A Papal Audience in Autumn 1941
Venerable Pius XII always believed that it was part of his duties as Pope to be accessible to virtually everyone who wished to see him. His audiences would normally be crowded as a result. In the autumn of 1941 he held an audience which was no different. Italians, pilgrims of all nations, German soldiers (German soldiers flocked to see the Pope until the Nazis forbade such visits, fearing the influence the words of the Pope, in direct contradiction to the doctrines of National Socialism, might have on the Landsers.), humanity from across the globe, all eager to see, and perhaps have a word with, the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
Among the people waiting to see the Pope was a Jew. He was a German refugee. He wanted to tell the Pope about a group of Jews interned by the Fascist government of Italy on an island, in danger of starvation. Why go to the Pope? The whole world in 1941 knew that the Pope was a friend of the Jews and an enemy of the Nazis, so of course a Jew would seek his aid.
The turn of the Jew arrived to speak to the Pope. At first he spoke in broken Italian, but the Pope invited him to speak in his native German which the Pope both understood and spoke. He did, explaining to the Pope that he was a German Jew. After he had told the Pope about the interned Jews, the Pope told him, in German, “You have done well to come to me and tell me this. I have heard about it before. Come back tomorrow with a written report and give it to the Secretary of State who is dealing with the question. But now for you, my son. You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always be proud to be a Jew!”
The Pope then raised his voice so that everyone in the hall, including the German soldiers, could hear him: “My son, whether you are worthier than others only the Lord knows, but believe me, you are at least as worthy as every other human being that lives on our earth! And now, my Jewish friend, go with the protection of the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!”
The Pope’s interlocutor didn’t forget his warm reception and wrote about it in the Palestine Post anonymously on April 28, 1944. The story at the time caused no great stir, because, of course, the whole world knew that the Pope had always been a friend of the Jews.