Petition from Hilde Schmahl
Petition from Hilde Schmahl
© 2022 Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Segr.Stato, Commissione Soccorsi 296, fasc. 120, fol. 46r. - per concessione dell’Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, ogni diritto riservato


In the letters to Pope Pius XII, to the Vatican, to the Secretariat of State or to various other church offices, the authors ask for financial contributions, help in leaving the country or other support. Often these letters contain previously unknown information about the petitioners' situation, their biographies, family circumstances and the persecution they have suffered.

In order to reconstruct the further decision-making process of the Catholic Church on the course of the petition, intensive studies in various series of the Vatican archives are necessary. The further fate of the individuals can only be reconstructed with the help of extensive research in other sources and printed literature. In many cases, the letters are probably the last first-person documents of the petitioners before their murder by the National Socialists.

The project "Asking the Pope for Help" wants to make these people visible again and give them a voice. In the further course of the project, all documents will be presented here in a critical online edition.

Emilie Karp

Emilie Karp addresses "His Holiness Pope Pius XII" on 26 March 1940. Her husband is Jewish; she tells of her escape from Vienna to Italy. Both are waiting for the opportunity to emigrate to the USA. But she has no more money for the landlady. The Holy See helps her: the Karps receive visas for entry into the USA and leave Lisbon on board the S.S. Nyssa for New York on 15 April 1941.

Heinrich Reiter

The Austrian Heinrich Reiter appeals to the Vatican several times. As a Catholic non-Aryan, the widower was expelled from Austria with his children and finds refuge in Italy in summer 1939. After his own reserves are exhausted, he asks for a job opportunity or support in a letter on November 1, 1939. Giovanni Battista Montini, a high-ranking employee in the Secretariat of State and later Pope Paul VI, sent him 200 lire. Reiter was able to make his way to Rome. On March 6, 1940, he asked the Pope personally for the possibility to leave the country. On Reiter's letter, Pius XII handwrote: "A Mons. Dell'Acqua" - "To Monsignor Dell'Acqua". Heinrich Reiter and his son Johann succeeded in leaving the country for Rio de Janeiro on September 28, 1940, with the help of the Holy See.

Anna Krinsky

A few days after Eugenio Pacelli's election as Pope, a French letter to "His Holiness Pius XII" reached the Vatican. The author was a young Jewish woman, Anna Krinsky, who had written the letter on March 18, 1939. She asked for help for her "poor brothers in faith who are treated so unjustly in other countries, persecuted and shamefully driven from their homes." In addition, the woman, who was born in Russia in 1902 and had already emigrated to France before the war began, asked for support for Israel, which would never have "a nobler and more powerful defender" than Pius XII. Anna Krinsky enclosed a six-verse poem with her letter. Handwritten on it in pencil is the note: "N. d. f. Archivio 28 - III - 39" - Niente da fare, nothing is to be done, which led to the filing of the letter. Anna Krinsky did not escape the Shoah: she was deported to Auschwitz on July 27, 1942.

Karl Nathan

Karl Nathan writes to the "Venerable Holiness," the Pope, on April 16. The former employee of the Berlin publishing house "Ullstein" asks for financial support. In doing so, Nathan describes himself as having "left the Jewish religious community." Nathan will address the Vatican again on July 15, 1940, but this time in italian. His petition is supported by the Raphaelsverein.

Betty Lange

In total despair, the jewish Betty Lange asks the Secretariat of State on April 6, 1942, to find a way for her sister in America to continue transferring money to her, or to support her directly. The administrative officer (minutant) at the Secretariat of State, Bruno Wüstenberg, acknowledges the receipt of the letter on April 25, 1942, but does not grant any assistance.

Mario Funaro

Mario Funaro asks Cardinal Luigi Maglione for help on second August 1940. The Jewish musician can no longer practice his profession because of the racial laws in Italy. In his letter, written in Italian, Funaro writes that he does not know where else to turn. The Holy See approves a grant of 500 lire, which is paid through the Archbishop of Milan, Ildefons Schuster.

Regina Toch

Regina Toch and her husband Julius, both Jewish, fled from Vienna to Rome. Julius Toch has had a stroke and is in hospital, as his wife reports to Pope Pius XII on 27 February 1940. The couple are destitute and receive two lire a day from the Jewish Relief Committee. They are in contact with Carl Heinemann of the German community in Rome Santa Maria dell'Anima about a possible conversion to the Catholic faith.

Otto Lucas

Otto Lucas, who lives in London, writes to Pope Pius XII on 12 July 1943. He is trying to find out something about the fate of his Jewish parents, who last lived in Amsterdam. Could the Holy See instruct its representatives in Germany and Holland to make the necessary enquiries and arrange for their departure? Corresponding letters were sent by the Secretariat of State. The corresponding note in the file says: "ma senza speranza" - "but without hope".

Margarethe Deutsch

Margarethe Deutsch, a woman from Vienna, saved herself from National Socialist persecution by going to Italy. There, as a Jew, she was threatened by the Italian authorities with deportation back to the Third Reich. She therefore writes a first Italian letter to the Vatican Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, on 2 January 1940, asking for help to escape to England. As usual, his assistant Dell'Acqua turns to the Archbishop of Milan, who - since Margarethe Deutsch has given a Milan address - is in charge of her from the perspective of the Secretariat of State. The latter, however, waved her off. On 26 January 1940, Margarethe Deutsch again turns to the Secretary of State and again asks the Holy See for assistance, which, however, is not granted to her.

Anton Utz

On 5 April 1940, Anton Utz wrote to the chancellery of the Papal Nunciature in Bern asking for help for the departure of his friend Rudolf Schlesinger from Switzerland to Brazil. Schledinger had to flee from Vienna to Switzerland because of his Jewish faith, leaving behind his Catholic wife and his 11-year-old son.

Fanny Bluschanoff

On 26 February 1941, Fanny Bluschanoff had an audience with Pope Pius XII himself where she asked him to explain her situation. In a petition dated 1 March, the Russian Jewess described how she had been abandoned by her husband in Danzig and had now been living in Rome for a year. As Fanny Bluschanoff, who has a heart condition, is unable to obtain an English visa to join her son, who has had to emigrate from Danzig to England, she asks Pope Pius XII for financial support.

Joseph Szafran

Joseph Szafran writes from Istanbul to Pope Pius XII on 11 January 1943. In the letter, written in French, he explains that his brother already approached the Holy See three years ago to help their mother and two siblings leave Poland for Palestine - but in vain due to a lack of documentation. After Joseph Szafran received an immigration permit to Palestine from British authorities, he again asked the Pope for help in getting his relatives out of the country.

Hildegard Jacobi

Hildegard Jacobi writes from Rome to Pope Pius XII on 9 April 1940. The Jewish-born Catholic asks the Pope for financial support for her son, her 70-year-old father and herself. There is a typewritten note on the letter indicating that it was intended to be forwarded to Monsignor Angelo Dell'Acqua at the Secretariat of State.

Siegbert Steinfeld

Siegbert Steinfeld writes to Pope Pius XII on 17 January 1944. The Jewish-born singer is sought by the National Socialists and has to hide for weeks in a cave in Italy. In his five-page petition he asks for asylum to avoid falling into the hands of his persecutors.

Elisabeth Einstein

Elisabeth Einstein writes to the Pontifical Secretariat of State on 27 May 1940. Her husband and her three children are Jews; she was baptised in Stuttgart in 1936. She asks for financial help to leave the country for the USA.

Hilde Schmahl

Hilde Schmahl writes to Pope Pius XII on November 11, 1940. She and her husband are both Jews. Together with their little daughter, they decided to emigrate to Trieste in October 1939 and to wait there for visas for the USA. She asks for help in obtaining an US-American visa as well as for assistance in leaving the country.

Martin Wachskerz

Martin Wachskerz writes to Pope Pius XII on December 20, 1942. As a student of jewish theology, he intends to become a rabbi and asks for help for his parents, his brother and himself.