New research reveals rare criticism from within the Vatican of Holocaust-era pope Pius XII for his silence in the face of the destruction of European Jewry. Pius XII is controversial due to claims that he knew of the genocide as early as the early 1940s but did not act to stop it. In 1999, the Vatican appointed the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission to investigate the charges against Pius XII, however the panel disbanded after it was refused access to archival material.
Prof. Dina Porat, who headed the Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Tel Aviv University, centered her research on criticism of Pius XII from the Papal Nuncio Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who 15 years later became Pope John XXIII. According to Porat’s research, in 1943, Roncalli, then the nuncio in Turkey, wrote to the Catholic president of Slovakia asking him to stop the deportation of Slovakian Jews to Auschwitz. He wrote at the behest of Jewish Agency delegate Haim Barlas with whom he had a close personal relationship.
In 1944, Barlas received the ”Auschwitz Protocols,” detailed accounts by Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who had escaped the concentration camp in April of that year. Barlas sent the diaries directly to Roncalli, later writing in his memoirs that a shocked Roncalli read them with tears. According to Barlas, after reading the eyewitness accounts, Roncalli told him he was filled with resentment towards his superiors, ”whose power and influence are great, but who refrain from action and resourcefulness in extending concrete help.”
Roncalli told Barlas he would send the protocols to the Vatican immediately. This does not correspond with the official Vatican version that Pope Pius XII only received the protocols in October of that year. Days after Roncalli’s conversation with Barlas, the pope sent a letter to Hungarian Regent Horthy asking him to stop the ”human suffering” in his country, without explicitly referencing the Jews.
Deportations to Auschwitz did stop shortly after that, but only after 400,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives there.