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Pope Francis visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. Pope Francis visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp.  (Vatican Media)

Unsung Catholic heroes of the Holocaust

A Catholic Communications Officer in Britain speaks about some of the little-known Catholic men and women who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

An official at a Catholic Diocese in northern England said there are many hidden Catholic heroes of the Holocaust, the story of whose bravery needs to be brought to light.  Simon Caldwell, Communications Officer at the Diocese of Shrewsbury, said these unsung Catholic heroes risked their lives to secretly shelter Jews from the Nazi persecution and some were put to death for their courageous actions.  He was speaking to Susy Hodges just ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th that commemorates the more than 6 million people, mostly Jews, who were exterminated by the Nazis during World War Two. 

Caldwell has carried out research on some of these lesser-known Catholic heroes and said some of the most inspirational figures for him were Christoph Probst, a German medical student who was executed for speaking out against the Nazi persecution, Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough, an English Bridgettine nun who sheltered Jewish fugitives in Rome and Sister Agnes Walsh who gave shelter to Jewish families in France. 

“Willing to sacrifice their lives”

Speaking about these three “inspirational” figures, Caldwell described them as “incredibly brave” and “willing to sacrifice their lives” if necessary. The two religious sisters, he continued, were “self-effacing and humble” people who never “boasted” about their heroic actions during the time of the Holocaust.

The wartime Pope Pius the 12th was criticized in some quarters for not speaking out more forcefully against the Nazi persecution of Jews. But Caldwell said it’s often overlooked just how active and effective the Vatican, the Catholic Church and its individual members were…. in saving the lives of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Pius XII: “one of the greatest heroes”

Caldwell points to Pope Pius’ actions during the Second World War that led to over a thousand Jews being secretly sheltered within the Vatican City State and the Castel Gandolfo summer papal residence, calling him “one of the greatest heroes of that terrible time.”

Records show that the Catholic Church,  through lobbying of Axis officials, provision of false documents, and the hiding of people in monasteries, convents, schools, among families and the institutions of the Vatican itself , saved over 860,000  thousand  Jews from being murdered by the Nazis.  That’s more than all the international relief agencies put together.

Listen to Simon Caldwell:
26 January 2018, 13:11