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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dealing With the Devil

       "On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.
       In the early hours of that first day in the month, his bedside telephone woke Luigi Maglione.  The caller sas Archbishop Giulo Pacini, the papal nuncio in Warsaw to report German forces had begun invading Poland by land and air.  Maglione ordered the nuncio to prepare to destroy confidential papers and to 'look after the code book and seek a place less immediately threatened by the advancing German armies.'  The cardinal ended with the benediction, 'May the Lord protect you.'
       Maglione dialed the Vatican switchboard and the night-duty nun connected him to the pope's bedroom.  When Pius heard the news he went to his chapel to pray.  Meanwhile, Pascalina had aroused the other nuns in their rooms on the floor below to join her in the apartment's kitchen and told them 'our world, the whole world, is changing' and asked them to pray.
       Father Leiber was the first to arrive in the apartment having heard the Vatican Radio announcement that war had broken out.  He joined the pope at prayer in the chapel.  Maglione appeared shortly afterward.  He had already sent his aides, Tardini and Montini, to their offices in the secretariat of state to begin telephoning members of the diplomatic corps with the news.
        The secretary of state went with the pope and Father Leiber to the dining room where Pascalina served them breakfast.  While the pope sipped his warm milk he began to issue his first orders.  Maglione was to send a GREEN code message to Pacini to start organizing Poland's Jews into hiding in every available shelter.  A second similarly encoded order was to go to the Istanbul nuncio, Monsignor Angelo Guiseppe Roncali (the future Pope John XXIII) to 'prepare thousands of baptismal certificates to give to Jews which will allow them passage through Turkey to the Holy Land.'
        Other messages were to be sent to all other nuncios and bishops in neutral countries ordering them to increase 'all pressure you can' on their host governments to provide visas for Polish Jews. 
        Pope Pius had also asked Father Leiber to contact the head of the Pallotine fathers in Rome, Father Anton Weber.  The religious order was founded in Rome in 1835 by Vincent Pallotti, an Italian priest, to send missionaries across the world to set up schools and clinics.  A month ago Father Weber had telephoned from the order's General House on Rome's Pettinari Street and asked Pascalina to arrange an audience.  When he explained the reason she had quickly found a place for him on the pope's daily schedule.  Pius had asked Father Leiber to attend.
       The pope's secretary recalled, 'Weber asked His Holiness to approve the Pallotines be allowed to set up a network to bring German Jews to Rome where they would be safe.'  On that September morning Father Leiber had been ordered to tell Weber he should start his clandestine network.
        Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany.
       In his office in midtown Rome the representative of the Red Cross, Count Alexander de Salis, held a meeting to discuss events with Ugo Foa.  With them was a slim elegantly dressed woman, Princess Enza Pignatelli Cortes, the daughter of one of Rome's Black Nobility families, aristocrats who had supported the Vatican following the seizure of the papal states.  She was respected for organizing fund-raising events for Catholic charities and her friendship with Pius XII dated since he was secretary of state and she had invited him to address the girl's private school where she once was a pupil.  Since then Pius had been a regular guest at her palace near the Arch of Constantine.
        Seated beside Princess Cortes was Dante Almansi.  The barrel-chested forty year old came from modest origins in Trastevere and was the only Jew appointed deputy chief of the Rome police force.  He had been dismissed under the racial laws and Foa had made him his deputy on the Jewish community committee.  Both were very different personalities.  Almansi had not quite lost his streetwise stare that suggested he often did not believe what he heard.  Foa had the self-control of a judge.
       Beside Almansi set Renzo Levi, a short, stocky man who was a wealthy Jewish industrialist.  The group was completed by lawyer Settimio Sorani.  Where Levi was forceful and decisive, Sorani was gentle and persuasive and Foa had appointed him as legal counsel to the community's committee.  He lived with his sister, Rosina, who was Foa's secretary.
         His minutes of the meeting included Foa's figures for 3.5 million Jews living in the Soviet Union;  3 million in Poland;  360,000 in Germany;  500,000 in Hungary;  300,000 in Czechoslovakia;  over 250,000 in France;  almost 200,000 in the Netherlands;  and 100,000 in Belgium.  Including Spain and Portugal and smaller nations like Sweden and Switzerland, Foa said close to 10 million Jews lived on the European continent.  All were now at risk.
       Almansi asked his first question:  What could the Red Cross do to help them?  De Salis explained it would use its influence with all governments to help the Jews.  But the organization must respect the Vatican's neutrality.  The day after the invasion of Poland de Salis said he was telephoned by D'Arcy Osborne.  The diplomat had told him that both himself and Charles-Roux, the French ambassador, had made a joint approach to Cardinal Magione to get the pope to condemn the invasion.  The secretary of state had refused, saying that 'the whole world will condemn the Germans without the Vatican's intervention.' 
       Princess Cortes said she was certain that 'Italy does not want to be in this war.  But His Holiness cannot say much, if anything at all.  Yet his silence must not be misunderstood.  I know he will do everything to help the Jews.'
       Pucci's account of the pope fleeing to America had created consternation at the Foreign Office;  its two diplomatic sources of information in Rome were clearly out of kilter.  At Loraine's meeting with Osborne was the local MI6 station chief.  He told Osborne Pucci was a German informer and his story was 'totally untrue and created in Berlin for its man in the Vatican to pass on to Pucci.'  The intelligence officer had asked to see any further information Pucci offered.  A dismayed Osborne has agreed.
        Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the director of the Abwehr, had spent another weekend in his office at 76/78 Tiritzaufer, two former town houses, overlooking the beautiful chesnut and lime trees in Berlin's Tiergarten.  Since dawn he had read the reports that came from his chiefs of intelligence throughout the world.  That afternoon he had gone for a stroll in the Tiergarten with his deputy, Colonel Hans Oster, walking along the bridle paths where they passed several members of the German general staff taking afternoon rides.  Canaris let his dachshund, Seppel, off its lead, watching the dog run in and of the bushes, as he told Oster that the Abwehr must do nothing to prolong the war by a war by a day, that while a defeat for Germany would be a disaster, a victory for Hitler would be a catastrophe.
        Therefore he was ready to make a new move to once more try and involve Pope Pius XII in the plot to overthrow the fuhrer.  He was sending to Rome Josef Mueller, a Bavarian lawyer, who had joined the Abwehr at the outset of war.  His well-tanned face, reddish-brown hair, and customized black suit was a familiar sight around the Munich diocese in the building's courtrooms.  Mueller's success had given him connections in the Vatican where he was respected in the Holy Office and the secretariat of state for winning cases for the church.
         Canaris has told Mueller that the the first visit first visit to Rome by Colonel Oster and his co-conspirators had failed because they had asked 'too much too soon' in their meeting with the pope's secretary, Robert Leiber.
        Mueller's own brief in Rome would be to try and once more persuade Father Leiber to get the pope to support 'negotiations with Britain and a new and honorable government in Berlin after Hitler had been overthrown.'  Once contact had been made with Father Leiber and he agreed to present the proposal to Pius, the pope should send for D'Arcy Osborne who would act in the intial stage as the go-between with the Holy See and the British government.  If the discussion continued to move forward more senior diplomats would be called in to carry the plan to conclusion--the removal of Hitler.
       His legal skills had taught Mueller to take his time in preparing a brief.  He had studied the Abwehr file on Pope Pius XII and read his speeches. He concluded that the pope shared his own pro-Jewish sentiments.  When the time came he would use that as part of his argument tha a new German government would guarantee that Jews would no longer be persecuted.  He had also decided he would not go to Leiber at once, but approach him through another German in a powerful position in the Vatican.  Monsignor Ludwig Kaas had been a contact of Pius since his days as a nuncio in Germany and Kaas had represented the Catholic Center Party in the Reichstag.  When Hitler came to power Kaas had moved to Rome to become secretary of the congregation in charge of St. Peter's Basilica.
       On May 10, 1940--the day Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became Britain's Prime Minister--Mueller arranged to meet Leiber.  While no record exists of their meeting, later the widow of one of the principal conspirators, Hans von Dohnanyi, revealed that her husband, a lawyer, had drafted articles of peace terms for the pope to review.  According to Frau Dohnanyi, Leiber had taken them to Pope Pius XII, who had told the secretary to inform Osborne that the German opposition to Hitler continued to gather momentum.
       Two days after meeting the pope's secretary,  Mueller had flown to Berlin to brief Canaris.  The spymaster doubted the peace initiative would succeed with Churchill now in office.

       The day after Mussolini delivered his declaration of war the pope asked Father Leiber to find space in his audience schedule for him to see Ugo Foa.  He told his secretary he would meet the Jewish community leader in the papal apartment 'as an old friend.'  It was the signal that Pius wanted no note taker present to keep a record of the meeting.
      It was late afternoon when Foa was escorted into the pope's study.  It would be their first meeting since Mussolini had introduced the Nazi-inspired racial laws.  Since then Rome's Fascist press had continued its attacks on the pope for his criticism of the anti-Semetic legislation.  Foa had brought with him a letter from Dr. Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization thanking the pope for his 'unflinching support of the Jews.'
       There were now over four thousand Italian Jews--army officers, civil servants, academics, and journalists--who were still unemployed as a result of the racial laws. 
       The pope began by saying that as well as helping them, he had not forgotten his 'near neighbors,'  the Jews of Rome's ghetto.  If any were experiencing problems he had arranged for the papal nuncio to Italy, Monsignor Borgongini Duca to deal with the matter 'loud and clearly' with the Fascist authorities.
       Foa would recall how the pope had spoken with 'quiet passion as he said he would lay to rest any thought he would follow a plan more conciliatory to the totalitarian states than his predecessor.  He made it clear that the safety of the Jews was growing more intense and was one of the gravest of the many other serious problems he now faced.'
       Pius had said he would employ all the weapons in his power:  prayer, liturgy, and international law to confront the Nazis, who for all their technical skill were filled with a spritual emptiness, in what the pope defined as the 'Age of Agnosticism driven by anti-Semitism.'
       In the meantime if any member of the Jewish community wished to leave Rome he had arranged with the Pallotine fathers to assist them in obtaining foreign visas.  It may take a little while to obtain the documents but they would be forthcoming.
       Finally Pius had said he wanted to assure the community that he would continue to attack anti-Semitism and protect the Jews.  He handed Foa a bound copy of Summi Pontificatus , with the words 'where there is a question of saving souls, we feel the courage to deal with the Devil in person.'
       Foa had responded with a Hebrew saying.  'A man is compared to the stars in Heaven and to the dust of the earth.  He can soar to heights.'

       A few months ago the pope had reluctantly received Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, with one purpose.  He was determined to express his condemnation of Nazi atrocities and its anti-Semetic policies.  When von Ribbentrop had tried to dismiss the charges as 'Allied propaganda,' Pius had quoted from a file of reports sent by nuncios and bishops across Europe detailing evidence of atrocities.  The New York Times reported that the foreign minister had left the Vatican looking crestfallen.
       Since then the pope had ordered Vatican Radio to broadcast the evidence and L' Osservatore Romano to continue to publish it.  The New York Times had editorialized, 'The Vatican has spoken with authority that cannot be questioned and has confirmed the worst intimidation on Jews.'
       But the reports of atrocities had increased along with the attacks by Goebbels's propaganda machine on Pius as 'the Jew lover.'  The pope had countered by asking all Catholic bishops in Nazi Germany to sign a protest against the Nazi Pary plan to extend the wearing of the Star of David to include the offspring of mixed marriages.  The Nazi response was to seize convents, Catholic hospitals, and other church property throughout Germany;  Catholic organizations were closed down and religious images removed from schools.  The Pope's Jews  by Gordon Thomas pgs.49-51, 59-61,66-68, and 72 

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