Nazi hunters are hoping that the visit of Pope Francis to Israel next week will persuade the pontiff to open the Vatican's secret, Holocaust-era files, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.
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"Giving full access to the Vatican archives from the Holocaust would be a very important step in facilitating a truthful evaluation of several subjects, among them what the Vatican knew about the Holocaust and when they received that information," said Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and director of its Jerusalem office.
The Vatican is debating the canonization of controversial war-time Pope Pius XII and Pope Francis will soon have to decide whether to go ahead with it before the Holocaust files are opened.
Argentinian rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope who will accompany him on his Holy Land visit, claims he has a standing promise from Francis to open the files.
"He undoubtedly feels this is an issue that must be clarified in order to build a sense of mutual confidence that could permit a deeper dialogue between Christians and Jews," Skorka told the Guardian as he prepared to join Francis in Israel.
Zuroff would also like access to Vatican files regarding Nazi fugitives from justice after the war. "We need to know the role of Pope Pius XII and what role senior Vatican officials played, if any, in assisting the escape of prominent Nazi war criminals," he said.
Several notorious Nazis, including Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann, made their homes in Pope Francis' home town of Buenos Aires after the war, allegedly with the aid of the Catholic church.
"I think that it could be a factor in finally being able to fully research these questions, although it appears to me that the new Pope's openness and friendship with the Jewish people may be more important ultimately," Zuroff said.