The Vatican, the Holocaust and the Archives, "Genocide Perspectives IV" (2012)

This article was commissioned by the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and will appear in its series Genocide Perspectives (IV) in 2012. It is reproduced here with the Institute's and editors' permission." 

Author note: the final essay was redacted from the original and contained a section on KL Auschwitz-Birkenau not included here.

The Vatican, the Holocaust and the Archives.

Abstract:  On Saturday 19 December 2009 Pope Benedict signed the decree approving the “heroic virtues” of his predecessor, Pius XII.  Another round of argument opened in the ongoing debate among historians over the wartime role of the pope.  Integral to finding an answer to the questions surrounding Pius are the contents of the Archivo Secreto Vaticano – the so-called “Secret Archives” which hold the personal files of the pope.  However, much material from the papal archives has been published over the years.  Of great importance are the twelve volumes of the Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatives à la Seconde Guerre mondiale (1965-1981).  They are a seriously under-utilised resource, even among scholars who have a professional expertise in the history of the Catholic Church during the World War and the Holocaust.  A full assessment of Pius XII will be possible only after all the documentary evidence has been appraised.  This will not happen until at least 2013, but a partial assessment is possible based on the available published record.  The finer details may remain in shadows, but the broad strokes, as revealed in Actes et Documents, demonstrates that even today much can be learned about the Vatican of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII.

Paul O’Shea

Towards the end of his long pontificate, John Paul II gave several directives to the Archivists of the Archivo Secreto Vaticano (ASV) – the ‘Secret Archives’.  The first instruction was to finalise the cataloguing of the German files from the papacy of Pius XI (1922-1939) and have them ready for public inspection by 2003.  The second instruction was similar.  Once the files for Germany 1922-1939 were completed, the files for Germany and the Holy See during the war years under Pius XII were to be prepared for eventual inspection.  On 15 February 2003 the ASV opened its doors to scholars who were able to study the files from the period 1922-1939.  At the beginning of 2009 it is still unclear as to when the war files will be ready, but Bishop Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Archives since 1997, believes the files will not be available until at least 2013.  He cites the sheer scale of documentation to be sorted and classified as the reason for the delay.  Pagano is quick to add that there is no conspiracy involved – it is the simple fact that it takes a lot of time for a staff of less than 30, of whom about 15 are trained archivists, to make their way through several million pages of documentation.[1]

However, if this were the only archival source that could help explore the history of the Holocaust and the role of the Catholic Church during those years, historians and students would have justifiable claim to be suspicious.  It is one of the simple facts that the layers of myth surrounding the ASV have obscured some important historical realities for many historians over the last half century.  Here I explore one particular aspect of this problem.

Archives and archives

It may seem trite to open with the assertion that many persons, including more than a few scholars, are unaware of the complexities surrounding the Vatican archives, but continued poor history writing from several sources make it necessary.   The most recent (in)famous use of the ASV was that by John Cornwall during research and writing for his 1999 book Hitler’s Pope.  In his introduction Cornwall claimed he had access to the ASV and had uncovered a  long-buried document that caused him to rethink his previously positive assessment of Eugenio Pacelli.  This claim might sound impressive, but it is a matter of public record that at the time that Cornwall claimed he was making these ‘discoveries’ he could only have had access to files up to 1922 – long before Hitler came to the attention of the then Nuncio to Germany or to Pacelli’s masters in Rome.  Careful wording lends Cornwall’s writing an air of professional historiography that is unjustified.[2] 

At the same time it is important to recognise that the work of scholars who have made extensive use of the ASV files that were made available in 2003.  Among the growing number include Gerhard Besier, The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany (2007), Peter Godman, Hitler and the Vatican (2004), Giovanni Sale, Hitler, la Santa Sede e gli Ebrei (2004) and my own work, A Cross Too Heavy (2008).  There is also the important work of Emma Fattorini, Germania e Santa Sede: Le nunziatura di Pacelli tra la Grande Guerra e la Repubblica di Weimar (1992) who made use of material from the files up to 1922.[3]

There are dozens of archival holdings in the Vatican State and around the city of Rome.  The ASV is simply the most well known.  Each of the nine Vatican departments, (congregations), has its own archive.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF) (or as it was better known before 1965, the Holy Office or Inquisition) housed in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio has been gradually opening up its archives for scholarly research since 1996.  In January 1998 all material up to 1903, the death of Pope Leo XIII, the first pope to open the ASV to historians, was made available.  Among the files were included the stories of some of the Vatican’s less flattering moments such as the trial documents of Galileo and the documents surrounding the Edgardo Mortara affair of the 1850s.[4]

To the unwary researcher the possibility of operating in ignorance of what is available remains a problem.

Other related archival sources are found in places such as the Archivio di Stato di Roma on Corso del Rinascimento which holds records for the City of Rome from 1871, including the German occupation and the round up of the Roman Jews in October 1943.  It is one of the basic tools of the historians’ trade to know not only what questions to ask of the issue being investigated, but to know where and how to find resources and to be imaginative in seeking them. 

For students of the Holocaust and the role the Catholic Church during the war years, there is an abundance of material readily available.  Much of it has not been used well.  One of the most important sources is the set of twelve volumes published by the Vatican.

Actes et Documents

In the storm of anti-Pius criticism that arose after the 1963 opening of Hochhuth’s play The Deputy, Pope Paul VI took the extraordinary measure of commissioning four professional historians, all of them Jesuits, to sort and sift their way through the files of the Secretariat of State of Pius XII between 1939 and 1945.  Their brief was to collate a selection of documents representative of the whole collection that would give as detailed a picture as possible of the work of the pope and his closest collaborators.  One of the close collaborators was Paul VI himself: throughout the war years he had worked in the Secretariat alongside the Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione.  Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul, was privy to much of the confidential material that made its way to and from the pope’s desk.  He was one of the last surviving eye-witnesses to the internal workings of the Vatican during the war years.

The historians - Pierre Blet, Angelo Martini, Burkhart Schneider, and Robert Graham – began their work in 1964 and published their findings as they completed each major historical and logical section.[5]  The title encapsulates the intention of both the pope and the historians: Acts and Documents of the Holy See relating to the Second World War.[6]  All men were professional historians with significant published works in church history.  It would be unprofessional to assert that there was a conspiracy operating among the four men as they selected documents for publication to ‘white wash’ Pius XII and his war record: they compiled a comprehensive portrait of the Vatican leadership trying to cope with the often horrific news streaming in from across Europe.  The documentation describing the plight of European Jewry provides an even more desperate and dreadful picture.

Structure of Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatives à la Seconde Guerre mondiale

The Vatican Secretariat of State was not the equivalent of a Foreign Affairs Ministry, but more akin to a combination of foreign affairs, prime minister and papal secretary.  The Secretariat sent and received letters, telegrams, telephone calls, press clippings, summary tables, detailed reports, confidential personal files and notes concerning the internal life of the Church – eg in matters of Canon Law, selection of bishops, requests for faculties (authority for bishops and heads of religious orders for the good-ordering of their dioceses, monasteries etc), as well as the religious life of the Church in areas such as Catholic Action, the operation of charitable works, the Catholic press, schools and hospitals.  The documents in ADSS reflect this.

1.                  The archives of the Secretary of State contain:
a)     messages and speeches of the Pope;
b)     letters exchanged between the Pope and religious and secular leaders;
c)      notes of the Secretary of State, private notes and memoranda;
d)     correspondence between the Secretary of State and nuncios, apostolic delegates and apostolic administrators;
e)     correspondence between the Secretary of State and ambassadors and ministers accredited to the Holy See.

2.                  ADSS has published the selected texts:
a)     The official addresses, speeches etc of Pius XII have been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1939-1958) or in the collection of the Pope’s speeches published after his death.  What is contained in ADSS are extracts relevant to a particular issue.
b)     ADSS has published some of Pius’ letters to religious and secular leaders.
c)      Memoranda of the Secretariat were composed after audiences with the Pope, meetings with ambassadors or a reflection on matters that may have required further action.  These were written or typed by the Cardinal Secretary of State (up to 1944, Cardinal Luigi Maglione 1877-1944), Secretary of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Domenico Tardini, (1888-1961), the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Giovanni Batista Montini (1897-1978).

3.                  The correspondence exchanged with the Holy See and its representative contains:
a)     original reports sent by nuncios etc to the Secretariat;
b)     telegrams sent from nuncios etc to Cardinal Secretary of State and others by the department of telegrams and ciphers;
c)      drafts prepared for the nuncios;
d)     drafts of telegrams to be encoded.

4.                  ADSS has published the documents in chronological order which gives an accurate impression of the flow of information into and out of the Vatican.  Each document is listed with its archive number and original form (hand-written, typed etc).  Internal cross-referencing follows in the footnotes.
5.                  The vast majority of the documents are short reports, some as brief as one line.  There are occasional detailed reports, but these are the exception.  During the war letter writing became a seldom indulged luxury.  Increasingly, the Vatican relied on sharp and concise communication.  However, lengthy reports were still sent and provide valuable information, but the time it took to reach Rome increased as the war went on, and could take as long as months when sent from Eastern Europe. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at Holocaust chronology and attempting to explain why a response sometimes took so long.
6.                  There are lacunae.  Notable are most of the letters from Bishop Konrad Preysing of Berlin to Pius XII in 1943 and 1944 (about which the pope refers in his letters to Preysing), almost any reference to the Rome-based ‘brown bishop’, Austrian Alois Hudal (whose pro-Nazi sympathies were well known in Berlin),  the Riegner Report (where new of the “Final Solution” is made clear and which is mentioned but not published)[7], the Auschwitz Protocols (describing the process of industrialised mass murder) and, surprisingly given the scale of German atrocities, virtually everything appertaining to Eastern Europe except for Poland and the Baltic States.  Pertinently, there are few major details missing from reports concerning the killing of the Jews.

The twelve volumes were published between 1965 and 1981.  They include over 5,000 documents in original languages (mostly Italian, the working language of the Vatican), many with footnotes and references to other published sources.  A sentence synopsis of the text in French heads every document.  Each volume has an introductory essay also written in French, giving the main themes of the focus for that collection of documents as well as placing them within the broader context of the war.  At the end of the first volume there are comprehensive appendices of the Nuncios, Internuncios and Apostolic Delegates who acted as the diplomatic representatives of the Pope across the world, giving a wealth of information on who was where and when.  There is a detailed appendix of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, including the changes in personnel caused by the unpredictable nature of the war.  In effect, the reader is given a considerable amount of help from the editors in order to understand the documents.

Volumes 1, 4, 5, 7 and 11 contain documents about the Vatican and the prosecution of the war in Europe and later, the global conflict.

Volumes 6, 8, 9 and 10 are devoted to the work of the Holy See and the victims of the war, including the Jews of Europe.

Volume 2 contains a selection of the letters of Pius XII to the bishops of Germany.  Some of the letters of the German bishops to Pius are found throughout the other volumes or in independent references.

Volume 3 is divided into two parts that deal with the Vatican, Poland and the Baltic States – ‘the East’. 

There is a detailed index (in French) at the end of each volume. 

There is evidence of considerable effort made to ensure a high level of continuity between the documents.  One example from Volume 1 demonstrates this.  In the final days before the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the Vatican was engaged in a major diplomatic effort to avoid war and bring Germany and Poland to the negotiating table.  Cardinal Luigi Maglione, the Secretary of State, was in regular telegram, telephone and cable communication with the Nuncios in Berlin and Warsaw as well as the other capitals of Europe listening and suggesting strategies to avoid a war.  Throughout the documents there is a high level of realpolitik about Hitler, the value of his promises and claims, and the webs of alliances between different states. 

ADSS 1.153

In document 153, of 30 August 1939, Cardinal Maglione, the Secretary of State directed Archbishop Filippo Cortesi, the Nuncio to Poland, to present to the President of Poland a proposal suggesting Poland ‘return’ Danzig to Germany in order to bring Hitler back to the negotiating table.  Cross-referenced to this are earlier documents that show the development of this instruction which, if left standing alone and without context, could lead to a highly negative assessment of the Holy See.  The reader must also keep in mind that this ‘string’ of documents occurred during the last days of peace, when communication between Warsaw and Rome was free and unimpeded.

Document 102 – 18 August, Cortesi to Maglione: Polish government does not know what the Holy See can do to further peace; German troops are concentrated on the Pomeranian-German border;

Document 121 – 25 August, Cortesi to Maglione: the Polish government has given the secret order to mobilise all men up to 40 years of age in the border province next to East Prussia;

Document 125 – 26 August, Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, Nuncio to Germany to Maglione: Germany is prepared for war with Poland but would prefer negotiation to settle problems; but be warned German honour has been insulted and they are prepared to fight.

Document 128 – 26 August, Maglione to Cortesi: Cortesi is to let the Polish government know that if they made some concession to Germany on the question of Danzig war could be avoided;

Document 135 – 27 August, Cortesi to Maglione: Polish government is afraid of any concessions to Germany;

Document 136 – 27 August, Cortesi to Maglione: added from document 135 that Poland is concerned that any move to grant concessions would admit German accusations of persecution of the German minority in Poland and that the government knew of Hitler’s method of extending territorial claims through such accusations.

The outcome of all this manoeuvring came to naught; but Maglione, Cortesi, Orsenigo, and ultimately, the Pope, believed they had to work for peace.  Perhaps the saddest and most poignant document that follows this example is the belated acknowledgement and thanks for the Pope’s efforts given by the Polish government on 14 September, written three days before the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east and two weeks before Warsaw finally capitulated.[8] 

In some respects this example is atypical of much of the material.  Conditions during wartime made correspondence difficult.  However, there were ‘grades’ of difficulty.  Diplomatic notes, letters and telegrams usually ‘got through’ with a minimum of interference, regardless of Axis or Allied origins.  The glaring exceptions were Poland, the Baltic States (apart from the first Soviet occupation in 1940) and German-occupied Russia and Ukraine.  Some letters from bishops in Lithuania and Ukraine could take several months to reach the Vatican; but Berlin nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, was still sending promptly delivered communiqués to Rome up until late March 1945.  Some parts of German occupied Poland had virtually unrestricted communication with Rome and others had very limited contact.

External cross-referencing

By the time the last volume of ADSS was published in 1981 the amount of edited and published war-time material available was staggering.  It began in 1946 when the International Military Tribunal published the records of the Nuremburg Trials, providing a major source of primary material on the prosecution of the war in Europe with a particular focus on war crimes, especially the genocide of the Jews.  Documents on British Foreign Policy 1918-1945 were published between 1949 and 1983; those of the United States had been published since 1949; and in 1957 the US Department of State published, in English, documents on German foreign policy between 1918 and 1945.  Between 1953 and 2000 Italy published Volumes 6 through to 10 of Documenti Diplomatici Italiani which covered the Fascist era, the 1939-1943 war, the German occupation and liberation.  All these collections contain significant references to the murder of the Jews of Europe at all stages of the genocide. 

The ASV has continued its own research.  A major documentary collection was published in 2004.  The two volumes of Inter Arma Caritas: L’Ufficio Informazioni Vaticano per I Priginionieri de Guerra istituito da Pio XII (1939-1947) is one of the most significant records of war-relief work for prisoners of war and, despite the title, other victims of war, including Jews.[9]  Over three million records are contained in the collection.  It is an impressive work and one that demands attention: it has been released in both book and CD form.

It is important to note some of the more important collections of Church archives from outside Rome.  Among the published collections are works such as Dieter Albrecht’s edited collection of the formal notes exchanged between the Vatican and Reich government (published between 1965-80 and practically contemporary with ADSS).  This work has been complimented and expanded by Thomas Brechenmacher at the University of Potsdam, the six volumes (1968-85) recording the formal proceedings of the German bishops under the Third Reich; and the growing number of published archival records of individual German bishops of which the formidable 1975 Akten Kardinal Michael von Faulhaber 1917-1945, edited by Ludwig Volk is just one example.[10]  

Caution is necessary.  Archives in many parts of Germany and Eastern Europe often did not survive the war or were badly damaged.  Nearly the entire archives of the Berlin Diocese and the Apostolic Nunciature were destroyed in air raids.    What remains fills a couple of slender files.[11]  My attempt to rebuild the activities of the diocese and nunciature with regard to the ‘Jewish Question’ is made all the more difficult.  Maintenance of archives under communism was not a high priority for the church and while some archives have been centralised and recorded, there is much that remains unexamined and much has been lost. 

It is in collections such as these that material to compliment and, sometimes challenge, ADSS, is to be found.  One of the criticisms levelled at ADSS is what is not found in its pages, a comment found in the work of historians such as Michael Phayer and Susan Zuccotti and in my own study of the period.  One oft-cited example is the report of Gerhardt Riegner which was sent to Rome in early 1942.[12]  By using other published collections to cross-reference what is not found in ADSS a more complete record is established.  ADSS Volume 2 contains Pius’ letters to the German bishops but it does not contain the letters they wrote to him.  By using sources such as Bernard Stasiewski, editor of Akten Deutscher Bischöfe überdie Lage der Kirche 1933-1945, the historian is able to re-construct some of the correspondence.[13]  Until the remaining archives are open, it may be the only method for the foreseeable future.  Other sources are the hundreds of local diocesan and congregational archives.  The work of Susan Zuccotti in Under His Very Windows is a case in point.

Tracing the Holocaust

In a collection as considerable as ADSS the historian needs to look carefully for threads across the volumes.  Using key words will not suffice.  A general appreciation of the history of the war is essential in order to search effectively for the less than obvious references to antisemitism or ‘non-Aryans’.  The Vatican used the political language of the day, varying according to the government or diplomat it was dealing with.  Circumspection when asking for details about concentration-camp prisoners from the German Foreign Office was replaced with plain-speaking when discussing the same matter with the personal representative of President Roosevelt.  While it is true that the Vatican was as well-informed as either Roosevelt or Churchill, although in different ways and by different means, it is inaccurate to presume that the pope’s bureaucracy was a model of perfection.  Mistakes were made; prejudices and confusion in reports sometimes obscured the picture.  The purpose here is to note what is present in ADSS, rather than interpretation of the documents.

What emerges very early in ADSS is the rapidly expanding scale of both the Vatican’s attempts to help victims of the war, and the requests made of the Holy See by governments and aid agencies, including Jewish communal and international groups. 

A statistical survey of ADSS demonstrates something of the Vatican’s involvement in, and awareness of, “The Jewish Question”.  This indicates an active concern to receive and transmit information, request information of governments and aid agencies as well as the internal structures of the Church across Europe and even as far afield as Shanghai where a group of refugee Polish rabbis waited while Rome attempted to broker a way for them to leave China.

Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 11 document the ‘conventional’ war, the restrictions placed on the Church in different parts of German-occupied Europe and the constant discussions with bishops, nuncios, diplomats, heads of state and military leaders over issues that ranged from episcopal appointments to appeals to spare Rome from bombing.  References to the Jews are more incidental, but that they appear in ‘conventional’ documents illustrates the pervasive nature of Nazi Antisemitism.  Within these volumes there are close to 55 individual documents that mention Jews, Jewish suffering, Antisemitism and German anti-Jewish atrocities.

Table 1
Specific mention of Jews
War Mar 1939-August 1940
Letters of Pius XII to the German bishops
Poland and the Baltic Sates Feb 1939 – Dec 1941
Poland and the Baltic States Jan 1942 – May 1946
War: Jun 1940 –Jun 1941
War: Jul 1941 – Oct 1942
War: Nov 1942 – Dec 1943
War: Jan 1944 – May 1945

The remaining volumes, 6, 8, 9 and 10 deal with the victims of war.  There are hundreds of documents that deal directly with ‘non-Aryans’ or ‘Jews’ and the events led up to and including the genocide of European Jewry.

Table 2
Specific mention of Jews
Mar 1939 – Dec 1940
154 (36%)
Jan 1941 – Dec 1942
195 (33.5%)
Jan 1943 – Dec 1943
205 (41.6%)
Jan 1944 – Jul 1945
180 (36.8%)

Of the 5089 documents in ADSS, 734 (14.5%) relate directly to persecution and murder of Jews.

These documents refer to almost every aspect of Jewish life under German occupation.   A detailed analysis of ADSS is beyond the scope of this paper, but a tabulated excursus into the material concerning Slovakia in 1942 when the machinery and apparatus of the ‘Final Solution’ were in the process of refinement gives a clear idea of what information Rome received and, importantly, Rome’s responses.  The chronology that follows is taken directly from ADSS and shows what was known and what was done.  Where necessary I have included external references.

A chronology from ADSS of the persecution of the Jews of Slovakia in 1942


Nineteen forty-two was the turning point for the Jews of Europe. Since the outbreak of war in September 1939, European Jews who found themselves under German domination joined the Jews of Germany and Austria as the primary victims of Nazi violence. Dispossessed, despoiled and deported, walled up in ghettos, stripped of all legal protection, persecuted at whim and exploited as expendable slave labour, Jews lived in a terrifying and murderous isolation from the rest of humanity. No other victim group of the Nazis was as isolated and vulnerable – but, as the documents in the ADSS demonstrate, the isolation was not unknown, nor was the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’.   However, the Germans could not murder Europe’s Jews without considerable cooperation from non-German sources.  Centuries of Christian Jew-hatred and its more virulent mutation, racial Antisemitism meant that the Berlin ‘desk killers’ did not have to look far to find willing accomplices.  The government of Slovakia was not slow to mimic their German overlords.  And the Vatican’s diplomats reported regularly, and with a high degree of accuracy, the gradual process of dispossession, deportation and disappearance of the Jews.

Slovakia was different from every other country in Europe both before and during the war. Created from the dismembered Czechoslovak republic in 1939, the right-wing government was given permission by Hitler to declare itself independent (but it was not, as far as Germany was concerned).   Its head of state was a Catholic priest, Josef Tiso, and its governing ideology was a mix of Catholic restorationism and nationalism mixed with an adapted German-style fascism, which included a vicious hatred of Jews.  The Vatican looked in askance at Tiso the priest in politics, not so much the politics itself.[14]  When the Slovakian parliament passed anti-Jewish laws in September 1941, the papal Chargé d’affaires, Monsignor Giuseppe Burzio, was instructed to protest:[15] Maglione summoned the Slovakian minister in Rome, Karel Sidor, and expressed his anger at the passing of the laws.[16] The protest did nothing to stop preparations for deportations that were planned for March 1942.

On 26 March 1942 the first transport of 999 Slovakian Jewish girls and women left Bratislava for Auschwitz.   Since the passing of the anti-Jewish laws six months earlier, Tiso’s government progressively had impoverished the Jews of Slovakia, stolen and “Aryanised” their businesses, pushed them out of the professions and industry and effectively made them paupers.  It made economic sense to deport them.  Prime Minister Vojtekh Tuka offered the Germans 20000 Jews for forced labour outside Slovakia.  Adolf Eichmann accepted the offer.  He needed more workers for the building projects at Birkenau and nearly all the Soviet prisoners who had worked on the new camp had been worked to death.   Tuka also offered to pay RM500 per Jew on condition that they never return to Slovakia and their property was forfeited to the Slovakian state.  Eichmann agreed.

Between March and June 1942 52000 Jews were deported – most of them to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  After June, the deportations slowed largely due to the interventions made through the Vatican’s representative in Bratislava, Monsignor Burzio, not the Slovakian bishops, many of whom remained, if not hostile to Jews, then, indifferent to their fate.  The Slovakian minister to the Holy See, Karel Sidor, was also under pressure from Cardinal Maglione who spoke in the Pope’s name.  The Holy Father wanted the trains stopped.  And stopped they were for several months before resuming at a slower rate in September. 

Once the Vatican view was known among the Slovak bishops, attitudes began to change slowly.  A pastoral letter written in April spoke of the right of the Jews to humane treatment based on civil and natural law while at the same time berating them for killing Christ.   The German minister in Bratislava, Hans Ludin, complained to Berlin that deportations were slowing because of the interference of the Church, government exemptions, and the corruption of officials.  The church had granted exemptions for at least 20000 baptised Jews.  More exemptions were approved by the government for at least another 15,000 Jews.  For tactical reasons Himmler and Eichmann accepted the deadlock, but only as a temporary measure.  The Jews of Slovakia were slated for death in the same way that every other Jew in Europe was doomed to be murdered.  Transports resumed in the autumn of 1944 in the wake of the failed partisan uprising.

Table 3 sets out in chronological order the documents found in ADSS that deal with Slovakia in 1942.  The information contained in each document was as accurate a record as possible at the time and is a valuable indicator of the different types of information available.

Table 3

ADSS Chronology of the persecution of the Jews of Slovakia 1942


Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d'affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State
Reports on the introduction of the Jewish Code in Slovakia with comments.  A detailed summary with particular mention of racial definitions, the status of mixed marriages, the wearing of the Star of David, banning of kosher preparation of meat, exclusion from the professions, exemptions for baptised Jews.
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d'affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Report on the Slovakian bishops meeting and their response to the race laws.  Details the bishops’ acceptance of the right of the State to order civil affairs, asserts the Church’s right to regulate marriage, rejects of ‘materialistic racism’, defends the Catholicity of baptised Jews.
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports inhuman treatment of Russian POWs and Jews imprisoned in eastern Slovakia.
Cardinal Maglione
Karel Sidor, Slovakian minister to the Holy See, Slovakian Minister to Holy See
Vatican objections to racial legislation in Slovakia: asserts the right of the Church to regulate marriage including mixed marriages, and the rights of baptised Jews. The Holy See cannot be indifferent to this.


Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’Affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports that the deportation of Slovakian Jews to Galicia and the Lublin region is imminent.  No regard is to be given age, gender, religion or family.  The Slovak government has agreed to pay the Germans RM500 per deportee.  The whole process is expected to take about two weeks.  Burzio protested to the President of the Council of Ministers; it is inhuman and anti-Christian.  At the end of the report Burzio wrote: “The deportation of 80,000 people to Poland at the mercy of the Germans is equivalent to condemning the greater part to certain death.”
Filippo Bernadini, Nuncio Switzerland
Cardinal Maglione
Reports received from Caritas Switzerland and Agudas Israel indicate the deportation of 135,000 Slovakian Jews to begin 23 March.
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’Affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports received from Slovakian military chaplains tell of SS led [Einsatzgruppen] massacres of Jews in German-occupied Russia.
Angelo Rotta, Nuncio Hungary
Cardinal Maglione
Appeal for papal intervention for Slovakian Jews threatened with expulsion into Poland with an attached appeal from the Jewish Community of Bratislava: “We are condemned to destruction”.
Cardinal Maglione
Karel Sidor, Slovak Legation to the Holy See
Informs Sidor of reports of imminent expulsion of 80,000 Jews to Galicia and the Lublin region.  Expresses the hope that this information is not true.
Cardinal Maglione
Filippo Bernardini, Nuncio Switzerland
Instructions for intervention for Slovakian Jews.
Filippo Bernardini, Nuncio Switzerland
Cardinal Maglione
Report on the situation of the Jews of Central Europe – enclosed in the report was the Riegner telegram – response made Doc 322
Angelo Rotta, Nuncio Hungary
Cardinal Maglione
Appeal for intervention for Slovakian Jews who were to be deported to Galicia made by the Chief Rabbi of Budapest. Response made Doc 322
Giovanni Montini, Secretariat of State,  note

Pius XII agreed to discuss the matter with the Slovakian minister. 
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports that deportation of Slovak Jews suspended because of the intervention of the Holy See.  However, one transport left last night – girls aged 16-25.  Rumoured to be sent to the Russian front as prostitutes. [All 999 were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz]
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione

Reports the government has not abandoned plans to deport Slovak Jews as reported yesterday.  First group was sent.  Men and women – 10 000 to be deported.  Cardinal Maglione wrote on the telegram “I do not know what steps to take to stop these lunatics!  And the madness of those two: Tuka who acts and Tiso – a priest – who lets him do it!”
D’Arcy Osborne, UK Minister to Holy See
Cardinal Maglione
Appeal to the Holy See to intervene with Tiso in favour of the 90000 Slovak Jews, especially those in ghettoes close to the Polish border.
Cardinal Maglione
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Maglione has asked Sidor to intervene with his government to stop the deportations.  Burzio instructed to appeal to Tiso as a priest.
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports the deportation of the Jews has begun and is conducted with great brutality.  The government claims it is in accord with the Church.  Bishop Vojtaššák urged the Church authorities “not to create problems for the government or the president of the republic, for the Jews were the greatest enemies of Slovakia, and things should be allowed to run their course …”.
Filippo Bernardini, Nuncio Switzerland
Cardinal Maglione
Reports the gratitude of the World Jewish Congress for the steps taken in favour of the Slovak Jews
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports that deportation of Slovak Jews continues; Jews fleeing to Hungary, brutal scenes.  The only hope left for Jews is the a presidential exemption.
Cardinal Maglione note

Vatican protest over the deportation of Slovak Jews made to the Slovak minister Karel Sidor, who attempted to justify the deportations.
Angelo Rotta, Nuncio Hungary
Cardinal Maglione
Reports information on Slovak Jews relayed through a Hungarian woman who has the impression that the Pope’s intervention has had an effect on Tiso.  She spoke highly of Burzio, who, though isolated, was a man of courage.
Cardinal Maglione
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Sends an account of Vatican protest to the Slovak minister on 11 April (see 334, 346).
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Sends a copy of the letter of the Slovak bishops concerning the racial laws.  Baptism is the only sure way for the Jews to reach safety.
Angelo Rotta, Nuncio Hungary
Cardinal Maglione
Sends a letter from Fr Pozdech in Slovakia to the President of the Jewish Community in Budapest appealing for a world-wide condemnation of the persecution of the Jews
Babuscio Rizzo, Counsellor of the Italian Embassy to the Holy See;  notes

Declaration of the Slovak government concerning racial legislation – “the definitive decision for the total resolution of the Jewish problem … baptised or not, all the Jews must be removed.”
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Cardinal Maglione
Reports on the newly passed retroactive law to legalise the deportations and stripping of citizenship of the Jews.  Jews baptised before 14 March 1939, or married to non-Jews before 10 September 1941 or in receipt of a presidential exemption were not subject to these laws.  Burzio commented that priests members of the assembly either voted for the law or abstained; none voted against it.
Karel Sidor, Slovakian minister to the Holy See
Cardinal Maglione
Provides justification for new anti-Jewish laws in Slovakia.  The laws were necessary to resolve the serious “Jewish Question” in Slovakia. The European solution is to settle the Jews outside Aryan areas.
Rabbi Joseph Hermann Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire
Cardinal Maglione
Appeals to the Holy See for Slovak Jews.
Cardinal Maglione
Giuseppe Burzio, Chargé d’affaires, Bratislava
Instruction to convey to the government that the Holy See deplores the racial legislation in Slovakia, “which was passed with the participation of various priests, deputies of the Parliament.”
Domenico Tardini, Secretariat of State; notes

Concerning the Slovak Jews and the frustration with Tiso of whom he wrote: “It is a great misfortune that the President of Slovakia is a priest. Everyone knows that the Holy See cannot bring Hitler to heel. But who will understand that we can not even control a priest?
Giuseppe Marcone, Papal Representative, Croatia
Cardinal Maglione
Reports difficulty trying to obtain information regarding Croatian Jews.  Estimates up to two million Jews have been murdered.
Calliste Lopinot, OFM Cap
Francesco Borgongini Duca, Nuncio Italy
Reports that news is reaching the internees in Ferramonti telling of massive deportations of Jews from Germany and France to places in Poland.  Jews with family members in Slovakia, Germany, Holland and France are understandably worried.
Italian ambassador

Information on persecution of Jews in Slovakia; estimates that 70000 Jews have been deported; 16 to 20000 remain because of exemptions.  Comments on an antisemitic speech of Tiso when he doubted the sincerity of Jewish converts.  This provoked opposition among Catholic clergy.
Giovanni Montini, Secretariat of State,  notes

On 26 September, Myron Taylor delivered the most graphic report of the killing of the Jews to Cardinal Maglione. Contained within the memorandum were details of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, mass executions at specially prepared camps such as Belzek (sic), continuing deportations across Europe, and the belief that there were no Jews left alive in eastern Poland or occupied Russia and very few left in Lithuania. Taylor asked: “I should like to know whether the Holy Father has any suggestions as to any practical manner in which the forces of civilized public opinion could be utilized in order to prevent a continuation of these barbarities.” (FRUS 1942.3, pp 775) Cardinal Maglione replied “I do not believe we have the information to confirm – in particular – this very serious note. Is it not like that?”
Giovanni Montini, Secretariat of State,  notes

Information on massacre of Jews.  Record of Tittmann’s audience with Pius XII – 26.09. 
Casimir Papee Polish Ambassador to Holy See; notes

News of massacres of Jews in Poland – Vilna ghetto (from 80,000 to 12,000), Warsaw ghetto (methodical emptying of the ghetto) deportations to Lublin; death by asphyxiation.
Secretariat of State
Harold Tittmann, Chargé d’affaires US
Cardinal Maglione communicated a formal reply to Taylor’s letter. The Secretary of State could not have made the reply without at least the tacit approval of the Pope. In his response, the Cardinal said that “reports concerning severe measures taken against Non-Aryans” had reached the Holy See “from a number of different sources”. He did add that the Holy See was taking every possible action to help mitigate the sufferings of the non-Aryans. The comment of Harold Tittmann, Chargé d’affaires, was blunt:
I regret that [the] Holy See could not have been more helpful but it was evident from the attitude of the Cardinal that it has no practical suggestions to make. I think it is perhaps likely that the belief is held that there is little hope of checking Nazi barbarities by any method except that of physical force coming from without. (FRUS 3.1942, 778-9)
Cardinal Maglione, notes

After discussing concerns about bombing of civilian targets, D’Arcy Osborne, UK Minister to Holy See asked ‘But why has the Holy See not intervened against the terrible massacre of the Jews?’ I replied that the Holy Father had in his messages already claimed for all humanity, without distinction of race or confession, the right to life, to a peaceful existence, and sufficient participation in the goods of the earth. He [D’Arcy Osborne, UK Minister to Holy See] was unaware, I added, of how much the Holy Father had done and was doing to alleviate the suffering of the poor Jews. They send good wishes and thanks to the Holy See frequently for what the Holy See has done for them. The Minister insisted on this point: it is necessary for the Holy See to intervene for the massacring of the Jews to stop.
Casimir Papee, Polish Ambassador to Holy See
Cardinal Maglione
Reports information on the extermination of the Jews in Poland, including reports of the “liquidation” of the Warsaw ghetto.
Rabbi Joseph Hermann Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire
Pius XII
Appeals to the Pope to speak out against the murder of the Jews.
Cardinal Maglione
Amleto Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate, USA
Response to 575 – Holy Father doing all possible.


ADSS represents one of the richest and most valuable sources for historians studying the role and roles of the Catholic Church during the years of the Holocaust.  It does not contain everything, but then neither does any archive have “everything”.  What the student can and will find in ADSS is a substantial selection of documents that gives a comprehensive picture of how the Vatican and its representatives across Europe, and in this particular case, Slovakia, learned, in piecemeal fashion, of the ever-increasing dangers faced by the Jews, the responses and actions taken to ameliorate conditions and attempt the nigh-impossible, namely, to stop the deportation of Jews to the death camps.  The case of Slovakia shows one set of circumstances where the representatives of the Holy See did what they could with the information that was reported to them even when the results were meagre.


Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre mondiale, 12 Volumes, Vatican City (1965 – 1981).

Friedländer, Saul, (2007), Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination, Harper Collins, New York

Paldiel, Mordecai, (2006), Churches and the Holocaust: Unholy Teaching, Good Samaritans and Reconciliation, KTAV, Jersey City, NJ.

Zuccotti, Susan, (2000) Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy, Yale University Press, New Haven.

[1] By comparison the National Archives and Record Administration, the National Archive of the USA employs around 3000 archivists and specialists.

[2] See Peter Gumpel, Cornwell’s cheap shot at Pius XII in Crisis, December 1999, pp 19-25.  There have been hundreds of articles written on Cornwall and his methodology.  As of writing (December 2009) Cornwall has admitted that his 1999 book lacked some historical rigour.

[3] Fattorini, Emma, (1992) Germania e Santa Sede: Le nunziature di Pacelli tra la Grande guerra e la Repubblica di Weimar, Società editrice il Mulino, Bologna.
[5] Pierre Blet (1918 – 2009, France), Angelo Martini (1913-1981, Italy), Burkhart Schneider (1917-1976, Germany), and Robert Graham (1912-1997, United States)
[6] Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatives à la Seconde Guerre mondiale, 12 Volumes, Vatican City (1965-81).  Hereafter ADSS.
[7] ADSS, 8.314, 19.03.1942, Nuncio Filippo Bernardino to Cardinal Maglione.
[8] ADSS, 1.201, 14.09.1939, Ambassador Casimir Papee to the Secretary of State.
[9] Inter Arma Caritas: L’Ufficio Informazioni Vaticano per I Priginionieri de Guerra istituito da Pio XII (1939-1947) 2 Volumes, Vatican City (2004).
[10] Albrecht, Dieter (ed.) (1965-1980) Der Notenwechsel zwischen dem Heiligen Stuhl und der Deutschen Reichsregierung, 3 Vols, Matthias-Grünewald, Mainz; Thomas Brechenmacher, (2005) “Pope Pius XI, Eugenio Pacelli and the Persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939: New Sources from the Vatican Archives” in Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London, 27.2, 17-44; Stasiewski, Bernhard (ed.) (1968-1985) Akten Deutscher Bischöfe über die Lage der Kirche 1933-1945, 6 Vols, Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, Mainz; Volk, Ludwig (ed.) (1975) 2 Vols, Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, Mainz.
[11] Thomas Brechenmacher to the author, 08 Mar 2009.
[12] See Michael Phayer (2008) Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, xiii-xv; Susan Zuccotti (2000) Under his very windows: The Vatican and the Holocuast in Italy, Yale University Press, New Haven, 7; ADSS 8.314.
[13] Stasiewski, Bernhard (ed.) (1968–85) Akten Deutscher Bischöfe über die Lage der Kirche 1933–1945, 6 Vols, Matthias–Grünewald–Verlag, Mainz.
[14] Cf ADSS 4.52, Burzio to Maglione, 21.08.1940, note 2. Tardini had been instructed on 12 November 1939 to write to Orsenigo in Berlin telling his to find a way to let Tiso know of the Vatican’s displeasure at his appointment as President.
[15] ADSS 8.153, Burzio to Maglione 18.09.1941.
[16] ADSS 8.199, Maglione to Sidor, 12.11.1941.

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