Introduction to Rescue by the Vatican
There were numerous Vatican representatives (Nuncios) stationed throughout Europe during World War II. A number of these Vatican diplomats were sympathetic to the plight of persecuted Jews throughout Europe. A small number of these individuals were active in aiding and even rescuing Jews from the Nazis and their collaborators.
Vatican diplomats were able to issue protective papers to prevent Jews from being arrested and deported by Nazi agents and their collaborators. They issued safe passes in a number of countries that said that the bearer of the document was under the protection of the Vatican. Nazi authorities, under certain circumstances, would recognize and honor these papers and would not arrest and deport the bearer of these documents.
Nazi authorities did not want to violate the neutrality of the Vatican or offend these Papal representatives.
Some of these Vatican diplomats issued visas on their own authority or under the limited authority of their office. It is still under research whether senior Vatican authorities knew directly about these interventions.
Two Vatican diplomats, Monsignor Angello Rotta and Father Gennaro Verolino, who were stationed in Budapest, 1944-1945, issued protective papers to hundreds of Hungarian Jews. In addition, they maintained so-called "safe houses" within the Jewish ghettos located in Budapest. Theoretically, these houses were considered property of the Vatican and were neutral territory. Nazi and Arrow Cross officials honored both the papers and the safe houses. Thus, numerous Jews were protected from arrest and deportation. These two individuals, Rotta and Verolino, have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for their activities. Both of these individuals acted largely on their own authority and initiative in aiding Jews.
The most famous Vatican Nuncio who aided Jews was Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. Roncalli was the Papal Nunio to Turkey in 1944. Roncalli, working with representatives of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (Yishuv), the American Ambassador to Turkey, Laurence Steinhardt, and the American War Refugee Board (WRB), issued protective papers to numerous Jews in Eastern Europe. Roncalli is credited with saving the lives of desperate Jews. Roncalli was elected as Pope in 1958 and took the name Pope John XXIII. Roncalli instituted many reforms to the Catholic Church as part of his Vatican II initiative. On April 27, 2014, Roncalli was cannonized by the Catholic Church, along with Pope John Paul II. He has yet to be officially honored by the State of Israel for his rescue activities.
Updated November 5, 2017