26-October-2000 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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JEWISH HISTORIAN PRAISES PIUS XII'S WARTIME CONDUCT

Michael Tagliacozzo Works at a Center for Holocaust Studies

VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT.org).- The closed-door meeting of the Judeo-Christian Historical Commission, which has been meeting in Rome since Monday 23, ends today.

The commission was established last October by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Committee for Religious Relations with Jews, to examine the 11 volumes of archives documents relating to the Holy See's activities during the Second World War.

In recent years Pius XII and the Holy See have been accused of not doing enough to save Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

To shed light on the Pope's role in this part of the war, ZENIT interviewed Jewish historian Michael Tagliacozzo, responsible for the Beth Lohame Haghettaot (Center of Studies on the Shoah and Resistance) in Italy. Beth Lohame Haghettaot in western Galilee in Israel is one of the world's largest museums and centers of documentation on the Holocaust.

--Tagliacozzo: I know that many criticize Pope Pacelli. I have a folder on my table in Israel entitled 'Calumnies Against Pius XII,' but my judgment cannot but be positive. Pope Pacelli was the only one who intervened to impede the deportation of Jews on Oct. 16, 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us. It was no small matter that he ordered the opening of cloistered convents. Without him, many of our own would not be alive.

--ZENIT: Some maintain that the Holy See looked on in silence while Roman Jews were deported on Oct. 16, 1943.

--Tagliacozzo: It's not true. The documents clearly prove that, in the early hours of the morning, Pius XII was informed of what was happening and he immediately had German Ambassador von Weizsäcker called and ordered State Secretary Luigi Maglione to energetically protest the Jews' arrest, asking that similar actions be stopped. If this had not happened, the Pope would have denounced it publicly.

In addition, by his initiative he had a letter of protest sent through Bishop Aloise Hudal to the military commander in Rome, General Rainer Stahel, requesting that the persecution of Jews cease immediately. As a result of these protests, the operation providing for two days of arrests and deportations was interrupted at 2 p.m. the same day.

Instead of the 8,000 Jews Hitler requested, 1,259 were arrested. After meticulous examination of identity documents and other papers of identification, the following day an additional 259 people were released.

Moreover, after the manhunt in Rome on Oct. 16, the Germans did not capture a single Jew. Those who were arrested were handed over by collaborators. During the trial, Herbert Kappler said: "The Jews were not handed over."

--ZENIT: You maintain that there were people who opposed persecution in the German army and diplomacy.

--Tagliacozzo: From the material in the archive it can be deduced that General Stahel and German Consul Eitel Frederick Moellhausen -- no sooner had they learned about the extremely secret dispatch in which Himmler ordered the arrest of all Jews in Rome and their transportation to Germany for liquidation -- were vehemently opposed.

Stahel said he would never take part in such nastiness. Moellhausen exerted pressure on Kappler to raise the matter with commander in chief Albert Kesserling. Moellhausen was a practicing Catholic; he regarded the deportation of Jews as useless and inhuman and, in order to convince Kesserling, raised questions regarding the political and military inopportuneness of the deportation.

Kesserling, who feared an imminent Allied disembarkation on the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea, denied his soldiers' availability to arrest Jews. Thus, on Oct. 16, 1943, Kappler had to use 365 SS members to make the raid.

--ZENIT: Why was the Roman community so ill prepared for the Nazi raid?

--Tagliacozzo: The representatives of Judaism and with them, the leaders of the Roman Jewish community, showed the same defects as the Italian ruling class, and they failed at the moment of trial.

In the book "Before the Dawn," Zolli recounts that in mid-September of 1943, in the course of a community meeting, he [the then Chief Rabbi Israel Zoller] proposed to dissolve the community, pay employees' salaries six months in advance, and hide himself. However, President Ugo Foa, a solid man, said that Zolli was an alarmist and that nothing would happen. The minutes of that meeting cannot be found now.

Zolli wasn't the only one worried. I have found the testimony of Amadio Fatucci, who had the courage to stop the president of the community and said: "Mr. President, need we fear?" Foa replied: "The authorities have no interest against the people, and the people must be tranquil. When people are tranquil, the authorities do not intervene."

Foa's conduct was serious in the circumstance of the raid. On the morning of Oct. 18, while the Nazis had the deported enter train wagons, the president took his children and escaped to Livorno. He returned on Nov. 2, having done nothing to find out what happened to those deported.

On that occasion, the community demonstrated an unconscious superficiality and foolish incomprehension of the dangers and surprises of the new situation.

--ZENIT: Some scholars deny that there were instructions from the Pope to help the Jews.

--Tagliacozzo: There was much confusion in those days, but all knew that the Pope and the Church would have helped us.

After the Nazis' action, the Pontiff, who had already ordered the opening of convents, schools and churches to rescue the persecuted, opened cloistered convents to allow the persecuted to hide. Monsignor Giovanni Butinelli, of the parish of the Transfiguration, told me that the Pontiff had recommended that parish priests be told to shelter Jews.

I personally know a Jewish family that, after the Nazis' request for 50 kilos of gold, decided to hide the women and children in a cloistered convent on Via Garibaldi. The nuns said they were happy to take the mother and girl but they could not care for a little boy. However, under the Pope's order, which dispensed the convent from cloister, they also hid the boy.

I myself was saved from persecution thanks to the Church's help. I remember it was Oct. 16, a rainy day. It was a Saturday, the third day of the Jewish feast of Sukkot. I had sought refuge in Bologna Square.

When the Germans arrived I was able to escape through a window and I found myself on the street in my pajamas. A family helped me and hid me. I then went to my former Italian teacher who let me stay in her home and asked several priests to find me a safe place.

Finally, after almost a week, thanks to a recommendation of Father Fagiolo, I was hidden in the Lateran. I remember they treated me wonderfully. After not having eaten for two days, Father Palazzini gave me a meal with all God's goods: a bowl of vegetable soup, bread, cheese, fruit. I had never eaten so well.

--ZENIT: What do you think of John Cornwell's book, "Hitler's Pope"?

--Tagliacozzo: I haven't read it, but I know that much nonsense is written and, unable to contribute new arguments, they give exaggerated interpretations. I am an historian and I do not look for controversies. From the diaries on table conversations we learn that Hitler said: "I hate the Jews because they have given that man, Jesus, to the world."

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