Three Jewish and three Catholic scholars have begun examining 11 volumes of Vatican documents from World War II to assess the role of Pius XII and the Holy See during the Holocaust.
Although they are backed by the Vatican and the New York-based Committee of Jewish Leaders, there was initial difficulty persuading prominent Jewish scholars to take part. The documents concerned are only those already selected and published by the Vatican between 1967 and 1982, without further access to material that remains secret.
Robert Wistrich, professor of Jewish contemporary history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said last October that he would not take part unless the archives were fully opened as he feared the Vatican would only allow examination of the documents presenting Pius XII's role positively, with the aim of declaring him a saint. But he has now changed his mind.
"I finally joined up to test the waters," he said. He hopes the examination will eventually lead to access to unpublished documents. "I remain a sceptic, though I'd love to be proved wrong. If nothing has moved by the end of June I will see my doubts as fully justified and draw my conclusions, but not just yet."
Bernard Suchecky, from the Free University of Brussels, says he finally accepted "out of curiosity, to see how we can work on these documents, and to see if we get access to other papers. But I doubt the Catholic Church is willing to open thousands of documents to public examination; it would be extremely interesting, but I think it will be difficult. If it all turns out to be little more than a farce, my first question will be why Jewish organisations such as the CJL are involved."
Gerald Fogarty, a Jesuit who teaches religion at the University of Virginia, takes a more positive stance. "The first step is to look at what has been published," he said. "This could lead to a process of updating, to making recommendations and ultimately perhaps to putting together a team to publish more documents. Certainly, the reasons for Pius XII not speaking out during the Holocaust are something we will be examining."
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