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Despite prejudices, many Catholics helped rescue Jews in Nazi-occupied Italy

ROME (CNS) -- Generosity and compassion for those fleeing persecution prevailed over racial laws and centuries-old anti-Semitic prejudices in Nazi-occupied Italy, some Jewish and Catholic historians said at an international conference.

Before anti-Semitism was declared a sin with the Second Vatican Council, it was commonplace for Catholics "to think of Jews and Judaism as something dangerous, something different," said Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, opening the conference Oct. 9.

However, many Catholics overcame these prejudices to rescue and save Jewish people in danger, "sometimes at the cost of their lives. Others did not. And that's fascinating … somehow, those who were able to break out of this thinking brought us to the Second Vatican Council," she said.

Brown-Fleming was one of dozens of scholars speaking at an Oct. 9-11 conference at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University focused on recent research into the Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII's pontificate before, during and after World War II.

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