Pope Pius XII and the raid on the Roman ghetto

Pope Pius XII's response to the Roman razzia (Italian for roundup), or mass deportation of Jews, on October 16, 1943 is a significant issue relating to Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. Under Mussolini, no policy of abduction of Jews had been implemented in Italy. Following the capitulation of Italy in 1943, Nazi forces invaded and occupied much of the country, and began deportations of Jews to extermination camps. Pius XII protested at diplomatic levels, while several thousand Jews found refuge in Catholic networks, institutions and homes across Italy, including in Vatican City and Pope Pius' Summer Residence. The Catholic Church and some historians have credited this rescue in large part to the direction of Pope Pius XII. However, historian Susan Zuccotti researched the matter in detail and discovered that although the pope was aware of the Holocaust, he did not issue a rescue order. Zuccotti states that there is "considerable evidence of papal disapproval of the hiding of Jews and other fugitives in Vatican properties."[1]

Various historians have given different emphases to accounts of Pius' actions. According to historian Michael Phayer, "the question of the pope's silence has become the focus of intense historical debate and analysis" because the deportations occurred "under his very windows," a phrase that was also used in the title of a book on the subject by Zuccotti.[2] The phrase is based on an actual quotation from the report of Ernst von Weizsäcker, the German ambassador to the Vatican, who reported to Berlin that the razzia had taken place "under the Pope's windows."[3][4] It also echoes the reported words of the protest made to von Weizsäcker by the pope's secretary of state on the morning of the roundup: "It is sad for the Holy Father, sad beyond imagination, that here in Rome, under the very eyes of the Common Father, that so many people should suffer only because they belong to a specific race."

Phayer's and Zuccotti's emphasis on "papal silence" can be contrasted with that of "papal action" by Jewish Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert. By Gilbert's account, when the Nazis came to Rome in search of Jews, Pius had already "A few days earlier... personally ordered the Vatican clergy to open the sanctuaries of the Vatican City to all 'non-Aryans' in need of refuge." Zucotti argues that there is no written evidence of this supposed papal directive and that claims of its existence only appeared after the 1963 production of a play critical of Pius' failure to protest the Holocaust.[5] However, as Pius defender Gary Krupp writes, "it was not only normal but essential for any incriminating documents, even slips of paper, to be destroyed lest they fall into Nazi hands and endanger the carrier or the referee. In fact, as [writer Ronald] Rychlak points out, Zuccotti had spelt this out herself in an earlier book...: 'Any direct personal order would have had to be kept very quiet to protect those who were actually sheltered' ('The Italians and the Holocaust,' 1987)."[6]