The release of the files online comes amid renewed debate over Pius’ legacy following the 2020 opening to researchers of his archive, of which the “Jewish” files are only a small part. The Vatican has long defended Pius against criticism from some Jewish groups that he remained silent on the Holocaust, saying he used quiet diplomacy to save lives.
A recent book that cites the newly opened archives, “The Pope at War,” by Pultizer Prize-winning historian David Kertzer, suggests that the people the Vatican was most concerned about saving were Jews who had converted to the Catholicism, the offspring of Catholicism. Jewish or otherwise Catholic-related mixed marriages.
Kerzer claims that Pius was loath to intervene on behalf of Jews or publicly denounce Nazi atrocities against them, to avoid upsetting Adolf Hitler or Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher said he hoped the digital release of the “Jewish” files would help scholars in their research, but also the descendants of those who had asked the Vatican for help, to ” find traces of their relatives from any part of the world.”
In an article in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Gallagher said the files contained requests for help, but without much information about the results.
“Each of these requests constituted a dossier which, once processed, was destined to be stored in a documentary series called ‘Jews’,” he writes.
“Requests would come to the Secretariat of State, where diplomatic channels would try to provide whatever assistance possible, taking into account the complexity of the political situation in the global context,” Gallagher wrote.
He cited a case found in the records: a Jew baptized Catholic in 1938, Werner Barasch, who asked the Pope for help in 1942 to be released from a concentration camp in Spain. According to records, his request was forwarded to the Vatican Embassy in Madrid, but the documentation then cooled.
“As with the majority of requests for assistance evidenced by other cases, the outcome of the request has not been reported,” Gallagher wrote. “In our hearts we immediately inevitably hope for a positive outcome, the hope that Werner Barasch was then released from the concentration camp and was able to join his mother abroad.”
Subsequent online searches, including at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, revealed that Barasch did indeed survive and was able to join his mother in the United States in 1945, Gallagher reported.