Pope Pius XII has been a controversial figure for decades due to repeated accusations that he did little or nothing to stave off the National Socialist persecution and extermination of Jews throughout the period no known as the Holocaust. Little by little, however, historians have chipped away at the at a perennial narrative that has cast him as either impotent or villainous.
Among those who bore witness to the truth was Martin Gilbert -- a historian and official biographer of Winston Churchill. In his book “The Righteous
,” Gilbert documented the heroism of Gentiles who risked death and torture at the hands of Nazis to save Jews from certain extermination. He also had a leading role in bringing to light Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews during a period that his successor, John XXIII, likened to a second Crucifixion
Gary Krupp, the Jewish founder of the Pave the Way Foundation -- an organization that has sought to reveal the truth about Pius XII -- said of Gilbert, “As one of the world’s leading experts on the Holocaust and WWII, Sir Martin was well aware of the lifesaving efforts of Pope Pius XII, most especially to save the Jews from the barbarism of the Nazi regime,” Krupp told the National Catholic Register. “It was Sir Martin who encouraged me to nominate Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) to Yad Vashem to be named ‘Righteous Among Nations.’” Gilbert also wrote extensively about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. He has been described as a "passionate Jew and Zionist."
Gilbert showed that Pius XII's interventions saved the lives of 4,700 Jews in Rome, while giving refuge to 477 Jews in the Vatican itself. The pope contributed in other ways to rescue persecuted Jews. In a 2003 interview with the National Catholic Register, Gilbert said he hoped his work would “restore, in a way, on the foundation of historical fact, the true and wonderful achievements of Catholics in helping Jews during the war.”
At a conference in 2014, ample documentation was revealed about the work of Pius XII to relieve the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust. According to Domenico Oversteyns, a Catholic deacon, said that “we now possess new witnesses by Jews, new documents and records. During a second conference on the pope, which was held on March 2, Oversteyns revealed documentation that showe that at least five monasteries guarded Jews within their cloisters.
According to Oversteyns, “Through the witness of Vittorio de Benedetti – who was interviewed four times between November 2014 and January 2015 -- who know that at the Institute of Claretian Franciscan Missionaries of the Most Holy Sacrament took in Gino de Benedetti, along with his wife and two children.” At the Institute of Adoration, eleven Jews were given refuge: Lilia Cohen and her four children (Adriana, Anna, Angela and Andrea); Mrs. Sestieri and her sons Valerio and Giancarlo; Mrs. Lucía Basevi and her two children: María Vittoria and Antonio, said Oversteyns. His presentation was entitled “Píus XII: The Black Legend is at an end; New proofs and points of view.”
The updated information has allowed researchers to increase the number of Jews known to have been saved by Pius XII to 6,288 judíos. Of these, 336 were hidden in the pontifical colleges and the parishes of Rome. In monasteries, 4,112 were sheltered. At the Vatican and its extra-territorial possessions (such as Castel Gandolfo), 160 were kept. In addition, 1,680 foreign Jews were assisted by the Delasem Association with economic support from the Vatican. In sum, Pope Pius XII directly assisted 63,04 % of the Jews (in other words, two-thirds) of the 9,975 Jews in Rome during the Nazi years.