The Holy See has always defended the thesis that Pius XII, who was pontiff from 1939 until his death in 1958, did everything he could to work discreetly and save the lives of thousands of Jews. Other historians and parts of the Jewish community, however, have accused him of looking the other way at the horrors of the Holocaust while Nazi Germany perpetrated genocide against the Jews during World War II.
Now, a letter extracted from the Vatican Archives confirms that Pius XII was aware of the Nazi crimes in the extermination camps, information that contrasts with the version accepted until now in the Holy See, according to which Pope Eugenio Pacelli did not know. more than vague details about the concentration camps.
This is a letter dated December 14, 1942, sent by the German Jesuit priest Lothar König to the pope's private secretary, the also German Robert Leiber. In it, the SS crematorium oven in the Belzec camp, located in Nazi-occupied Polish territory, is mentioned, and the Auschwitz camp is also mentioned. It has been discovered by the Vatican archivist Giovanni Coco and reproduced this weekend in the cultural supplement of the Corriere della Sera. In an interview in this newspaper, Coco declares that this letter is a “unique case” because it proves that the Vatican had information that the Nazi camps were actually an extermination machine.
“The novelty and importance of this document derive from a fact: regarding the Holocaust, this time it is certain that Pius XII received accurate and detailed news, from the German Catholic Church, about the crimes that were being perpetrated. against the Jews,” says Coco. In the letter, for example, the Jesuit priest, who was part of the resistance against the Nazis, explains that according to the latest information from the Belzec camp, near the Ukrainian city of Rava-Ruska, which was then part of occupied Poland Because of Nazism, there was an SS oven “where up to 6,000 men die every day, especially Poles and Jews.” The letter also includes an appendix with the number of priests imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp.
According to Coco, although there is no absolute certainty that this letter reached the pontiff, there is a 99% chance that it did because it was delivered directly to his personal secretary, his right hand. The historian also maintains that it would not be the only letter from König to Leiber, but that the document would surely be part of a broader correspondence, a conclusion he reaches due to the “familiarity” with which he addresses it, in German. , to the pope's secretary, greeting him as “dear friend.” The suspicion is that other letters could have been destroyed during the war, out of fear, or had been lost after the death of the pontiff.
However, Coco also emphasizes that the Jesuit priest suggests that the Holy See not make public the information he revealed, asking for maximum caution so as not to harm the German resistance network to Nazism.
Pope Pacelli's silence in the face of Adolf Hitler's atrocities has been the source of a long public debate. Pius Only sixteen people returned, without Pacelli raising his voice. At stake is also the process for his beatification, which began in the sixties, but has not yet produced results due to the large amount of information that remains to be studied.
This document is one of the most important since Pope Francis decided, in March 2020, to open the archives related to Pius XII to academics. Since then, they can enter the Holy See to study more than sixteen million folios to try to clarify accusations about the controversial role of the Vatican during World War II. During these years, Francis also ordered the publication on the Internet of a series of almost 2,700 requests for help from Jewish families and groups that, according to the Vatican, demonstrated how they were working concretely to save those who could.