How a Strategy of Silence Saved Thousands of Jews
A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
How a Strategy of Silence Saved Thousands of Jews
Documents and Testimonies Point to Pius XII's Efforts
NEW YORK, 25 May 2010 (ZENIT)
The Pave the Way Foundation has initiated a document retrieval project to reveal as much information and as many testimonies as possible regarding the papacy of Pope Pius XII, the World War II Pontiff, in order to break the academic "log jam" caused by the lack of publicly available information.
New findings have revealed documents and testimony, which clearly show that on Oct. 16, 1943, it was the intentional lack of a public denunciation by Pope Pius XII against the arrest of the Roman Jews, which saved their lives and enabled their rescue.
We have a signed 1972 deposition of General Karl Wolff, SS commander for Italy and deputy to Heinrich Himmler, which states that in September 1943 Adolf Hitler ordered him to develop a plan to invade the Vatican, kidnap the Pope, seize the Vatican assets, and kill the Roman Curia. This plan was to be carried out immediately.
General Wolff knew that if this invasion were executed, massive riots throughout Europe would ensue, resulting in a military disaster to the German war effort. General Wolff stated that he was successful in convincing Hitler to delay the invasion. This view of a potential military disaster was shared by the military governor of Rome, Major General Rainer Stahel, and German ambassador to the Holy See, Ernst von Weizsäcker.
Pius XII learned of the invasion plan, and likewise believed that the result would be massive riots potentially killing thousands of innocent people and that the Vatican’s neutrality would be breached, thereby enabling German forces to enter all Vatican properties. Handwritten minutes exist, which state that on Sept. 6, 1943, Pius XII secretly called the cardinals together to tell them the Vatican would be invaded and he would be taken to the north and probably killed. The cardinals were to be prepared to leave for a neutral country immediately, upon the invasion of Vatican territory.
He also signed a letter of resignation, and placed it in his desk. He instructed the cardinals to form a government in exile and to elect a new Pope once they were safe. We have a handwritten letter from the secretary of state ordering the Swiss Guard not to resist invading German forces with firepower, and numerous documents detailing how they were to protect the Vatican Library and museum contents.
Throughout this period, von Weizsäcker sent deceptive positive messages about the Pope to Berlin to calm Hitler, not to justify an order to invade. Some critics of Pius XII have erroneously based their theories of papal complicity and collaboration on these intentionally misleading cables — what von Weizsäcker’s lieutenant, Albrecht von Kessel, later called "tactical lies."
We have additional testimony from Lieutenant Nikolaus Kunkel, a German officer from the headquarters of the military governor of Rome, which corroborates documented evidence and testimony of exactly how Pius XII directly saved the Roman Jewish community and that they were expecting the invasion order from Berlin any day.
When the early morning arrests began Oct. 16, 1943, Pius XII was alerted to this by Princess Enza Pignatelli Aragona Cortes. He immediately took multiple steps to force the Germans to stop the arrests. He summoned the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Maglione, and instructed him to launch a vehement protest against the arrests. Cardinal Maglione warned von Weizsacker that same morning, that the Pope could not remain silent as they arrested the Jews under his very windows, in his own diocese. Pius XII then sent his nephew, Carlo Pacelli, to meet with a German sympathizer, Bishop Alois Hudal, to instruct him to write a letter to his German contacts to immediately stop the arrests.
This too proved ineffective. Pius XII's last effort, the most successful, was to send his close confidant, Salvatorian Superior General Father Pankratius Pfeiffer, to meet directly with the military governor of Rome, General Stahel. Father Pfeiffer warned Stahel that the Pope was going to launch a loud and public protest against these arrests if they were not stopped. Fear that this public protest would result in Hitler's ordering the invasion of the Vatican prompted Stahel to act.
General Stahel immediately telephoned Heinrich Himmler, and fabricated military grounds to stop the arrests. Trusting Stahel's assessment, Himmler advised Hitler to stop the arrests. The order to stop the arrests was issued at noon on Oct. 16, resulting in its implementation by 2 p.m. on the day they began.
This sequence of events was independently confirmed by General Dietrich Beelitz, the liaison officer with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s office and Hitler’s command. Beelitz personally heard the Stahel-Himmler conversation. When Stahel’s deception later became known, Himmler punished General Stahel by sending him to the Eastern front.
It was known that the Vatican was infiltrated with spies. The Pope could only send trusted priests and confidants throughout Rome and Italy with verbal and written papal orders to lift cloister, allowing men and women to enter Catholic convents and monasteries, and ordered all ecclesiastical institutions to hide the Jews wherever they could.
According to famed British historian Sir Martin Gilbert, the Vatican hid thousands of Jews in literally one day (See supporting documents here and here). Once hidden, the Vatican continued to feed and support their Jewish “guests” until Rome’s liberation on June 4, 1944.
Documents from Berlin and the Eichmann Trial in Israel also show that the 8,000 Roman Jews that were to be arrested were not supposed to go to Auschwitz, but were to be sent to the work camp at Mauthausen and held as hostages. This order was later countermanded by persons unknown and 1,007 Jews were sent to Auschwitz to their death. Sadly only 17 survived. While there are those who repeatedly criticize Pius XII for not saving the 1,007, they remain completely silent on his direct actions, which saved this 3,000 year old Jewish community of Rome.
It was recently discovered, in the American archives, that the allies had broken the German codes and knew almost a week in advance of the intended arrests of the Roman Jews. The allies decided not to warn the Romans since this might alert the Germans to this intelligence breach. This “military decision” left Pope Pius XII alone, without advance notice, to try to end the arrests.
When speaking of Pope Pius XII, the foremost Jewish scholars of the Holocaust in Hungary, Jeno Levai, stated that it was a "particularly regrettable irony that the one person in all of occupied Europe who did more than anyone else to halt the dreadful crime and alleviate its consequences is today made the scapegoat for the failures of others."
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Gary Krupp is the founder of Pave the Way Foundation (PTWF), a non-sectarian organization whose mission is to identify and try to eliminate obstacles between religions and to initiate positive gestures in order to improve interreligious relations.
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On the Net:
For more information: www.ptwf.org
Expression of gratitude by the Italian Jewish communities (1946): http://www.ptwf.org/Downloads/Italian Jewish Community Placard.pdf
Jewish praise for Pius XII: http://www.ptwf.org/Downloads/Jewish Praise.pdf
Testimony of Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel (Video 9): www.barhama.com/PAVETHEWAY/INTERVISTA_A_GUMPEL/GUMPLE.html
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