Historical Studies and researches

Delivery of ”immigration certificates” to Palestine through the Nunciature diplomatic courier

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)

Rescue of Jews by means of certificates of ”baptism of convenience” sent by Nuncio Roncalli to priests in Europe

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.”

Intervention to King Boris of Bulgaria in favor of Bulgarian Jews

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.

Intervention in favor of Jewish refugees from Transnistria

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)

Intervention in favor of Italian Jewish refugees on request of Isaac Herzog, Great Rabbi of Palestine

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)

Intervention in favor of Jewish refugees from Rumania, Slovakia and Croatia

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)

Intervention in favor of Jewish refugees from Greece

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.

Intervention in favor of Jewish refugees from France, Germany and Hungary

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.

Nuncio Roncalli’s personal disposition to help Jewish refugees taken to Istanbul or in transit to Palestine

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)”