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Friday, June 07, 2013

The Roundup, Part Three

       "It was around 5 A.M. when on Saturday Prince Filippo Doria Pamphilj awoke.  For days now he had knelt on his prie-dieu and prayed about whether it was time to tell the Resistance to place the detonators in the tunnel beneath his family palazzo on the Via del Corso to ensure the enormous baroque edifice, with its thousand rooms, which had become the Waffen SS headquarters and barracks in Rome, would be totally destroyed.
       Over the past weeks, the forty-three-year-old prince, dressed in a coalman's clothes, had led the demolition team through the tunnels as they worked by the light of a lantern placing the explosives beneath a palace where for centuries the family had lived and welcomed monarchs, popes, and rulers of Europe with two exceptions:  Prince Filippo had refused to entertain Mussolini or Hitler when they came to Rome.
        His decision had cost the price his liberty--imprisoned in one of Mussolini's concentration camps.  After pressure from the Vatican to free him.  Pope Pius had advised Filippo to go into hiding from the furious Fascists.
        The palace gardener, by then a member of the Resistance, had found the prince a home in Trastevere among its working-class population, and introduced him to the partisan leaders, who promised he would be safe among them.  They showed him some of their hideouts.  He had told them about the tunnels.  When the Germans arrived he proposed the palace should be blown up.
        Even hard-bitten men of the Resistance had hesitated.  The damage could be widespread, the revenge of the Germans guaranteed, and he would become a prime target, together with his family.
       Prince Filippo discussed the matter with his wife, Gesine, and their daughter, Princess Orietta.  Gesine had reminded her husband that the palace would eventually pass to Orietta as their only child and she would be entitled to an inheritance which would include four princedoms, two dukedoms, and immense estates including a castle, a thirteenth-century abbey, and the church of St. Agnes in Rome's Piazza Navona.
        Orietta told her father he must do what he felt was right.
        Since then Prince Fillipo knelt every morning as dawn broke on his prie-dieu and prayed to make the right decision.
        On that morning his devotions were interrupted by the roar of trucks emerging from the Collegio Militare and moving down the road on the opposite bank of the Tiber.

         The pope's first orders were given calmly.  Maglione was to continue to stay in contact with Weizsacker.  Father Pankratius was to obtain information from the German high command in Rome.  The secretary of state's two assistants--Montini and Tardini--were to work together to contact the religious houses where Jews were being sheltered and told what was happening.  Father Leiber was to inform Osborne and Tittmann and ask them if their governments would protest to Berlin;  the pope's secretary would make a similar request to neutral missions to the Holy See.  Pascalina was to inform Chief Rabbi Zolli and ask him to convey the news to all the other Jews hiding in the Vatican.  D'Altishofen, the Swiss Guard commander, was to contact the Rome police for information.  Ottaviani was to inform O'Flaherty, who should send his priests out into the streets to establish what was happening.  The Vatican switchboard was alerted and it began to handle priority calls from the network Pius had mobilized to help the Jews.
        Through the long day Pius remained in his office receiving reports and issuing new orders.  To Father Leiber he was 'leading the smallest state on earth to challenge the military masters of Rome.  It was clear that upon his courage and decision-making would depend the lives of those being taken into the military college.'

        It was midmorning when Weizsacker was shown into Maglione's office.  The secretary of state said the ambassador must intervene with the foreign minister in Berlin to have the roundup cancelled 'for the sake of humanity and Christian charity.'
       Weizsacker's response came after a pause.  'It would be more powerful if the pope was to publicly protest against the deportation.'
       The words would form part of the claims and counterclaims of what followed in the short meeting between the two diplomats.  Weizsacker claimed he praised the Holy See for its balanced attitude throughout the war and asked if it 'was worthwhile putting everything in danger just as the ship is reaching port?'
        Maglione would insist, 'I reminded him that the Holy See had no wish to be put in a position where it is necessary to protest but if the Holy See is obliged to do so I trust the consequences to divine providence.'

        Hudal had been given a seat around the table for the noon meeting on Saturday which the pope regularly held in a salon in the Apostolic Palace with his senior advisors.  They included Maglione, Montini and Tardini, Monsignor Leiber, Monsignor Ottaviani, and Father Pfeiffer.
         After Maglione had reveiwed his meeting with Weizsacker, Ottaviani reported that the convents and religious houses were sheltering ghetto Jews who had managed to escape and Father Weber had brought a number into the Vatican.
         Each person had before him a copy of the letter Gumpert and Kessel had composed and which Pankratius had brought to Hudal.  It now became the subject of discussion.
         Hudal said he found the content acceptable but that the signatory was too low-ranking to represent the views expressed.  As it involved the Holy See it should be signed by someone with a suitable rank in the Vatican as he was certain then that General Stahel would transmit the letter to Berlin.  Further it should be brought to the Stadtkommandant by Father Pfeiffer to reinforce the letter represented the Holy See's position.
        While agreeing to this approach, Maglione had a question:  Who should sign the letter?  Hudal said he would be honored to put his name to the letter.  It was left to the pope to say the document should not be written on Vatican stationery but on Bishop Hudal's German college notepaper as its rector.  This would be interpreted by his critics as 'evidence' that the pope did not wish to be further involved in the fate of the Jews.

        At 5 P.M. Father Pfeiffer arrived at General Stahel's office in the Hotel Flora and handed over the letter bearing Hudal's signature.  After reading it Stahel sighed, shook his head, and summoned his aide to take it to the communications room to have it encoded and transmitted to the Foreign Office in Berlin.  The matter was now in other hands, the general said.
        Back in his office in the Apostolic Palace Father Pfeiffer informed Maglione and Hudal of Stahel's decision.  The secretary of state told Father Pfeiffer to inform Weizsacker.
        Pfeiffer's confirmation it was on its way to Berlin was the signal for Weizsacker to prepare his own response to the roundup.  He began to write in a fine copperplate.
       'With regards to Bishop Hudal's letter I can confirm that this represents the Vatican's reaction to the deportation of the Jews of Rome.  The Curia is especially upset considering that the action took place, in a manner of speaking, under the pope's own window.  The reaction could be dampened somewhat if the Jews were to be employed in labor service here in Italy.  Hostile circles in Rome are using this event as a means of pressuring the Vatican to drop its reserve.  It is being said that when analogous incidents took place in French cities, the bishops there took a clear stand.  Thus the pope, as the supreme leader of the church and as bishop of Rome, cannot but do the same.  The pope is also being compared with his predecessor, Pius XI, a man of more spontaneous temperament.  Enemy propaganda abroad will certainly view this event in the same way, in order to disturb the Curia and ourselves.'
       He signed and sealed the letter and put it aside to go in the diplomatic pouch to Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin.  That decision would later arouse more speculation than anything else Weizsacker had done during his tenure in Rome.  Was the latter a clear indication he was prepared to risk his career, and very likely his life, to try and save the Jews?  If so, knowing the urgency of the situation, why had he not immediately encoded it and sent it to Berlin?  The diplomatic pouch would not leave until Monday.  By then, he could reasonably deduce, the fate of the Jews would be settled.  From what he had heard Judenaktionen were swift operations."  The Pope's Jews , pgs.204-5, 209-10, 214, 215-16,21-19.

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