By Jesús Colina
ROME, 14 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
An Italian priest who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution
during World War II is attesting that Pope Pius XII was a big
player in this effort.
Father Giancarlo Centioni, 97, who served as a military
chaplain for the National Security Volunteer Militia in Rome
from 1940 to 1945, affirmed this in an interview with H2oNews
The militia, also called the Blackshirts, was organized by
Benito Mussolini as a fascist paramilitary group in support of
Father Centioni affirmed, "Given that I was a chaplain for
the fascists, it was easier for me to help the Jews."
While in Rome, he lived in the house of a group of German
priests known as Pallottines.
These priests had instituted a group to aid the Jews called
St. Raphael's Society.
The society, Father Centioni said, helped Jews to escape from
Germany into Italy, and then later to Switzerland and Portugal.
In Germany the society was led by Pallottine Father Josef
Kentenich, who is known for founding the Apostolic Movement of
Schoenstatt. He was later sent to the Dachau concentration camp
for his opposition to Adolf Hitler's regime.
Father Centioni said that in Rome, the society's activity was
based on 57 Pettinari Street under the direction of another
priest, Father Anton Weber. Father Weber coordinated the action
with Pope Pius XII and his secretary.
Money and passports were given to Jewish families for their
escape, explained Father Centioni. These resources were provided
by Father Weber who "received them directly from His Holiness'
Secretary of State, in the name of and paid by Pius XII,"
Farther Centioni said.
He continued, "I often brought money to Jewish homes. At
least 12 German priests in Rome were allowed to help me."
Father Centioni stated that this network "began prior to the
War" and "kept going" until after 1945, "because Father Weber
had an intense relationship with the Vatican, with the Jews, and
with a lot of people it was very strong."
He noted that two Jews who they helped hide later aided the
society in return: Melchiorre Gioia, an author, and Erwin Frimm
Kozab, a composer from Vienna who wrote songs and operas.
The priest recalled: "One we hid on Giuseppe Street, near
Bari, and the other on 57 Pettinari Street. Later they assisted
us quite a lot, giving us very explicit information."
Father Centioni affirmed that he helped hundreds of people,
and they all knew who was behind the operation. "Pius XII helped
them," he said, "through us and other priests, by means of St.
Raphael's Society as well as the German Verbiti Society in
He described one incident in which he helped a man named Ivan
Basilius, who turned out to be a Russian spy. "No one knew he
was Russian or a spy," the priest said, only "that he was a
Father Centioni recalled: "Unfortunately, the SS arrested him
and he had my name written in his notebook.
the Holy See called me; His Excellency Bishop Hudal said to me,
'Tell me, why are the SS here to arrest you?'
"'What did I do?'
"'You assisted a Russian spy.'
"'Me? How should I know? Who is he?' Then I fled.'"
The priest said that he had known Herbert Kappler, police
chief of the Gestapo in Rome, who instigated the Fosse Ardeatine
massacre, in which 335 Italians were murdered, including many
civilians and Jews.
He said, "After the massacre was carried out in March ,
I said to Kappler, whom I saw frequently, 'Why were the military
chaplains not called to be present at the Fosse Ardeatine?'
"He replied, 'Because they would have been killed
and they would have killed you as well.'"
Father Centioni and his testimony was discovered and
analyzed, along with other testimonies, by the Pave the Way
Foundation, which was founded by Gary Krupp, himself a Jew from
An Italian lawyer, Daniele Costi, president of the foundation
in her country, attested to the veracity of the interview.
The priest's narrative is further confirmed by the
documentation accompanying an award given to him by the Polish
government. As further corroboration of his testimony, Father
Centioni cited expressions of gratitude he received from several
Jews he aided, including some who were able to reach the United
States with passports from the Vatican.