There were more than 500 such houses in Italy, France, Hungary, Belgium and Poland. The overwhelming majority of the Houses of Life were institutions related to the Catholic Church, including convents, monasteries, boarding schools, hospitals, etc.
In Rome alone, some 4,500 people found refuge in churches, convents, monasteries and boarding schools. In Warsaw, All Saints Church sheltered Jews. This was remarkable, because the penalty for Poles for rescuing Jews was the death camp or, more likely, instant execution.
It is appropriate that a foundation named after Raoul Wallenberg should find such an extensive Catholic contribution to saving Jewish lives. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the war. He and Angelo Rotta, the papal nuncio to Hungary, saved 120,000 out of the city’s 150,000 Jews.
Pope Pius XII’s statements both before and during the war were unmistakably hostile to Nazism. The Nazis understood his meaning very well. A plan to kidnap Pius in 1944 was only averted by the unlikely intervention of SS General Karl Wolff.
The pope was also utterly clear about the evils of communism and vicious Stalinist religious persecution. But he said nothing about it during the war. Allied diplomats in the Vatican understood this, realizing that it was only the pope’s preservation of the Holy See’s neutrality which enabled him to give refuge to thousands of Jews in religious houses in Italy and the Vatican itself. It also allowed him to provide contacts so that information about prisoners of war and the Holocaust could reach the Allied powers.
All this was acknowledged during and after the war, not least by Jews. Albert Einstein, who had escaped Nazi Germany, said in 1940: “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth … I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”
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