© SMNKG - Jana Haack

The research project "Asking the Pope for Help" is funded by the EVZ-Foundation. However, new sources in the Vatican archives and the progress of the project are constantly giving rise to new research questions or further project modules. They will be dealt with in sub-projects. An overview of the sub-projects and their sponsors can be found here.

Elements for a didactic-methodical approach to the individual fates in the “Asking the Pope for Help” project

Dealing with antisemitism, racial fanatism and the Holocaust is an integral part of German school curricula. However, it is frequently criticized that on the one hand the topics are presented too abstractly and that on the other hand individual popular biographies are too strongly focused on when concentrating on anti-Judaism, antisemitism and the Shoah.

The digital edition of the petitions sent to Pius XII by Jewish people, which the project “Asking the Pope for Help” is presenting, offers a completely new didactic perspective: the petitions offer pupils the possibility to discover, understand and reflect on Jewish life in general, but also on the Jews’ suffering and death in times of totalitarianism, the World War and the Shoah. This way, learning about remembrance can be supplemented and enhanced by new elements of biographical learning in the sense of Holocaust education.

In a first pilot project, the team – in cooperation with Prof Clauß Peter Sajak and his team from the “Institut für Religionspädagogik und Pastoraltheorie” – will develop teaching sequences based on the petitions and put them to the test in religion classes. In individual lessons, the petitions as well as the circumstances, the biography and the further fate of the individual persons that wrote them will be presented encouraging further elaboration and reflection.

Asking the Pope for Help. Pope Pius XII and baptised Jews in Romania and Brazil

Although according to canon law converted Jews were full members of the Catholic Church from the moment of their baptism and were entitled to the same rights and duties as all Catholics, this did not apply unconditionally in the Vatican. The members of the Roman Curia, Pope Pius XII included, regularly referred to them as “non-ariani”, i.e. “non-Aryans”, thus adopting fascist language use.

The focus of research has so far largely neglected the situation of baptized Jews during the Shoah. The sub-projects funded by the Cluster of Excellence focusing on the situation of baptized Jews in Romania and Brazil are intended to counteract this.

In her PhD thesis, Lorena König will examine the special position Romania held, analyzing the processes that helped to protect numerous converted Jews from deportation to an extermination camp as well as the role the apostolic nuncio Andrea Cassulo played here.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to fill the position of the scholar that was supposed to deal with the possibilities and limitations of 3,000 visas Brazil provided to the Holy See for the entry of baptized Jews ever since 1940. Therefore, this sub-project will, for the time being, be continued by the project team members. Leonie Schmieding will continue to include the respective documents in the database.

Citizen science engagement in the project "Asking the Pope for Help".

Since July 2023, the research project "Asking the Pope for Help" is supported by eleven Citizen Scientists who, together with the project team, research information about petioners, enter petitions into the database or transcribe handwritten and typewritten letters from various languages. As active researchers, they help making the petitions of Jewish persecutees visible again and contribute to the academic question of the Pope's and the Catholic Church's actions towards the authors of the letters.

Through their participation in the project, the Citizen Scientists acquire knowledge of church-historical editing work and its methodology. In addition, they engage with digital humanities and innovative virtual research infrastructures while learning and researching. Working with the petitions furthermore opens up new perspectives on the life stories of the persecuted, suffering and hope during the Shoah, as well as the understanding of the church by the persecuted. The aim of the joint work is to strengthen the trust of citizens in scientific methods and at the same time to create a stronger connection between science and society.

The research project benefits in many ways from the voluntary engagement of the Citizen Scientists. Thanks to the diverse language skills of the Citizen Scientists, they support the project in transcribing the letters. Their time-consuming research of personal links provides great added value for the identification of relationships and the merging of personal files in the edition. In this way, they contribute to the acquisition of data in the project, which would not be possible in this period, in this scope and in this depth without their cooperation.