Hitler’s Pope? There are questions that seem brutal, but they must be taken into account if they provoke hundreds of books, dozens of films and theatrical works of global impact, for or against the person in question. It is about the public behavior of Pius XII, pontiff between 1939 to 1958, before the arrest, deportation and subsequent extermination of European Jews during World War II. The throbbing question reappears virulently from time to time, this time because Pope Francis has finally decided to open the Vatican archives that keep everything related to the case. He has even ordered to change names: since last March, the Vatican Secret Archive is called the Vatican Apostolic Archive.
Was Pius XII a filonazi? Why was he silent about Hitler’s crimes? The last time the controversy worsened was when John Paul II, at the end of the last century, ordered the publication of some documents from the Vatican’s secret archive, suitably expunged, with the intention of washing the image of his controversial predecessor. in the idea of preparing the process to beatify him. It was then that it was published Hitler’s Pope, from British John Cornwell. The thesis of the book, which caused amazement in the Catholic world for its great diffusion, was forceful, although not new: Pius XII was the ideal Pope for Hitler’s plans. “The Nazi regime had little to fear from German Catholicism while Pacelli [el apellido del Papa] hold the reins, ”summarizes Cornwell. Before, he delved into the ideological reality of the character, obsessed by a possible Bolshevization of Europe with the collusion of Masons and Jews, his aversion towards Western democracies and the belief that communism, and not Nazism, was “the most dangerous embodiment of Evil one”. In that idea, when Hitler’s campaign against Russia seemed unstoppable, Pius XII, who never hid his predilection for Germany, believed that the opportunity for a Catholic evangelization had arrived in the wake of the German army that was making its way to Moscow. Incidentally, the book was renamed when it was translated into German. Sold as Pius XII, the Pope who was silent. Planeta published it in Spain with the title Hitler’s Pope. The true story of Pius XII.
Pius XII acted as head of a political institution with a political project: the idea of moving towards an alliance of Anglo-Saxon powers united with Germany against the Soviet Union
Faced with Cornwell’s conclusions, argued from what was written by solvent historians who handled documents found in archives in the United States, Great Britain and Germany, he stood up on the same dates the Jesuit Pierre Blet with Pius XII and the Second World War in the Vatican Archives (Christianity Editions). Blet argues that the news about the holocaust that reached the Vatican during the war, while many were accurate, was “fragmentary and contradictory.”
Not surprisingly, Blet quotes documents pro domo sua. Its relevance will be seen now that historians will be able to search among the 16 million pages distributed in 15,000 envelopes and 2,500 files that the Vatican declassifies. The discussion continues in the same center, that is, about the circumstances in which the Pope had to act before the Nazis to avoid, say his hagiographers, greater evils, among others the occupation of the Vatican by the German army and the consequent arrest of the pontiff.
But the known facts are stubborn. Hitler never intended to invade the Vatican City State, with whom his partner in the war, Benito Mussolini, had excellent relations, and the clamorous silence of Pius XII during the deportation of the Jews who remained in Rome in 1943 is sufficiently documented. , about eight thousand. Hitler himself ordered the arrest to be carried out on October 6 of that year and everything happened “before the Pope’s windows,” says the historian. Saúl Friedländer in Pius XII and the III Reich, published in Paris by Seuil in 1964 (in Spain, by Peninsula in 2007).
The discussion about the true face of Pius XII goes much further than what happened in Rome that October 1943, but it is convenient to stop at the diplomatic bustle that occurred between the 6th and 28th of that month because it reveals the way of thinking and of acting on both sides, of the Vatican regarding Berlin, of Berlin depending on how the Vatican might react. One question seems clear: Hitler was anti-Catholic, but he gave special importance to what the Pope could say. And Pius XII was not a Nazi, but he believed, still in 1943, that Germany was the best defense against Bolshevism. In such a community of interests between Nazi Germany and the Vatican, a fact that Pius XII naively raised in response to the journalist Eduardo Senatro of the Vatican newspaper, also weighed L’Osservatore Romano. Senatro suggested that a critical article on the Nazi atrocities should be written. The Pope replied: “Do not forget, dear friend, that there are millions of Catholics in the German army. Do you want to cause a crisis of conscience? ”
Without forgetting the anti-Semitic virus that has corroded Christianity since the idea that it was the Jews who killed its founder Jesus prevailed in their ranks, Pius XII was able to deal with Hitler, with whom he always wanted to get along, the idea that the The detriments of an intervention against Nazi crimes far outweighed the possible benefits. He was acting as head of a political institution with a political project: the idea of moving towards an alliance of Anglo-Saxon powers united with Germany against the Soviet Union. From that point of view, the option of silence was sensible. But the Church is (that is what her faithful suppose) a moral option, forced, therefore, to displace institutional interests in favor of moral testimonies. That said, Saúl Friedländer stresses that any conclusion on the attitude of Pius XII towards the Third Reich, based on German or American diplomatic documents, however illuminating they may seem, should not be taken as definitive “without knowing the documents of the Vatican.”
The truth is that, when Berlin issued that October 6 the order to “seize the 8,000 Jews living in Rome and deport them to northern Italy, where they must be liquidated” (in fact, they were cremated in the Auschwitz ovens), the Reich consul in Rome, Eitel Frederick Moellhausen, sends the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentrop, a “top-secret” (“supercytosis”) office warning of the consequences of such an action. “I am of the opinion that it would be better to employ the Jews in fortification work, as in Tunisia,” he writes. The reply from Berlin came to him by telegram: “By order of the Führer, the 8,000 Jews living in Rome must be transferred to Matthausen. The Minister of Foreign Affairs asks him not to interfere in this matter in any case and to leave it in the hands of the SS ”.
Why the consul’s musings, shared with the German police chief in Rome at the time, Herbert Kappler, and with Marshal Albert Kesselring? It was not compassion, but prudence. Many Jews had taken refuge in churches and convents, and feared that, if the brutal paramilitary squadrons of Nazism, known as the SS, sacked Catholic buildings, “this time the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, could not refrain from raise your voice. ”
Was that risk worth taking in exchange for the extermination of Rome’s 8,000 Jews? In his memoirs, Soldier until the last day, Published in Spain by the publishing house Niseos, Kesselring records his contempt for the methods of the SS, but does not express fear for what the Pope would do. Instead, on the 28th of the same month, the German ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst von Weizsäcker, friend of Pius XII, does so. By then there had been, between 15-16, the arrest of 1,259 Jews, and the deportation to Auschwitz of 1,007, and the ambassador announced to Minister Ribbentrop that “the danger has passed”. He adds: “Despite the pressure exerted on him from various sides, the Pope has refused to allow himself to be dragged into any demonstrative statement against the deportation of the Jews from Rome.”
Weizsäcker was not just anyone giving reckless opinions. He had arrived in Rome a year earlier, after serving as Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, and, without being an enthusiastic Nazi, he mastered the diplomatic ways that pleased Berlin without disturbing the Pope. After the end of the war, he spent two years in Vatican City with his wife, as a guest of Pius XII. He was sentenced in Nuremberg in 1947 to seven years in prison for “active cooperation with the deportation of Jews”. His son Richard von Weizsäcker, later a Christian Democrat, served as his assistant defense attorney and was President of Germany between 1984 and 1994.
Historians abound who have interpreted or denounced the silences of Pius XII. In a first stage, between 1945 and 1963, in the wake of the fervent religiosity that usually occurs after a catastrophe, Pius XII appears as a great diplomat of world peace and praised for his “intervention in favor of the Jewish people”. The second stage, as a supposed ally of the Nazis, exploded in 1963 with the din produced by the drama The Vicar, by Rolf Hochhuth, a worldwide shock published in Spain by Grijalbo in 1977. Hannah Arendt commented on the work (and the reaction to it) in her 1964 essay The Vicar: Guilty for his silence? (Paidos. 2007). And we are experiencing a third stage mixing the first two: on the one hand, a positive image of the pontiff is presented again, by authors such as Mark Riebling, who published in 2016 Spy Church. The Pope’s secret war against Hitler (Editorial Stella Maris); and authors of the stature of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (The Catholic Church and the Holocaust. A pending debt. Taurus 2002); Garry Wills (Papal sin. BSA Editions 2001); David yallop (Power and glory. Today’s Topics. 2007), or Cristophar Hitchens (God does not exist. Randon House Mondadori. 2009). The cinema has also thrown up its room with a dozen successful films, most of them mellifluous, in search of a majority Christian audience. There is an exception, also thunderous: the movie Amen, directed in 2002 by Constantin Costa-Gravas as an elaborate variation around The Vicar from Hochhuth.