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.

Phillipp Weininger

Aware of the 3,000 visas that the Brazilian government has granted the Holy See for "Catholic non-arians", Phillipp Weininger from Vienna writes to the Vatican in February 1941, as he is already sure of a job in Brazil. The former actor and theatre director was living as a refugee in Zurich, but his visa was about to expire. The State Secretariat recommends Weininger to the Brazilian embassy to the Holy See and also informs the nuncio in Bern, Filippo Bernardini. In September 1940, Weininger contacted both offices once again, this time from Lisbon and not on his own behalf. He reported on the experiences of a family, who had also received visas from the "Brasilienaktion", on the steamer steerage to Rio des Janeiro. The hygienic and moral conditions were so terrible that the family wanted to commit suicide. Weininger pleads for the conditions on the ships to be improved. It has not yet been possible to determine whether and when Weininger himself travelled to Brazil.

Else Lasker-Schüler

"Heiliger Vater, rettet ‚unser’ aller Menschen Europas schönes Italien! … Rettet auch meinen Indianerfreund … den Duce" wrote the German-Jewish poet Else Lasker-Schüler from her exile in Jerusalem to Pope Pius XII in Rome on 23 June 1942. She feared the fall of Mussolini, who invited her to Rome several times without ever meeting her in person. She found a place to sublet at the home of Leokardia Weidenfeld. Else Lasker-Schüler repeatedly claimed to colleagues and friends that she was in close contact with Pope Pius XII, but the letter that has now been found provides the first solid proof of this claim. And it has indeed been received and read by Pius XII. However, a reply has not yet been found.

Henry Jolles

On 6 June 1941, the Apostolic Nuncio in France, Valerio Valeri, writes to Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione. He pleads for the German composer and pianist Henry Jolles, who lost his position as professor at the Cologne Conservatory of Music after the Nazi " Machtergreifung" (seizure of power) in 1933 and fled to Paris. After the occupation of France in 1940, he now had to give up his exile in Paris, where he had founded the concert society "La Sonate" in 1935. Together with his wife, Jolles wanted to leave Europe, preferably for Brazil. The emigration request was brought to Valeri by the Dutch diplomat John Loudon. On 25 June 1941, Maglione already received feedback from the Brazilian Embassy to the Holy See that Jolles had been baptised too late to be considered for Brazilian exceptional visas. With the help of the US American Varian Fry, the couple nevertheless managed to escape to São Paulo.

Daisy Mihalovici

The Jewish student Daisy Mihalovici from Bucharest wants to be baptised. She had already spent a summer being taught catechism, but the bishop in charge, Monsignor Joseph Schubert, rejected her request, citing a one-year preparation period. Her teacher Georgette Magnoli turned to the Romanian nuncio Andrea Cassulo on 27 November 1940 and asked him to allow Daisy Mihalovici s baptism. The files also contain an undated letter from Daisy herself, expressing her fear of being disowned by her father. Her parents want to leave the country and do not know that the schoolgirl wants to become catholic. The nuncio then turns to the Holy See to officially inquire about the necessity of the one-year preparation period. He received the following reply from the Holy Office: "The young person can be admitted to baptism if she shows signs of determination and steadfastness." Whether Daisy was subsequently baptised before her family emigrated or what happened to her, we do not yet know.

Pietro Bonaventura

Pietro Bonaventura from Liguria sends an Italian petition to the Patriarch of Venice, Adeodato Piazza, on 26 January 1939. The former chemistry teacher requests a way to exempt him from the Italian racial laws which, among other things, prohibit him from practising his profession. Piazza passes the request to the Secretariat of State, which in turn calls in Benito Mussolini's confessor, Pietro Tacchi Venturi. After correspondence with the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Tacchi Venturi finally replies that Bonaventura's return to teaching is impossible because of his Jewishness. According to the testimony of a former pupil, Bonaventura is conscripted into forced labour by the Organisation Todt, a paramilitary construction group, and dies in the process.

Betti David

The German Jew Betti David had already emigrated to Milan in June 1937 with her husband Theodor and their daughter Lucie. There, however, they suffered, as she wrote, "the fate of Jews who had immigrated to Italy": The family is only granted a residence permit for a limited time. For this reason, on 5 March 1939, three days after his election, Betti David asks Pius XII to grant her and her family a short stay in Vatican City until the family can be accepted in another country. On the form of the Secretariat of State is written in pencil: N.d.f." - "Niente da fare", nothing is to be done. The family nevertheless succeeds in leaving for Argentina on 11 December 1939.

Richard Tauber

Richard Tauber, a dentist and of Jewish origin, had to flee Italy to escape the Gestapo and found asylum in Switzerland. On 2 October 1944, he contacts the nuncio in Bern, Filippo Bernardini, and asks for information about the whereabouts of his relatives. Whether the nuncio forwarded the necessary documents to the "Ufficio Informazioni" (Information Office) in the Vatican – which had been set up specifically for such requests – is still uncertain. So far, no corresponding entry has been found in the inventories of this office that have been consulted in the archives.

Giacomo Cohen

Giacomo Cohen signs his letter of 26 August 1942, originally written in Italian, with an X. He is illiterate. Apparently someone else wrote this letter for him. Already converted to the Catholic faith in 1933, Giacomo Cohen was born into a Jewish family in Constantinople in 1889 and fled from Albania to Italy in 1910. Since March 1941 he has been interned in a camp in Rocca die Mezzo. He asks to be released to be with his Catholic wife Martina and his eleven children. After verifying the accuracy of Cohen's information, the Secretariat of State turns to Mussolini's confessor, Pietro Tacchi Venturi, on 11 October 1942. It was not until April 1944, however, that Giacomo Cohen managed to return to his family. In 1949, the family applied to emigrate to the USA, where relatives were living.

Ester Di Consiglio

Ester Di Consiglio asks for her father's release from Regina Coeli prison in an letter written on 26 May 1944. The 77-year-old devout Jew is ill and urgently needs to go to a clinic. Instead, on 26 June 1944, he is crammed into convoy 13, which arrives at Auschwitz on 30 June 1944. Tranquillo Di Consiglio is murdered on the same day. It remains unclear whether the Holy See will intervene and intercede for his release. But since the secretary of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Jesuit Ferdinand Becker, is involved in the case, we can assume that at least he heard whether the Vatican intervened on the old man's behalf.

Benzion Lustman

In addition to this detailed letter to the Pope dated 25 May 1942, Rabbi Benzion Lustman, born in Poland in 1870, wrote many other letters that can be found in various Vatican archives. His son has been in an internment camp in Campagna for twenty months, but the old, sick rabbi is in need of his help. He asks for help in releasing his son so that he can return to his father, at least temporarily. The Holy See tries to help and it seems that something has happened. In any case, on 3 March 1946 Lustman thanks Pius XII for his efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews during the Second World War. How and where Rabbi Lustman and his son survived the war is not clear so far. It is sure that a ship left the port of Genoa on 16 March 1948 and reached New York on 29 March 1948 - with Rabbi Lustman on board.

Margareta Macri

Margareta Macri, a Catholic from Romania, approaches the Apostolic Nuncio in Bucharest, Andrea Cassulo, on 29 September 1942. She has worked as a governess in a Jewish family for 35 years, has built up a close relationship with them and motivated many family members to be baptised. Because of the antisemitic laws, she has to leave the family. The aged and sick woman fears that she will not be able to get a new job. Nuncio Cassulo writes to the Romanian Foreign Ministry in her matter and is successful: on 13 November 1942 a note from the Romanian Foreign Ministry arrives at the Romanian nunciature and Margareta Macri is allowed to keep her job. Which family it was has yet to be clarified.

Giuseppe und Natale Privitera

The brothers Natale and Giuseppe Privitera from Genua do not receive a visa for Brazil. They insist that they received Holy Baptism of their freewill on 10 June 1939. Their Italian petition of 24 May 1940 to the Pope was not submitted to him, nor did the brothers receive a direct reply. Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione informed the Archbishop of Genua, Pietro Boetto, on 5 June 1940 that it was unfortunately not possible to support the friars. The Brazilian embassy to the Holy See would not issue visas to those Israelites who had been baptised "dopo l'anno 1937", i.e. after the year 1937. Giuseppe Privitera was interned in Buchenwald during the Second World War, but survived. His Jewish mother also survives. Whether Natale Privitera also makes it is uncertain.

Wilhelm Feith

The lawyer and engineer Dr Wilhelm Feith receives one of the so-called Brazil visas from the Holy See at the end of 1940. The Brazilian government had promised 3,000 visas for baptised Jews in the summer of 1939, but made them conditional on baptism having taken place before 1 January 1938. In his letter, Wilhelm Feith wrote that he had already been in possession of a visa for Chile, but that he did not want to leave his wife behind. While he waits for a visa for his wife, who cannot emigrate from Bohemia, the Chilean government suspends all visas. Because of this, among other things, Feith corresponded several times with the state secretariat and finally travelled with the help of the Raphaels Association from Italy through France and Spain to Lisbon, where he boarded a ship to Rio de Janeiro on 28 January 1941 - without his wife.

Meta Sommerfeld

On 20 October 1940, the Berlin Bishop Konrad von Preysing addressed a French letter to Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione, emphasising that he had already written "on this matter" on 13 September. Preysing asks for travel expenses to Argentina for Meta Sommerfeld, a baptised Jewess. On 7 November 1941, Preysing will intercede for Meta Sommerfeld with the "Reichssicherheitshauptmann", Adolf Eichmann himself. Preysing's efforts were unsuccessful: Meta Sommerfeld's departure was unsuccessful and she was deported to Auschwitz in 1943, and was killed in the camp.

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.