Sources to the Pope Pius XII Controversy

Provided you know English, German, French, Italian and Latin well enough, the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, vol. 1-11, P. Blet, R.A. Graham, A. Martini and B. Schneider (eds), Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965–1981 will be of invaluable help in understanding the predicament of the wartime Roman Catholic Church. But whether this source can help to explain the much debated “silence of Pope Pius XII” before the holocaust is yet another question. Meanwhile, the ADDS are available in PDF format at the Vatican website. They mainly contain correspondence between the Holy See and Vatican diplomats and local church hierarchs.

In ADDS’s Volume 8, p. 327-328, nr. 184 (27 October 1941) for example, Msgr. Giuseppe Burzio, chargé d’affaires of the Holy See in Bratislava, Slovakia, was following up a request of his superior Cardinal Luigi Maglione about prisoner of war and refugee camps on Slovak soil. In his reply, Burzio relates how (in Ukraine) Jewish Red Army prisoners of war are being shot on site and (in parentheses) how Jewish civilians are “being systematically killed”. As far as I know, this is the first recorded account of the killing of Jewish people in the Vatican archives.

Easy access to a main source, on the one hand, is coupled with trying to understand mostly Italian language texts and with painstakingly putting the various documents into context, on the other. For example, in most instances the ADSS do not mention the date on which letters and documents were received at the Vatican, what priority they were given, or what action was taken in response. In the case of our document nr. 184, it would be a mistake to interpret Burzio’s parentheses as a sign of indifference. Actually, he was writing on a different subject, but still he wanted to insert this bit of important new information in his report. Less than five months later the chargé d’affaires was very much convinced that deportation of the Jews from Slovakia equalled “a certain death sentence for most of them” (p. 453, nr. 298, 9 March 1942). What is remarkable is that only on 20 December a request for further information was dispatched. Again two months later Burzio answered back that the SS is shooting the Jews on government order (p. 456, nr. 301, 11 March 1942).

The controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) provoked a steady flow of publications, which is still important today. Sometimes one feels overwhelmed: how to handle such a vast volume of information? Seven days a week are not enough. Hopefully, this blog will bring some clarity, if not in the issue at hand, than at least in the huge quantity of articles and books. (FH)