Vatican tried to recruit Jewish guards to save them

The Vatican under Pope Pius XII tried to save Jews in many ways during World War II, including enlisting Jewish men as guards for its security forces, Holy See Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone claims.

The Washington Post quotes Cardinal Bertone as rejecting charges that wartime Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic, saying that the Vatican tried to enrol Roman Jewish men in its security forces in 1943 in order to save them from the Nazis.

Cardinal Bertone made his comments at the presentation of a new book about Pius by Italian author Andrea Tornielli.

Bertone called accusations that Pius turned a blind eye to the Holocaust "a black legend" and re-stated the Vatican's position that he worked behind the scenes to help save Jews.

Bertone said that in October 1943, the Vatican asked the German occupiers for permission to take on some 1,425 more men for a police force called the Palatine Guard, since disbanded, which patrolled the Vatican and Church-owned buildings in Rome.

Holding up still classified Vatican documents, he said this was an attempt to get Jews into the force to protect them. But German occupiers and their Italian Fascist allies wanted the men's names, date of birth and race.

"Our people said 'no'," he said.

He gave no further details, but that same month Nazi forces rounded up Jews from the Rome neighborhood known as The Ghetto. More than 1,000 were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz but hundreds of others were hidden by Italian Catholic families.

One Jewish historian was puzzled by Bertone's remarks.

"If the Vatican has documents, let's see them," said Marcello Pezzetti, an expert on Rome Jewish history. "These are such serious topics that more precise language should be used. Vague language does not help anyone."

Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of being indifferent to the Holocaust and not speaking out against Hitler. His supporters consider him a holy man who worked behind the scenes to help Jews throughout Europe.

But the Vatican maintains Pius did not speak out more forcefully against the Holocaust because he was afraid of provoking Nazi reprisals and worsening the fate of Catholics and Jews.

"It is out of place to accuse him of 'silence'," Bertone said, adding that Pius "chose a prudent profile" and acted "within the limits of circumstances imposed on him."

According to Catholic Online, Cardinal Bertone added that Pope Pius explained this policy of discretion when he spoke of the Jews in a public address in 1943, saying that people should not expect him to divulge "all we have attempted and achieved to mitigate their suffering, improve their moral and juridical conditions, (and) protect their indispensable religious rights."

Vatican says tried to enlist Jews as guards in WW2 (Washington Post (5/6/07)
Top Vatican official: Documents show Pius XII worked to help Jews (Catholic Online, 5/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Palatine Guard (Wikipedia)
Pius XII (Wikipedia)
Pius XII (Vatican)

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6 Jun 2007