HOLY SILENCE: Did the Vatican do enough during the holocaust?

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The papal archives aren’t usually opened to the public until at least 70 years after a Pope’s tenure.  So it was a bold move last year when the current Pope Francis strayed from tradition allowing access to Pope Pius XII’s (Eugenio Pacelli) private documents of 17,000,000 pages for academics and historians to sift through.  Everything from internal communications within the Vatican to heads of state and other historical figures of note at the time.

“Who knows if the Church could have done more during the Holocaust.  We must seek the truth” quotes the film of Pope Francis, Holy Silence which is the manifestation of this historical post mortem.

Holy Silence begins playing at selected cinemas across Australia as part of the annual Jewish International Film Festival (see highlights below).  This 63 minute documentary explores the political dynamics in which the newly Mussolini-liberated sovereign state of the Vatican operated in leading up to one of the darkest moments of human history. The period of review in this film chronologises the end of Pius XI papacy and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Pacelli, who would later become his successor. As the Vatican ambassador to journey, Eugenio Pacelli developed a fondness for the German culture, developing a fixation for Communist views himself. Historically, early Christianity often demonised the Jews, coupled with his experience during his early church years, historians carefully deduce Pacelli’s own antisemtic views were a natural progression. The film interweaves commentary from the scholars reviewing the archives, media footage from the period pre and post World War II, lifting the veil on internal power struggles within Vatican itself.

Pope Pius XI initially depended greatly on Pacelli due to his familiarity with the language and politics of Germany. Approximately a third of Germans at the time were Catholic seeking guidance from the Vatican through Pacelli who were attracted to the growing popularity of Nazism and who did not want to denounce their faith. Please for the Vatican for a clear statement on their position is found among Pacelli’s documents of the archive overarched with replies and general theme of neutrality on behalf of the Vatican.

Catholic priests were often targeted too according to the documentary and for the Vatican to take a position against the Third Reich would risk turning his bishops, their diocese and congregations into targets. However the atrocities taking place compelled Pius XI to take a public stance and the relationship with his Secretary of State began to deteriorate as he enlists a Jesuit priest, Father John LaFarge who is growing in popularity of Catholicism in the United States to draft an encyclical (papal letter to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church) to address this. Unfortunately non-supportive subordinates in the Vatican’s hierachy intercepted the document which is why it was never made public, as Pius XI’s eventually succumbed to ongoing health problems when Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) was made pope.

As anti-semetic laws are passed in Italy, resulting in, among others, the deportation of Jews, the Vatican’s position remains unclear as businesses and homes are ravaged. As Italy is bombed, Pius XII negotiated with Hitler protection of the Vatican from the carnage. Historians commentary suggest Pius was not confident the British and US forces could defeat Germany.

While it appears the Germans held the opinions of the Vatican in high regard by sparing them the destruction from their bombings of Italy, an underlying argument is presented that had a public statement rebutting fascism may have delayed or prevented the deportation of Italian Jews sent to Auschwitz gas chambers on arrival.

Holy Silence takes no view for nor against when it comes to answering the question it poses, but rather brings forward information for the remaining victims and their descendants of the holocaust in the hopes of bringing closure or finality to an area of this period that has been veiled in secrecy since the 1930s.

Holy Silence plays throughout February and March as part of the Jewish International Film Festival.

Saturday 20 February – Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick
Saturday 27 February – Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn
Thursday 4 March – Classic Cinemas Elsternwick / Ritz Cinema, Randwick
Sunday 7 March – Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn
Thursday 11 March – Lido Cinemas Hawthorn
Sunday 14 March – Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick / Ritz Cinema, Randwick
Tuesday 23 March – Roseville Cinemas


From star-studded features, gripping historical dramas, and stories of iconic Jewish trailblazers and innovators, the Jewish International Film Festival (February 17 – March 24) returns for another year of spectacular Jewish cinema from around the world.

Featuring 51 films from 19 countries, the Festival builds on over 30 years of bringing the best of Jewish cinema to Australia, presenting 29 features, 19 documentaries, and episodes from 3 TV series to audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and Canberra.

“This year’s program celebrates the richness and diversity of Jewish culture around the world. From deeply personal documentaries on the trailblazers who changed the world, to touching true stories illuminating the untold stories from our history, as well as some truly impressive star-studded films, JIFF 2021 will reach all ages across the full spectrum of politics and religion,” said Jewish International Film Festival Artistic Director, Eddie Tamir.


Audiences in Sydney and Melbourne can enjoy a range of special events associated with their screenings – from an exclusively prerecorded Q&A with Yaron Zilberman, director of Opening Night film Incitement; a digital Q&A with Shiva Baby director Emma Seligman; a historical tour of the Ritz Cinema in Sydney and Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick in Melbourne, respectively; a back-to-back binge session of all six Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy episodes, and much more.

2021 Jewish International Film Festival Screening Dates

MELBOURNE17 February – 16 MarchClassic Cinemas, Elsternwick
 18 February – 16 March Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn
SYDNEY18 February – 17 March Ritz Cinemas, Randwick
 6 – 24 MarchRoseville Cinemas
PERTH18 February – 3 March   Luna Cinemas, Leederville
BRISBANE18 February – 28 FebruaryNew Farm Cinemas
CANBERRA17 – 28 February           Dendy Cinemas, Canberra

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