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Washington – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday renewed its push for the Vatican to open its archives for Europe’s Holocaust period, saying it would allow historical conclusions to be based on fact and not rhetoric.
The call comes amid growing controversy over plans by the Vatican to beatify Pope Pius XII, a move that would put him on the path to sainthood as the church commemorates the anniversary of his death 50 years ago this month.
Pius has been the subject of debate for decades. Many Jewish groups and historians have accused Pius, who lead the Roman Catholic Church from 1939-58, of remaining silent during the Nazi persecution of the Jews during WWII.
“It seems there’s a controversy out there,” Paul Shapiro, director of the museum’s Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
“We know there’s a way to address it, which is opening the archives, and we’re encouraging the Vatican to do that.”
Shapiro noted that the museum has a good working relationship with the Vatican, which 25 years ago published selected archival material from 1933-39, from the Nazi takeover in Germany until the start of World War II in Europe, as the regime put its racial policies into place and began carrying out persecution of Jews and other groups.
But what’s missing, Shapiro says, are the war years, as the systematic extermination of Jews began across Nazi-occupied Europe.
This week, the London Times published a letter by leading Jewish and Roman Catholic scholars warning against the canonization.
The current Pope Benedict XVI, who is German-born, already on Sunday suspended the beatification process in response to similar protests, saying he needed more time for “for absorption and reflection” before signing the decree.
During the Mass that marked the anniversary of Pius’ death on October 9, Benedict delivered an impassioned defence of Pius against accusations that he was a silent collaborator in genocide.
Benedict, quoting Pius, said: “How can one forget his Christmas radio message in December 1942, when, with a voice broken by emotion, he deplored the situation of ‘hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and sometimes only because of their nationality or origin, are destined to die or progressively waste away’?”
The US Holocaust Museum said time was running out for the few surviving Holocaust survivors, “who deserve definitive answers.”
Shapiro recalled that during Benedict’s April US visit, the museum presented him with a menorah in memory of the 6 million Holocaust victims.
“He was clearly moved by it. We were witness to his sensitivity on the issue of the Holocaust,” Shapiro told dpa.
“It is our hope, and our belief, that there is sensitivity and receptivity to this idea of finally opening the archival material.”
Shapiro emphasized the museum’s insistence on addressing issues from a “factual, documented” basis.
“It’s not opinion. It’s the historical record, … and that lies in the Vatican archives,” he said. “Until that is accessible for careful study, neither the people who believe Pius did everything possible, nor the people who believe he didn’t, have a firm foundation to stand on.”
The Pius issue rose anew over the weekend in Israel, as Vatican spokesman Father Peter Gumpel said that Benedict should not visit Israel as long as the Jewish state’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, continued to have a caption under a photo of Pius which implied he remained silent about Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.
In response, Israeli President Shimon Peres called for the controversy to be set aside and for Benedict to visit.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa)
Copyright 2008 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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