Pope John XXIII Rescued Thousands of Jews

The Washington Times reports that Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

His ally in the effort was Chaim Barlas, who had been sent to Istanbul as an emissary of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee, established by the Jewish community in what was then Palestine to try to save European Jews from the Nazis.
[...]
The men intensified their efforts after the receipt in June 1944 of a report by two Slovakian Jews who had escaped a month earlier from the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

That and a subsequent account describing the grisly massacre under way there came to be known as the Auschwitz Protocols.

Mr. Barlas “translated it into German, drafted a precise summary dated June 23, 1944, and was granted an audience with Roncalli a day later,” Mrs. Porat said. “Roncalli wept upon reading its contents and relayed it immediately to the Vatican.”

Pope Pius wrote a letter to a Nazi ally, Adm. Miklos Horthy, urging him to halt the deportation of Jews. The deportations were ended by July 7 1944.

Future Pope John XXIII also provided thousands of Hungarian Jews with false baptismal certificates. With those certificates 12,000 Jews were able to escape from Hungary.

Pope John XXIII seems to have been a great hero before he became (a very popular) Pope. It is a pity that this was not very well known until now, at least not by me.

If this gets a lot of attention, it might improve the Catholic Church’s image (even though the criticism regarding Pope Pius might have been deserved).

Lastly, The Washington Times quotes Baruch Tenenbaum, head of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation: “He should be cited by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, as the foremost name on its list of righteous gentiles.”

Indeed. A hero he was.

You can read more on Pope John XXIII here.

h/t Holly

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Author: michaelvdg

  • http://bellisaurius.livejournal.com/ bellisaurius

    Thanks for the piece Mike. It’s nice to read something good about the church once in a while.

    Interesting side story: One of the guys I work with has an excommunication from him written the day before he died (He was a bad boy in grade school, apparently).

  • Paul Silver

    He should be honored for what he did do. But I am troubled by what he wasn’t willing or able to do to reach out to his flock more overtly to persuade them of the tragedy of intolerance.
    It seems to me that the One God has chosen to reveals itself to different people in different ways. It diminishes God to question its wisdom. It honors God to celebrate the diversity of his way. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  • CStanley

    Paul, every leader of every church believes that his/her denomination has the correct understanding of God’s Word and revelation. The leaders can believe that and teach it without being intolerant of other interpretations, just as any two individuals can hold different opinions, views or values on any subject and respectfully disagree. Are you particularly troubled by “Good Pope John” being intolerant in some way, or the Catholic Church in general, or all organized religions? I don’t understand the basis of your criticism.

  • http://mvdg.wordpress.com Michael van der Galien

    I have to admit that I don’t get your comment entirely either Paul. What did Pope John XXIII do that was ‘intolerant’ in your opinion?

    Belli: no problem and… it must have been quite bad then?

  • CStanley

    “Belli: no problem and… it must have been quite bad then?”

    Heh, yeah, you’ve got me wondering too, Belli. I always thought that being bad in Catholic grade school earned you a knuckle rapping from the nuns, but excommunication?

  • http://bellisaurius.livejournal.com/ bellisaurius

    Well, thanks to popular demand, I’ll share the story.

    He was in eighth grade in a parish on the south side of chicago. He was a typical south sider, and while he might have used rough, or obtuse language on the various ethnicities therein, his heart tended to be in the right place.

    One day, during church service where he was an alterboy, a pair of black parishioners came in. Immediately after, he overheard two of the nuns making some disparging remarks about “Them” being in this church (the south side of chicago has always been rough in this regard). Upon hearing this, he shouted “What the Fuck?!?”

    Needless to say, this is inappropriate behavior in church, and the nuns and priest were coming toward him. Naturally, as a Catholic school student of the time, he assumed the worst and took off. They chased each other around the altar for a bit, and accidentally, he knocked it over, breaking it.

    He was obviously kicked out of school, but the priest put a letter to the bishop asking for excommunication, who put a letter to the cardinal, who sent it to the vatican. Apparently, the process is pretty automatic once it gets to the bishop level. He’s the excommunicated person I know, btw.

  • http://mvdg.wordpress.com Michael van der Galien

    You got to be kidding me. Was he excommunicated for that? That’s silly.

  • http://bellisaurius.livejournal.com/ bellisaurius

    Hey, even if he’s just BS’ing, the story itself is just too good. Anything that strange has to have some basis in reality.

  • http://mvdg.wordpress.com Michael van der Galien

    lol, true.

  • Paul Silver

    I meant that Pope John in particular, and religious leaders in general, could do more to persuade their followers to respect and understand the ways other relate to God.
    Most cross the line by promoting that their conception of God is the only respectable choice. The Germans convinced themselves that the Jew were sub-human and expendable primarily because of the Christian dogma that the Jews killed their Christ. The Pope could have and should have done more, up to and perhaps including risking his life to speak out. Don’t many of us wish moderate Muslims would take bold public stands to refute the intolerance and violence of radical Islam? Terrible things happen when good people stand by and do less than they could.

  • CStanley

    Paul,
    I have to disagree with you on several points:
    “The Germans convinced themselves that the Jew were sub-human and expendable primarily because of the Christian dogma that the Jews killed their Christ.”
    Christian antisemitism certainly contributed but wasn’t the primary cause for the Holocaust.

    And:
    “The Pope could have and should have done more, up to and perhaps including risking his life to speak out.”
    Pope Pius has recieved a lot of criticism for not doing more, but the defense of him rests on several issues. First, take into account that the Vatican exists within the country of Italy, which was controlled by Mussolini. Had Pious issued more forthright statements (he did, several times, in his Christmas radio addresses, speak against genocide-interestingly the NYT praised him as one of the few European leaders who was willing to do even that much– but some feel that he wasn’t direct enough in his criticism), would Mussolini have been likely to have allowed him to continue broadcasting at all? Plus, many people feel that he feared that any direct confrontation would have led to more slaughter, including Christians as well as Jews. He did allow Jews to seek refuge in the Vatican but his official position was to remain neutral in the same way that the Red Cross does, so that it can facilitate humanitarian aid whenever possible. I don’t completely agree with his stance in all cases but I agree with a summary I read recently which said that the desperate times called for a prophet but instead we had a timid and diplomatic man in the papacy. What is interesting is that Pious’ temperament seemed to have been similar to the current Pope Benedict’s (who is also an introverted scholar, who puts individual piety above political involvement) yet Benedict so far seems to show signs that he is not afraid to speak out, that he finds it necessary to do so. Time will tell whether or not he continues that trend, and whether or not he’ll be tested as Pious was.

    In any case, I may have misunderstood you but thought your criticism was of Pope John, who didn’t hold the papal office until after the Holocaust but who acted heroically during that time.

  • Paul Silver

    I am sure he did the best he could. But it seems to me that religious leader could do a lot more to instruct their flocks in tolerance.

  • CStanley

    Paul,
    I’m not trying to hound you about this but I’m interested in your opinion because it’s a topic that I feel is extremely important. I get the impression that you feel that the tolerance issue is still important today regarding the Catholic (and other Christian) Churches. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if so, can you give examples of where this would apply today?