Dossier from the War Years

ROME—When Pius XII died Oct. 9, 1958, letters of affection and admiration arrived in the Vatican from all over the world. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, vice commander of NATO, wrote in the Oct. 12, 1958 Sunday Times: “I had an immense respect and admiration for Pius XII. I am deeply grieved at the death of Pius XII. He was a great and good man, and I loved him.”

Unfortunately, some years later the Pope became the object of a “black legend” according to which he was a coward during the war who, for political reasons, tolerated the crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated.

The issue remains controversial today and events and documents from the war years have been interpreted from many points of view. One useful tool to distinguish between slander and the truth is to reconstruct the actions of the Pope through original documents. Thus, in 1964, Pope Paul VI authorized the publication of documents of the Holy See relative to the period of the war.

The archives of the Vatican secretariate of state preserve the dossiers from which it is possible to recover, hour by hour, the activities of the Pope and of the Holy See during the years in question. Included are all the discourses and messages of the Pope, letters exchanged with envoys and civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries, many with corrections in the Pope's own handwriting. Additionally, there are notes of the secretary of state, the ambassadors of ministry approved by the Holy See, and representatives of the Vatican abroad and apostolic delegations.

All this material was recounted in 12 volumes published between 1965 and 1982 under the title Documents from the Vatican. Reference Period: World War II. Four Jesuit priests were in charge of the work, ordering the documents and writing introductions: Fathers Burkhart Schneider, Angelo Martini, Robert Graham, and Pierre Blet. The contents of the 12,000-page work are, unfortunately, not well known. For this reason Father Blet has just published a volume, Pie XII et la Seconde Guerre Mondiale d’après les archives du Vatican, to give the general public a documented exposition of the historical facts.

—Antonio Gaspari