Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – No one is calling for history to be changed, but for a change in the interpretation of history, this yes, especially when recent studies show that such a change is called for. This is how Archbishop Antonio Franco, Nuncio in Israel, responds, in talking with AsiaNews, to the controversy created by the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The institute publicly announced the Nuncio’s decision to not take part in the annual commemoration of the Shoah in the case that his request is not met for reconsideration of the use of a photo portraying Pius XII – first displayed by the Museum in 2005 – which carries a caption that the Nuncio judges to be “offensive” and disrespectful of the truth, in that it speaks of a dubious reaction on Pope Pacelli’s part to the killing of Jews during the Holocaust.
News of Archbishop Franco’s decision was given today by Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, in its Y-net on-line edition. The newspaper reports on a statement by the Museum, according to which “The Yad Vashem is dedicated to historical research, and the Holocaust Museum presents the historical truth on Pope Pius XII as is known to scholars today”, as well as statements by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who say, “This is a very sensitive matter which needs to be examined in depth. It is important to us that all diplomatic delegates attend the memorial ceremony,” and “his absence will definitely stand out.”
“Already last year,” Archbishop Franco notes, “Nuncio Pietro Samba wrote to Museum executives calling attention to the caption, to this very negative judgement against Pius XII and asked that it be reviewed or removed. Historical studies and material were also subsequently brought to the Museum’s attention. Nothing was done and given the imminent celebrations I wrote to the President of Yad Vashem’s board of directors, the Mr Avner Shalev who had replied to us last year, specifying that it was an interpretation that was problematic for me – and not just for me, but for all Catholic believers – offensive to the Pope’s dignity – and the Pope is Pope for us – so I did not feel at ease about going to this commemoration. My suggestion was for reconsidering the possibility, shall we say, that the caption be corrected or that the photo be removed. And it was clearly a communication, not a press conference; there was and there is no desire for controversy. They gave it to the press.”
“Now,” Archbishop Franco goes on to say, “the reality is that that caption is an interpretation, not a historical truth. According to Yedioth Aharonoth, the Yad Vashem said that history cannot be changed. We, by all means, agree that history cannot be changed, but this is an interpretation of history. It is regretful for me, because it offends my feelings, my faith and historical research. We know well that there are those who say one thing, but there is a lot of documentation and a lot of historical research that prove the contrary, all that the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII did to save Jews. “The Righteous”, an essay written in 2003 by Martin Gilbert, the famous English historian who has written much on World War II, Churchill and the Holocaust, highlights all that Pius XII and the Catholic Church did for Jews. And there are many other historical studies, even by Jews, that prove this fact.”
“My letter,” the Nuncio stresses, “was written to draw attention to a problem that for me must be reconsidered and further analyzed and this judgement on Pius XII must be changed. Otherwise, I will never go to the Yad Vashem. That is what I said. I have my responsibility as a person, a Christian, and representative of the Pope. It is difficult for me, as papal representative, to read this judgement that is not historical and is not true.”
As for Yad Vashem’s willingness to continue studying the question if the Vatican allows it to consult its archives, the Nuncio explains that “regarding the historical archives, there are principles that have been put into place by all states and research is done with certain criteria which are historical criteria and not a question of hiding the historical truth. We too have accepted historical truths and we too know how to bow our head down, when there is reason to bow it, but not when there is no reason to do so.”