Pius XII told churches not to return Holocaust war babies

By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent


The Vatican instructed the Catholic church in France not to return Jewish children to their families after the Holocaust, according to a letter dated November 20, 1946, that was published Tuesday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

The children had been placed in the church’s care to save them from Nazi murder, but after the war the church was instructed to return them to surviving parents only if they had not been baptized.

The letter containing these instructions was sent by the Holy Office to Angelo Roncalli - later Pope John XXIII - who was then the papal representative in Paris.

“Please note that this decision has been approved by the Holy Father,” the letter emphasizes, referring to Pope Pius XII.

The letter reveals how the controversial wartime pope sought to restrict the number of children the church returned to their families by, among other things, instructing that baptized children “may not be entrusted to institutions that are not in a position to guarantee them a Christian upbringing.”

As for orphans who had not been baptized, the church must not hand them over to any “persons who have no rights over them”.

Roncalli had a reputation when previously serving as the Holy See’s envoy to Istanbul for favoring Jews.

In Paris he helped many Jews escape to Israel, and disobeyed the Vatican instructions by helping to return Jewish minors to their families.

On July 19, 1946, he sent a letter to the chief rabbi in Israel, Isaac Herzog (father of Israeli president Haim Herzog), in which he gives him permission “to use his [Roncalli’s] authority so these children can return to their original environment.”

Amos Luzzato, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in response Wednesday: “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews. There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.”

The publication of the letter to Roncalli will only add to the controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII, making it difficult for the Vatican to ignore accusations that the Vatican under his tenure did not do enough to combat Nazi persecution of Jews, and even helped Nazi war criminals to evade justice.

The latest revelations are also likely to hamper efforts by Pope John Paul II to lay the groundwork for beatifying Pius XII.

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