How can we understand the responses of the Vatican to the persecution and murder of the Jews during WWII? Should we consider them as a guilty silence and a moral failure, or rather a strategic policy – aimed at rescuing Jews? These are just some of the questions analyzed in the most recent presentation in Yad Vashem's ongoing online lecture series – one of the ways Yad Vashem has endeavored to stay connected with its interested public worldwide during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
The lectures have covered a wide variety of topics, including the issue of medical ethics during the Holocaust, reflections of children from the kindertransport, and behind-the-scenes presentations of Yad Vashem's work. The latest topic, presented by Director of Yad Vashem's International Research Institute Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto, was "Pius XII and the Holocaust – What Can We Learn From the Vatican Archives?”
For decades, the controversy over the role of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust has split public opinion, as well as the academic community. The opening of the Vatican Archives in March 2020 was a significant moment for scholars and historians worldwide. "This event signifies the beginning of a new era, which will enable the topic to be extensively researched for the first time," explained Dr. Nidam-Orvieto. "It will likely take several years to understand this very complex topic given vast amount of documents. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vatican archives have been both temporarily closed and, due to limited travel, are mostly available only to those scholars currently based in Italy.
"Although there have been some initial findings, we need to be cautious. It will take quite some time to analyze these documents: a limited number or one single document does not provide the full picture. We must be patient for an extensive period of study of the huge amount of documentation that relates to these events – and even then, we may remain with many unanswered issues."