Yad Vashem chief pleased with pope’s help, despite closed Vatican files on Holocaust

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Yad Vashem chief pleased with pope’s help, despite closed Vatican files on Holocaust

Director Dani Dayan thanked leader of 400 million Catholics for opening the Vatican archives on Second World War pontiff Pius XII - vilified for ignoring persecution of the Jews

Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan meets Pope Francis (Yad Vashem)
Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan meets Pope Francis (Yad Vashem)

The Pope has hosted a first-ever meeting with Israel’s Holocaust museum where they agreed on joint projects to fight racism globally.

Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan thanked the leader of 400 million Roman Catholics for opening the Vatican archives on Second World War pontiff Pius XII – vilified for ignoring persecution of the Jews.

But he and Pope Francis did not discuss the church’s failure in previous decades and centuries to halt Christian targeting of Jewish communities in Europe. Pius XII did little to intervene on behalf of the six million Jews that the Nazis murdered in the Holocaust, but instead focused on saving those who had converted to Catholicism.

But the duo did not discuss the Holocaust-related controversies that for years have been straining Jewish-Catholic relations. Instead, Dayan focused on areas of consensus and on strengthening ties with the Vatican, he said.

During their 30-minute talk, they spoke about ways to “bolster collaborative activities” in areas of “Holocaust remembrance, education and documentation, and to discuss efforts to fight antisemitism and racism worldwide,” Dayan’s office wrote in a statement.

Holocaust researchers say there are still Vatican documents that are inaccessible to them. And critics also say the Vatican should acknowledge and provide more details about what Pius XII did during the Holocaust.

Dayan, a former consul general of the State of Israel in New York who became the head of Yad Vashem last year, said: “You don’t sit with the pope on specific files. You sit with the pope on the big issues, on the principles, on the headlines.

“No need to make demands when all our requests are answered diligently. We are completely satisfied with the attitudes of the pope personally and the Catholic Church, the Vatican.”

Board president Marie van der Zyl (centre), and chief executive Michael Wegier, speaking to the Pope, left, in February

The meeting comes as David Kerzer, a professor of Italian Studies at Brown University, publishes a new study on Pius XII, following his 2014 book on the pope’s ties to fascism, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Kerzer ‘s new title “The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler” is based on archives opened in 2020 by the Vatican.

He hopes the pope will consider “changing the course of the Vatican with respect to the continual denial of the role of the church in the demonization of the Jews that helped to make the Holocaust possible. And also to perhaps reconsider whether they really want to make a saint of Pius VII.”

A 1998 commission set up by the Vatican concluded that the centuries during which the Catholic Church espoused anti-Jewish sentiments as official policy did not lead to the antisemitism that fueled the Holocaust.

The commission’s findings, which have been Vatican policy, is that the church’s theology-based “anti-Judaism” was essentially unconnected to the Nazi “antisemitism based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church.”

Kerzer and other critics argue that the centuries of persecution of Jews led by the Catholic Church paved the way in some ways to the Nazi genocide.

“Forcing Jews to wear yellow badges and keeping them locked in ghettoes were not inventions of the Nazis in the 20th century, but a policy that the popes had championed for hundreds of years,” Kerzer noted in a 2001 op-ed in the New York Times.

Kerzer said the Vatican was worthy of praise for recent decisions but added, “there are limitations” on accessing other archives, including the Vatican’s Secretary of State archives and some archives connected to the Inquisition.


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