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Wartime Pope ‘helped Jews flee Nazi Germany’

Pope Pius XII, the controversial pontiff during World War II, may have saved thousands of Jewish lives by secretly securing visas so they could escape Nazi Germany, a historian claimed yesterday.

Pope Pius, who was labelled ‘Hitler's Pope’ because of his silence during the Holocaust, may have arranged the exodus of about 200,000 Jews from Germany just three weeks after Kristallnacht, when thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

The claim was made by Dr Michael Hesemann, a German historian carrying out research in the Vatican archives for the Pave the Way Foundation, a US-based inter-faith group.

He said that Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli — the future Pius XII — wrote to Catholic archbishops around the world to urge them to apply for visas for “non-Aryan Catholics” and Jewish converts to Christianity who wanted to leave Germany.

Elliot Hershberg, the chairman of the Pave the Way Foundation, said: “Everything we have found thus far seems to indicate the known negative perception of Pope Pius XII is wrong.”

Pius XII was criticised for failing to explicitly denounce the Holocaust, the Nazi regime or to excommunicate Hitler.

Dr Hesemann says that additional evidence suggests that the visas would have been given to ordinary Jews desperate to escape persecution.

“The fact that this letter speaks of ‘converted Jews' and ‘non-Aryan' Catholics indeed seems to be a cover,” said Dr Hesemann.

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