German Jewish leader asks Pope to open Vatican archives

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A German Jewish leader touched a sore spot in relations with Catholics on Friday when he urged Pope Benedict to open up all the Vatican's archives dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust. Welcoming him on a historic visit to a synagogue in Cologne, Abraham Lehrer told the German-born pontiff he had a special responsibility to open files that critics say would show how much Pope Pius XII knew about the Nazi slaughter of Jews.

Jewish groups accuse Pius of turning a deaf ear to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes to save them and refrained from condemning the Nazis openly for fear of sparking reprisals across Europe.

The Vatican has opened its diplomatic archives up until 1939 the year that Pius was elected, but does not plan to unseal its wartime records until at least 2009.

"For us, a complete opening of the Vatican archives covering the period of World War Two, sixty years after the end of the Shoah (Holocaust), would be a further sign of historical conscience and would also satisfy critics," Lehrer said.
"You grew up in Germany during a terrible time," he told Benedict during the first papal visit to a synagogue in Germany. "We not only see in you the head of the Catholic Church but also a German who is aware of his historical responsibility."

Benedict did not answer Lehrer's plea, but his pre-written address included a reference to the need to reach "a mutually accepted interpretation of still disputed historical issues".

The synagogue the Pope visited was destroyed in the Nazis' anti-Jewish Kristallnacht riots in 1938 and rebuilt in 1959.

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