Letter Reveals Vatican Policy on [Jewish]
Children of Holocaust
Children who have been baptized must not be
entrusted to institutions that cannot ensure
their Christian education."
Eric J. Greenberg
January 7, 2005
discovery of a secret 1946 Vatican letter, ordering
French church officials not to return Jewish children to
their parents if they were baptized while under church
protection, has reignited the controversy over the World
War II-era policies of Pope Pius XII, who is on the fast
track to sainthood.
The 1946 letter,
published last week in the Italian daily Corriere della
Sera, indicates that Pius XII himself approved the
directive regarding Jewish children saved by Catholics
from the Nazis.
"If the children
were entrusted [to the Church] by their parents
and if their parents now claim them, they can be returned
so long as these children have not received baptism" the
letter stated, adding, "Children who have been baptized
must not be entrusted to institutions that cannot ensure
their Christian education."
The letter was
discovered by Italian historian Alberto Melloni in the
diaries of World War II French Archbishop Angelo Roncalli
&emdash; the future Pope John XXIII &emdash; who served
as the Vatican's ambassador to France from 1945 to 1948.
It was addressed to the office of Roncalli, who is
generally acknowledged to have worked to reunite Jewish
parents during diplomatic stints in several countries for
It is not clear who
wrote the letter, which carries a Paris dateline and was
obtained by the Associated Press. But the document states
that Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, approved
the directives. According to AP, the letter summarizes
the views of the Vatican's Holy Office, which oversees
leaders and historians have long criticized Pius XII for
not doing enough to speak out against the extermination
of Jews. Church officials, in turn, have objected to what
they describe as unfair attacks on the late pope. In
recent years, Jewish-Catholic tensions on that issue and
other fronts have calmed. But the latest revelation
places the record of Pius XII back in the spotlight,
while angering Holocaust survivors.
"After 60 years,
the Vatican should come to terms with its record, once
and for all," said Rabbi James Rudin, senior
interreligious adviser to the American Jewish Committee.
"This isn't going away."
Eva Fogelman, a
psychologist who treats Holocaust survivors said the new
revelation "will provoke tremendous amounts of rage that
Jews have towards the Vatican."
"The fact they used
this an opportunity to 'save' Jewish souls for Jesus,
it's a betrayal," said Fogelman, author of "Conscience
and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the
Gumpel, a chief supporter of sainthood for Pius XII,
denied that the letter came from the Vatican. He told AP
that the letter might be an incomplete summary of a
Church position from religious officials in France.
Gumpel maintained the vast majority of children entrusted
to Catholic institutions were never baptized.
The letter stated
that Jewish children whose parents were killed during the
Holocaust "should not be abandoned by the Church"
&emdash; even if they had not been baptized. The
single-page memo also instructed church leaders on how to
deal with Jewish officials seeking information about
missing children. "Avoid, as far as possible, responding
in writing to the Jewish authorities, but do so orally,"
One Swiss Holocaust
survivor, Henri Elias, told the Forward on Tuesday that
the French church blocked him from his family for nearly
12 years after the Holocaust because he was
"During the war,
when I was 18 months old, some Belgian resistance
fighters advised my mother to hand me to a Catholic
institution and she did so," Elias said in a phone
interview from Geneva. "At the end of the war, a priest
gave my custody to a [Catholic] woman called
Fernande Henrard." She repeatedly lied and hid him from
his real family.
"I was told I had
been abandoned by my mother," Elias said. "With the
complicity of Catholic and civil officials, my name was
changed to Antoine Benoit and I went through a series of
Catholic schools. At the same time, my uncle investigated
about me and was told many lies, including that I had
In 1949, Elias
said, his uncle discovered he was alive, and launched a
long successful legal battle against the church to get
back his nephew.
"Of course I am
angry at the Church; they took away my childhood. I still
feel the anguish today."
Elias said he was
revolted to learn that Yad Vashem has honored Henrard as
a "righteous gentile."
discovered letter, he argued, suggests that many Jewish
children were never returned to their parents.
historian who discovered the letter, told the Italian
newspaper that it is unclear how many Jewish children
were not returned to their parents. "We do not
[yet] have serious research on this," Melloni was
quoted as saying.
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