Letter Showing Pope Pius Xii Had Detailed Information From German Jesuit About Nazi Crimes Revealed


Newly discovered correspondence suggests that World War II-era Pope Pius XII had detailed information from a trusted German Jesuit that up to 6,000 Jews and Poles were being gassed each day in German-occupied Poland. The documentation undercuts the Holy See’s argument that it couldn’t verify diplomatic reports of Nazi atrocities to denounce them.

The documentation from the Vatican archives, published this weekend in Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is likely to further fuel the debate about Pius’ legacy and his now-stalled beatification campaign. Historians have long been divided about Pius’ record, with supporters insisting he used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives while critics say he remained silent as the Holocaust raged.

Corriere is reproducing a letter dated Dec. 14, 1942 from the German Jesuit priest to Pius’ secretary which is contained in an upcoming book about the newly opened files of Pius’ pontificate by Giovanni Coco, a researcher and archivist in the Vatican’s Apostolic Archives.

Coco told Corriere that the letter was significant because it represented detailed correspondence about the Nazi extermination of Jews, including in ovens, from an informed church source in Germany who was part of the Catholic anti-Hitler resistance that was able to get otherwise secret information to the Vatican.

The letter from the priest, the Rev. Lothar Koenig, to Pius’ secretary, a fellow German Jesuit named the Rev. Robert Leiber, is dated Dec. 14, 1942. Written in German, the letter addresses Leiber as “Dear friend,” and goes on to report that the Nazis were killing up to 6,000 Jews and Poles daily from Rava Ruska, a town in pre-war Poland that is today located in Ukraine, and transporting them to the Belzec death camp.

According to the Belzec memorial which opened in 2004, a total of 500,000 Jews perished at the camp. The memorial’s website reports that as many as 3,500 Jews from Rava Ruska had already been sent to Belzec earlier in 1942 and that from Dec. 7-11, the city’s Jewish ghetto was liquidated. “About 3,000-5,000 people were shot on the spot and 2,000- 5,000 people were taken to Bełżec,” the website says.

The date of Koenig’s letter is significant because it suggests the correspondence from a trusted fellow Jesuit arrived in Pius’ office in the days after the ghetto was emptied, and after Pius had received multiple diplomatic notes and visits from a variety of envoys of foreign governments from August 1942 onwards with reports that up to 1 million Jews had been killed so far in Poland.

While it can’t be certain that Pius saw the letter, Leiber was Pius’ top aide and had served the pope when he was the Vatican’s ambassador to Germany during the 1920s, suggesting a close working relationship especially concerning matters related to Germany.

According to “The Pope at War,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist David Kertzer, a top secretariat of state official, Monsignor Domenico Tardini, told the British envoy to the Vatican in mid-December that the pope couldn’t speak out about Nazi atrocities because the Vatican hadn’t been able to verify the information.

“The novelty and importance of this document comes from this fact: that on the Holocaust, there is now the certainty that Pius XII was receiving from the German Catholic Church exact and detailed news about crimes being perpetrated against Jews,” Coco was quoted by Corriere as saying.

However, Coco noted that Koenig also urged the Holy See to not make public what he was revealing because he feared for his own life and the lives of the resistance sources who had provided the intelligence. Pius’ supporters have long insisted that he couldn’t speak out strongly against the Nazis because of fears of reprisals.

In a telephone interview Saturday, Kertzer said the letter could be significant because it could mark the first time a reference to Jews being gassed in ovens had been revealed in a letter he said would certainly have been brought to Pius’ attention. Kertzer said historians have been eagerly awaiting Coco’s book because as a Vatican archivist, Coco had access to a trove of Pius’ personal files that weren’t yet indexed and made available to scholars when the Vatican opened the Pius archives in March 2020.

“When we started working there, it wasn’t a secret — although it took a while to figure out — what kinds of documents were missing,” Kertzer said, noting that documents from the Vatican’s office in Washington during the war years have still not yet been catalogued.

Pius’ legacy, and the revelations from the newly opened Vatican archives, are to be discussed at a major conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University next month that is notable because of its across-the-spectrum participant list and sponsorship. The Vatican, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust research institute, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial as well as the Israeli and U.S. embassies are all backing it, among others.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, is to open the Oct. 9-11 meeting that will feature scholars including Kertzer, Coco and Johan Ickx, the archivist at the Vatican secretariat of state whose own book on the archives, “Pius XII and the Jews” published in 2021, praised Pius and the Vatican’s efforts to care for Jews and people fleeing the war.

Coco said Koenig’s letter actually was found in the Vatican’s secretariat of state archives and was turned over to the Vatican’s main Apostolic Archives only in 2019, because the secretariat of state’s papers were disorganized and scattered, with some of Pius’ documents kept in plastic containers in an attic storage space where heat and humidity were damaging them.



  1. What a surprise-the church has never been a great supporter of the Jews. What about the crusades,the Spanish inquisition and how they persecuted Jews throughout our history in Europe. Are they vocally supporting our presence in EY? Deafening silence

  2. It has been clear that anyone who wanted to know about the Holocaust knew. It wasn’t really a secret. The Catholic Church had many sources of information, as did all the Allies (human intelligence, interception of German wireless communications, etc.). The idea that those out of Germany “didn’t know” makes even less sense than Germans claiming they were “just obeying orders”. I suspect the idea of saying that so and so “didn’t know” was dreamed up by Jews to avoid having to confront goyim who chose not to act in spite of knowing what was going.

  3. I watched a documentary movie on The History Channel about this. I forget the title.
    It was not such a simple situation. Hitler was threatening to take over the Vatican & depose the Pope.
    It appears the Pope felt he could do more privately than publicly opposing Hitler. How would the Pope coming out against the Holocaust change anything? This is a very grey area but there are also reports of the Pope telling monks who were literally starving themselves that they must take in a group of Jews & share everything they had with them.
    When the Nazis tried rounding up 10,000 Jews in Italy (in an Aktion) they only managed to catch 1,100. Was it the Pope who told the Catholics to protect the Jews as best they could?
    Non-Italian citizen Jews in Italy, (the lowest of the low on the totem pole) were put in “Internment camps” They had adequate food, shelter, schools, entertainment, etc. Was it the Pope who made sure they were treated humanely?
    I’m not saying the Pope was a Saint, nor should be made one. But bashing a person in an impossible situation for making the decisions they did doesn’t seem fair either.

  4. This whole topic is stupid. Pius’s first responsibility was to his own people, and therefore even if he knew everything that was happening he couldn’t publicly denounce it. Doing so would not have saved anyone’s life, but it would have endangered every Catholic church and institution under German rule. He did what he could through secret diplomatic approaches, but that was very limited, because of course the Nazis hated all Christians, and especially Catholics. It’s not as if they were going to listen to the Pope just because he said something. But publicly embarrassing them would have invited retaliation.

    At Pius’s orders, Catholic institutions took in Jewish refugees. When Germany invaded Italy, the Vatican took in thousands of Jews and protected them. There’s little more it could have done, and more to the point it had no chiyuv to do so. We were not its responsibility. If the positions were reversed, would we have endangered ourselves to save Catholics?! Would halacha even allow us to do so?! So why the outrage at Pius? The whole anti-Pius campaign is driven by a group of communists, who hate him because he was anti-communist, as of course he should have been. We Jews are being shlepped along by our noses and we don’t even realize it. We should stay out of it. Let him be beatified, canonized, deified, whatever. It’s all avoda zara anyway.

  5. Milhouse,
    Finally someone else with some Sechel instead of lashing out like a little kid screaming “Antisemitism”
    To the others,
    If you owned 3 stores in Brooklyn run by your sons Yeruchem (19): Yerachmiel (22) & Yekusiel (24)
    Would you be ok sending them to Europe (where the Europeans have been killing each other since forever) to risk being permanently disabled or killed to save some (Non-jewish) people that you never met, know nothing about, have zero connection to & their look, dress, language, culture & religious practices are totally foreign to you?
    I highly doubt it. Whether the Pope, the US (at the start of WWII Germany had millions of soldiers {with the most modern weapons} while the US had only 250,000 soldiers), or anyone else. Perhaps they could’ve or should’ve done more. But contrary to what many of us believe (especially when its difficult to swallow) the world doesn’t revolve around us.
    We (The US) felt the Nazis were the immediate danger so we held our noses & allied with the Soviets knowing after the Nazis were defeated we’d be at (at least a cold) war with Russia. We pretend & ignore it but many, many Jews (for misguided though legitimate reasons) were Communists. If you were in charge of immigration knowing we’re going to be part of a massive war in Asia & Europe followed by a war with the Soviets would you allow millions of Jews in knowing that includes 10s or 100’s of thousands of Communists?
    A good (& sometimes bad) trait Jews have is when we believe in something we give 110%. It’s the Jews standing on the subway platform 12 hours a day handing out Communist literature in the cold rain. I doubt you’d be so open-minded & caring to let these people in (especially with the Depression still a major issue).
    It is a negative trait of ours to accuse others of not doing enough for us when as Milhouse mentioned if the roles were reversed would we have acted any differently?

  6. In response to Milhouse. The only reason that the Catholic Church took in Jews was to convert them. If there were children that were raised in Polish households, they were raised as Catholics which wasn’t anyone’s fault that they were too young to know and that is how they hid. But the church, hey, that is their mitzvah C”VS.

  7. Ari Knobler, I don’t know where your statistic comes from, or exactly what you mean by “confessing”, but even those who claimed to be nominally Catholic were not believing Catholics. The SS was anti-Christian, and particularly anti-Catholic. And the Catholic church banned its members from joining the Nazi Party unless they were forced to.