered encouragement to activities in which Jews were rescued. Until all relevant material is available to scholars, this topic will remain open to further inquiry,” the wall text concludes.
“In my opinion, the connection between the Vatican and rescue activities remains to be proven. I do not see that this has been proven yet,” said Prof. Dan Michman, director of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. Yad Vashem added there had been no negotiation or coordination with the Vatican regarding the wording of the wall text.
Michman said the wall text was changed in response to additional research after the Vatican allowed scholars to examine documents dating up to 1939, and in response to questions by visitors to the museum.