What Pius XII learned from the Armenian genocide

One key to understanding how Pius XII responded to the Holocaust – both his hesitation to name both murderers and victims and his efforts to save as many lives as possible – is the Vatican’s diplomacy during World War I when Benedict XV (1914-22) unsuccessfully attempted to save the Armenians during the genocide of 1915-18 with a public protest.

I came to this conclusion after studying about 2,000 pages, entitled “persecuzioni contra gli Armeni”, in both the Archives of the Apostolic Delegation in Constantinople and the Secretary of State in the Vatican Secret Archives for an upcoming book[1], many of them for the first time.[2]

There is no doubt that Eugenio Pacelli (who became Pius XII in 1939) was extremely well informed about this dark chapter of World War I.[3]

From 1914 he was Secretary of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State. He became Undersecretary of State when Benedict XV named Cardinal Gasparri as Secretary of State.

In this position he had prime access to all information on the Armenian genocide and indeed we find his characteristic handwriting on several documents dealing with it.

Being responsible for several Papal relief initiatives during the War, he was well-informed about it. In several cases, the Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, Msgr. Angelo Dolci, addressed Pacelli directly in his letters and reports to the Holy See.[4]

Later on, when Benedict XV appointed Pacelli as Nuncio to Bavaria, Pacelli was involved in a diplomatic intervention to prevent further massacres after the Russian retreat from northeastern Turkey following the Brest-Litovsk treaty.[5]

Indeed, all biographers of Pius XII agree that the wartime diplomacy of Pope Benedict XV served as a model for Pius XII’s actions during World War II, when the “Pope of Peace”[6] served as his role model, especially in his stress on the Vatican’s “impartiality”.[7]

But what did Pius XII learn from his experience with the Armenian genocide? Continue reading


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