NY Times Wrong: Pius XII Saved Jews

P. Thierry

Reprinted from NewsMax.com      Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005

On Jan. 9, 2005 the New York Times published a prominent article entitled "Saving Jewish Children, But At What Cost?" in which it accuses the Vatican and Pope Pius XII of having given instructions not to allow Jewish children who had been sheltered by Catholics during the war to return to their own families.

A serious accusation, indeed, If it is true. But it is bogus. On Jan. 10, the independent Panel investigating a segment of the CBS "60 minutes" program in what is known as Rathergate came to the conclusion that the broadcast was unfair and misleading, that it was rushed to broadcast without further vetting, that it did not undergo the most rudimentary fact checking and that in short it didn't meet the standards of fairness and accuracy. As a result four executives at CBS were fired. Dan Rather had already stepped down.

As we shall demonstrate, the article published by the New York Times was unfair, misleading and did not undergo the most rudimentary fact checking. Furthermore, it is grossly defamatory. As a result both its authors Elaine Sciolino and Jason Horowitz as well as the Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller should be fired.

In fact, in its article the New York Times was echoing similar accusations based on the same document made by Alberto Melloni in the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on December 28, 2004.

Melloni's sensationalism, repeated by the New York Times, has already been exposed by two of Italy's top Pius XII experts, Andrea Tornielli and Prof. Matteo L. Napolitano (co-authors of the book, Il Papa che salvo gli Ebrei (Piemme, 2004).

In a front page article entitled, "Ecco il vero documento su Pio XII e i bimbi ebrei," [The real/true document of Pius XII and the Jewish children, pp. 1 and 29] for the Jan. 11, 2005 edition of Il Giornale , a leading Italian paper, Tornielli examines the whole controversy by comparing the actual text of the original Vatican document, to Melloni's claims about a dubious French memo based upon it, giving the true facts, revealing the sharp differences between the two, exposing Melloni's claims and insinuations against Pius XII as false.

Similiarly, in a separate article entitled, "Il frettoloso scoop del professor Melloni,"[The Hasty Scoop of Professor Melloni, same edition, Jan. 11, 2005, Il Giornale, p. 29 ] Napolitano, one of the world's great archival/diplomatic experts, weighs in and severely chastises Melloni for rushing to judgment, and for rushing to publish an incomplete, totally misleading story, based upon a dubious memo unrelated to Pius XII – something that no serious historian should ever do.


Let us look at the form and the content of the document and its incriminating allegations:

The accusation is made based on "a one-page, typewritten directive, dated October 23, 1946, (which) was discovered in a French church archive outside Paris and made available to the New York Times on condition that the source would not be disclosed."

We note that the archive where the document was found is not identified and we ask ourselves why the discoverer of a historical document would want to remain anonymous.

The New York Times had already posted the article on its website on Jan. 8 as well as the incriminating document identified as "1946 Letter From the Vatican."

The incriminating document was finally brought to light by journalist Andrea Tornielli and published on Jan. 11 in the Milan newspaper Il Giornale.

Tornielli revealed that the document was kept at the Centre National des archives de L'Eglise de France, archive of the secretariat of the French Episcopate, position "7 CE 131."

Also, he revealed that the document was written in French, on a sheet of paper on which at been typed in the upper left corner "Apostolic Nuntiature of France," a reference number 4516, the date Oct. 23 1946. Tornielli also reveals that the document is unsigned, and thus its author unknown. There is also on the top a manuscript annotation reading Document communicated on April 30 1947 to His Eminence Cardinal Gerlier. Pierre Gerlier was Archbishop of Lyon.

It text reads as follows:

With regard to the Jewish Children who, during the German occupation, have been entrusted to Catholic institutions and families and whom Jewish institutions are reclaiming to be entrusted to them, the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office has taken a decision which can be summarized as follows:

1) Avoid, as much as possible, to answer in writing to Jewish authorities, but do it orally.
2) Each time that it will be necessary to respond, it must be said that the Church must make its inquiries to study each case separately;
3) The children who have been baptized could not be entrusted to institutions which would not be in a position to ensure their Christian education;
4) For the children who have lost their relatives, given that the Church looked after them, it would not be appropriate that they would be abandoned by the Church or entrusted to persons who have no rights over them, at least until they are in a position to dispose of themselves. This, obviously, for the children who would not have been baptized.
5) If the children were entrusted by relatives, and if the relatives reclaim them now, inasmuch as the children have not been baptized, they can be returned to them.

It is to be noted that this decision of the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office has been approved by the Holy Father.

It immediately appears, even to the uninitiated, that the document is not from the Vatican as it is addressed in French from the Apostolic Nuntiature in France. Furthermore, the Vatican was corresponding in Italian, not in French, with Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, who was then Nuntio, in France.

Thus, these two clues, plus the fact that the author of the document was unknown and the document unsigned, should have given the New York Times and any other serious journalist some pause before announcing the document as "a letter from the Vatican."

Also, Tornielli further reports that it is not a "one-page" document as reported by the New York Times but a three-page document. Two pages went mysteriously missing during the investigation of the New York Times and magically reappeared when Tornielli found the document in the archives. It is to be noted that the 3 pages were attached to each other.

The original three-page document can be viewed on the Internet on Prof. Napolitano's website at http://www.vaticanfiles.net/intelligence2.htm

Page two is a typewritten memo with the following headline:

The Problem of Jewish children welcomed by Catholic Charities during the war.

Answer provided by the Holy Office and communicated by His Eminence Mgr. Tardini to the Apostolic Nuntiature in Paris with letter dated September 1946

It follows instructions in Italian, which read as follows:

The Most Eminent Fathers decided that if possible, there should be no response to the request of the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem. In any event, if it's necessary to say something, it should be done orally, given the danger of abuse and distortion of anything written from the Holy See on the subject. Eventually, it will be necessary to explain that the Church must do its own research and observations in order to discern case by case, it being evident that children who were baptized cannot be entrusted to institutions that can't guarantee their Christian education. Furthermore, also those children who were not baptized and who no longer have living relatives, having been entrusted to the Church who received them, as long as they are not able to decide for themselves, they cannot be abandoned by the Church or delivered to parties who have no right to them. It would be something else if the children were requested by their relatives. The decision of the Eminent Fathers and the criteria here presented were referred to the Holy Father in an audience of March 28, and His Holiness deigned to provide his august approval."

The third page is a typewritten letter, similar to the first page, which also bears the reference number 4516. It is also dated Paris October 23 1946 and on which is also typed in the upper left corner Apostolic Nuntiature of France. It reads in French as follows:

With regard to the Jewish Children who, during the German occupation, have been entrusted to Catholic institutions and families and whom Jewish institutions are reclaiming to be entrusted to them, the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office has taken a decision which is here reported in its entirety:

It follows the text in Italian as in the memo on page 2

At the bottom we also find the following note in French:

Excerpt of a letter of His Excellency Mgr. Tardini dated September 28 1946 Prot. 6972/46

If we can assume the document is authentic the following can be said:

  • Mgr. Tardini wrote a letter dated Sept. 28,1946 to Mgr. Roncalli the Apostolic Nuntio in France, Mgr. Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII), in which he communicated to him the decision of the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office on how to deal with requests from Jewish Institutions (not families) asking for the Jewish children.
  • The Nuntiature in France – whether Mgr. Roncalli had any personal involvement or oversight of this is totally unknown; there is no evidence that he did – addressed a letter dated Oct. 23, 1946 which was destined for the French Bishops and which reproduced in its entirety and in Italian the decision of the Holy Office which had the approval of the Holy Father. This is page 3 of the document.

    It states expressly that these instructions are not to be applied to cases in which Jewish children are reclaimed by family members. In other words these children whether baptized or not had to be reunited with their Jewish families.

    The incriminating document cited by the New York Times is at best, if authentic, a well-intentioned translation, written by God-knows-who, which summarizes the decision for anyone who would not understand the Italian original, which had been given in its entirety.

    However point 5 of the French text declaring that children can be returned to their families provided they are not baptized is nowhere to be found in the Italian original, which had been approved by the Pope and which states the exact contrary.

    The decision that had the approval of the Holy Father was that the Jewish children had to be returned to their Jewish families.

    Thus, the accusation of the New York Times that the directive contains an order not to allow Jewish Children who had been baptized Catholic to go home to their own parents is baseless and defamatory in nature. It is not that it did not do the most rudimentary fact checking, the Times and/or its source, did not know about, or deliberately suppressed, the two "missing" pages of the document found in the French archive.

    As the three pages were attached to each other it is hard to imagine how the second and third pages could have been overlooked.

    The New York Times also went further as it used the pretext of this "great discovery" to attack the reputation and record of Pope Pius XII and the Church in its efforts to save Jews from the Nazi death camps.

    Quoting a French historian, Etienne Fouilloux the New York Times writes "This document is indicative of a mind-set at the Vatican that dealt with problems in a legal framework without worrying that there were human beings involved. It shows that the massacre of the Jews was not seen by the Holy See as something of importance." (It is noted that Etienne Fouilloux is a collaborator of Alberto Melloni who originally published these allegations in Italy and has now been fully discredited)

    The Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Isaak Herzog, was of another opinion. In a letter addressed to Pius XII in March 1946 he writes, "The people of Israel deeply remember with most profound gratitude the assistance given by the Holy See to the suffering people during the Nazi persecution," and he concludes with an invocation "God willing, history will remember that when everything was dark for our people, His Holiness lit a light of hope for them."

    Indeed this was the letter of Rabbi Herzog in which he expressed the desire to Pius XII that Jewish children saved by the Church be given back to Jewish institutions and which triggered the decision of the Holy Office. The full text of Rabbi Herzog's letter is available at http://www.vaticanfiles.net/intelligence3.htm.

    Also, Dr. Leon Kubowitzki (later, Aryeh Kubovy), the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, also visited the Vatican to discuss the same subject. In its official report on the matter, the Congress wrote: "It was essential to obtain the assent of the Catholic Church to the release of those it had sheltered during the years of persecution. …On September 21, 1945, he [Kubowitzki] was received in private audience by Pope Pius XII and, while expressing the gratitude of the Jewish people for having mercifully hidden many little victims of German ferocity, he pleaded that no obstacles be placed in the way of their return to the community of their perished fathers. He was given assurance that a most humane policy would be followed in this delicate matter." (Unity in Dispersion--The Story of the World Jewish Congress [New York: Institute of Jewish Affairs of the World Jewish Congress 1948] p. 303).

    A number of cases are known where Pope Pius XII had to intervene personally to make sure his instructions were followed. They show a thoughtful, humane man who respected the fundamental rights of Jewish children and their parents, proof directly contradicting the recent allegations against the wartime Pope.

    Leokadia Jaromirska, a Polish-Catholic rescuer, wanted to retain a Jewish girl she had protected during the Holocaust. Her custody struggle is told in the important book by Peter Hellman Avenue of the Righteous (New York: Atheneum, 2004). Describing her efforts to keep the female child, Bogusia, even after her father, Jonisz, had survived and come back to retrieve her, the author writes: "In a last ditch effort at getting authoritative backing on her side, Leokadia wrote a letter to Pius XII asking for his wisdom on the subject of Bogusia. In less than a month came an answer that struck down all hope. She was instructed by the Pope to return the child to its father. If she were to keep the child by force or stealth, in the end she would regret it, since, at school or elsewhere, the child would eventually learn the truth. It was her duty as a Catholic not only to give back the child, but to do it with good will and in friendship." (p.237)

    In the New York Times Book Review, the book was described as worth reading just for the compelling story of Leokadia Jaromirska and the Jewish baby she named Bogusia. Apparently, the Times editors and writers who wrote the attack piece against Pius XII do not read their own Book Review.

    In another case, reported by Sister Grazia Loparco, Professor at the Pontifical Academy for Educational Sciences, a Jewish mother had found refuge in 1944 with her two children at the Convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sister of Marie on the via Balduina. After some time she asked that she and her children be baptized. The sacrament was given to them at their request in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

    In 1945 after the liberation of Rome, the mother left the convent leaving her children in safekeeping with the nuns. In November 1947 she returned to the convent with a representative of a Jewish organization for children and asked for the children. She had had a change of heart and had returned to the Jewish faith.

    Not knowing what to do, the Sisters asked advise to the Vicariate of Rome, which in turn transmitted the request to the Secretariate of State. The response was immediate. Within 24 hours an audience was arranged with the Pope to discuss this specific case. Not the case of a forced baptism or a baptism administered against the order of the Church (the Church had given instructions during the war not to baptize the Jewish children entrusted to them) but the case of a baptism requested explicitly by the mother for her and her children.

    How did Pope Pius XII answer? He ordered that the children be immediately reunited with their mother (Volume 1, 2004, Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia (Vita e Pensiero)).

    The following question comes automatically to mind. If Pius XII personally ordered the reunion of Jewish children with their relatives, how is it possible that diverse, if not opposite orders where given in His name? Dr. Leon Kubowitzki, the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, may have the last word on this matter: almost twenty years after he met with Pius XII, and was promised help, he delivered a public lecture in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 1964, at which he declared: "I can state now that I hardly know of a single case where Catholic institutions refused to return Jewish children." (Cited by Pinchas Lapide in Three Popes and the Jews [New York: Hawthorn Books] p. 210).

    In this book, Lapide, after years of research and personal testimonies that he had amassed, concluded that Pius XII "was instrumental is saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands." (p. 214)

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