THE POPE AND THE NAZIS
If ever a pope was handed a poisoned chalice on his election to the Throne of St
Peter, it was Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, who became Pius XII on
2 March 1939, his sixty-third birthday. Only six months later, on 3 September,
the invasion of Poland by the forces of Nazi Germany initiated World War II,
placing Pius in a unique - and deeply uncomfortable - position.
As the only ruler whose power had global reach, Pius was expected to make a strong moral stand over the issues surrounding World War II. The conflict was not merely a struggle for power or territorial gain and influence. The British and their allies believed they were fighting Nazi Germany and its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler in order to liberate Europe and the world from a racist and expansionist dictatorship. The Nazis, for their part,
The tall figure of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the papal nuncio to Germany, strides down the steps of the presidential palace in Berlin on 12 December 1929.
believed just as fervently that the 'thousand-year Reich' they sought to establish in Europe - and maybe the world - was their rightful destiny.
Pius XII's troubles began when both sides in the war expected his endorsement and support. Both were infuriated when neither got what they wanted. Pius chose the middle way, adopting neutrality as the stance from which he felt he had the best chance to exert his influence for peace and, hopefully, bring the conflict to an end. Unfortunately, it proved to be a big mistake. Virulent accusations were unleashed, condemning the pope of moral 'cowardice' and culpable 'silence'.
Above all, Pius ,was charged with the innate anti-Semitism that allowed him to abandon the hapless Jews of Europe to persecution and extermination in the death camps set up by the Nazis. The Germans, on the other hand, saw the pope as an implacable foe and one prominent Nazi, SS Obergruppenfuhrer, (Senior Group Leader) Reinhardt Heydrich commented that
Pius was charged with the innate
anti-Semitism that allowed him to
abandon the hapless Jews of Europe
to persecution and extermination.
Pius XII was a greater enemy of the Third Reich than either British Prime Minister Winston Churchill or US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The controversy over the wartime role of Pope Pius XII continued after the end of World War II in 1945 and far beyond that into the twenty-first century. A collection of books and documentaries grew up around the subject, but the greatest single boost the debate received was sparked off by a sensational stage play premiered in Berlin on 20 February 1963. It was entitled The Deputy: a Christian Tragedy and it was written by the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, who later went on to make a name for himself specializing in controversial political dramas. However, Hochhuth's picture of a cold-eyed collaborator with a heart of stone did not ring true with anyone who knew Pope Pius and his longstanding record as a diplomat of charm and skill. He certainly looked the monkish aesthete who kept himself aloof from the world, with his tall, stick-like frame, parchment-pale face and air of holy detachment. But the impression he made in public was quite different. James Lees-Milne, the British writer and diarist wrote:
His presence radiated a benignity, calm and sanctity that I have certainly never before sensed in any human being. All the while, he smiled in the sweetest, kindliest way... I was so affected I could scarcely speak... and was conscious that my legs were trembling.
Lees-Milne was not the first to feel wobbly during a close encounter with a famous celebrity, but the rulers and ministers with whom Eugenio Pacelli negotiated during his long diplomatic career were made of sterner stuff.
THE DEPUTY - LIBEL OR LICENCE?
In The Deputy, Hochhuth castigated Pius for wilful neglect and moral turpitude, depicting him as a ruthless, avaricious character who was more concerned with the Vatican finances than the fate of the Jews or, in fact, any other victims of the Nazis, such as gypsies, homosexuals, freemasons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The play, Hochhuth's first, was also staged, in English, at London's Aldwych Theatre by the Royal Shakespeare Company later on in 1963. It was performed on Broadway in New York in 1964 and again in the UK in 1986 and 2006. The influence exerted by The Deputy was immense. It revived the debate about the guilt or otherwise of the papacy and the pope in the Nazi's 'Final Solution to the Jewish Question'.
In 1963, German playwright Rolf Hochhuth created a sensation with his first play, "The Deputy" which depicted Pope Pius XII as a Nazi collaborator during World War II.
PACELLI IN BAVARIA
His first major appointment outside the Vatican came in 1917, the third year of World War I, when Pope Benedict XV sent him to Bavaria as papal nuncio or ambassador. Monsignor Pacelli's first task was to lay Pope Benedict's plan for peace and an end to World War I before the King of Bavaria, Ludwig III and the aggressive, autocratic Kaiser Wilhelm.
Theobald Bethmann-Hollweg, chancellor to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was anxious to make a negotiated peace to bring World War I to an end.
Pacelli seems to have made enough of an impression on the two monarchs and also on Wilhelm's chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, to raise hopes that there was a real prospect for peace. But he was 'extraordinarily disappointed and depressed' when the German military intervened and escalated the fighting by introducing unrestricted submarine warfare. But if he could not halt the war, Pacelli moved on to the next best thing - promoting the humanitarian approach, as formulated by Benedict, a pope well known for his compulsive charity towards the poor and needy.
After World War I ended on 11 November 1918, Pacelli remained in Bavaria after most other diplomats departed. They had been wise to leave, for in April 1919 the so-called Spartacist revolutionaries seized power and formed the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. The Republic, which was modelled on the atheistic revolution in Russia, lasted only four weeks, but for as long as it survived Pacelli, as a churchman and representative of the pope, was in a delicate position. Calm composure and nerves of steel were required, and the nuncio proved he had plenty of both.
Eugenio Pacelli's chief task as papal nuncio was to conclude a concordat (an agreement between the Apostolic See and a government of a certain country on religious matters) with various European
Eugenio Pacelli's chief task
as papal nuncio was to conclude a
concordat with various
governments to ensure the safety and freedom of the Catholic churches in their countries. A concordat gave the Church several important rights. One was the entitlement to organize youth groups, another to make Church appointments. The Church was allowed to run its own schools, hospitals and charities and could conduct religious services. All these enabled the Church to function and ensured the continuation of the Catholic religion.
Spartacist radical socialists commandeer a car during the brief revolution in
Germany following the end of World War I.
Yet, concluding these complex agreements was fraught with one overriding difficulty, for the immediate post-war period offered a real chance that, after Bavaria, more Soviets would be created to realize the Bolshevik dream of spreading communism throughout the continent. Pacelli, however, was undeterred. Once an invading German army had destroyed the Bavarian Soviet Republic, the nuncio concluded a concordat, his first, with Bavaria, which was now a state within the Weimar Republic.
RETURN TO ROME
After his frustrating encounters with the Soviets, Eugenio Pacelli was recalled to Rome in 1929 where, despite his failure in Russia, both Catholics and
On a day in 1919, a small group of youthful revolutionaries broke into the building occupied by the Vatican embass and tried to steal Pacelli's motorcar. Although his frail physique and 43 years made him unlikely to win a fistfight with the intruders, Pacelli went out to confront them and demanded that they leave the grounds, which were technically Vatican territory. The intruders, all Spartacists, agreed to go but only if they could take the car with them. Pacelli knew they were not going to get far because he had already seen to it that the starter motor was disconnected, and had received a guarantee from the Bavarian government that the vehicle would be immediately returned to him. The Spartacists towed the car away, but to their chagrin soon found the papal nuncio had outsmarted them.
Protestants greeted him as a great hero of the Christian cause. Pope Pius rewarded him with a cardinal's hat and he achieved a further promotion, in 1930, to Cardinal Secretary of State. In this exalted position, Pacelli agreed concordats with several countries where the Catholic Church needed to be bolstered after the upheavals of World War I. A concordat with the German state of Baden was finalized in 1932, and in the following year, others
Cardinal Pacelli leaves the presidential palace in Berlin in 1927 after meeting the president, General Paul von Hindenburg.
were signed with Austria and in July 1933, six months after Adolf Hitler attained power as Chancellor, with Nazi Germany. Yugoslavia followed, signing concordats in 1935 and in Portugal in 1940.
The most fateful of these agreements was, of course, the Reichskonkordat with Germany. The Nazis
THE CARDINAL AND THE SOVIETS
After Bavaria Pacelli moved on to Berlin as papal nuncio in Germany and then in 1925 embarked on negotiations with the Soviet Union. There, eight years after the Bolshevik victory, vicious and systematic persecution of the Russian church was already well under way. Priests and bishops were flung into prison, where many were murdered. Russian clergy and laity were rounded up and transported to the gulag at Solowki on the Black Sea. Churches were plundered and destroyed. Religion was vilified in schools and in the press. God, and teaching about God, became forbidden subjects.
Even so, Pacelli was determined to follow his orders from Pope Pius XI, which were to set up diplomatic relations between the communists and the Vatican. To help the process along, he organized desperately needed shipments of food to Russia where thousands, if not millions, had been left hungry and destitute after World War I. But even Pacelli could go so far and no further. The men he had to deal with, such as Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, made it virtually impossible to broker an agreement. Chicherin was a thoroughgoing atheist who despised religious education and refused to allow the ordination of priests and bishops. In this dangerous atmosphere, Pacelli believed he had a chance to come to terms in secret, but there was no meaningful progress. In 1927 Pius XI ordered him to break off negotiations.
Georgi Chicherin was the atheistic Russian foreign minister who destroyed Cardinal Pacelli's attempts in 1925 to set up diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Soviet Union.
VIOLATING THE CONCORDAT
In the six years until 1939, the Nazis committed more than 50 violations of the Reichskonkordat, starting with a round-up of Jews within a mere five days of the agreement being signed. They continued by passing a law enforcing the sterilization of Germans considered to be 'life unworthy of life' such as criminals, dissidents, the feeble-minded, homosexuals, the insane and others who had to be stopped from reproducing themselves and so passing on their weaknesses to future generations. Cardinal Pacelli registered protests, the first of them concerning another infringement of the Reichskonkordat, a boycott of Jewish businesses. This was one of 45, which the Nazis never answered, but the protests did form the substance of an encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern), which Pacelli prepared for the Pope. The encyclical was proclaimed on 10 March 1937 but unlike his carefully diplomatic nuncio, Pius XI did not mince his words. He wrote:
Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State... or the depositories of power or any other fundamental value of the human community... whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.
were well aware that much of the outside world believed they had come to power by thuggery and chicanery. But an agreement with the papacy, the most ancient and venerable polity in the whole of Europe, would provide the missing piece in the jigsaw of their victory by giving their regime respectability and a standing in the world that was not available from any other source. In addition, it was an effective way to silence opposition to the Nazis from the Catholic Church in Germany.
THE FAITHLESS FUHRER
Whether or not Pacelli realized that this was the nefarious purpose behind his negotiations with Hitler remains unknown, but it would be surprising if the idea did not cross the mind of such an experienced and intelligent diplomat. Pacelli's aim was, of course, to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church in Germany, protect Catholic organizations and ensure that Catholic education, Catholic schools and Catholic publications would not be molested. But this was where Cardinal Pacelli was under a misapprehension.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler had not yet established his reputation for making agreements to obtain a short-
This photograph shows Cardinal Pacelli in early 1939, before he was elected pope.
term gain and, when they were no longer of use, reneging on them. So the negotiations went ahead and Pacelli, acting on behalf of Pope Pius XI, played his part in good faith. By the time the Nazis broke the Reichskonkordat, the deed was done and the papacy found itself joined to a faithless and cynical partner.
Cardinal Pacelli learnt the
horrific details of Kristallnacht
when the papal nuncio in
Berlin contacted him.
The Vatican responded to the perfidy of the Nazis with its own unique weapon, the encyclical. Papal encyclicals were normally written in Latin. But this time, Cardinal Pacelli enlisted several German cardinals to help him write Mit Brennender Sorge entirely in German. Pacelli was well aware that the Nazis would make every effort to prevent its distribution, and precautions were taken to ensure that it reached all Catholic churches in Germany. The text was smuggled into the Nazi state where it was printed and secretly distributed. Finally, the encyclical was read in all Catholic churches at Mass on Palm Sunday, 14 March 1937.
When the Nazis realized what had happened, their reaction was typically heavy-handed. All available copies of Mit Brennender Sorge were confiscated, the printers and distributors were arrested and the printing presses were seized. Trumped-up charges of dishonest currency dealings were laid to imprison Catholic priests and put them on trial.
Adolf Hitler made his position brutally plain when he described the Nazi opinion of the Pope's encyclical with the following statement:
The Third Reich does not desire a modus vivendi with the Catholic Church, but rather its destruction... in order to make room for a German Church in which the German race will be glorified...
PIUS XII - NAZI AND ANTI-SEMITE?
The presumed failure of the new pope, Pius XII, to speak out against the depredations of the Nazis have been taken as a first signs of his 'cowardice' and 'silence' on subjects that might give offence to Hitler and his totalitarian regime in Germany. From that, among other things, has sprung the theory that the pope was himself pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic. What this theory failed to address, though, was first of all, the adverse Nazi response to the election of Cardinal Pacelli as pope. A complaint in the Berlin Morgenpost (Berlin Morning Post) accused the new pope of 'prejudiced hostility and incurable lack of comprehension. [Pius XII] is not accepted with favour in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.' 'Eugenio Pacelli had little understanding of us; little hope is placed in him,' commented the Nazi Schutzstaffel, the official publication of the SS, Hitler's personal bodyguard. Elsewhere, in Britain, France and the United States, the new pope was cordially welcomed, but Nazi Germany was the only major power that failed to send a representative to the papal coronation.
Despite his severe, ascetic looks, Pius XII was a man of great charm, humour and compassion. Acting mainly in secret, he saved the lives of an estimated 860,000 Jews during World War II.
NAZI WARTIME ATROCITIES
In 1942; Reinhard Heydrich, the Reich 'Protector' of Bohemia-Moravia (in what is today the Czech Republic) was assassinated when the Czech resistance bombed his car. Heydrich's successor, Karl Hermann Frank, resolved to stage 'special repressive action to give the Czechs a lesson in propriety'. The SS 'Blackshirts' applied this lesson by taking a fearful revenge on a village called Lidice, in Bohemia, where 172 men and boys were shot and the women and children were transported to Ravensbruch concentration camp.
Also, in 1942, the Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht wrote a pastoral letter protesting against the persecution of the Jews in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. What the Nazis termed a 'countermeasure' followed five days later, when large numbers of Dutch Jews and Catholics were arrested and sent to concentration camps. There, they served as hostages for the pope's 'good behaviour', to be mistreated again if and when Pius XII spoke out against Nazi rule.
A repeat performance of Lidice took place in 1944, when the activities of the French resistance hampered the movement of German troops urgently needed to help stem the advance of Allied forces after the D-Day invasion in northern France. At Oradour-sur-Glane, a village in southwest France, all the male inhabitants were shot, the women and children were herded into the village church where they were burnt to death and the village was razed to the ground. At least 1000 villagers died.
SS General Karl Hermann Frank surrendered to the US Army at Pilsen (Plzen) in 1945. He was tried before a Czech court for war crimes and the obliteration of the Czech village of Lidice. Found guilty, he was executed before 5000 onlookers in 1946.
MALEVOLENT NAZI INTENTIONS
Cardinal Pacelli, for one, was not surprised. Even before Hitler and the Nazis came to power, he had never doubted their intentions. The years before 1933 had seen plenty of 'rehearsals' for their totalitarian state, its racism and its brutality Nazi thugs in the
A small boy, one of only seven survivors of the Nazi massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, France, takes part in a memorial service held at the mass grave of the victims five months after the event, in November 1944.
paramilitary SA or SS were used to break up communist and other political party meetings. Other opponents were beaten up or murdered. Nazi rallies
Pope Pius XII preferred quiet
diplomacy and persuasion to
dramatic gestures and fiery
and their pageantry were openly militaristic. All this set the scene for a reign of terror that began after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 with the setting up of the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in Bavaria where the first inmates - Jews, socialists, trades unionists and other political opponent's - were tortured, terrorized and brutalized.
Several notorious sequels followed, including the Reichstag fire of 1933, the Nuremberg laws of 1935/6 stripping German Jews of their civil rights and Kristallnacht (Crystal Night). This took place on 10 November 1938, when attacks on Jews, their synagogues and their property broke out all over Germany and Austria. Kristallnacht resulted in the murders of 91 Jews and the arrest of another 25,000 to 30,000, all of whom were later deported to concentration camps.
As a neutral state the Vatican
City could implement clandestine
rescue work on a scale that
only a pope could achieve.
Cardinal Pacelli learnt the horrific details of Kristallnacht when the papal nuncio in Berlin contacted him. At that time, Pope Pius XI was dying and some historians have suggested that Pacelli persuaded him to refrain from making an official protest. Pius XI died three months later, on 10 February 1939. Pacelli was elected pope in his place. At that point, its publishers had not yet sent the last encyclical of Pius XI's reign Humani Generis Unitas (On the Unity of Human Society), which had been prepared the previous September, to the Vatican. By the time it finally arrived, Pius XI was dead. Though Pacelli had succeeded him, he did not proclaim Pius's final encyclical, which raised several controversial issues, expressed in Pius XI's usual forthright fashion, condemning racism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism, all of them features central to Nazi policy.
A second misunderstanding about Pope Pius XII centred on his personal style. He had never been a barnstormer, making free with purple prose and emotional delivery. He preferred quiet diplomacy and persuasion to dramatic gestures and fiery pronouncements. In addition, his diplomatic
Ernst von Weizsacker was the German ambassador to the Vatican who warned the Vatican of Adolf Hitler's plans to kidnap Pope Pius XII. Here he is seen being questioned at Nuremberg.
experience had given him a sound idea of the nature of the Nazi beast. Pius knew perfectly well that the Nazis would respond to any criticism or act of defiance by raising the level of their own brutality. This, in fact, was a major concern among Jewish leaders and those prisoners in the concentration camps who were able to communicate their fears to the outside world. They constantly begged the pope to soft-pedal any condemnations he might make about Nazi atrocities. As an eyewitness at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals in 1945-46 put it:
Any words of Pius XII directed against a madman like Hitler, would have brought on an even worse catastrophe... (and) accelerated the massacre of Jews and priests.
A PLOT TO KIDNAP THE POPE
The Nazis' belief that Pope Pius XII was hand in hand with the Jews was in line with the anti-Semitic propaganda that for years had been the staple diet fed to the German people by Dr Josef Goebbels. Even though Pope Pius was still refusing to directly condemn the Nazis' treatment of the Jews in 1943, it seems that Hitler had lost patience with the pontiff and
Pope Pius XII blesses the crowd in 1943, a year in which public appearances could have been dangerous due to Adolf Hitler's plan to kidnap him.
was considering a daring plan to punish him. The Fuhrer's intention was to kidnap Pope Pius and imprison him somewhere in Upper Saxony, in East Germany. But that was not all. Minutes of a meeting dated 26 July 1943 revealed that Hitler was not going to stop at seizing the pontiff. He was contemplating an invasion of the Vatican and dispatched orders to one SS chief in Italy, General Karl Otto Wolff, telling him to
occupy as soon as possible the Vatican and Vatican City, secure the archives and the art treasures which have a unique value, and transfer the pope., together with the Curia [the papal court] for their protection, so that they cannot fall into the hands of the Allies and exert a political influence.
General Wolff, together with Nazi officials and diplomats, many of them Catholics, were aghast when they learnt that the Fuhrer was willing to go to such lengths to get his hands on the most prestigious leader in the world. Pope Pius himself was rather more charitable. He believed that Hitler was possessed by the Devil and on several occasions attempted to exorcise the Fuhrer and so release him from the Devil's wicked influence. As for Hitler, he had a megalomaniac's view of the pope as 'the only human being who has always contradicted me and who has never obeyed me'. He was resolved to eliminate this blot on his autocratic record.
Defying the Fuhrer had long been a dangerous, usually lethal business, but the plot to kidnap the Pope was not the time to be content with obeying orders and setting aside the dictates of conscience. It took considerable courage, but there were Germans willing to take risks to thwart their Fuhrer's plans. One of them was Ernst von Weizsacker, the German ambassador to the Vatican. He warned the Holy See of the danger in which Pope Pius stood and suggested they refrain from doing anything that might provoke the volatile Fuhrer into action. The Nazi ambassador to Italy, Rudolf Rahn, together with several other German diplomats, also worked to foil the kidnap plan. So did General Wolff, who managed to talk Hitler out of it by the end of 1943.
Or so the General thought. According to a detailed report in an issue of the Catholic daily paper Avvenire d'ltalia (which loosely translates as Events in Italy) published in January 2005, Wolff realized to his horror that in 1944, the projected kidnapping had resurfaced when he received new orders to that effect from Hitler. At this juncture, around the end of May 1944, Wolff was the SS Commander in Nazi-occupied Rome. The Allied Fifth Army, which had invaded
General Karl Friedrich Wolff of the Waffen SS took great personal risks to warn Pope Pius XII of the kidnap plot.
mainland Italy eight months previously was advancing fast on the city and was only days away from capturing it. The German Wehrmacht was preparing to withdraw so Hitler seemed to think this would be a convenient moment to seize the pope and take him along.
Wolff resolved to act quickly and before May was out, he had set up a secret meeting with the pope. He arrived in disguise, wearing civilian clothes rather than his SS uniform, and slipped into the Vatican at night, with the help of a priest who knew his way around the complex of buildings. Wolff began by assuring Pope Pius that no kidnapping was going to take place, but went on to warn him that the Fuhrer looked on him as 'a friend of the Jews' and a barrier to his plans for world domination. Apart from warning the pope to be on his guard, General Wolff could do little more and he departed Rome with his forces shortly before the Allied army arrived and occupied the city.
German soldiers patrol within sight of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. They are under strict orders not to cross the painted white line that indicates the frontier between the Vatican and the rest of Rome.
HORRIFIC NAZI RETALIATIONS
This was a lesson the Jews had learnt the hard way, from the violent sequel to the killing at the German embassy in Paris of Ernst von Rath, a junior diplomat. The culprit was a young German Jew, Herschel Grynspan, who was protesting against the expulsion of his family from Germany. This murder alone led to the death and destruction wrought by Nazi gangs on Krystallnacht.
Later, as World War II continued, there were more demonstrations of the horrific heights that Nazi retaliation could reach. They let pass minor infringements of their draconian rules, but any sense of security this invoked was sadly misplaced. When
A carefully worded protest, using general terms was sent from
the Vatican deploring
'these measures which gravely hurt
the natural human rights of
persons merely because of
they considered the challenge serious enough, the Nazis hit back hard.
Faced with an enemy of implacable character, capable of any cruelty and any atrocity that human wickedness could devise, Pope Pius came to the conclusion that impartiality, or at least the appearance of impartiality, was the only way to ensure that the Vatican could remain neutral and therefore relatively
Pope Pius XII greets members of the Press, soldiers and other military personnel in his apartments at the Vatican on 7 June 1944, three days after the Allied liberation of Rome.
free to act. As a neutral state, and one that even the Nazis might think twice about attacking, the Vatican City, its buildings and its facilities could be used to implement clandestine rescue work on a scale that only a pope could achieve.
A DIFFICULT STRATEGY
This was by no means an easy stance to maintain. Inevitably, the pope's strategy had to be kept secret. But just as inevitably, the secret led to assumptions about the 'indifference' shown by a 'heartless' Pius XII towards atrocities that deeply shocked others with less need to sit on the fence, or rather, give the impression of doing so. As early as September 1940, a full year after the start of World War II, the neutrality of the Vatican and its pope was being invoked to fend off sometimes strongly worded pleas for positive action.
In October 1941, for instance, the American delegate to the Vatican, Harold H. Tittmann, pressed Pope Pius to speak out against the atrocities being committed against the Jews. Tittmann was told that Pius wished to remain 'neutral'. This, though, was before the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Question', the euphemistic title used by the Nazis to describe the extermination of the Jews, which had been planned in detail at a conference of high-
A panoramic view of the Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the popes overlooking Lake Albano, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) southeast of Rome in the Alban Hills.
ranking Nazis held at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, in January 1942.
The effect of the Wannsee Conference, and the decisions taken there, was soon evident. In March 1942, 80,000 Slovakian Jews were earmarked for transportation to Poland. This move, according to the Vatican charge d'affaires in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, 'condemned a great number of them to certain death'. A carefully worded protest, using general terms, was sent from the Vatican, deploring 'these measures which gravely hurt the natural human rights of persons, merely because of their race'. The message was coded in so far as the Nazis were not specifically mentioned. This was a tactic Pius used more than once to keep the Nazis, and especially the Gestapo, the dreaded secret police, from interfering in Vatican affairs.
Although critics of Pope Pius regarded his failure to call the Nazis to account as the coward's way out, the underlying message still got through when he made his Christmas broadcast on Vatican Radio. In 1941, Catholic and other families across the United States were moved to tune in. Just over two weeks earlier, on 7 December, a day that President Roosevelt said would 'live in infamy', the Americans had themselves been forced into the war by the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii.
On this occasion, the editors of the NewYork Times certainly got the true measure of Pius when he called for 'a real new order' based on 'liberty, justice and love' and then dismissed the chance of any agreement between combatants 'whose reciprocal war aims and programmes seem to be irreconcilable'. A NewYork Times article indicated that, even though it was in coded form, the Pope's message was a clear condemnation of the Nazis' persecution of European Jews. The article stated:
The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas... Nazi aims [are] also irreconcilable with Pius' own concept of a Christian peace.
Around 3000 were smuggled
into the Castel Gandolfo
the pope's summer residence
30 kilometres southeast of Rome.
At Christmas 1942, Pope Pius was a little more specific, although he still did not directly name any culprits when he broadcast his
... passionate concern for those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or progressive extinction.
The reference was unmistakable.
AVOIDING THE ISSUE
Towards the end of 1942, the massacres of Jews had reached 'frightening proportions and forms', as Monsignor Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, informed Pius in a letter that reached the Vatican in September 1942. The horror stories escalated from there. In the same month, the American envoy to the Vatican, Myron Taylor, told Pope Pius that he was damaging his 'moral prestige' by remaining silent over the rapidly escalating Nazi atrocities. Representatives from several countries, including Britain, Brazil, Uruguay, Belgium and Poland, delivered the same warning only to be told, as was Myron Taylor, that the truth of rumours about the genocide of the Jews could not be properly established.
One Irish priest,
Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, who
worked as a diplomat at the Vatican,
was in particular danger.
At this stage, the Nazis seemed to have a clear idea of what the pope was doing and readily recognized that it was not in their favour. The German Foreign Office analyzed the Christmas message of 1942 and interpreted it for what it really was. He described it as
One long attack on everything we stand for. He is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews... he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.
The Allied occupation of Rome finally thwarted - Hitler's plan to kidnap Pope Pius. But what the Allied forces found in Rome was something that could hardly have been expected of the pro-Nazi pope of so many accusations. There was an extraordinary network of 'safe houses' and other refuges, forged by Pope Pius, his cardinals and priests, to serve as hiding places for thousands of fugitives. Most of them were Italian Jews but the refugees also included prisoners of war who were released from prison camps after Italy (formerly an ally of Nazi Germany) changed sides and joined the Allies late in 1943. Included, too, were members of the Italian resistance on the run from Nazi pursuers. When the Allied Fifth Army entered Rome on 4 June 1944, it was the first time for a very long while that these fugitives had been able to go out into the streets without fear of being killed or caught and punished. Buildings both inside and beyond the Vatican had been commandeered for a wide-ranging rescue mission. On the orders of Pope Pius, almost the entire Italian National Committee of Liberation, which directed the activities of some 20,000 partisans across Italy, was concealed in the Roman Seminary at St John Lateran, only a few metres from the headquarters of the Gestapo. The Vatican buildings hid 477 Jews while another 4238 were distributed around the 155 monasteries and nunneries in Rome. In normal times, the sexes were strictly separated so that nuns were not allowed to host males, neither could the monks take in fugitive females. Pope Pius, however, lifted these restrictions, so that families sheltering in religious houses would not be separated.
Other fugitive Jews were installed in the Jesuit Gregorian University or slept in the basement of the Pontifical Bible Institute. Around 3000 were smuggled into the Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence 30 kilometres southeast of Rome. Several others were cunningly disguised to escape detection. Some 3700 were dressed in the uniform of the Palatine Guard, whose task it was to protect Vatican City. Others were smeared with cosmetic creams to make them look like patients hospitalized with skin diseases in the Dermatological Institute of the Immaculate Conception. The Vatican even commissioned a film to be made in which some 300 of the 'extras' were really fugitives. Scores of cassocks were issued to Jews so that they would be mistaken for Catholic priests.
Some Jews went all the way and converted to Catholicism. For most of them, it was a temporary
O'Flaherty and his team built up a
stock of hideouts, using private homes and flats, convents or farms.
measure and once World War II was over the 'converts' returned to their own faith. But for as long as a Catholic identity was required, they were protected by an agreement with the Nazis that baptized Jews would not be persecuted. The converts were equipped with false baptismal certificates, Vatican passports and bogus papers. Thousands of these fake documents were produced inside the Vatican, some 80,000 being handed out to Jews in Hungary alone.
HELPING THE JEWS
The risks involved in aiding Jews and other fugitives on the run from the Nazis were enormous and even Pope Pius could not guarantee that his cardinals, bishops or priests could escape execution by Nazi firing squad if they were caught.
One Irish priest, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, who worked as a diplomat at the Vatican, was in particular danger. Before he embarked on rescues in Rome, in 1943, the Nazis knew him as a visitor to prisoner of war camps in Italy, which could make it easy for him to be recognized. In the camps, O'Flaherty searched for prisoners who, though reported missing in action, might have survived. As and when O'Flaherty found them alive, he sent the news to their families via Vatican Radio. But this was innocent stuff, even to the Nazis who occupied Italy after the Italian surrender of 1943.
PRISONERS OF WAR ON THE LOOSE
With Italy on the side of the Allies after its surrender in September 1943, there was no reason for the Italians to keep Allied prisoners of war confined. The camps were opened, the guards fled and the prisoners were free to go. Many of them remembered their visits from O'Flaherty and despite the dangers of a journey through Nazi-occupied territory they headed for Rome to seek his help. Before long, O'Flaherty had some
Gregory Peck played Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty in "The Scarlet and the Black" (1983) a made-for-TV film about O'FIaherty's exploits in Rome during World War II.
4000 POWs and Jews on his hands and needed a rescue network of his own to deal with them. For this work, he recruited fellow priests, a couple of Free French agents, several communists and a British Army colonel called Samuel Derry.
O'Flaherty and his team built up a stock of hideouts, using private homes and flats, convents or farms. One of them was right next to the headquarters of the SS. He concealed Jews in the Castel Gandolfo or in the German College where he had once been a student. Before long, Hugh O'Flaherty was being called 'The Pimpernel of the Vatican' after the fictional Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney, who rescued aristocrats and others from the guillotine during the French Revolution of 1789.
As long as O'Flaherty remained within the confines of the Vatican and behind the thick white line that separated the papal enclave from the rest of Rome, diplomatic immunity preserved him from arrest. But he was obliged to venture out into the city on several occasions to organize his network, shepherd fugitives from place to place and check out the safety potential of new venues. All the while, the Nazi SS were watching for the elusive 'Pimpernel' and it was not long before they discovered first, that he was a priest and next, that he was the one-time prison visitor, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty.
Kappler hatched a plot to send
two Gestapo thugs into the Vatican
to seize O'Flaherty and drag
him beyond its precincts and kill
him there and then.
Safe inside Vatican territory, O'Flaherty took to loitering in the porch at St Peter's Basilica, waiting for Jews, prisoners of war and other fugitives to approach him. He was in full view of the German soldiers across the piazza but more important, easily visible to those who needed his help. When they arrived, O'Flaherty took them across the piazza and out of sight of the Nazis, through a cemetery and into the German College.
One evening, a Jewish man came up to O'Flaherty and gave him a solid gold chain. He and his wife, he said, expected to be arrested and taken to a concentration camp at any moment, but wanted to save their seven-year-old son from death in the gas chambers.The gold chain, the priest learnt, was intended to pay for the boy's upkeep. O'Flaherty took the chain, located the boy and kept him in hiding. He also provided false papers for the boy's parents, which kept them safe in Rome. After the end of World War II, O'Flaherty returned the boy - and the long golden chain.
PLOTTING TO TRAP O'FLAHERTY
Naturally, the Nazis were always waiting for the moment when O'Flaherty stepped outside the confines of the Vatican, ready to arrest or assassinate him. But they reckoned without the Monsignor's skill at disguise, which he wore whenever he ventured out into Rome. One day, he was a road sweeper, the next a butcher and the day after that a deliveryman. All this was extremely frustrating for Colonel Herbert Kappler, Chief of the Gestapo in Rome, a dangerous opponent who regularly ordered his troops to torture and execute partisans. O'Flaherty was proving a very elusive, customer and Kappler resorted to having him continually watched.
O'Flaherty was easy to spot. Tall, well built and broad shouldered, the Irish monsignor was a successful amateur boxer and looked every inch the part. Once, Kappler thought he had O'Flaherty trapped when he confronted him with a group of Gestapo troops who were all set to arrest him. But O'Flaherty was fast on his feet and before they could get hold of him, he barged through the doors of Santa Maria Maggiore, which was Catholic Church property and out of bounds to the military. On another occasion, O'Flaherty was visiting the palace owned by Prince Filippo Doria Pamphili, who financed his rescue operations, when the building was surrounded by SS troops. O'Flaherty ran down into the basement, where a truck was unloading the Prince's winter supply of coal through a trapdoor.
ESCAPE VIA THE TRAPDOOR
The SS were only moments away from catching up with him and he had to act fast. He stuffed his monsignor's hat and robe into a coal sack, rubbed coal dust all over himself until he was unrecognizable, slung the sack over his shoulder and climbed out of the trapdoor. Two lines of SS men standing nearby stepped back, not wanting to get their uniforms dirty by close proximity to the tall, blackened figure who strolled past them nonchalantly and headed for the coal truck waiting at the palace gates. The truck drove to a nearby church where O'Flaherty cleaned himself up, dressed in his hat and robe and returned to the Vatican. Later, he telephoned the Prince to make sure that he and his family were all right. They were and, the Prince told the monsignor, Colonel Kappler was incandescent with fury.
Growing truly desperate, Kappler hatched a plot to send two Gestapo thugs into the Vatican to seize O'Flaherty and drag him beyond its precincts and kill him there and then. Fortunately, O'Flaherty's helpers learnt of the plan. The would-be assassins were intercepted and given a sound beating by four of the Vatican's Swiss Guards. Kappler never managed to catch O'Flaherty, who survived World War II. So did Kappler, but he did so in Gaeta jail, between Rome and Naples, as a war criminal sentenced to life in prison. Once a month for year after year, Kappler received a single visitor - Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty. Finally, in 1959, O'Flaherty baptized Kappler into the Roman Catholic Church. In 1977, Kappler, who was suffering from cancer and weighed only 48 kilograms (105 pounds) was hidden in a large suitcase and smuggled out of Gaeta and into Germany by his wife, Anneliese. He died the following year.
The State of Israel recognized
O'Flaherty as one of the
Righteous Among the Nations
a title given to non-Jews who helped
Jews during World War II.
After the war ended in 1945, Monsignor O'Flaherty received many awards for his rescue work, including the U.S. Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm. King George VI also made him a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).The State of Israel, too, recognized O'Flaherty as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title given to non-Jews who helped Jews during World War II. After suffering a serious stroke, O'Flaherty retired in 1960 to his sister's home in County Kerry, Ireland, where he died in 1963.
In Italy, cardinals were also hard at work preserving lives. For instance, Cardinal Pietro Boetto of Genoa saved at least 800 refugees. Bishop Giuseppi Nicolini of Assisi hid some 300 Jews for two years. Two future popes, the successors of Pius XII, also took risks to help Jews and others escape the clutches of the Nazis. One was Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, the other was Cardinal Giovanni Montini (afterwards Pope Paul VI). Both of them were offered awards for their rescue work among the Jews, but both declined. Montini outlined their reasons. He said:
All I did was my duty. And besides, I only acted upon orders from the Holy Father [Pius XII]. Nobody deserves a medal for that.
Troops of the multinational Allied Fifth Army arrive to liberate Rome on 4 June 1944.
In 1985, another Catholic churchman. Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, accepted recognition from the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations for his own contribution to the succour and rescue of Jews in war-torn Europe. But he emphasized during the ceremony at YadVashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, that 'the merit is entirely Pius XII's who ordered us to do whatever we could to preserve the Jews from persecution'. In the event, an estimated 860,000 Jews were saved through the many initiatives promoted by Pope Pius XII.
Pius' seminal role in this far-reaching rescue mission has been stressed over and over again in the countless tributes paid to him by Jewish leaders and by presidents, prime ministers, other popes and scores of grateful individuals, or in books and articles on the subject. The pope's rescue of thousands of Jewish and other fugitives made Albert Einstein, the world-renowned Jewish scientist and an agnostic, change his mind about the Catholic Church and the papacy. He was moved from indifference to 'great affection and admiration because the Church alone had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom'. But arguably the greatest compliment Pius XII received came from Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, who was so impressed by the Pope's compassion and courage that he became a Roman Catholic in 1945.
In the events an estimated
860,000 Jews were saved through the
many initiatives promoted by
THE MUD STILL STICKS
And yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, and the moves made in recent years to canonize him, the list of accusations against Pius XII still proliferates, still questioning his courage, moral fibre and compassion. The Internet is full of such charges, many of them worded in the language of hate. One critic has labelled the 'misdeeds' of the pope as so fearful that he should have been in the dock at the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, alongside 21 major Nazi war criminals. Another considered Pope Pius equally responsible with Adolf Hitler and other Nazis for the wartime slaughter of six million Jews together with four million gypsies, three million Catholics and countless other victims. In 2008, 50 years after the pope's death, a new book about his conduct during World War II, entitled The Hound of Hitler, called the pontiff too 'weak' to stand up to the Fuhrer and a 'disaster for the Jews'. The mud, being flung to this very day, still sticks.
INDEED WE SEE HERE SOME, MANY, ROMAN CATHOLIC CLERGY, DID PUT THEIR LIFE ON THE LINE TO SAVE THOUSANDS FROM THE HANDS [AND PROBABLE DEATH] OF THE NAZIS.
THE READER WILL HAVE TO JUDGE IF THE POPE DURING WORLD WAR II DID ENOUGH, IN OUTSPOKEN WORDS TO CONDEMN HITLER AND THE NAZIS. CERTAINLY THE EVIDENCE SHOWS HE DID USE THE VATICAN AND ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH BUILDINGS, TOGETHER WITH INSTRUCTIONS TO CATHOLIC CLERGY, TO SAVE JEWS AND OTHERS FROM THE NAZI KILLING MACHINE.
THE WRITER OF THIS BOOK HAS BEEN FORTHRIGHT AND HONEST WITH RECORDED HISTORY, ABOUT THE LIVES AND EVENTS SURROUNDING POPES DOWN THROUGH HISTORY.
IT HAS BEEN SHOCKING AND HORRIFICALLY BRUTAL AT TIMES, FAR TOO MANY TIMES, AS LIKE A HORROR MOVIE.
SURELY COMMON LOGICAL SENSE MUST BRING IN THE VERDICT THAT THIS WAS NOT THE TRUE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST WORKING HERE. SUCH EVIL CANNOT COME FROM THE TRUE CHILDREN OF GOD.
JESUS SAID HE WOULD BUILD HIS CHURCH AND THE GATES OF THE GRAVE WOULD NEVER PREVAIL AGAINST IT. SO THE TRUE CHURCH WAS SEPARATE FROM THE LARGE POPULAR CHURCH OF THE PAST 2,000 YEARS. JESUS SAID HIS PEOPLE WOULD BE THE "LITTLE FLOCK" [IN THE GREEK IT IS A DOUBLE DIMINUTIVE….MEANING "VERY LITTLE"] AND "THE SALT OF THE EARTH" - SPRINKLED HERE AND THERE.
IN THE LAST DAYS IT WOULD REMAIN AS BEFORE, RELATIVELY SMALL, BUT IT WAS PROMISED AN "OPEN DOOR" THAT NO MAN CAN SHUT. GOD HAS WRITTEN HIS WORD WILL GO FORTH AND NOT RETURN TO HIM VOID.
THE PROPHET HABAKKUK SAW BUT EVIL AND VIOLENCE FOR THE LAST DAYS IN HIS OPENING VERSES [AS JESUS SAID, "INIQUITY SHALL ABOUND AND THE LOVE OF MANY WAX COLD" BEFORE HIS RETURN [MAT.24]. THEN HABAKKUK WAS INSPIRED TO SAY, "BEHOLD YOU AMONG THE HEATHEN, AND REGARD, AND WONDER MARVELLOUSLY, FOR I WILL WORK A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, WHICH YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THOU IT BE TOLD YOU…." [VERSE 5].
JESUS WAS ASKED BY HIS DISCIPLES WHY SAY THE SCRIBES THAT ELIJAH MUST COME FIRST. JESUS TOLD THEM, "ELIJAH SHALL TRULY COME FIRST, AND RESTORE ALL THINGS. BUT I SAY UNTO YOU, ELIJAH HAS COME ALREADY, BUT THEY KNEW HIM NOT……THEN THE DISCIPLES KNEW HE SPOKE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST" [MAT. 17:10-13].
THIS JESUS SAID IN FULFILMENT OF THE PROPHECY OF MALACHI 4:5. "I WILL SEND YOU ELIJAH THE PROPHET BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND DREADFUL DAY OF THE LORD." THAT DAY IS MENTIONED IN REVELATION 6:17.
AT THE END TIME, BEFORE THE DREADFUL DAY OF THE LORD [MOST OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION IS THAT TIME PERIOD]; THERE WILL BE SENT OUT A "RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS" TO THE WORLD. AN OPEN DOOR THAT CANNOT BE SHUT, UNTIL THE NIGHT COMES [AS JESUS SAID, WORK WHILE IT IS DAY, FOR THE NIGHT COMES WHEN NO MAN CAN WORK].
THERE IS OFTEN A DUALITY IN BIBLE PROPHECY. ELIJAH CAME IN THE FORM AND POWER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST; HE WILL COME AGAIN BEFORE [HOW LONG BEFORE WE ARE NOT TOLD] THE DAY OF THE LORD, AND GOD'S TRUTH WILL GO FORTH, THOUGH THE WORLD WILL NOT BELIEVE IT. ONLY THE FEW, THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS, WHO LOVE THE TRUTH, WILL HEAR, READ, LISTEN, AND FIND THAT TRUTH.
THE WORLD WILL GO EVER AWAY FROM THE TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD; THE LARGE POPULAR CHRISTIANITY WILL EVER GO ON DECEIVED AND BEING DECEIVED, IT HAS SO BEEN OVER THE LAST TWO THOUSAND YEARS.
BUT YOU CAN KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THAT TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. YOU CAN KNOW THE TRUE WAY OF SALVATION AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD. YES YOU CAN BE IN THE FIRST RESURRECTION AT CHRIST'S COMING, AND HELP RULE THE NATIONS FOR A GLORIOUS 1,000 YEARS. THEN ENJOY ALL THE UNIVERSE AND ALL ETERNITY WITH THE FATHER AND THE SON.