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Holy See and the Jewish Question

Interview With Historian Alessandro Duce

ROME, NOV. 19, 2006 (Zenit) - The publication of a new book has renewed the debate about Pope Pius XII's process of beatification.

"La Santa Sede e la questione ebraica (1933-1945)" (The Holy See and the Jewish Questions (1933-1945) is written by Alessandro Duce, professor of history of international relations at the University of Parma, and published by Studium.

The book aims to offer a detailed reconstruction of the diplomatic and humanitarian work carried out by the Holy See in the face of the persecutions suffered by Jews, beginning with Hitler's rise to power in Germany up to the end of World War II.

Duce made use of Vatican archives as well as little-known Italian diplomatic sources. Among the book's revelations are the efforts by the Vatican to facilitate the emigration of European Jews to the Americas, and the Holy See's action to oppose the issuing of anti-Jewish legislation in Central and Eastern Europe.

The recent presentation of the volume in Rome also awakened interest in debates regarding Pius XII's cause of beatification. Numerous media reported that Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, has said that Pius XII's cause is "stopped."

Questioned by us, the spokesman for Pius XII's cause of beatification, Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, revealed that Cardinal Saraiva Martins has asked him to declare that he "has never made a statement in which he upholds that Pius XII's cause is 'stopped.'"

Father Gumpel also criticized an Oct. 26 article in the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera which presents Duce's book as being critical of Pius XII, "when instead it is obvious that there are hundreds of pages with much documentary proof which demonstrate how and how much Popes Pius XI and especially Pius XII did for the Jews."

To have a broader idea of the question, we interviewed Duce.

Q: It has taken five years of research in the archives to write this book. What were the reasons that drove you to deepen your study of relations between the Holy See and "the Jewish question"?

Duce: From an examination of the numerous existing writings and the available archives, I arrived at a conviction: There was no systematic and integral work examining the conduct of the Holy See and its diplomatic structures in the whole temporal and geographic span in which Nazi and anti-Jewish violence was manifested.

I have tried to fill this void; it is not for me to say if I have succeeded.

Q: What are the conclusions of your research? How were Popes Pius XI's and Pius XII's relations with the Jews? How did they conduct themselves in the face of racial laws and persecutions of the Jewish people?

Duce: During the years of persecution, relations between the top of the Jewish communities and the Vatican were increasingly frequent and intense. The two Pontiffs of the period cannot be accused of indifference, instigation or complicity with the persecutors.

Q: An article published Oct. 26 by Il Corriere della Sera states that your book upholds the thesis of a "hesitant, isolated" even immobile Pope Pius XII, "unable to protect either believers or religious from persecution and martyrdom." Is this the result of your research?

Duce: The journalist's observation is precise and pertinent in substance, but it needs interpretation, namely, a specific reading, situated in the context of the events.

Pius XII's inability to protect believers themselves and the clergy from National Socialist violence should make one reflect. Can one expect someone who does not have the strength to protect "his own flock," to save his "neighbors"?

The context of the period is that of a double persecution: anti-Catholic - in general anti-religious -- and anti-Jewish. I think it is futile to specify that the second is much more violent and cruel than the first.

Q: On the occasion of the presentation of your book, some voices were raised to stop Pius XII's process of beatification. What is your opinion in this respect?

Duce: My research did not have as its objective to influence Pius XII's process of beatification. I must admit that I myself do not know the precise terms of this procedure, nor at what point it is today.

I have highlighted hundreds of documents -- many unknown until now. I do not exclude that some of them might be useful for the work of the commission in charge of the beatification.

For me the "historical" work is already very laborious; I have no intention of taking charge also of that of the commission.

Q: At the end of your book there is a chapter entitled "The Crusade of Charity." Can you explain what it is about?

Duce: The "crusade of charity" is an effective and happy expression used on several occasions by authoritative Vatican representatives. It tries to highlight the activity carried out by the Holy See during the conflict in favor of those who were suffering: searches for the missing; information; help for those detained; support of emigrations; economic aid to families, prisoners, the deported, etc.

Obviously it is an enormous and lasting effort sustained by Vatican structures and the nunciatures which, however, were not constituted with these objectives.

The Church of Rome wanted to provide assistance in all directions regardless of religion, nationality or race. In that multitude of sufferers were also the Jews.


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Holy See, Jews, Duce, Beatufication

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