Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some thoughts from reading ADSS Volume 7

I was emailed earlier today by a colleague who had some questions about how the Vatican Secretariat of State worked and how involved the Holy See was in the collapse of the fascist regime in Italy in 1943.  What follows is the substance of my response. 

The response is based on my reading of ADSS Volume 7 Le Saint-Siège La Première Guerre mondiale et Novembre 1942 - Décembre 1943 (1973).  The volume contains 506 documents with footnotes and index.  It also contains an introductory essay of 67 pages that is, in effect, a summary of the volume.  The volume deals with the "conventional war", not with the atrocities, although there is some mention.

One example is contained in Document 282 (p 473) dated 8 July 1943 of Angelo Roncalli, Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, to Giovanni Montini, Secretariat of State, Rome.  Roncalli relates a private meeting with the German ambassador, Franz von Papen during which mention is made of "the Katyn affair" (discovery by the Germans of the mass graves of Polish officers murdered by the NKVD in 1940 on the orders of Stalin).  von Papen then went on to say:

 ...  with a sad smile that it was necessary first of all to forget the millions of Jews expelled and suppressed in Poland, and that in any case this was a good chance for the Reich to make a change in its treatment of the Poles. (p 474) 

The document was an account of a meeting, written with a minimum of detail, but with what I can only imagine from what we know of Roncalli, an exceedingly heavy heart.  It is also a reminder to see what the document says, not what it does not.  An historical argument cannot hang on one document, however unpleasant.

Now to my thoughts from my reading of ADSS 7.

The daily workings of the Vatican Secretariat of State mirrored any number of other agencies of like nature, with the one glaring exception, it was a supra-national identity that sought to promote its agenda through an extensive, but ultimately powerless, group of diplomats. The powerless aspect was what I believe forced Vatican diplomacy to master the craft of diplomacy to an almost perfect degree. Stalin's remark "how many divisions has the Pope?" sums it up. Pius had not way of enforcing his will - it was done entirely through connections, argument, moral persuasion and old fashioned, gentlemens' agreements.

From what I have read in ADSS follows a familiar pattern. The Cardinal Secretary of State and his office received dozens (probably more) pieces of information throughout the day. Most of the ADSS documents record the form of the information - telegram, letter, memo, diplomatic correspondence, private mail from FDR to Pius (most of which has been published - 1947).

Cardinal Maglione, the Secretary of State, along with Monsignors Domenico Tardini and Giovanni Montini (later Pope Paul VI) sorted through the material, determined which would receive priority and would be shown to the Pope. It goes without saying that anything considered of top priority went to Pius' desk - many of the documents have a note at the end Visto dal Santo Padre or similar (see / shown to the Holy Father).

Often there are other notes with directions given by Pius, such as "instruct Nuncio X to do A, B or C", or "make no reply". There are also notes taken by one or other or the men mentioned, clarifying points of discussion with either the Pope or another figure, such as a representative of a foreign power etc. And there are drafts for letters, telegrams etc.

The footnotes indicate a lot of material that is not included in ADSS because it has been published elsewhere such as in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). However, in my own reading I have gone looking for additional material because there has been so much published since the last volume of ADSS was published in 1981. I have found a lot of detail on many of the people mentioned throughout and created an extensive list of names, dates and roles - largely through google searches. The footnotes also indicate that there is material the editors saw but chose not to use - the reasons for this are not clear. However, I am prepared to accept that in choosing documents for publication the editors were keen to get as wide a cross-section of Vatican activity as possible, so space is probably the main reason for leaving some material out. Although having said that I am surprised, (or aghast) that two seminal pieces of Holocaust related documentation never made it into ADSS - the Riegner Report and Richard Vrba's Auschwitz Protocols, both of which were known of. Indeed the Riegner Report is mentioned in footnotes.

My reference to the Vatican "being in the know" refers in this instance to the collapse of Italy from early 1943 onwards. It was an open secret that Galeazzo Ciano commented on in his diary that the Vatican was in league with other anti-fascist groups in Italy trying to find a way of getting Italy out of the war and keeping the Germans out of Italy. From early1943 many of the documents in ADSS 7 are concerned with 1) preventing the bombing of Rome, 2) getting Italy out of the war, 3) having Rome declared "Open City, 4) preserving the fiction of Vatican neutrality (ironic given the above), 5) convincing President Roosevelt (FDR) and, to a lesser extent, Churchill, that bombing Italian cities was counter-productive and only encouraging communist activities, 6) concerns for Sicily after the 9 July invasion and the prospect of an impending invasion of the peninsula, and 7) several other issues, but one that was growing in intensity - the fear of a Soviet dominated Europe.

How involved was Pius in all this? Knowing that no major decision was made without his direct input and often at his explicit direction, the simple answer is - the Pope was involved in every aspect of all the issues mentioned above. ADSS published a lot of the war-time correspondence between FDR and Pius, and much of that includes appeals to spare Rome. And when that did not work as well as the Vatican hoped, they went to the US bishops and appealed to them to whip up support among Catholics. It is also very interesting to note the change in direction in Vatican policy from mid-1941 with regard to the USA. Pius threw in his lot with the US from an earlier date than I suspect was believed in earlier work.


Pius had met FDR in 1936 and clearly liked the man. The liking was mutual. Both distrusted the politics of the left, although FDR was more pragmatic about it and when one mentions "left" politics in the US case it does mean something quite different to what a conservative Italian/European Catholic understood by the word. In any case, both men respected each other and believed both were working for the good of humanity. I think Pius' positive estimation of FDR convinced him, along with the loyalty of the American bishops who worked tirelessly supporting the Vatican cause (not surprising, many Catholics were horrified at the thought of Rome being bombed, and were more horrified at the thought of the Holy Father being held hostage by Hitler), and the economic and industrial power of America, that the US would be the only force able to defeat Germany. It is important to rremember that until mid-1943 the prospect of a German victory remained a very real possibility. From 1943 onwards Pius' relied more and more on appeals to FDR than to any other Allied leader.

The letters between Pius and FDR.

The published material is general in nature - lots of appeals for common values, respect for America as the guarantor of freedom for Europe etc.

It is the material that was not published that is far more revealing! Memos from Amleto Cicognani, the Apostolic Delegate in Washington to Maglione, Sumner-Wells and others in FDR's administration on issues such as the bombing of Rome and other Italian cities, the desire of Italy to get out of the war, calls for support Rome "Open City", the situation of the monarchy, and urging support for the new government after the deposition of Mussolini, point to a high degree of frank discussion and diplomatic "argy bargy". The amount of tooing and frooing between June and September 1943 is considerable. There is disagreement, frustration and sometimes a sense of desperation from the Vatican side as things appear to be going ahead and then be suddenly derailed.

The second bombing of Rome on 13 August is a case in point. I believe the Vatican had felt it had secured a deal from the US and the UK that Rome would not be bombed again after 16 July. The diplomatic seesaw to have the city declared "Open" took quite a while and then the Allies bombed the city again "striking military targets". On a global scale this might not seem all that much, but for the Vatican it was integral to the policy to preserve Rome and ensure that chaos did not ensue, the communists did not get active and the Germans remained on the sidelines. Of course, we see this with hindsight, but the tenor of many of the documents reveals very real fears.

Volume 7 deals with the "conventional" war, not with victims. At the moment I am up to late August - document 357 out of 506. I will be working on that side once I get through this volume and Volume 11 (which will take me up to the end of the war).

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