What Declassified Vatican Archives Might Reveal about the Church and World War II

On Monday, Pope Francis announced his intention to open in their entirety the Vatican archives of Pius XII, who served in the papacy from 1939 to 1958. Even after the publication of thousands of documents in the 1960s and 1970s, Pius’s wartime activities have remained the subject of intense controversy, with one author dubbing him “Hitler’s pope” while others have argued that he saved hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish lives. David Kertzer, a scholar of the wartime church, explains why the archives matter:

Less noticed in initial accounts of the announcement is the fact that Francis’s opening of the Pius XII archives makes available not only the seventeen million pages of documents in the central Vatican archives, but many other materials in other Church archives. Not least of these are the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition) and the central archives of the Jesuit order. They, too, are likely to have much that is new to tell us. . . .

In an effort to respond to critics, the Holy See commissioned four Jesuits to plow through the archives and publish a selection of documents shedding light on the controversy. The result, over a sixteen-year period beginning in 1965, was twelve thick volumes containing thousands of documents. Although skeptics suspected the Jesuit editors of selecting out documents unflattering to the Church, the volumes are far from a simple whitewash of this troubled history. . . .

[In 1999], the Vatican announced the creation of an unusual interreligious historical commission, composed of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars, tasked with shedding light on the role played by the Vatican as the Holocaust unfolded. After examining the twelve volumes of documents that had earlier been published, its members concluded that they could not draw any adequate historical conclusions without access to the archives themselves. When the Vatican refused to grant their request, the members decided to suspend their work, a decision that generated both embarrassment and polemics. . . .

Media coverage of the opening of the Pius XII archives has focused almost exclusively on the question of what we will learn about the role played by the pope and the Vatican during the war. Yet many of the most historically significant documents soon to be made available relate not to the war years but to the immediate postwar period.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Catholic Church, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Jewish-Catholic relations, Pope Francis, Vatican, World War II

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security