The Missing

The Holocaust, the Church & Jewish Orphans

A year ago, Catholic-Jewish relations were roiled by yet another revelation concerning the church’s indifference to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. In the December 28, 2004, issue of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, historian Alberto Melloni announced the discovery of a document, dated October 23, 1946, communicating the Vatican’s intention to retain custody of Jewish children saved by Catholics during the Holocaust.

According to an Associated Press story, the 1946 document “apparently instructed French church authorities that Jewish children baptized as Roman Catholics, for safety or other reasons, should remain within the church-even if that meant not returning them to their own families once the occupation ended.”

An article in the New York Times assessed the document’s tone as “cold and impersonal,” noting that “it makes no mention of the horrors of the Holocaust.” Within a few weeks, the story worked its way into the polemics surrounding Pius XII’s alleged silence during the Holocaust. Writing in the Forward, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen charged the document with “ordering a criminal deed,” and characterized the pope as “one of the most rampant would-be kidnappers of modern times.” Pius’s defenders, meanwhile, argued that the document had been misattributed and misinterpreted; Pius, they contended, was in fact a great benefactor of the Jews, both with respect to the children and the...

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About the Author

Michael R. Marrus is the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Holocaust in History and, most recently, Some Measure of Justice: The Holocaust Era Restitution Campaign of the 1990s.