Pope Pius XII
Wartime Pope Pius XII - accused by historians of being too compliant towards Hitler - was praised by former Jewish prisoners for preventing their deportation to death camps, according to documents released from the Vatican's secret archives, the UK Telegraph reports.
The document to cast Pius in the most flattering light is a letter from October 1944, after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies and switched sides, in which former inmates expressed their gratitude for his support during their imprisonment, the report said.
"While in nearly all the countries of Europe we were persecuted, imprisoned and threatened with death because we belong to the Jewish people and profess the Jewish faith, Your Holiness not only sent notable and generous gifts to our camp through the apostolic nuncio... but also showed your fatherly interest in our physical and spiritual well-being," they wrote in German.
"(You) intrepidly raised your universally venerated voice against our enemies – still so powerful at that time – to openly support our rights to human dignity.
"When in 1942 we were under the threat of deportation to Poland, Your Holiness extended your fatherly hand to protect us and prevented the deportation of the Jews imprisoned in Italy, thereby saving us from almost certain death."
The document was carefully chosen by Vatican archivists to bolster the case that Pius did all he could to help the Jews during the war, the report adds.
But it is just one of two million papers from his 1939-1958 papacy and will not stop scholars and Jewish organisations from asking for the release of the entire archive.
The pontiff who was elected in 1939 has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Nazis' extermination of the Jews in Europe, including a round-up by the Gestapo of 2,000 Italian Jews in Rome's Ghetto area in 1943.
Redemption (for now) of 'Hitler's Pope' as Vatican opens secret archives (Telegraph.co.uk)
Pius XII letters only taste of full Vatican archive (Catholic News Agency)