In the international storm that ensued, the Vatican brought Catholic scholar Robert A. Graham from the United States to examine its archives and produce a definitive study of the Church's activities during World War II and the Holocaust. The tenth volume, published in 1982, dealt with the question of the Pope and the Jews.
In the years since Graham's 11-volume study appeared, the issues which his work were supposed to lay to rest are more hotly debated than ever. There have been innumerable encounters between Jewish leaders and Vatican officials over the last 30 years. These have ended predictably: Catholics claim that all relevant information is to be found in Graham's work, which supposedly proves that the Pope did his best for the Jews; Jews claim with equal repetitiveness that Pius XII did not do enough.
It seems that neither side has read the documents Graham assembled. His work was at least as noteworthy for what it did not explore as for what it did. No one speaks of the thundering silence in Graham's work about what was happening in the very seat of the Holocaust: Nazi-occupied Poland.
The one exception is Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the retired secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, who recently reminded me in private conversation of the startling hole in Graham's work. There is not one page on Poland in all of Graham's 11 volumes.
Undoubtedly, the Vatican archives contain reports by Poland's Roman Catholic bishops about what was going on in their country, and especially in their own dioceses, in the 1940s. The Vatican regularly receives reports from all dioceses, reports which are emphasized during times of crisis, like a war. Surely, the Vatican received such reports from heavily Catholic Poland during the Second World War.
These reports would have implicated both the Church and the Pope, who could have declared early in the war that the genocide of the Jews -- men, women, and children -- was against Catholic teachings. He never did so. Instead, the Pope simply said killing civilians was wrong, which the Nazis promptly disregarded.
Is it conceivable that all these reports were lost? If so, someone had to take action on the orders of someone higher up to "lose" this trove of information in some deep recess of the Vatican archives, which are not open to historians and others.
Because of Jewish silence on the issue, the Vatican has never directly faced the question of Graham's silence about Poland.
Father Graham, with whom I was quite friendly in the 1950s and 1960s, became more taciturn on each occasion that I saw him after he assumed his post at the Vatican. He seemed increasingly uncomfortable answering questions. Was he aware that he was being made to sit by while some form of whitewash was going on?
More fundamentally, to what end has the Jewish community been spending its time and money on continuing the dialogue with the Vatican?
Of what use is the outcry from the Jewish community that we want to see more documents if we have not read the documents already in print--the very collection the Vatican keeps saying provides the correct and full picture? Perhaps the Jewish masters leading the interfaith dialogue do not choose to read French. Perhaps they are too busy issuing press statements to read documents. If so, pure common sense should have led them to pay some graduate students to read Graham's 11 volumes, and especially the tenth, for them.
By the same token, I am amazed at the representatives of the Vatican. Did they not read Graham's volumes and ask where the accounts from Poland were--the accounts that must have streamed into the Vatican during that period? Maybe they thought that simply putting 11 volumes in print would be so intimidating that nobody would read them or question them.
There has been a new turn in this relationship. The Vatican and the international Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation formed a committee of three Catholic and three Jewish historians, who met in New York in November and agreed to work together.
The most interesting and important development, according to press accounts, was that the Catholic scholars were as firm as the Jewish ones in insisting that far more of the Vatican's documents need to be seen than Father Graham put on view.
Maybe these men will tell us what blank walls and closed doors they meet as they work their way through the Vatican's archives. Let the activists be silent while the scholars read, study--and report back to us.