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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dealing With the Devil, Part Two

       "{Stewart} Menzies decided to bring {D'Arcy} Osborne to London to brief him as the plotters moved their plan along.  It was vital to know which of the Italian generals could be trusted when the time came.  Osborne was instructed to consult the Vatican doctor 'about my health.'  The physician recommended that Osborne should be given permission by the Italian government to fly to Switzerland to consult a specialist.   {Vatican Secretary of State} Maglione had informed the Italian foreign ministry, that under the Lateran Treaty, Osborne's medical condition permitted him to travel to a neutral country on the understanding he would return.
       Inside a week Osborne was in London.  He briefed Menzies who gave him a letter from a Swiss doctor confirming he had examined Osborne and was treating him for stress.  The doctor was an MI6 contact in Geneva.  Osborne was then driven to Buckingham Palace and privately knighted by King George VI.  He would become the Duke of Leeds, a title he could not use until after the war.  Before he returned to Rome he had spent a day with an instructor at the MI6 Cipher School to learn how to use the latest codes.
       Over dinner with Menzies, Osborne had told him about Hugh O'Flaherty and his visits to see Allied prisoners.
      'An useful-sounding chap--even if he is a little anti-British,' Menzies said.

       Baron Ernst von Weizsacker, a former German naval officer, had replaced Diego von Bergen as ambassador to the Holy See.  He had finally been recalled to Berlin by the foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop for 'poor quality of reports.'  Weizsacker had spent five years at the foreign ministry, and risen to be undersecretary.
       His journey to the upper echelon of the ministry had included reading the daily reports from the Einsatzgruppen, the special SS units systematically murdering Polish and Russian Jews.  He had attended the Wannsee Conference in Berlin to finalize 'the Final Solution of the Jewish Question' and had signed a copy of the minutes.  On his desk came the railway schedules from Adolf Eichmann's office for deportations to the death camps.  At some point, he later insisted, 'I became sickened of what was being done in the name of the German people.'
       He had persuaded Ribbentrop to allow him to take charge of a less odorous task--analyzing the intercepted traffic by the Forschungsamt, the German code-breaking unit.  It included messages between the Holy See and its nunciatures.  By 1943 the German cryptologists had managed to break some of the Vatican codes, but the success did little to add to Germany's war effort.  Nevertheless, Weizsacker had to present his analysis to Admiral Canaris.
       At first their meetings were no more than briefing the spy chief in his office and answering a few questions.  But gradually Canaris had begun to explore Weizsacker's attitude to the war.  Though he realized the risk he was taking, Ribbentrop's deputy had said its continuation could only result in Germany's defeat and dismemberment.  A negotiated settlement was the only hope.  Weizsacker would recall how Canaris had 'sat perfectly still, his eyes fixed on me.  When he spoke his question was simple.  Did I believe that the Vatican could act as a mediator?  I replied that Hitler would only accept papal mediation if he was satisfied of the Pope's sympathy for Germany.'
       There were further meetings in which Weizsacker was encouraged to criticize von Bergen's reports to Ribbentrop.  In the meantime Canaris had told the foreign minister of the importance of having Weizsacker in Rome.  In a memo dated May 8, 1943, which would surface at the Nuremberg Trials, Canaris wrote to Ribbentrop:  'Weizsacker is one of the most interesting phenomena of the time, a type brought to light and perfected through disinterested idealism and shrewdness, such as is particularly rare in Germany.  I strongly urge he should be posted to Rome where he can most usefully serve our nation.'
       On July 10 Weizsacker presented his credentials to Pope Pius XII.  Canaris had briefed the new ambassador on what he expected from him.

       {Bishop Alois} Hudal was the rector of the pan-Germanic college of Santa Maria dell'Anima, the main training center in Rome for German priests.  He had become a member of the Nazi Party after Hitler had thanked him for a telegram supporting the annexation of Austria.  In 1937 Hudal had sent a copy of his book The Foundations of National Socialism to Hitler and with a letter of thanks from the fuhrer came a golden Nazi Party membership badge.  The book was published in the same year that the papal encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge openly attacked National Socialism.  While Hudal continued in his post, his steady rise in the Vatican had stopped as his pro-Nazi views became known.
       By 1943 Hudal had found a new outlet.  He became an informer for the RSHA--Reichs-sicherheitshaptamt--Reich Security Main Office.  Its chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner saw Hudal's recruitment as an intelligence triumph at a time when Germany was trying to establish a rapproachment between the Holy See and the Third Reich.
       Hudal regarded himself as providing important information.  His RSHA controller, Waldemar Meyer, who regularly travelled secretly to Rome, saw Hudal as the eminence grise of the Vatican.  'He knows everybody and everybody respects him.'
       Hudal had also aligned himself with Giovanni Preziose, a rabidly anti-Semetic former priest who edited La Vita Italiana , the Jew-baiting Rome newspaper patterned on Der Sturmer .  He was also in touch with a Benedictine monk, Prior Hermann Keller, who Kessel called 'an agent of the gestapo.'  Kessel described them to Weizsacker as 'our pro-Nazis in the Vatican.'

       Throughout the summer of 1943 Pope Pius had continued to express his horror over the fate of the Jews.  On June 2 he had used Vatican Radio to warn that 'any man who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God.'  In a direct warning to Hitler Pius said:  'He who guides the fate of nations should not forget that he who bears the sword is not the master over life and death.'  Seven days later, after Goebbels boasted that Berlin 'was now free of Jews,'  the pope had written a long text in German on the rights of Jews which Vatican Radio broadcast.  In July the pope broadcast to Yugoslav Jews that he would continue to pray for them because 'every man has the stamp of God.'
       In between he had written letters to nuncios and bishops asking them to urge their host countries to do everything possible to save the Jews and 'replace the hatred with charity.'  In his speeches and sermons Pius constantly called for help 'for the hundreds of thousands who because of their race are condemned to die.'   More than once he had quoted the Apostle Saint Paul--'there is neither Gentile nor Jew'--adding he used the word Jew as a call to reject racial ideology.  He had gone so far as to say he was 'ready to let himself be deported to a concentration camp rather than do anything against his conscience,' Pascalina would recall.
       He had also turned Vatican Radio into a powerful weapon which, despite attempts to jam it had become a success in attacking the Nazis.

       Pius turned to another matter.  Earlier that morning he had received a telephone call from Count de Salis.  The Red Cross director estimated that soon there could be up to four thousand Allied troops hiding in the city who, having walked out of their prison camps, would be waiting for British and American armies to reach Rome.
       The pope turned to Father Weber.  He said that during the summer hundreds of Jews had been provided with travel documents and smuggled across the Austrian and Slovenian borders into Italy.  But many had been caught by German forces and either had been shot or rounded up for transportation to the concentration camps.   Survivors were fleeing to Rome.
       It was for that reason Pius said he had convened the meeting.  In his view there was a very limited chance of moving those Jews farther south.  They would be entering a war zone and would either be shot by the Germans or left to fend for themselves by the Allies.  The only solution was for the Vatican to prepare to accept them.  That itself would have its own problems.  Reports from nuncios in the Third Reich indicated its ghettos had been systematically emptied of their Jews.  There was no guarantee that would not happen in Rome, despite assurances form von Weizsacker, the German ambassador, that its Jewish population would be allowed to continue their normal lives.
       What was needed, continued Pius, was a properly organized system of safe places which were under the protection of the Lateran Treaty.  In Germany and other parts of the Third Reich the Nazis had not respected church property.  In Vienna troops had been billeted in a convent and the St. Francis deSales girls' school turned into a barracks.  It was all part of the Nazis' systematic war against the church.  The pope said that daily he recieved reports of priests and nuns in Poland and elsewhere being sent to concentration camps.  They had all been accused of helping the Jews and speaking out against Nazism.  More than ever the Vatican had a duty to protect the Jews on its doorstep.  Just as the Nazis had taken over Catholic institutions in the Third Reich so the Vatican must turn every possible convent, monastery, and institution in Rome into a secret refuge for the Jews and escaped prisoners of war.
       To provide such assistance would be difficult, even dangerous as the Germans would regard it as a breach of the Lateran Treaty.  But it was a risk that must be taken.
       The pope turned to Ottaviani and said that given {Monsignor Hugh} O'Flaherty's experience in visiting prisoner-of-war camps he wanted him relieved of all but essential duties in the Holy Office and to concentrate on organizing a plan to provide sanctuary for both the Jews of Rome and the soldiers." The Pope's Jews by Gordon Thomas pgs.92-93,94-95,96-97,100 and115-116.

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