Israel's famed Yad Vashem memorial of the Holocaust has broken with precedent, thus offering the views of defenders of the legacy of Pope Pius XII, the pontiff who sat at the Holy See during the Second World War and ever since criticized for allegedly not doing enough to save Jews from Germany's National Socialist death campaign. Following a displomatic dispute between the Holy See and the state of Israel, a wall panel was installed on July 1 at Yad Vashem that lists occasions when the wartime pope did not protest the slaughter of European Jews. The panels now also offers information on the Church's "neutrality" and how it served to save lives. “This is an update to reflect research that has been done in the recent years and presents a more complex picture than previously presented,” Yad Vashem declared in a statement.
Papal nuncio Msgr. Antonio Franco, who serves as Pope Benedict's ambassador to Israel, welcomed the “the positive evolution.” He also said “For the Holy See, for the Church, it’s a step forward in the sense that it evolves from the straight condemnation to the evaluation,” including the position of the pontiff’s backers, he said.
In 2007, Msgr. Franco threatened to skip the annual Holocaust remembrance day ceremony at Yad Vashem to protest the text that was formerly on the panel at the memorial. Even while the diplomat did eventually attend, relations between the Holy See and Israel were injured, as were relations with Jewry worldwide. Criticisms of Pope Pius's perceived lack of action during the Holocaust continue, having been exacerbated by books seeking to depict him as 'Hitler's Pope.' The old text refers to the “controversy” surrounding Pope Pius's reaction to the slaughter of Jews, but offered only criticism of his actions.
The new text, headlined, “The Vatican,” retains the criticism. But it adds his supporters’ position that Pius’ abstaining from condemning the murder of Jews was not a moral failure but a tactic that prevented harsher measures against the Catholic Church, while enabling the Church to carry out secret rescue missions.
Yad Vashem has long urged the Vatican to open its wartime archives to historians, but papal nuncio Franco says the negotiations are still in progress. “Only when all material is available will a clearer picture emerge,” the memorial said in its statement.