Report Nº3

Historical References About the Humanitarian Measures Undertaken by Nuncio Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (later known as Pope John XXIII) in favor of jews persecuted during the nazi regime

This report is the third of a series of surveys of bibliography carried out by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, with the aim of compiling studies and materials concerning historical research that document the humanitarian action undertaken by Archbishop Roncalli as Vatican Nuncio in Istanbul, during the Second World War.

The first report (December of the year 2000) includes references – among others – to the following works : Haim Barlas, ”Rescue 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 Vatican documents related to the humanitarian activity of Nuncio Roncalli, as it is referred to in the work ”Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale” published by the Holy See.

This report refers to the following books: Barry Rubin, ”Istambul intrigues” ; Ira Hirschmannn, ”Cautions to the winds” ; Stanford Shaw, ”Turkey and the Holocaust” ; Peter Hebblethwaite, ”An echange 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” ; Enciclopedia Judaica (article) ; Catholic Family Review (article) ; John F. Morley, ”Vatican diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939 – 1943”.


The historian and researcher Stanford J. Shaw makes reference to the humanitarian measures undertaken by Nuncio Giuseppe Angelo Roncalli in favor of Jewish refugees in his book ”Turkey and the Holocaust” (published by New York University Press) Professor Shaw includes the following references:

  1. ”Starting early in 1943, then, Bader (refers to Menahem Bader, secretary of the Rescue Committee headed by Haim Barlas in Istambul) that began to use as private couriers to carry both mail and money, people who were able to move relatively freely in the Nazi-occupied territories, particularly Turkish businessmen and truck drivers, a few diplomats, and couriers sent by the Papal representative in Istanbul, Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII” (Page 274)
  2. ”The Istanbul office of the Jewish Agency, considerably more than that in Geneva, often sent documents that European Jews needed to travel or to gain exemption from persecution or deportation, either passports or at least certificates of nationality issued by neutral countries, particularly those in Central or South America. Sometimes these documents were obtained in return for substantial payments to greedy consular officials. Sometimes they were obtained free from idealistic officials who realized how much the Jews were suffering and wanted to help. Many came from Catholics priests stimulated to help by the appeals of Monsigneur Roncalli in Istanbul (Page 276)
  3. ”Many of these activities (in reference to the rescue activities of Jewish refugees persecuted by the nazi regime by the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee in Istanbul) were materially assisted by Monsigneur Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, who after acting as Papal delegate to Bulgaria from 1925 to 1934 served as Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey from 5 January 1935 until the middle of 1944” (Page 277)
  4. ”Without any encouragement from the Vatican, moreover, Roncalli arranged with the Turkish government for food to be sent to starving Jews and Greeks in Greece during the winter of 1941-42, a shortage caused as much by Greek hoarding and the British blockade as it was by German confiscations and looting. Roncalli also arranged for the Holy See to use its influence in Germany to attempt to prevent deportations of Jews to the East for extermination as well as to get it to allow Jews to leave for Palestine, at least if they had valid immigration certificates issued to the British or by the Jewish Agency on British authority” (Page 278)(This reference is cited by professor Stanford based on professor Peter Hoffman’s book ”Roncalli in the Second World War: Peace Initiatives, the Greek Famine and the Persecution of the Jews, ”Journal of Ecclesiastical History XI, (1989) (Pages 77 – 84)
  5. According to the author, ”Aside from ignoring Papal orders not to assist the Jewish refugees coming to Turkey, Roncalli also intervened in Bulgaria to convince its King and Parliament not to accept German demands to deport all their Jews to Auschwitz” (note 390 on the footnote of page 278) (This affirmation of Professor Stanford is in accordance with the ones of the following researchers: Gilbert, ”Auschwitz” page 122 ; Barry Rubin, ”Istanbul Intrigues” pages 47-48, 93-94, 213-214 ; Peter Hoffmann, ”Roncalli in the Second World War : initiatives, the Greek Famine, and Persecution of the Jews” ; Journal of Ecclesiastical History XL (1989) Pages 74-99 ; Saul Friedlander ”Pie XII et le IIIe Reich” ; John Morley, ”Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust” ; Peter Hebblethwaite, ”Pope John XXIII : shepherd of the modern world” Pages 141-143 ; Vittoro Ugo Righi, ”Papa Giovanni sulle rive del Bosforo”; Ira Hirschmann, ”Caution to the Winds” Pages 179-185 ; Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, ”Roncalli Diplomatico in Turchia e Grecia 1935-1944” Pages 33-72
  6. ”Hirschmann (delegate of the War Refugee Board) worked closely with Papal representative in Istanbul, Monsigneur Angelo Roncalli, in helping and rescuing the Jews of Hungary, who had been placed in mortal danger by Germany’s occupation of the country in 1944. Using Aliyah agents as well as papal representatives and official diplomatic couriers, Roncalli also relied heavily on the communication networks and establishments of the Sisters of Zion, who had residences in both Tarabya on the Bosporus and in Budapest, to send thousands Turkish visas and Palestine immigration certificates, and even ”temporary” baptismal documents, some genuine and most forged, to Hungarian Jews that enabled them to join those who were fleeing through Turkey to Palestine as a result of the efforts of the Aliyah agents themselves” (Page 297)
  7. Largely as a result of Roncalli’s leadership and encouragement, large numbers of ”conversions of convenience” were arranged by nuns and priests in Hungary to enable its Jews to escape deportation and death (Page 298) (This quotation is based on the above mentioned work by foreseer Hoffman Pages 90-92)


In the Book ”Istanbul Intrigues” written by Barry Rubin it is stated that : ”Roncalli forwarded messages to the Vatican ; sent personal appeals to colleagues in occupied countries ; and asked his old friend, Bulgarias King Boris, to let Jews emigrate. There were some – usually temporary – succeses. Rabbi Isaac Hertzog, chief rabbi of Palestine, wrote Barlas in December 1943 : ”All Italian Jews (are) in extreme danger (and) about to be sent to concentration camps. Please contact His Eminence the Papal Nuncio in Turkey (in) view (of) his cabling urgent petition to his Holiness the Pope (to) use (his) influence (to) save our brethren.” Roncalli did as requested, and the deportations of Italian Jews sottped for a while. A similar appeal had some effect in Slovakia” (Page 214)


The American delegate of the War Refugee Board in Istanbul Ira Hirschmann tells in his book ”Caution to the winds” a conversation kept with Nuncio Roncalli about the rescue of Hungarian Jews by granting ”birth certificates” to the refugees. According to Hirschmann : ”Roncalli listened intently as I outlined the desperate plight of the Jews in Hungary. I cited the meager statistics avalaible to me and the many eyewitness accounts of underground operatives. As I emphasized each salient point, he nodded sympathetically. Then he pulled his chair up closer and quietly asked, ”Do you have any contact with people in Hungary who will co-operate?” After my affirmative reply, he hesitated a few moments before asking, ”Do you think the Jews would be willing to undergo baptism ceremonies?”

Not prepared for this suggestion, I equivocated a bit and said that I could only guess or assume that if it meant saving their lives they would be ready to do so gratefully. I added, ”I know what I would do.”

He went on to say that he had reason to believe that some baptismal certificates had already been issued by nuns to Hungarian Jews. The Nazis had recognized these as credentials and had permitted their holders to leave the country. We agreed that we would communicate with his representatives in Hungary and that I would get in touch with our underground connections to arrange for either large-scale baptism of Jews, or at least certificates to be issued to women and children. It would be up to them to decide later whether they would wish to remain in the Church or ”go their way”. The proposal and agreement had been accomplished in what seemed like a few minutes. It was clear to me that Roncalli had considered this plan before my arrival and that he had created an atmosphere in which to test my credentials, my discretion and my ability to help put the operation into practical effect. I had no doubt that the wheels would soon be set in motion in Hungary for Operation Baptism under the auspices and with the mercy of the Catholic Church (Pages 181-182)


Historian Peter Hebblethwaite, in his article ”An exchange for blessings – Pope John XXIII and the Jews” refers to two interviews that the Great Rabbi of Palestine Isaac Herzog held with Nuncio Roncalli about the fate of 55.000 Jews from Transnistria in Rumania. That territory – some kind of penal colony for Jews – was threatened by the Soviet approach and the Jews were being moved to the West towards the extermination camps. Three weeks after the interview, Nuncio Roncalli informs the Great Rabbi that the Holy See has taken actions in this regard. The rescue failed, though, for reasons not related to Roncalli, but he could inform that in July of 1944 a ship had arrived with 750 passengers, including orphans.


Researcher Randolph L. Braham in his book ”The Politics of Genocide – The Holocaust in Hungary” states ”Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the Apostolic delegate in Istanbul (later to become Pope John XXIII) and one of the Vatican’s main sources of information about the Nazis designs against the Jews, was among the first to alert the Vatican and the apostolic delegate in Budapest about the dangers confronting Hungarian Jewry”(Page 240)


The Jewish Encyclopedia states that Nuncio Angelo Roncalli helped – during the German occupation of Greece – the local people and made his greatest effort to prevent the deportation of Jews from Greece. Likewise, he interceded with King Boris III in favor of Bulgarian Jews and with the Turkish government for the Jewish refugees arriving to the country. He also helped Jewish groups in Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Italy and France.


In an article that appeared in ”Catholic family” review n÷10 autumn of 1991, it is stated: ”In Hungary, an estimated 80.000 baptism certificates were issued by the Ecclesiastical authorities to the Jews. In other areas in East Europe, the Vatican escape route (organized via Bulgaria by Nuncio Roncalli – later Pope John XXIII) has impressed the writers that have investigated this subject”


Christian Feldman, author of the book ”Pope John XXIII” points out : ”Because he resided in neutral Turkey, Roncalli could also do more than others for the Jews who were being hounded from country to country. In September 1940 one group of refugees from the Warsaw ghetto had brought him the first reports about the concentration camps and the massacres carried out by the Einsatzgruppen. More and more persecuted men and women wanted to travel through the Balkans to Palestine, where the British mandatory forces often blocked their entry” (Page 61)

”Roncalli worked with Jewish refugee organizations, with Chaim Barlas from the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and later with Chief Rabbi Israel Herzog of Jerusalem. He passed on their requests to the Vatican – including the wish to declare loudly and clearly that the Church’s help for threatened Jews should be viewed as a godly work of mercy… He scraped the bottom of his own resources and found a way to save from the death camps thousands of Slovakian Jews who were detained in Hungary or Bulgaria by signing their transit visas to Palestine” (Page 61)


Philosopher and publicist Hanah Arednt tells in her book ”Men in dark times” the following tale related to the humanitarian actions of Nuncio Roncalli in Istanbul: ”It is with respect to his work in Turkey, where, during the war, he came into contact with Jewish organizations (and, in one instance, prevented the Turkish governmente from shipping back to Germany some hundred Jewish children who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe)(Page 62)

According to Arednt, upon the outbreak of the war with Russia, he was approached by the German Ambassador, Franz von Papen, who asked him to use his influence in Rome for outspoken support of Germany by the Pope. ”And what shall I say about the millions of Jews your countrymen are murdering in Poland and in Germany?”. That was in 1942, when the mass killing just started (Page 62)


Researcher John Morley in the book ”Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1943” points out that ”The Apostolic delegate in Turkey, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, also interested himself in the Jews of Romania, sending to the Secretariat of State a list of names of Jewish families in Transnistria who were deserving of help”(Pag 43)

In another reference to Nuncio Roncalli’s actions in favor of Jews from Transnistria the author points out : ”The early months of 1944 were a time of renewed fear for the Jews remaining in Transnistria because of the German army’s retreat before the Soviets. Rabbi Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem appealed to Roncalli in Istanbul to bring this to the attention of the Vatican. This influenced Roncalli to discuss the situation in Transnistria with Barlas, the representative of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul. Barlas informed Roncalli that in the confusion of the Soviet advance only small groups of Jews had been able to escape. Barlas indicated, moreover, that the Turkish government would supply a ship for 1500 refugees and assure them of entry into Palestine. The Romanian, however, would have to organize the transport. Roncalli was asked to use his influence with Cassulo to accomplish this (Page 45)

Nuncio Roncalli also intervened in favor of French Jews. According to John F. Morley Archbishop Roncalli wrote Valeri from Istanbul on September 18 (1942) asking for help for a group of Jews from Perpignan, who were eager to emigrate to Palestine (Page 61)

Another intervention – this time in favor of children form Slovakia – took place on March 13 (1943) date in which Nuncio Roncalli sent a telegram to the Vatican’s State Secretary asking for Vatican’s intervention in favor of 1000 Jewish children so that they were allowed to emigrate to Palestine (Pages 91-92)

Nuncio Roncalli’s collaboration with Haim Barlas – delegate of the Jewish Agency for Palestine – is mentioned by John Morley in relation to a request made by Nuncio Roncalli in January of 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)

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 among the group of 400 Jews recently deported from Croatia was the President of the Jewish Community Ugo Kon and the Great Rabbi of the Community. Roncalli wrote immediately to Nuncio Marcone asking for his intervention in favor of deported Jews. Towards the middle of June Roncalli received a letter of gratitude from Meir Touval-Weltmann, agent of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul for his actions in favor of the people deported from Croatia (Page 161).