Research Note: Opening of the Vatican archives, 1939-1958 Period

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 25, Number 4 (December 2019)

Research Note: Opening of the Vatican archives, 1939-1958 Period

By Suzanne Brown-Fleming, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum*

 On March 2, 2020, one of the most important Holocaust-related archives in the world will open. I refer to the multiple archives relating to the pontificate of Pius XII (1939 to 1958, hereafter referred to as Pius XII archives). Important but incomplete documentation has been available beginning in 1965 as part of the published series Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to the Second World War.[1] Also already available are archives from the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939, since 2006) and those of the Vatican Office of Information for Prisoners of War (1939-1947, since 2004).[2]

Announced by Pope Francis on March 4, 2019 and marking 80 years since the election of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) to the office of pope, the Pius XII archives will be accessible in multiple locations across Vatican City, Each archive has its own regulations, registration system, indexes, and inventories. For scholars of World War II and the Holocaust, of especial interest are the following, described in more detail by H.E. Monsignor Sergio Pagano in L’Osservatore Romano:[3]

The Roman Curia:[4] Select key archives opening in 2020

  • Vatican Apostolic Archive (former l’Archivio segreto vaticano or ASV)
  • Historical Archive of the Section of Relations with States, Secretariat of State (l’Archivio storico della Sezione dei Rapporti con gli Stati della Segreteria di Stato or AES orEE.SS.) Also called the Sacred Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs or 2nd Section of the Secretariat of State.[5]
  • Archive of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (l’Archivio storico della Congregazione per la dottrina della fede or ACDF)[6]
  • The Propaganda Fide Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (l’Archivio storico ‘de Propaganda Fide’ della Congregazione per l’evangelizzazione dei popoli)[7]
  • Historical Archive of the Congregation with the Oriental Churches (l’Archivio storico della Congregazione per le Chiese orientali)
  • Varied Historical Archives of Congregations, Dicasteries, Offices and Tribunals (archivi storici di congregazioni, dicasteri, uffici e tribunal)

When announcing the opening of these archives, His Holiness Pope Francis said, “the Church is not afraid of history; rather, she loves it, and would like to love it more and better, as God does! So, with the same trust of my predecessors, I open and entrust to researchers this documentary heritage.”[8] For historians of the churches during World War II, the Holocaust, and the postwar period, we are witnessing an exciting moment. Networks of scholars from Europe, Israel and the United States are already forming to be best prepared for these sizable archives and to share future findings.

[1] Actes et documents du Saint-Sìege relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, ed. Pierre Blet, Robert A. Graham, Angelo Martini, Burkhardt Schneider. Vatican City: Libreria Vaticana, 1965-1981, 12 vols.

[2] Inter arma caritas: l’Ufficio informazioni vaticano per i prigionieri di guerra istituito da Pio XII, 1939-1947. 2 vols.

[3] H.E. Monsignor Sergio Pagano, “Dopo un lungo e paziente lavoro di preparazione,” L’Osservatore Romano, 4 March 2019.

[4] The entire group of organized bodies and their personnel assisting the Pope in the government and ministration of the Church, i.e. the congregations, tribunals and offices.

[5] The Secretariat of State is a dicastery of the Roman Curia. From 1908-1967 it was divided into three sections: 1st Section – Ordinary Affairs, 2nd Section – Extraordinary Affairs, and 3rd Section, the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs. This set-up was reformulated in 1967 as part of Vatican II. See, accessed 10/8/2019.

[6] For application process and holdings see, accessed 10/8/2019. Currently, the website does not indicate a registration date for the 1939-1958 materials.

[7] For application process and holdings see, accessed 10/8/2019.

[8] Holy See Press Office, N. 190304d, Monday 04.03.2019. See, accessed 12/28/2019.

*The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or any other organization.