The worst critics of the pope who reigned during World War II say he remained silent even though he knew the Holocaust was unfolding. Hence, the nickname "Hitler's pope." The defenders of Pope Pius XII, on the other hand, say he helped Jews quietly, fearing that speaking out would make things worse. Beginning Monday, historians will start getting a chance to answer the question definitively, reports the BBC. As promised, the Vatican is opening its archives on Pius' papacy, which ran from 1939 to 1958. Given the cramped quarters, only 60 historians will be allowed access to the records initially, and it could take years to get a complete picture.
“On the big question, it’s clear: Pius XII never publicly criticized the Nazis for the mass murder they were committing of the Jews of Europe—and he knew from the very beginning that mass murder was taking place," says American David Kertzer, who will be among the first historians to see the records, per the Guardian. But Kertzer notes that there's evidence the Catholic church did its best to protect Jews in Rome, even if Pius himself did nothing publicly. "Hopefully, what we’ll find from these archives is why he did what he did, and what discussions were going on behind the walls of the Vatican." Supporters of Pius want the church to make him a saint, but the Holocaust controversy is believed to be holding that up. (Read more Pope Pius XII stories.)