Pope Francis Will Unseal Documents Revealing the Vatican Response to the Holocaust

Fred Ramage, Keystone/Getty Images
Fred Ramage, Keystone/Getty Images

You might not think that the events of World War II could harbor many more secrets. But a major gap in the historical record still exists and has confounded scholars for decades: the silence of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican in the midst of the Nazi regime.

It appears that won’t be the case for much longer. According to The New York Times, sealed archives documenting the thoughts and actions of Pius XII, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, will be made available to scholars beginning March 2, 2020, the 81st anniversary of Pius XII’s election as pope. The Vatican's announcement was made by Pope Francis, who approved the decision to release the papers well before the standard 70-year interval between the end of a pontificate and access to its archival material, which in this case would have come about in 2028.

Because information about Pius’s activities during wartime has been scarce, scholars have debated why he seemingly failed to resist the Nazi presence in Italy, assist people of the Jewish faith against persecution, and condemn the systematic murders of the Holocaust. To some critics, Pius’s silence on the matter is incriminating. Others believe Pius realized open resistance would only anger Adolf Hitler and incite further violence. The Vatican sheltered victims, although whether that was the result of official policy or the individual actions of its members has been open to debate.

Historians have long sought details on the Vatican’s actions, and the Catholic Church has periodically released selected information or offered limited access to its collection. Historians, however, wanted unlimited and direct access. Even more pressure mounted when the Vatican moved Pius closer to sainthood in 2009. Lacking conclusive information about his actions during the war, critics questioned the escalation of his historic profile.

It still may be some time before scholars fully understand how Pius reacted to these events. Owing to the sheer volume of material in the Vatican’s archives relating to Pius, it could be years if not decades before researchers are able to provide a more complete picture of one of the darkest chapters in human history.

[h/t The New York Times]

CBS Is Live-Streaming Its 1969 Coverage of the Apollo 11 Launch Right Now on YouTube

The Saturn V rocket lifts off with the Apollo 11 mission on July 16, 1969.
The Saturn V rocket lifts off with the Apollo 11 mission on July 16, 1969.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Today is the 50th anniversary of the July 16, 1969 launch of the Apollo 11 mission, which resulted in the first Moon landing in history. CBS News is commemorating the momentous event with a YouTube live stream of its special coverage from that day, which you can watch below.

CBS anchor Walter Cronkite brought all the thrill and wonder of the takeoff into the homes of countless Americans, and he also introduced them to three soon-to-be-famous astronauts: former Navy pilot Neil Armstrong, Air Force colonel Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and former Air Force fighter pilot (and experimental test pilot) Michael Collins.

Cronkite chronicled the astronauts’ journey from their 4:15 a.m. breakfast at the command space center to Kennedy Space Center’s launch station 39A, where they boarded the Saturn V rocket. CBS sports commentator Heywood Hale Broun reported from the Florida beach itself, interviewing spectators who were hoping to witness history happen in real time. “I just hope they make it successfully and have no problem," said a visitor from California.

In the final seconds before liftoff, Cronkite counted down, not knowing what the future of the mission would hold.

Tune into the live stream below, or check out the highlights from CBS News here.

[h/t CBS News]

Alan Turing, WWII Codebreaker Who Was Persecuted for Being Gay, Is the New Face of England's £50 Note

Bank of England
Bank of England

The Bank of England has chosen a new person to grace one of its pound sterling notes, the BBC reports. Alan Turing, the computer scientist who lent his code-breaking expertise to the Allied powers in World War II, will soon be the new face of the £50 banknote.

Alan Turing's life story has been the subject of a play, an opera, and the 2014 Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Turing's biggest claim to fame was cracking the Enigma code used by the Nazis to send secret messages. By decrypting the system and interpreting Nazi plans, Turing helped cut World War II short by up to two years, according to one estimate.

Despite his enormous contributions to the war and the field of computer science, Turing received little recognition during his lifetime because his work was classified, and because he was gay: Homosexual activity was illegal in the UK and decriminalized in 1967. He was arrested in 1952 after authorities learned he was in a relationship with another man, and he opted for chemical castration over serving jail time. He died of cyanide poisoning from an apparent suicide in 1954.

Now, decades after punishing him for his sexuality, England is celebrating Turing and his accomplishments by giving him a prominent place on its currency. The £50 note is the least commonly used bill in the country, and it will be the last to transition from paper to polymer. When the new banknote enters circulation by the end of 2021, it will feature a 1951 photograph of Alan Turing along with his quote, "This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be."

Turing beat out a handful of other British scientists for his spot on the £50 note. Other influential figures in the running included Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, and William Herschel.

[h/t BBC]