Israel and the Holy See take baby steps towards change
For the first time, an Israeli diplomat has recognized that the rescuing of Jews in Italy during the Holocaust could not have taken place without the Vatican's supervision
The simple and direct words used yesterday by the Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See, Mordechai Lewy, passed almost unnoticed. Yet those few lines of his speech, pronounced on the occasion of the presentation of the medal of "Righteous Among Nations" in memory of the priest Don Gaetano Orionine Piccinini, mark an epoch-making change. For decades, in fact, no one had heard an Israeli diplomat say that the Jews rescued had been welcomed in the Eternal City «under the supervision of the highest summits of the Vatican».
These are the words of the Ambassador: "From the day of the round-up in the Rome ghetto on October 16, 1943, and the days that followed, monasteries and orphanages run by religious orders opened their doors to Jews and we have reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest levels of the Vatican, who were therefore informed of these actions, it would therefore be a mistake to state that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the Pope himself opposed efforts to save the Jews".
"The truth is rather quite different - continued Lewy - they helped whenever they could. The fact that the Vatican could not prevent the departure of the train that led to the extermination camp, during the three-day raid, from October 16th to 18th, only increased the willingness on the part of the Vatican, to offer their premises as refuge for the Jews".
"The Roman Jews had a traumatic reaction. They saw in the Pope a sort of protector and they expected him to save them and avoid the worst. Well, we all know what happened, but we must also admit that the train that departed on October 18, 1943 was the only convoy that the Nazis were able to organize from Rome to Auschwitz".
More accurate and recent research on Italy, such as that published by the historian Grazia Loparco, show that in more than 100 cities and 102 countries (these figures are constantly being updated and are growing), there were about 500 male and female religious houses that hid Jews to help them escape deportation.
Particularly significant is the issue of Rome, because in the capital of Christianity, of the approximately 750 religious houses present (475 female and 270 male) we possess certain and documented information that at least 220 female and 70 male institutes housed Jews for a few months, for a total of about 4,500.
This help is historically documented and could not be denied. The historical question, over which controversy thickened, was another: was all this the result of the spontaneous generosity of individuals or was it run by the Vatican? With figures like these, all it takes is common sense to understand how all this cannot only be chance. The cloistered convents that opened their doors could not have done so without knowing that it was what the Pope wanted.
Now Ambassador Levy recognizes that the Jews could not have been rescued without the Vatican’s supervision. Obviously, this finding does not close the debated issue on the "silence" of Pius XII, it does not exhaust the debate on what had been done and on how much more could have been done, nor deny that inside the Holy See, there were clashes again, as there had been before, between the different positions. But the words of the Israeli diplomat represent a significant step forward, towards more peaceful discussions and, above all, a more realistic outlook.