Renewed call for Vatican to open archives on its Holocaust role
by Ira Rifkin & Elaine Ruth Fletcher, Religion News Service, The Hamilton Spectator, March 20, 1998
Jewish leaders have expressed general disappointment with the long-awaited statement on the
Holocaust released Monday by the Vatican, arguing it fails to adequately address the role played by
Pope Pius XII, the church's Second Word War-era leader.
Many renewed calls for the Vatican to allow independent scholars access to the Roman Catholic
Church's archives on the Holocaust. Only by granting such access, said Jewish critics, will the full
story of the actions of Pius and other church leaders during the Holocaust become clear.
Jews have long maintained that Pius in particular and the Catholic Church in general did little to try
and save the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust, when some six million perished as a result of Nazi
actions. Jewish critics also say the church bears a responsibility for the hatred toward Jews displayed
by the Nazis because of centuries of anti-Semitic teachings.
The document - titled We Remember: A Reflection On The Shoah (Holocaust) - defended the
"wisdom of Pius XII's diplomacy" during the Holocaust period, saying his actions and those of his
representatives saved "hundred of thousand of Jewish lives."
It also said Nazi anti-Semitism "had its roots outside of Christianity."
Following Monday's release of the Vatican document, Jewish leaders labelled the document too little,
too late, and in general a whitewash of Pius and the church.
"The history of the church's role in World War II remains incomplete," said Phil Baum, executive
director of the American Jewish Congress in New York. "We are persuaded that if Vatican archives
were to be made more accessible to historians and scholars, it would establish beyond question the
deliberate failure of the church generally to respond to the terrible injustices being inflicted on the
Jewish people of Europe."
Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, said that for the document,
which took a decade to produce, to "find absolutely no fault in the role of Pope Pius XII calls into
question the seriousness of the document."
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the Chicago based International Fellowship of Christians and
Jews, said he was "disturbed" the document linked Christian anti-Semitism with Jewish anti-Christian
"There is no moral equivalency here," Eckstein said. "The burden of history is on Christians to
eradicate those segments of their tradition that have an anti-Jewish bias and which created a fertile
realm in which the Holocaust happened."
In Israel, Yitzhak Minerbi, a former Israeli diplomat and expert on Israeli-Vatican relations, criticized
the document for including references to genocides committed against the Armenians, Ukrainians,
Gypsies, Cambodians and other this century. Doing so, Minerbi said, diminished the document's
emphasis on the Holocaust.
Rabbi David Rosen, director of the Jerusalem office of the Anti-Defamation League, said he hoped
Pope John Paul II might expand on Monday's document, which was prepared by the Vatican's
Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews under the direction of the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity.
"The fact that (the document) has not really lived up to expectations must leave us with the hope that
the pope -who has indicated that towards the end of the millennium he would himself respond to the
burdens of the past - might make his own personal statement going beyond this document," said
Rosen, who helped negotiate diplomatic ties between Israel and the Vatican in 1994.
Despite the dissatisfaction expressed over the document, Jewish leaders reiterated their belief that
John Paul has gone further than any Catholic leader to improve church ties with the Jews and