Last updated: 2 July, 2012

Israel Holocaust museum alters wording on Pope Pius XII

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum has altered the wording on a display dealing with the controversial role of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust, the museum said.

The change in text comes after years of friction between the Vatican and the museum over a panel which accused Pope Pius XII of failing to protest the killing of Jews and signing a treaty with Nazi Germany to protect the Church.

The new panel clarifies that the deal, known as a concordat, was in fact signed by his predecessor Pius XI, and it presents arguments by both critics and defenders of the actions of Pius XII.

In a statement, Yad Vashem insisted that the change was “an update to reflect research that has been done in the recent years, and presents a more complex picture than previously presented.

“This change is not a result of Vatican pressure,” the statement said.

The panel has been an issue of simmering tension between Yad Vashem and the Vatican for years, with a former papal nuncio to Israel, Antonio Franco, threatening to boycott a Holocaust commemoration in 2007 over the wording.

Yad Vashem in the past said the panel would only be changed if the Vatican agreed to open its archives to researchers and evidence showed Pius XII’s role had been misrepresented.

The Vatican has yet to open those archives fully, though it has made public selected documents. But Yad Vashem said on Sunday that new research “has clarified certain issues, while still leaving many questions open.”

The old panel displayed at Yad Vashem said Pius XII was “active” in obtaining a treaty with Germany to protect the Church’s rights “even if this meant recognising the Nazi racist regime.”

It said he scrapped a letter denouncing racism and anti-Semitism, and failed to protest publicly the murder of Jews.

It accused him of declining to sign the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of Jews. And it said he had failed to act to prevent the transport of Jews from Rome to Auschwitz.

The new panel attributes the signing of the deal to Pius XI, and it notes that he made reference to the deaths of hundreds of people during a 1942 radio address, though he did not specifically mention Jews.

“The pope’s critics claim that his decision to abstain from condemning the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germany constitutes a moral failure,” the panel says.

“The lack of clear guidance left room for many to collaborate with Nazi Germany, reassured by the thought that this did not contradict the Church’s moral teachings.”

“His defenders maintain that this neutrality prevented harsher measures against the Vatican and the Church’s institutions… thus enabling a considerable number of secret rescue activities,” it adds.