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Is it true that Pius XII did not moved a finger to save the Jews arrested in Rome during the Nazi occupation? One of the most popular truisms aimed at slandering the venerable Eugenio Pacelli seems to have been swept away by the data released during the conference that was held in Rome in the hall of the Popes of the convent of S. Maria sopra Minerva. Numbers that are the result of the patient historical research of the Belgian Domenico Oversteyns, deacon of the Spiritual Family L’Opera, for years committed to collect testimonies and archive documents to remove the “black legend” that still surrounds the figure of the Pope.

Explicit Requests

According to Oversteyns, Pius XII obtained the release of 245 Jews in the afternoon of 16 October 1943, the day of the infamous roundup of the ghetto, speaking to the general Stahel, and then other 60 were saved as a result of the intervention of the Pope, on instances of the Vatican and of Father Pancratius Pfeiffer, Xaverian that was in fact the “longa manus” of the Pope to perform these actions, until 4 June 1944, day of the liberation of Rome. There were other actions performed during the same period for 131 Jews, but they did not have positive effect. In total, and this is the news emerged during the conference, we count 110 explicit demands of liberation. This demonstrates the viciousness of the argument of those who say that Pius XII did nothing to save the Jews that were arrested.

The fate of the Jews caught

Oversteyns has made a summary of the fate of 2228 Jews caught by the Nazis during the occupation: 30 managed to escape, 39 escaped from the clutches of the Germans bribing them; 83 were killed before deportation and 345 were freed, 305, as said, thanks to the interventions of the Pope and of the Vatican, 40 for other reasons (instances of the Red Cross, false documents or other circumstances). The deportees were 1731: only 117 the survivors to concentration camps. It should be noted that in 2014 Oversteyns informed Yad Vashem about the error reported on the plaque installed at the Portico of Octavia who spoke of 2091 deported. In 2015 the Jewish community of Rome, after archive researches, corrected the number in 1769, not far from the one indicated by the Belgian historian. Moreover, already before 16 October, Pius XII managed to help the persecuted Jews: 500 of them were hosted in 48 convents, 44 in colleges or parishes, 18 in the Vatican or in extraterritorial areas. No Jew, instead, contrary to what is believed, was hosted in the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, where other persecuted and displaced persons found refuge. At the date of the liberation of Rome there were 4112 Jews hidden in 235 convents and monasteries and 115 in the extraterritorial sees of the Vatican. The full numbers of the research were published on the official site of the cause for the canonisation of Pius XII.

The testimony of Anita Garibaldi

But at the conference there was another interesting evidence, the one of Anita Garibaldi, great granddaughter of Giuseppe. A family that is certainly not tender with the Church, also because of the protestant faith, the faith professed by both the mother and the grandmother of Anita. The father, Ezio, polyhedral character, member of Parliament, was a friend of Mussolini but progressively distanced himself from fascism after the application of the racial laws. The Garibaldis, in fact, had many friends among the Jews. Woman Anita told of the conversion of the father to Catholicism, up to the baptism conferred by the same Pius XII to the whole family, and of the aid that he gave to some Jews. “Once, when I was small – she told – I saw two people, all bundled up, climb on my father’s car, one of those which now would be called ‘blue car’. Then I heard that they had taken them to the Vatican, letting them enter from the door that is at the left of the Colonnade”. The one where now there is the canteen run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa. But even more interesting is the judgment of Ezio Garibaldi on the “silence” of Pius XII: “My Father – said woman Anita – returning from the imprisonment, told me that the Pope did good by remaining silent in order not to trigger the furious reaction of the Nazis that would certainly have caused other victims among both Jews and Catholics”. The meeting was also attended by the historian Livio Spinelli, which has presented the last book of Sister Margherita Marchione, “Advocate of Pius XII: my last crusade”, and by professor Giulio Alfano, with an interesting report about Pius XII and policy, in particular portraying him as a precursor on emphasising the concept of person who then inspired the Code of Camaldoli and the same republican constitution.

The Homage of the cardinal Mamberti

The conclusions of the conference organised by the Committee Pope Pacelli chaired by lawyer Artigleri and moderated by Andrea Acali, collaborator of in Terris, were entrusted to Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Apostolic Segnatura. The cardinal, which boasts a long career in the Vatican diplomacy, stressed precisely, among other things, the diplomatic action of Pius XII since he was Nuncio in Bavaria, where he had several times publicly condemned the Nazi program.

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