Written by: Mons. Paul Richard Gallagher
(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 23.06.2022).- Following is the text of an article of the Vatican’s Secretary of State for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, regarding the publication of archives related to Pius XII’s Pontificate and the Jews during Word War II. The archives, whose publication was announced by the Vatican on Thursday, June 23, are now available online.
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“Yes, I write you today to beg you to help me from a distance.” Thousands of archive documents give voice to the desperate requests for help, such as this one, of a 23-year-old German University student “of Jewish origin, baptized in 1938, who on January 17, 1942, appealed to his last resource, from the Miranda de Ebro concentration camp in Spain, to be released from his detention. Finally he was able to be reunited with his mother, who had fled to America in 1939, “to prepare a new life for me,” he wrote by hand. Everything was ready for him to leave from Lisbon; he only needed the intervention of “an outside person” for the Authorities to accept his release. “There is little hope for those who don’t have help outside,” he explained in a few but eloquent words. Then he wrote to an old Italian friend of his, begging her to appeal to Pope Pius XII to have the Apostolic Nuncio in Madrid intervene in his favour, knowing that others with this intervention of Rome, were able to leave the camp.”
Two documents later, we discover that the Secretariat of State took charge of the case a few days after, informing the Nuncio in Madrid yet “again.” Then there is a pause in the archive. It says nothing about the fate of this young German student. Like the majority of other requests for help recorded in the dossiers, there is no information on the result of the request. We hope immediately and inevitably in our hearts that it was a success. I hope that Werner Barasch was released eventually from the concentration camp and was able to join his mother abroad.
In his case, our hope was fulfilled. If one surfs the Internet there are traces of him in 2001. Not only is there an Autobiography, recounting his memories as a “survivor,” but among the online collections of the United States’ Commemorative Museum of the Holocaust there is a long video interview in which Werner Barasch recounts his incredible story at 82 years of age (Oral History No. RG-50.477.0392 available at this link).
Thus we find out that he was released from the Miranda camp the year after his letter appealing to the Pope and, in 1945, he was finally reunited with his mother and his sister in the United States. There he continued his studies at the University of Berkeley, at MIT and at the University of Colorado. Then he worked as a chemist in California. Thanks to the growing network of sources online, in this case we can breathe with ease.
A special documental patrimony, distinguished from other series of the archive, is that entitled “Jews.” It’s a precious patrimony because it includes the requests for help sent to Pope Pius XII by Jews, baptized or not, after the start of the Nazi-Fascist persecutions.
A patrimony that, at Pope Francis’ request, is now easily accessible to everyone, thanks to a project to publish on the Internet the complete digitalization of the archives’ series.
The one in question is the “Jewish” series of the Historical Archive of the Secretariat of State — Section of Relations with States and International Organizations (ASRS). It is a series including a total of 170 volumes, which are part of the Fondo Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari (AA.EE.SS.) related to Pius XII’s Pontificate. Part I (1939-1948) has been available for consultation by scholars worldwide since March 2, 2020, in the Reading Room of the Historical Archives.
The then Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (of which the Archives’ Fund takes its name), equivalent to a Foreign Affairs Ministry, appointed a Diplomatic Minister (Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua) to take charge of the requests for help sent to the Pope from all over Europe, in order to offer all possible help. The requests could be for visas or passports for expatriation, refuge, reunification with a relative, release from detention, move from one concentration camp to another, news on a deported person, provision of food or clothes, financial support, spiritual support and more.
Each of these requests made up a dossier that, once processed, was to be kept in a documental series called “Jews.” There are over 2,700 dossiers, containing requests for help almost always for families or entire groups of people. Thousands of persecuted people, because they professed the Jewish religion or merely because of their “Non-Arian” ancestry, went to the Vatican knowing that other Jews had received help, as young Werner Barasch wrote.
The requests arrived at the Secretariat of State, where diplomatic channels were activated to try to get every possible help, given the complexity of the political situation worldwide.
After Pius XII’s Pontificate was opened for consultation in 2020, this particular list of names was called the “Pacelli list” (namely, of Pope Pius XII), echoing the known “Schindler’s list.” Although the two cases are different, the analogy reflects perfectly the idea that, in the corridors of the institution at the service of the Pontiff, incessant efforts were made to give concrete help to Jews.
Project to Publish the Series of Archives Online
Beginning in June 2022, the series “Jews” will be available on the Internet in a virtual version with free access for all, on the Webpage of the Historical Archive of the Secretariat of State – Section of Relations with States and International Organizations.
In addition to the photo-reproduction of each individual document, an archive will be available with the analytical inventory of the series, in which all the names are transcribed of the beneficiaries of the aid found in the documents. Initially, 70% of the total material will be available online. It will be completed eventually with the last volumes in progress.
As in the case of young Werner Barasch,’s request, the majority of the over 2,700 dossiers that arrived at the Secretariat of State, which tell us so many stories of flights from racial persecution, leave us astounded and sources are not always available with additional information. The digitalization of the whole Jewish series available on the Internet will enables descendants of those requesting help to look for traces of dear ones around the world. At the same time, it will enable scholars and any other individuals interested in examining this special archivistic patrimony to do so freely or remotely.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester