Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

Vatican Blocks Panel's Access to Holocaust Archives

By Melissa Radler - July, 24 2001

NEW YORK (July 24) - Citing a "lack of positive response" from the Vatican to a request for additional Holocaust-era documents, a joint Catholic-Jewish panel of historians suspended a study of the Church's activities during World War II.

The panel, whose aim is to examine what Pope Pius XII knew about the Holocaust, was established in 1999 by the Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. After reviewing 11 volumes of published Vatican records from the period, the panel - five Jewish and Catholic historians - requested additional access to unpublished archives.

Refusing to grant the scholars access to materials published after 1923, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the commission, asked the panel to prepare a final report on the history of the Vatican during the Holocaust based on materials it reviewed. In a June 21 letter, Kasper stated that "the Vatican archives are accessible only until 1923," and that access "after that date is not possible at present for technical reasons."

In a July 20 response to Kasper, the historians stated that without access to unpublished Vatican archives, "we could not maintain our credibility with the many voices, Catholic, Jewish, and others, who have called for greater availability of archival material... We therefore cannot see a way forward at present to the final report that you request, and believe that we must therefore suspend our work."

In a press release, IJCIC chairman Seymour Reich expressed "deep disappointment" with the Vatican's refusal to open the archives.

One of the three Jewish panelists, Dr. Michael Marrus, a professor of history and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto, told the Associated Press that though the panel had "run up against a brick wall, that doesn't mean that we should not continue our work and I think it will continue on one level, but it would have been really helpful to have had support from the Holy See on this issue."

Urging the Vatican to grant the commission increased access to its archives, the Anti-Defamation League called for further disclosure of Holocaust-era records.

"How can the truth be told if scholars working under the aegis of the Vatican commission are prevented access to the very records that document the Church's actions and activities during the Holocaust?" said ADL national director Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor.

"Catholic-Jewish relations have advanced greatly under the pontificate of John Paul II. The historical truth is essential to promoting even greater understanding between the Jewish people and the Church."

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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