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Rome Reports

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The German priest who helped Pius XII save Jews during World War II


A little-known figure in history helped Pope Pius XII save Jews fleeing from persecution during World War II.

His name was Pankratius Pfeiffer. He lived only a few yards from the Vatican in this building on what is now known as Via della Conciliazione, where a small side street was named after him. Today it is home to the General Curia of the Society of the Divine Savior, known as the Salvatorians.

AUGUSTINE VAN BAELEN
General Consultor & Secretary, Society of the Divine Savior
"He knew very well where the German soldiers were, he knew how they moved, and that's what gave him the opportunity to save so many Jews from the area and who were hidden in this very house."

His reputation throughout the city gave rise to his nickname: "The Angel of Rome." Through his role in negotiations he also managed to save several Italian cities from destruction during the German retreat.

Fr. Pfeiffer was the second Superior of the Salvatorians and governed the Society for 30 years.

AUGUSTINE VAN BAELEN
General Consultor & Secretary, Society of the Divine Savior
"He knew how to organize the Society of the Divine Savior by putting in place its structures as we know them today. Much more than the founder himself who was more of a charismatic man who knew what he wanted, but who sometimes might not have known how to organize the Society to ensure it survived into the future."

It's not known exactly how many Jews Fr. Pfeiffer saved, or how many people he hid in the Vatican. Yet among the most notable figures he saved from Nazi persecution was Italian politican, Giuliano Vassalli.  

AUGUSTINE VAN BAELEN
Secretary and General Councilor, Salvatorians
"As priests, as religious, as Salvatorians we are called to save everyone in the name of the Lord. Whether you are a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, an Evangelical, or a Catholic doesn't matter. In God's eyes we are all brothers and sisters.”

Father Pankratius Pfeiffer worked quietly to save others without ever seeking recognition. When someone thanked him for saving their life, he replied that the person to thank was the Holy Father, Pius XII.

Daniel Diaz Vizzi

TR: Justin McLellan

MG