Glimpse at How Religious Houses Helped the Jews
Research Presented on Wartime Efforts in Rome
ROME, SEPT. 18, 2006 ( Zenit.org).- Research presented in Rome reflects the
role played by women's religious houses following the invitation of the Holy
See and rescuing thousands of Jews from Nazi deportations.
Shelters were improvised everywhere, in lofts, in storage rooms under stairs,
hidden behind blind doors or cupboards, subterranean galleries, ancient Roman
doors used as escape routes: all this as soon as the alert sounded -- according
to agreed signs, such as the convent bells -- that a Nazi inspection was
They are examples of some of the strategies devised by the nuns of Rome to
shelter thousands of persecuted Jews during World War II.
Documented historical research revealing this reality was carried out by
Sister Grazia Lopaco of the pontifical Faculty Auxilium of Rome, and presented
Friday in the context of the congress of the Italian Association of Church
History Professors entitled "Women in the Church in Italy."
At that difficult time, women's religious houses in Rome numbered 475, and
belonged to 274 institutes. Men religious had 270 communities belonging to
The available documentation referred to 200 communities, 133 of which were
feminine. The latter received 4,300 Jews, but there is still uncertainty
over the figure, according to the research.
"The Holy See encouraged the reception of Jews and the majority of religious
houses opened wide their doors in the face of this absurd injustice" of Nazi
persecution, according to Sister Grazia's research. "The Italian government
even accused them of hiding Jews and deserters in the name of a 'misunderstood
Adapting to the emergency, the religious communities modified their rhythm
of life, living quarters and customs.
For example, the classrooms were transformed into dormitories at night, new
tasks and occupations were devised for those being sheltered; and a 24-hour
system of vigilance was set up. "And many and beautiful friendships were
born," noted the woman religious.
The Jews, also children, were hidden or mixed in with other people, if necessary,
giving them false identities.
"Some women dressed as religious or postulants, others were passed off as
patients, educators or poor people," Sister Grazia observed.
In such a context, moreover, many Jews had to learn Catholic prayers, sacred
gestures and songs.
"It was a very rapid entry into an altogether foreign world," said Sister
Grazia. There were cases of pressure for conversions, but also attitudes
of real respect, favoring their religious practices. "There were no cases
recorded of forced baptisms," she clarified.
Sister Grazia confirmed that "some wealthy Jews paid according to their possibilities,
others contributed a small pension, others were taken in for free."
In this picture "there was no lack of shadows, but the majority of testimonies
does not cast doubts on the positive dimension of the experience," the woman
religious said. "Many returned to express their gratitude years later."