Pope Pius XII reportedly knew about the daily killings of up to 6,000 Poles and Jews at the Belzec death camp
Pope Pius XII was told about the murders of thousands of Jews at the Belzec extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland, according to a letter published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Saturday. The Vatican has long maintained that it was unaware of the true scale of the Holocaust.
Addressed to Pius' secretary, the letter was written by German Jesuit priest Lothar Koenig in December 1942 and recently discovered by a Vatican archivist.
In the missive, the priest reportedly mentions an SS-operated gas chamber at the Belzec death camp in Poland, while also referring to the extermination camp at Auschwitz.
Koenig reportedly describes how "up to 6,000 men die every day, especially Poles and Jews" in the "blast furnaces" at Belzec.
It is unclear whether Pius ever read Koenig's letter. However, the Pontiff began receiving correspondence from British and Polish envoys in the same month of 1942, informing him that up to a million Jews had already been murdered by that point in Poland by the Nazi regime.
In an address delivered two weeks after receiving Koenig's letter, the pontiff spoke out against the killings of "hundreds of thousands" of "faultless" people because of their "nationality or race." In the address, he did not name the perpetrators or victims of these murders.
Critics of Pius have long argued that the Pope did not do enough to highlight the Holocaust, and that he was overly cautious in his statements on the matter. His supporters say that he was bound by the Holy See's neutrality and worked through diplomatic channels to save up to 800,000 Jewish lives.
Additionally, Koenig reportedly pleaded with Pius' secretary not to make the contents of his letter public, for fear that Nazi authorities would kill him and his resistance sources.
After the war, Pius was presented with a sum of money from World Jewish Council leader Dr Leon Kubowitzky "in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions." He was also honored by Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett, and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.
Koenig's letter, and additional correspondence from his papacy, are due to be discussed at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University next month. Representatives from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust research institute, the US Holocaust Memorial, and Israeli and US embassies will attend the conference, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.