Jewish leader asks Pope to open Vatican archives

A German Jewish leader touched a sore spot in relations with Catholics on Friday when he urged Pope Benedict to open up all the Vatican's archives dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust.

Welcoming him on a historic visit to a synagogue in Cologne, Abraham Lehrer told the German-born pontiff he had a special responsibility to open files that critics say would show how much Pope Pius XII knew about the Nazi slaughter of Jews.

Jewish groups accuse Pius of turning a deaf ear to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes to save them and refrained from condemning the Nazis openly for fear of sparking reprisals across Europe.

The Vatican has opened its diplomatic archives up until 1939, the year that Pius was elected, but does not plan to unseal its wartime records until at least 2009.

"For us, a complete opening of the Vatican archives covering the period of World War Two, sixty years after the end of the Shoah (Holocaust), would be a further sign of historical conscience and would also satisfy critics," Lehrer said, reports Reuters.

According to CNN, Benedict, a German native who is on a four-day visit to Cologne, is the second pope to visit a synagogue. In 1986, John Paul visited Rome's main synagogue.

At the synagogue, Benedict stopped to pray before a memorial to the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by the Nazi German regime before and during World War II.

Benedict said the killings were spurred by a "crazy, insane racial ideology which set out for the systematic destruction of European Jewry, including Jews from Cologne in "what is now know as the Shoah."

The "terrible events," he said, must be remembered on what is now the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the gas chambers and the crematoriums, in an era when such hatred is visible.

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