Walter Pick was 22 years old when he arrived at Harvard in September of 1939, escaping from his native Czechoslovakia hours before the country fell under Nazi occupation. He, along with 15 other young men from Austria and Germany, arrived as refugees from German persecution on scholarships funded by Harvard undergraduates.
Karen Pick, Pick’s daughter, came to campus on Thursday evening to pay tribute to the humanitarian efforts of those Harvard students. Walter graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1942, and in 1992, he and the surviving Harvard Refugee Fellows started a fund for a lecture series on the Holocaust to honor the memory of the undergraduates and faculty who had helped them. He died in 2002.
Underwritten by the fund, Thursday’s lecture featured Holocaust historian Gerald J. Steinacher, James A. Rawley Professor of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of “Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice.” Pick found attending the lecture her father had started 30 years ago touching, if sadly still altogether too relevant.
In his lecture “The Pope Against Nuremberg: Nazi War Crime Trials, the Vatican, and the Question of Postwar Justice,” Steinacher shared the latest findings from his research in the Vatican archives, which Pope Francis opened in March 2020. He has also done research in the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.
Archival documents from both the Vatican and the International Committee of the Red Cross showed that the two institutions worked together to help Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, flee Europe and escape justice. Their behavior was driven by widespread anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church and a fear of Communist ideologies, said Steinacher.
“As international- and American led-trials against Nazi war criminals began, the Catholic Church worked hard to shield perpetrators from prosecution,” said Steinacher. “At the same time, the Vatican institution helped Nazi war criminals escape overseas, where they were safe from extradition.”