Jewish Children, but at What Cost?
ELAINE SCIOLINO and JASON HOROWITZ
Published: January 9, 2005
PARIS, Jan. 8, 2005
- In October 1946, just a year after the defeat of the
Nazis, the Vatican weighed in on one of the most painful
episodes of the postwar era: the refusal to allow Jewish
children who had been sheltered by Catholics during the
war to return to their own families and
A newly disclosed
directive on the this subject provides written
confirmation of well-known church policy and practices at
the time, particularly toward Jewish children who had
been baptized, often to save them from perishing at the
hands of the Nazis. Its tone is cold and impersonal, and
it makes no mention of the horrors of the
disclosure has reopened a raw debate on the World War II
role of the Catholic Church and of Pope Pius XII, a
candidate for sainthood who has been excoriated by his
critics as a heartless anti-Semite who maintained a
public silence on the Nazi death camps and praised by his
supporters as a savior of Jewish lives.
The one-page, typewritten directive, dated Oct. 23,
1946, was discovered in a French church archive outside
Paris and made available to The New York Times on the
condition that the source would not be disclosed. It is a
list of instructions for French authorities on how to
deal with demands from Jewish officials who want to
reclaim Jewish children.
Pope Pius XII,
left, and his successor, Cardinal Angelo
Giuseppe Roncalli, who became John XXIII.
have been baptized must not be entrusted to institutions
that would not be in a position to guarantee their
Christian upbringing," the directive says.
contains an order not to allow Jewish children who had
been baptized Catholic to go home to their own parents.
"If the children have been turned over by their parents,
and if the parents reclaim them now, providing that the
children have not received baptism, they can be given
back," it says.
orphans who had not been baptized Catholic were not to be
turned over automatically to Jewish authorities. "For
children who no longer have their parents, given the fact
that the church has responsibility for them, it is not
acceptable for them to be abandoned by the church or
entrusted to any persons who have no rights over them, at
least until they are in a position to choose themselves,"
the document says. "This, obviously, is for children who
would not have been baptized."
written in French and first disclosed last week by the
Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, is unsigned
but says, "It should be noted that this decision taken by
the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office has been
approved by the Holy Father."
publication of the document is likely to embolden those
who do not think Pius XII is worthy of becoming a saint.
Some prominent Jews and historians have attacked the
document for its insensitivity to the
Peter Gumpel, a Rome-based Jesuit priest and a leading
proponent for the beatification of Pius XII, the first
step toward sainthood, said he was convinced that the
document did not come from the Vatican. He pointed out
that it is not on official Vatican stationery, that it is
not signed and that it is written in French, not Italian.
"There is something fishy here," he said.
Étienne Fouilloux, a French historian who is
compiling Pope John XXIII's diaries during his years in
France, said that the document had been discovered
recently in church archives outside of Paris by a serious
researcher and that it is genuine. John has been
beatified, the last formal step toward
At the time,
Pope John XXIII was Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, Pope Pius
XII'S representative to France. During the war, Monsignor
Roncalli was credited with saving tens of thousands of
Jews from Nazi persecution by using diplomatic couriers,
papal representatives and nuns to issue and deliver
baptismal certificates, immigration certificates and
visas, many of them forged, to Jews. He also helped gain
asylum for Jews in neutral countries.
document is indicative of a mind-set at the Vatican that
dealt with problems in a legal framework without worrying
that there were human beings involved," Mr. Fouilloux
said. "It shows that the massacre of Jews was not seen by
the Holy See as something of importance."
He said he
would include the document in the next volume of the
underscores the sanctity with which the Vatican treated
the sacrament of baptism at the time - no matter how or
why it was administered.
The church's stance
that a baptized child is irrevocably Christian was
established nearly a century before the Holocaust, when,
in 1858, papal guards took Edgardo Mortara, 6, from his
family in Bologna when word spread that he had been
clandestinely baptized by a Catholic maid. It was relaxed
only in the 1960's.
More important, the
directive captures the church's failure to grasp the
enormous implications of the Nazi extermination of the
Jews. "It shows the very bureaucratic and very icy
attitude of the Catholic Church in these types of
things." said Alberto Melloni, an Italian historian with
the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in
Bologna, who is working with Mr. Fouilloux to publish the
diaries of Pope John XXIII. He called the tone of the
directive "horrifyingly normal."
A second document
that was also discovered by the French researcher is a
letter in July 1946 to Monsignor Roncalli that noted his
pledge to intervene to return Jewish-born children to
their community and asked for his help to return 30
Jewish-born children living in a Catholic
"Almost two years
after the liberation of France, some Israelite children
are still in non-Jewish institutions that refuse to give
them back to Jewish charities," said the letter, which
was signed by the Grand Rabbi of France and the head of
the Jewish Central Consistory. It added, "We are in
advance, grateful for your help."
It is not known
whether there was a reply.
No reliable figures exist on how many French Jewish
children were saved by the church from the Nazis, or
affected by its decision to prevent them from rejoining
their families and communities after the war. The French
Jewish population had limited success in recovering
Jewish children who had been adopted by
Gerald Finaly, Jewish boys who were baptized and
were at the center of a custody battle.
Rue des Archives/AGIP)
In the most
well-documented case in France, two Jewish boys, Robert
and Gerald Finaly, were sent in 1944 by their parents to
a Catholic nursery in Grenoble. The parents perished at
Auschwitz. Family members tried to get the boys back in
1945, but in part because they had been baptized, it took
an additional eight years and a long legal battle to
prevail over the church.
"Look, I know that
for the church, baptism means the child belongs to the
church, you can't undo it," said Amos Luzzatto, the
president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.
"But given the circumstances they could have made a human
described himself as "speechless" that the Vatican
directive on the children does not mention the Holocaust
and questioned the worthiness of Pius XII to be made a
"If they beatify
him, don't ask us to applaud," he said.
Some corners of the
Catholic Church are suspicious that the document, and the
ensuing debate that has played out in Italian newspapers,
was produced to create obstacles in Pius XII's march
But Pope John Paul
II strongly supports the campaign to make Pius XII a
saint, and in February 2003, the Vatican announced the
opening of some secret archives to help clear Pius XII's
name, although the papers do not deal with his activities