Today, a big step towards greater access to archives and new research on the Holocaust was taken. The archives of Pope Pius XII, who served as head of the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, were officially opened by the Holy See to historians and researchers.
The opening comes after decades of outside requests towards the Holy See to make documents from the time available to researchers and historians. Until now, the Holy See has only released glimpses into the contents of the archives, and their full opening has been awaited with great anticipation.
It is hoped that the unveiling of the hundreds of thousands of documents will shed light on the history of a pontificate which has been characterized by the question of whether the pope did too little to speak out against the crimes of the Holocaust or in fact helped save thousands of Jews and others fleeing persecution.
The Holy See’s chief librarian, Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, has previously told reporters that “[t]he church has no reason to fear history.” While great revelations are not expected in the immediate future, there is little doubt that the hitherto unknown documents will help paint a fuller picture of the Holy See’s complex responses to the Holocaust in Italy and elsewhere.
IHRA Chair and Executive Secretary attend archival conference
Although the official opening took place on 2 March, some information about the archives had been released to historians in the time leading up to the opening. On 21 February, the Holy See hosted a conference in preparation for the opening of the archives. At this conference, an international group of researchers were introduced to the archives by Vatican experts.
Among the attendees at the conference were IHRA Chair, Ambassador Georges Santer, and IHRA Executive Secretary, Dr Kathrin Meyer. At the event they met with Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin. The archives of Pope Pius XII are of course of particular interest to the IHRA, since the pontificate of Pius XII coincided with the Holocaust and its aftermath, and the organization has been closely following developments in the Holy See's archival policy.
Earlier today, Ambassador Santer and Dr. Meyer commended the opening of the archives, stating that “[a]rchival access is a key aspect of Holocaust remembrance, and contributes directly to safeguarding the historical record.
“We all share a responsibility to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust and the Second World War,” they continued, “and we very much appreciate the constructive talks we had in the past with Cardinal State Secretary, Pietro Parolin, and Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.”
Ambassador Santer and Dr. Meyer further pointed out that efforts to safeguard the record of the Holocaust by promoting research and making available archival material are a part of the commitments made in the 2020 Ministerial Declaration and therefore central to the IHRA mission.
In a statement made in Berlin today, Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, also welcomed the opening of the archives, thanking the IHRA on behalf of survivors for its work over the years.