Season 3, Episode 7
Unsolved Jewish Mysteries: Holocaust Mysteries
Three things: the whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, who betrayed Anne Frank, and whether Pope Pius XII did enough to condemn the Holocaust.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat sent to Budapest, Hungary, in 1944, with the mission to rescue as many Jews as possible. He saved thousands by giving them Swedish passports, but was arrested by the Soviets in January, 1945. He then disappeared.
Anne Frank had spent two years in hiding with her family in the attic of a building in Amsterdam when the Gestapo discovered and arrested them in August, 1944. How the Germans found out, though, remains a mystery. It has long been assumed that someone close to the family betrayed them.
Pope Pius XII has been a controversial figure since the end of the war, when critics and supporters alike began debating his wartime role. His critics allege that he didn’t do enough to condemn the Holocaust or to effectively protest the Nazi’s atrocities. His supporters counter that he did as much as he could given the Vatican’s precarious position surrounded by the Nazi occupation of Rome.
WHY WE CARE
Although the Holocaust is probably the most-studied period of Jewish history, numerous outstanding questions remain. Raoul Wallenberg risked (and most likely sacrificed) his life to rescue thousands of Hungarian Jews, and deserves a full accounting of his fate. Anne Frank is the most famous victim of the Holocaust and, like Wallenberg, deserves as full an understanding of her short life as possible. Finally, understanding the Church’s role during the Holocaust is a vital element of Catholic-Jewish relations today, and is essential to promoting understanding between these two historic communities.
Raoul Wallenberg: the Soviets declared that he had been murdered by the Gestapo, but in fact he was taken to a prison in Moscow. In 1957 the Soviets claimed he had died in prison of a heart attack in 1947, but other witnesses said he had been executed as a spy that year. Up until the 1980s there were reports of sightings in various Russian prisons. Though declared officially dead by Sweden in 2016, his fate and whereabouts were never fully determined.
Anne Frank: numerous people connected with the Frank family were suspected, from business employees of her father to Resistance fighters-turned-Nazi-collaborators. Alternatively, after two years of hiding the Frank’s may have gotten a bit careless with secrecy, inadvertently alerting the neighborhood that someone was occupying an attic at night. It’s also possible that they were discovered by accident when the Gestapo was searching the building while following up a tip on fraudulent food ration cards. Not much evidence for any of these scenarios has ever been uncovered.
Pope Pius XII: on the one hand, Pope Pius frequently spoke out (albeit in couched and diplomatic language) against the Nazi’s. He also directed Church efforts and resources to rescue Jews. But the Church also had an interest in conversion, for centuries a sore subject between it and the Jews. The Pope has faced accusations that he soft-pedaled the Nazi’s atrocities in order to protect former Jews who had been baptized as Christians. Yet the Pope also knew from experience that speaking out hardly impacted the Jews’ ultimate fate, and he feared that doing so could jeopardize the safety of the Vatican and hundreds of thousands of more lives.
In his most famous rescue effort, Raoul Wallenberg leapt onto a train loaded with Jews heading to Auschwitz, handed Swedish passports through the windows, and then demanded that the Hungarian and Nazi guards release those Jews into Swedish custody, which they did.
Although Vatican rules only allow a pope’s papers to be unsealed 70 years after his death (2028 for Pope Pius), in March 2019, Pope Francis announced the Vatican Archives would open to scholars studying Pope Pius in 2020.
© Jason Harris 2019