The Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See remembers
Pius XII helped the Jews of Rome
The following is a translation of the address which was given in Italian
by the Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See on 23 June, at the conferral of the
“Righteous among the Nations” Medal in memory of Fr Gaetano Piccinini.
I am pleased to have been able to accept the invitation to participate in this ceremony in honour of Fr Gaetano Piccinini who helped save members of the Camerini family, doing everything possible to alleviate their very difficult time during the period of Occupation. I will not focus on the details of the experience which my colleague Livia Link has already described and which the firsthand witnesses present here can certainly recount better than I.
Instead I would like very briefly to highlight an argument that is widely discussed: the stance of the Church during the period of the Nazi Occupation of Rome, during which the life of the Jews in the city was seriously threatened and, unfortunately, many of them did not return from the extermination camps.
Without Fr Gaetano Piccinini and other men and women like him, the toll of truncated human lives would have been much higher. We recognize that Fr Piccinini did not only provide asylum, but did so with respect for the origins and identity of each person.
From the beginning of the round-up in the Ghetto of Rome on 16 October 1943 and in the following days, monasteries and orphanages belonging to religious orders opened their doors to the Jews and we have reason to believe that they did so under the supervision of people at the highest levels of the Vatican, who were informed of these efforts. It would therefore be an error to declare that the Catholic Church, the Vatican or the Pope himself opposed the actions to save the Jews.
Rather, the opposite is true: they helped on every possible occasion. The fact that the Vatican was unable to prevent the departure of the train to the extermination camp during the three days of the round-up, from 16 to 18 October can only have increased the willingness, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its religious houses as a refuge for the Jews.
The Jews of Rome reacted traumatically. They saw in the person of the Pope a sort of protector and expected that he would save them and avoid the worst. Well, we all know what happened, but we must also recognize that the convoy which left on 18 October 1943, was the only one that the Nazis managed to organize from Rome to Auschwitz.
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