Vatican archivist discovers letter from German Jesuit active in resistance against Nazis

A Vatican archivist discovered a letter to Pope Pius XII’s personal secretary from a Jesuit priest in Germany, who was active in the resistance against the Nazis, reporting that thousands of Poles and Jews were being incinerated daily in a concentration camp.

The letter is important because it not only details Nazi crimes at the Belzec extermination camp in 1942, but it refers to other reports and mentions Auschwitz, suggesting that the letter is probably part of much more correspondence between the two priests, said Massimo Franco, the journalist who interviewed the archivist.

The letter is “also important because it makes it clear how much pressure the Nazis were putting on Pope Pius XII and, therefore, how terrorized the Catholic Church in Germany and Poland were that any kind of disclosure could in some way worsen Nazi retaliation against Catholics and Jews,” Franco said.

The letter, dated Dec. 14, 1942, was from German Jesuit Father Lothar König, based near Munich, who played an active role in organizing people and initiatives against Hitler’s campaigns and in acquiring and sharing information about different camps, including Dachau.

His letter was to German Jesuit Father Robert Leiber, a key and trusted adviser of Pope Pius for decades, starting with the future pope’s time as papal nuncio in Munich, then as Vatican secretary of state then as pope from 1939 to 1958.

Father König wrote that it seemed that about 6,000 people, especially Poles and Jews, were killed a day in the “blast furnace” at the Nazi concentration camp in Belzec, Poland. That extermination camp had started its operations in March 1942.


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