Different sources state that Monsignor Roncalli issued ”immigration certificates” to Palestine to the Archbishop Rotta in Budapest. Haim Barlas, delegate of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul, delivered this documentation to Nuncio Roncalli.
Professor Stanford Shaw in his book ”Turkey and the Holocaust” says that:
”At the beginning of the year 1943, Bader (refers to Menahem Bader, secretary of the rescue committee which acted in Istanbul under the supervision of Haim Barlas) started using private couriers to deliver mail and money to people who could move freely in the occupied territories by the nazis, specially traders and Turkish diplomats and mails sent by the Papal representative in Istanbul Angelo Roncalli, later known as Pope John XXIII” (Page 274)
”The office of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul, much more than the office in Geneva usually sent documents required by European Jews to travel or to be excepted from persecution or deportation – either passports or nationality certificates issued by neutral countries, specially South American and Central American countries. Sometimes those documents were obtained in exchange of important payments to corrupt consular officials, and other times they were obtained free of charge from idealistic diplomats who understood how big the Jewish suffering was. Many of them had its origin in Catholic priests stimulated to help by Monsignor Roncalli’s calls in Istanbul.” (Page 276)
”Many of these activities (it refers to the rescue activities of Jewish refugees persecuted by nazism in charge of the rescue committee of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul) were helped by Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, future Pope John XXIII, who after acting as Papal delegate in Bulgaria since 1925 until 1934 was Apostolic Delegate in Greece and Turkey since January 5, 1935 until mid 1944” (Page 277)
Christian Feldman, author of the book ”Pope John XXIII” says
”Roncalli worked with Jewish helping organizations to the refugees, with Haim Barlas of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and later with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Isaac Herzog. He transmitted his requests to the Vatican – including the wish of declaring aloud that the Church help to Jews threatened had to be seen as a divine work of grace… He took advantage of even the last of his own resources and found the way of saving from extermination Slovak Jewish detained in Hungary or Bulgaria by signing their transit visas towards Palestine” (Page 61)
Nuncio Roncalli’s collaboration with Haim Barlas – delegate of the Jewish Agency in Palestine – is mentioned by John Morley in relation with a request presented by Vatican Nuncio Roncalli in January of 1943 to the Vatican’s State Secretary asking for the Vatican’s intervention in favor of 5,000 German Jewish for whom the Jewish Agency has immigration certificates to Palestine (Page 123)
According to historian Peter Hebblethwaite, author of the book ”John XXIII, Pope of the Council”, 1985, the idea of trying to save Jews by means of baptismal certificates was Nuncio Roncalli’s, which was put into practice by the Archbishop Rotta.
Ted Szulc, in ”The secret alliance: the extraordinary story of the rescue of the Jews since World War II, Pan, London 1991” page 54 affirms that ”a few months after Hirschman’s visit to the apostolic delegate, thousands of Jews were baptized at the air-raid shelters in Budapest and thus saved from death”.
Arthur Morse in ”While six million died” makes reference to the delivery of thousands of baptismal certificates which helped to save the lives of thousands Hungarian Jews.
Historian Giancarlo Zizola, author of ”L´utopia di Papa Giovanni, Cittadella, Assisi, 1973” page 109 estimates that baptismal certificates saved the lives of 24,000 Jews. The information is attributed to Monsignor Loris F. Capovilla, Monsignor’s Roncalli secretary in Venice and after that in Rome.
Historian Stanford Shaw alludes to the issue of the ”temporary” baptismal certificates in the context of the collaboration between Nuncio Roncalli and Ira Hirschmann, delegate of the War Refugee Board in Istanbul:
”Hirschmann (delegate of the War Refugee Board) worked in direct collaboration with the papal representative in Istanbul, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, in the assistance and help of the Jews from Hungary, who were endangered by the German occupation of the country in 1944. By using agents of ”Alyah” as well as papal representatives and diplomatic couriers, Roncalli – who based outstandingly on the communication network and the dependencies of the Sisters of Sion, who possessed convents on the banks of the Bosphorus and in Budapest – he sent thousands of Turkish visas and Palestine immigration certificates, and even ”temporary” baptismal certificates – some authentic and other falsified – to Hungarian Jews with the aim of allowing them to join those who were escaping through Turkey towards Palestine with the help of agents of Alyah” (Page 297). Mainly, as a result of Roncalli’s leadership, a great number of ”convenience conversions” were authorized by priests and nuns in Hungary to allow Jews to escape from deportation and death (Page 298) (This quotation is based on professor’s Hoffman cited work Page 90-92)
This subject is extensively remembered by Ira Hirschmann himself in his memories. The America delegate of the War Refugee Board in Istanbul relates in his book ”Caution to the winds” a conversation kept with Nuncio Roncalli about the rescue of Hungarian Jews by granting ”baptism certificates” to the refugees. In Hirschmann’s words:
”Roncalli listened carefully while I described the desperate struggle of the Jews from Hungary. I cited the poor statistics that I had and the numerous testimonies of undercover operations. Each time that I pointed out an important issue he agreed with empathy. In a certain moment, he moved the chair closer and asked in a low voice ”Do you have people in Hungary willing to cooperate?” After my affirmative answer, it took him a few minutes before asking: ”Do you think that Jews would voluntarily accept to be baptized? ”The answer took me by surprise and I answered that in my opinion if that could save their lives, they would be willing to do it. He said, ”I know what I am going to do”. He added that he had reasons to believe that some baptismal certificates had already been granted by religious women to Hungarian Jews. The Nazis had recognized those documents as credentials and allowed its bearers to leave the country. He agreed that we would make contact with his representatives in Hungary and that I would communicate with our undercover contacts to organize massive baptisms, or at least certificates that were issued to women and children. It would depend on them whether they wanted to stay as members of the church or take their road”. The agreement was reached in a few minutes. It was clear to me that Roncalli had considered this plan before my arrival and they that he had created a plan before my arrival in which I could prove my credentials, my discretion and my skill to put the operation into practice. I had no doubts that the wheels of the Baptism operation would be put into motion in Hungary under the auspices of the Catholic Church”. (Page 182-183)
In an article of ”Catholic Family” magazine # 10 autumn 1991, it is stated:
”In Hungary, a estimate quantity of 80,000 baptismal certificates were issued by the ecclesiastic authorities to the Jews. In other regions of Eastern Europe the Vatican’s escape circuit (organized through Bulgaria by Nuncio Roncalli – later known as pope John XXIII -) has impressed the writers who have studied the subject.”
Historian Stanford Shaw states in his book ”Turkey and the Holocaust”: ”Roncalli also intervened in Bulgaria to convince his King and Parliament not to accept the German demands of deporting all Jews to Auschwitz” (footnote # 390 on page 278) (This affirmation of Professor Shaw is in accordance with similar references of the following researchers: Gilbert, ”Auschwitz page 122”; Barry Rubin ”Intrigues in Istanbul” page 47-48, 93-94, 213-214; Peter Hoffman ”Roncalli in the Second World War: peace initiatives, starvation in Greece and the persecution of Jews”; ”Journal of ecclesiastic history XI” (1989) Page 74-99; Saul Friedlander, ”Pious XII and the III Reich”; John Morley ”Vatican diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1943”; Peter Hebbletwaite, ”Pope John XXIII: shepherd of the modern world” Page 141-143; Vittorio Ugo Righi, ”Pope Giovanni, on the banks of Bosphorus”; Ira Hirschmann ”Caution to the winds” Page 179-185; Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, ”Roncalli, diplomat in Greece and Turkey 1935-1944”, Page 33 – 72.
Historian Peter Hebblethwaite, in his article ”An exchange of blessings – Pope John XXIII and the Jews”, it refers to two interviews kept between the Chief Rabbi of Palestine Isaac Herzog and Nuncio Roncalli about the luck of 55,000 Jews from Transnistria in Rumania. This territory – some kind of penal colony for Jews – was threatened by the Soviet advance and the Jews were being pushed to the West towards the extermination camps. Three weeks after the interview, Nuncio Roncalli informs the Chief Rabbi that the Holy See has taken actions in the subject. The rescue plan failed however, by reasons not related to Roncalli, but the Nuncio could report in July of 1944 that a ship had arrived with 750 passengers, including orphans.
Researcher John Morley, in the work ”Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1943”, points out that ”the apostolic delegate in Turkey, archbishop Angelo Roncalli, was also interested in the Rumanian Jews by sending the Vatican’s State Secretary a list of Jewish family names from Transnistria for whom he requested help” (Page 43)
In another reference of Nuncio Roncalli´s measures in favor of Jews from Transnistria the author points out:
”The first months of 1944 renewed the fears about the Jews still remaining in Transnistria because the German Army was withdrawing due to the Soviet advance. Rabbi Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem asked Roncalli in Istanbul to bring the subject to the Vatican’s attention. That induced Roncalli to talk about it with Barlas, the representative of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul. Barlas pointed out that the Turkish government would be willing to promote a ship for 1,500 refugees who could enter Palestine. The Rumanian government should organize the transportation. Roncalli was asked to use his influence on Cassulo (the Vatican Nuncio in Rumania) to achieve that” (Page 45)
In the book ”Istanbul intrigues” written by Barry Rubin it is stated that the Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi to Palestine, wrote Barlas in December of 1943 ”All the Italian Jews are in danger of being sent to concentration camps. Please, contact His Eminence, Papal Nuncio in Turkey and ask for his influence to save our brothers”. Roncalli acted accordingly and the deportation of Italian Jews was interrupted for some time (Page 214)
Another intervention of the Archbishop Roncalli – this time in favor of children from Slovakia – took place on March 13, 1943, date in which the Nuncio cabled the Vatican’s State Secretary asking for Vatican intervention in favor of 1,000 Jewish children for them to be allowed to emigrate to Palestine (Page 91-92)
Likewise, Nuncio Roncalli intervened in favor of Jews from Croatia. John Morley points out that the Jewish Agency informed Roncalli on May 31, 1943 that within the group of 400 Jews recently deported from Croatia was the President of the Jewish Community Ugo Kon and the Chief Rabbi of said Community. Roncalli immediately wrote Nuncio Marcone asking for his intervention in favor of the deported Jews. By mid June, Roncalli received a note of gratitude from Meir Touval-Weltmann, agent of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul by his measures in favor of the deported to Croatia (Page 161)
Historian Stanford Shaw points out
”without being encouraged by the Vatican, Roncalli concerted with the Turkish government the delivery of food to Jews and Greeks during the 1941-42 winter, shortage caused by the Greek stockpiling, the British blockade and the German confiscations. Roncalli also took care that the Holy See exerted its influence over Germany to try to prevent the deportation of Jews to the East for their extermination, as well as to authorize Jews to emigrate to Palestine, at least those who had valid immigration certificates issued either by the British or by the Jewish Agency by British delegation” (Page 278) (This reference is cited by professor Shaw based on professor Peter Hoffman in his book ”Roncalli, in the Second World War: peace initiatives, starvation in Greece and the persecution of Jews – journal of Ecclesiastical History XI”, (1989- Page 77-84)
The Jewish encyclopedia says that Nuncio Angelo Roncalli helped -during the German occupation of Greece- the local population and did his best effort to avoid the deportation of Jews from Greece.
Researcher John Morley in the work ”Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1943” points out that the Apostolic Delegate in Turkey, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, also intervened in favor of French Jews. According to John F. Morley ”the Archbishop Roncalli wrote Valéri from Istanbul on September 18 (1942) asking for assistance for a group of Jews from Perpignan, who were eager to emigrate to Palestine” (Page 61) Nuncio Roncalli’s collaboration with Haim Barlas – delegate of the Jewish Agency to Palestine – is mentioned by John Morley in relation to a request presented by Vatican Nuncio Roncalli in January 1943 to the Vatican’s State Secretary asking for Vatican intervention ”in favor of 5,000 German Jews for whom the Jewish Agency has immigration certificates to Palestine” (Page 123)
Historian Stefano Trinchesse in ”Roncalli, diplomatico in Grecia e Turchia”, in the book Pious XII ed. Audren Ricardi, laterza 1984, page 261, cites Monsignor Loris F. Capovilla – who was secretary of Pope John XXIII – this way: ”During the war Roncalli intervened frequently to Von Pappen in favor of Jewish refugees. When the refugees arrived Istanbul they always sought an audience with the apostolic delegate”.
Historian and priest Randolph Braham in his work ”The politics of genocide – the Holocaust in Hungary” (page 240), refers to a note sent on March 24, 1944 by Nuncio Roncalli to Pope Pious XII – through the Nuncio in Washington – asking for the Supreme Pontiff to exert his influence to protect Hungarian Jews. Likewise, it is made a clear reference to consecutive appeals of Nuncio Roncalli before the beginning of deportations, on May 15, 1944.
Historian Hebblethwaite alludes to an interview granted by Monsignor Roncalli on September 5, 1940 to a group of Polish Jewish refugees who ”informed him about what happened in the occupied Poland and whom Roncalli helped to get to Holy Land” (in ”An exchange of blessings, Pope John XXIII and the Jews”, Common Ground, 1993).
The American ambassador to turkey, Ira Hirschmann, states in his book ”Caution to the winds, 1962” that Monsignor Roncalli appropriately wrote: ”I am always willing to help him at his humanitarian work while that is within my reach and possibilities and if circumstances allow it.”
Christian Feldman, author of the book ”Pope John XXIII” points out:
”As he resided in the neutral Turkey, Roncalli could do more than others to help Jews who were being deported from country to country. In September 1940 a group of the Warsaw ghetto refugees brought the first news about the concentration camps and the massacres carried out by the Einsatzgruppen. More and more persecuted men and women wanted to get to Palestine through the Balkans, where many times the British forces blocked their way (Page 61)”
The documents mentioned below – issues, notes and telegrams exchanged between the Vatican’s State Secretary and the Nunciatures of the different relevant countries during the Second world War – are published in 11 volumes edited by the Holy See under the title: ”Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale”:
Document 1- Actions taken by Nuncio Roncalli in favor of Jewish refugees who passed by Istanbul, in transit towards other destinations – Communication # 3420 dated 1-28-1941 of Nuncio Roncalli to the State secretary Cardinal Maglione (page 83). The telegram refers to a Jewish refugee called Eduardo Luberski, who would have followed towards the USA. Another refugee, Casimiro Bober, would have followed towards Palestine.
Document 2- Nuncio Roncalli’s request in favor of a group of Jews residing in Perpignan, France -Communication # 4068 dated 1-18-1942 of Nuncio Roncalli to the Nuncio in France Monsignor Valéri (page 647). In the telegram, Nuncio Roncalli requests the intervention of the Nuncio in France to facilitate the transit of a group of Jews.
Document 3- Nuncio Roncalli’s allusion for Vatican intervention to allow the exit of Jews from Germany – Communication # 4129 dated 1-22-1943 of Nuncio Roncalli to the Vatican’s State Secretary Cardinal Maglione (page 87-88). The text refers to an action with the aim of requesting Vatican intervention to allow the exit of Jews from Germany. It refers to a Jewish Agency official, Mr. Bader and to a priest named Hughes presumably assigned to the Nunciature in Palestine. Annex: presentation of the delegate Barlas of the Jewish Agency to Father Hughes.
Document 4 – Nuncio Roncalli’s allusion for Vatican intervention in favor of Jewish children from Slovakia – Communication # 99 dated 3-13-1943 of Nuncio Roncalli to the Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione (page 185). The text refers to a message of an official of the Jewish Agency named Kapl in relation to the danger of deportation of 20,000 Jews from Slovakia, for whom Vatican assistance is requested.
Document 5 – Nuncio Roncalli’s allusion to conversations kept with delegates of the Jewish Agency in relation to the luck of Jews from Slovakia – Communication # 4180 dated 3-13-1943 of Nuncio Roncalli to the Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione (page 185). The telegram refers to conversations kept with the delegates of the Jewish Agency Kaplan and Barlas, about the intervention request of the Holy See in favor of Jews from Slovakia.
Document 6- The Holy See confirms Nuncio Roncalli to have accomplished his intervention request in favor of Jews from Slovakia – Telegram number 153 dated 5-4-1943 of the Vatican’s State Secretary Maglione to Nuncio Roncalli (page 272). It refers to the telegrams # 99 and report # 4180 of Nuncio Roncalli in which he had requested the intervention of the Holy See in favor of Slovak Jews to the Vatican’s State Secretary, Nuncio Roncalli is informed that the Holy See has taken actions about it, as requested.
Document 7- Nuncio Roncalli sends to the Vatican a list of names of Jewish people received from Rabbi Ashkenazí from Istanbul requesting Papal intervention for them – Communication # 4248 dated 5-22-1943 of Nuncio Roncalli to the Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione (page 306) he attaches a note of names delivered by Rabbi Markus and requests Papal intervention to benefit those people.
Document 8- Nuncio Roncalli communicates Sister Casilda of Sion about the luck of a Jewish refugee, passenger of the ship ”Sturma” – Communication # 4207 dated 4-14-1943. Nuncio Roncalli asks Sister Casilda to inform a lady called Mayer, about her daughter’s luck, refugee who traveled on board the ship ”Sturma” (page 310). It is worth mentioning the Nuncio’s words of support in relation to the Jews persecuted by Nazism.
Document 9- Nuncio Roncalli requests Vatican intervention in favor of two groups of Jewish refugees in Slovakia and Croatia – Telegram number 114 dated 5-30-1943. Nuncio Roncalli refers to two groups of refugees (page 321) – one which one has been interned in the concentration camp of Jasenovats near the town of Staragradiskas – for whom Papal help is requested.
Document 10- The Vatican’s State Secretary informs Nuncio Roncalli of the procedure requested by him in favor of Slovak Jewish and other people included in the list delivered by Rabbi Markus – Communication # 3978-43 dated 6-23-1943. The Vatican’s State Secretary tells Nuncio Roncalli about the news of said subject (page 361)
Document 11- Nuncio Roncalli asks form clemency Bulgarian Jews to King Boris of Bulgaria – Note dated 6-30-1943, Nuncio Roncalli asks for King of Bulgaria’s clemency in favor of Bulgarian Jews (page 371)
Document 12- The Nuncio in Bucharest, Cardinal Casullo alludes in a note to the Vatican’s State Secretary to a list of Jewish people from Transnistria appropriately delivered by Nuncio Roncalli – the Nuncio in Bucharest alludes to lists of Rumanian Jews delivered by Nuncio Roncalli who asked for the intervention of the Nuncio in Rumania in favor of those people. (Page 390)
Document 13- Nuncio Roncalli informs the Vatican’s State Secretary about the humanitarian actions carried out in favor of Jewish refugees with no positive results. – Communication number 4332 dated 8-20-1943 about said subject (page 348)
Document 14- Nuncio Roncalli requests the Vatican’s State Secretary the Papal intervention in favor of Italian Jews, thus pointing out the convenience of allowing the emigration of Jewish refugees to Palestine – Communication # 4344 dated 9-4-1943 about said subject (page 469)
Document 15- The Chief Rabbi Herzog from Palestine recognizes Nuncio Roncalli’s efforts for Jewish refugees – Note dated 11-22-1943 issued in Jerusalem by the Chief Rabbi Herzog about said subject (page 575)
Document 16- The delegate of the Jewish Agency Haim Barlas requests Nuncio Roncalli’s intervention in favor of Jewish from northern Italy – Note dated 12-6-1943 issued in Istanbul about said subject (page 592)
Document 17- The Chief Rabbi in Palestine Herzog thanks Nuncio Roncalli for his efforts in favor of Jewish refugees – Note dated 2-28-1944 issued in Jerusalem about said subject (page 161)
Document 18- Nuncio in Bucharest Monsignor Casullo informs the Vatican’s State Secretary, about actions taken in favor of Jews from Transnistria (Rumania) as requested by Nuncio Roncalli – Communication # 10858 dated 3-16-1944 about said subject (page 179)
Document 19- Nuncio Roncalli informs Haim Barlas, delegate of the Jewish Agency, that the Nuncio in Bucharest will intervene in favor of Jews from Transnistria – Communication # 4521 dated 3-23-1944 about said subject (page 188)
Document 20- Nuncio in Bern, Monsignor Bernardini, informs the Vatican’s State Secretary, about Nuncio Roncalli’s request in favor of Jews from Budapest – Communication # 4521 dated 3-23-1944 about said subject (page 335)
Document 21- Nuncio in Bucharest Monsignor Casullo informs the Vatican’s State Secretary, about the evacuation of Jews from Rumania by ship – Communication # 11127 dated 7-11-1944 about said subject. In the explanatory note it is alluded to a communication of Monsignor Casullo filed in the Bucharest Nunciature that refers to the ship that departed from Constanza to Istanbul carrying 739 Jewish refugees from Rumania, among them 250 Jewish orphans from Transnistria (these orphans arrived later to Palestine) (Page 347)
Document 22- Nuncio Roncalli informs the American ambassador in Turkey Mr. Ira Hirshman the details of the Nuncio actions in favor of Jewish refugees (Page 389)
Document 23- The Nuncio in Presburgo, Monsignor Burzio, addresses the Vatican’s State Secretary, with a request of Vatican intervention by Nuncio Roncalli in favor of Slovak Jews – Telegram # 98 dated 9-15-1944. Information to the Vatican about the renewed persecution of Jews in Bratislava and accompanied Nuncio Roncalli’s request (Page 418)
Document 24- Monsignor Tardini informs the Nuncio in Bern, about the efforts of the Holy See in favor of Jews from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It refers to telegram 212 of Nuncio Roncalli – Telegram # 696 dated 10-23-1944 about said subject. In the footnote it is said that in the telegram # 212 of Nuncio Roncalli attached to Monsignor Tardini’s note it is stated: ”More than 5,000 Jews are being concentrated in the Sered camp, among them approximately 2,000 are in danger of deportation, which means a certain death. We are permitted to request the intervention of the Holy See in favor of those 2,000 Jews to save them from deportation and death” (this telegram is filed in the Istanbul Nunciature) (Page 454)
Document 25- Nuncio Roncalli (in his capacity of Nuncio in France) addresses Monsignor Montini, requesting information about Italian Jews deported to Germany – Communication # 601/45 dated 3-23-1945 about said subject (page 565)]]>
Visiting Professor of Humanities at New York University in charge of the Bronfman Chair. Author of nine books, among them ”the Zionist Idea” and with Aron Hirt-Manheimer, ”Jews: the essence and character of a people”. He recalls a touching comment heard from the Great Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate, Isaac Herzog, about the humanitarian disposition of Monsignor Angelo Roncalli.
”In the fall of 1941, the then chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Isaac Herzog, traveled from country to country on a mission to enlist the support of world leaders in stopping the slaughter of Jews in Europe. When the chief rabbi reached New York, his friend and my teacher, Professor Saul Lieberman, asked me to assist him. Late one night, after everybody had gone, Rabbi Herzog, who was a truly holy man, was sitting in a chair by the window reciting psalms. When he finished, he sighed and said,
”Hertzberg, I want to tell you a story. Before arriving in America, I traveled throughout the Mediterranean on neutral ships, stopping in Malta, Cairo, Istanbul, and other cities to enlist help in saving our people. Wherever I went, I met with the papal legate and always I was told, ‘What can I do? My hands are tied.’ Everywhere, I met with indifference or helplessness. The one exception was Istanbul, where I went to see the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey, Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. As I told him of the mass murders, he started to cry, rose from his chair, put his arms around me, and said, ‘Rabbi, what can I do to help?’”
Historian and researcher. Author of several publications, former consul of the State of Israel in Istanbul and international director of Sephardic institutions.
”My great grandfather Samuel Nissimoff was a wealthy man. He donated one of his mansions to the Bulgarian Jewish community. The residence is still today the headquarter of the communitarian centre. A second mansion was rented to the apostolic delegate Roncalli. He was a neighbour of the Nissimoff´s and became close friend of Samuel’s children, Nissim and Albert. When Roncalli knew that they were having trouble with their Latin he helped them study and thanks to this action the boys passed their exams.
By the time Roncalli left Bulgaria he had become a close friends of the family. Both Nissimoff brothers emigrated to Israel and they were deeply surprised when Nissim Nissimoff received an official invitation to the investiture of Roncalli as Pope. Apart from the Nissimoff family, Roncalli´s friends in Bulgaria were largely Jewish. Queen Joanna of Bulgaria, wife of King Boris II, was Italian, daughter of King Victor Manuel. She became great friend with Monsignor Roncalli, to the point that the relationship remained fluent even when he established in Istanbul. The story goes that Roncalli informed the Queen that he had information about the imminent deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the extermination camps in Poland. I understand this was registered in the book of the then Protocol Chief of Bulgaria, Gruev, and in a biography about the Queen Joanna”.
Professor Berenbaum is former President and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, former Director of the Research Institute at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and author of numerous book on the Holocaust and contemporary Jewish History.
MainStreet Media, in association with the Berenbaum Group and Shenandoah Films, has produced Desperates Hours, a film on the Holocaust in Turkey, which first gave rise to telling the story of Monsignor Roncalli/Pope John XXIII. The producers have interviewed scholars on three continents and in five countries regarding Roncalli, including Church historians and theologians, survivors and eyewitnesses, Church officials and Rabbis.
”It is a paradox of the Holocaust that the innocent feel guilty and guilty innocent. Nowhere is this observation better illustrated than in the service of Monsignor Angelo Roncalli who, as the Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul in Turkey during World War II, was actively engaged in the rescue of Jews, and who later as Pope John XXIII, transformed Roman Catholic teaching toward the Jews to ensure that the foundations of Christian anti-Semitism were shattered.
This film is rooted in the little known story of Monsignor Roncalli in neutral Turkey during World War II and the Holocaust. Because of Turkey’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and because it was a neutral country for most of the war, Turkey became host to scores of Allied and Axis diplomats, spies, traders, defectors, assassins, journalists and seemingly everyone in-between. To all, it was an indispensable listening post to the war in Easter Europe. And for a small band of Jews in Istanbul, it became a base of rescue operations near the heart of the inferno.
In the early years of World War II, Monsignor Roncalli worked with Jewish emissaries from Palestine to ascertain information regarding the fate of the Jews under German occupation. He was an ally when the Jews had few, and was one of the very few who would offer them assistance while asking nothing in return. According to those who knew him, he was not motivated not by any particular affection for the Jews by his love for all humanity – without excluding Jews – and by his belief that all human beings were created in the Divine image – including the Jews.
He wrote the following from Istanbul : ”Poor children of Israel. Every day I hear their moans all around me. I sympathize with them and I do my best to help them. They are the relatives and the fellow countrymen of Jesus. May the Divine Savior come to their aid”.
Chaim Barlas, the chief Jewish delegate from Palestine, wrote that Roncalli cried when told about what was happening to Jews. He said, ”I am going to fast and to pray for the people and our people”. Teddy Kollek, a delegate from Palestine in Istanbul during the darkest years of the Holocaust who for three decades was mayor of Jerusalem recalled : ”He commiserated together with us. He wasn’t able to do very much. But what he could, he did”.
Alarmed by what he had learned about the Jewish plight in German-occupied and German-allied Europe, he asked of the Vatican three things : to encourage countries to give temporary havens to Jewish refugees who would be supported by Jewish organizations ; to broadcast by radio that the Church was against the persecution of Jews – which in some countries played an important role in the persecutions and killings; and that the Vatican beseech Joseph Tiso, the ruler of Slovakia under the Germans and a Roman Catholic priest, to let 5000 Jews go on the condition that transit visas could be found for them. Roncalli worked with Church officials in Hungary who issued papers to individuals Jews, which said they were under the protection of the Holy See. He pleaded with King Boris of Bulgaria, in whose country he had server for a decade, not to deport his Jews. And while Bulgaria cooperated in the deportation of the Jews of Bulgarian-occupied Trace and Macedonia, it did not consent to the deportation of its native Jews.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial to the Holocaust is still examining whether Roncalli issued documentation such as false baptismal certificates that allowed Jews to pass as non-Jews, thereby saving their lives. But it is certain that he passed on certificates to Palestine and quasi-official documents indicating that the bearer was a fellow countryman of Jesus, his way of truthfully providing the limited protection he could without making a false statement. Yehuda Bauers, Israel’s most distinguished Holocaust historian, reports, ”There is no doubt that he exerted every influence he had to rescue Jews in Greece, in Bulgaria or other places. We don’t have documentation. We have personal reports of individuals who met with him ; we have testimonials of survivors who know that he intervened in their favor.” Again, Archbishop Roncalli asked nothing in return. He provided these documents a s life-saving passport to freedom without any religious coercion, such as requiring conversion.
In 1944, the United States belatedly dedicated itself to rescue. Ira Hirschmann, the representative of the War Refugee Board was dispatched to Turkey with special instructions. He could deal directly with the enemy, a trust not even enjoyed by American Ambassadors including Lawrence Steinhart in Ankara. He used his authority to press to Romania to dismantle camps in Transnistria and to send some 3000 children to Palestine via Turkey. Working with the Jewish envoys and with Roncalli, by wars’end, some 20.000 Jews were transported to Palestine via Turkey.”]]>
Nuncio Roncalli made written requests, exerted personal influence and mobilized ecclesiastical dignitaries (even the Pope Pious XII), leaders and officials from different nations to achieve the rescue and salvation of Jewish lives threatened by Nazism.
Likewise, Nuncio Roncalli played an active role in the collaboration with the Delegation of the Jewish Agency of Palestine in Istanbul, in the undercover delivery of immigration certificates to Palestine for Jewish refugees in Europe.
A special recognition deserves Nuncio Roncalli’s decision of sending priests from different countries ”temporary baptismal certificates”, religious documents that allowed thousands of Jews to save their lives.
The historical and documentary sources brought together in this work clearly prove that Nuncio Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli acted in his humanitarian actions by his own initiative, without following express orders of any Vatican hierarchy, in an uninterested and altruist way.
We hope that this work of historical investigation and compilation carried out by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation collaborates with the acknowledgement and universal evaluation of the humanitarian actions of Vatican Nuncio Angelo Roncalli in favor of all of those who were persecuted by Nazism, many of them Jews. Nuncio Roncalli is a hero of modern times, a religious leader who gave testimony of his moral commitment in dark hours of human history. He is an example for future generations.]]>
During the last months, the IRWF has carried out an exhaustive historical research related to different events connected with interventions of Nuncio Roncalli in favor of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
Until now three reports have been published compiling different studies and materials of historical research about the humanitarian actions carried out by Nuncio Roncalli.
The first report (December 2000) includes references – among others – to the following works: Haim Barlas, ”Salvage in the Holocaust”; Arthur Morse, ”While six millions died”; Peter Hebblethwaite, ”John XXIII, Pope of the Council”; Ted Szulc, ”The secret alliance: the extraordinary story of the rescue of the Jews since World War II”; Giancarlo Zizola, ”L’utopia di Papa Giovanni”; Stefano Trinchese, ”Roncalli, diplomatico in Grecia e Turchia”; Randolph Braham, ”The politics of Genocide – the Holocaust in Hungary”; Meir Tuval-Weltman ”How Pope John helped rescue European Jews” (article).
The second report (February 2001) includes a compilation of the Vatican documentation related to the humanitarian activity of Nuncio Roncalli, as included in the work Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale” published by the Holy See.
The third report (April 2001) makes reference to the following works: Barry Rubin, ”Istanbul intrigues”; Ira Hirschmannn, ”Cautions to the winds”; Stanford Shaw, ”Turkey and the Holocaust”; Peter Hebblethwaite, ”An exchange of blessings – Pope John XXIII and the Jews”; Randolph Braham, ”The politics of Genocide – The Holocaust in Hungary”; Christian Feldman, ”Pope John XXIII”; Hana Arednt, ”Men in dark times”; Jewish Encyclopedia (article); Catholic Family Review (article); John F. Morley, ”Vatican diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939 – 1943”.]]>