In the context of the International Seminar on the Shoah organized between June 28 and July 8 for teachers from the International School for Holocaust Studies at the Yad Vashem Center in Jerusalem, there was a debate between Fr. Giovanni Caputa, SDB, and Sergio Minerbi on the role of Pius XII during the years of German domination in Europe.
Held on July 3, the discussion saw the presentation of the contrasting positions of the scholar of the relationship between Israel and the Holy See and Fr. Caputa, vice-rector of the Ratisbonne Institute and secretary of the Vatican delegation engaged in the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel.
Using documentary evidence, Fr. Caputa described what Eugenio Pacelli had done between 1933 and 1944. Following the chronological order, and placing his words and actions in context, he drew on numerous statements by witnesses from archival sources, some of which have been published in the 12 volumes of the Actes et Documents edited and published from 1965.
He also referred to recent historical-critical studies, such as those presented last year in Rome on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Pius XII, and those at the seminar on March 8-9 this year jointly organized by Yad Vashem and Fr. Roberto Spataro, principal of the Jerusalem section of the Ratisbonne Salesian Theological Faculty.
“I placed before the audience a list of the interventions of Pope Pacelli,” Fr. Caputa said in an interview with Vatican Radio on July 15. “From all this documentation it is clear that the interventions of Pius XII were numerous, explicit, and understood by those they were meant for. The Nazis responded sharply, unnerved by the position taken up by Pius XII.” Fr. Caputa then quoted the testimony of Albert Einstein, who in 1940 declared: “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”
Present at the seminar were 31 teachers and educators, both Jews and Christians, from the United States, Europe, and Israel, who listened to the 25 speakers. Also present were some concentration camp survivors.
Philosophical roots, life in the ghetto, resistance movements, experiments on people were some of the other subjects examined and dealt with during the ten days.
The aim was to provide an objective representation of Judaism and Christianity useful for the education of future generations. Teachers and other educators, in fact, have an important role in preserving and reconstructing the memory of that complicated and tragic period of modern history and in particular, the role of the Catholic Church and of Pius XII during those years.