Tuesday, November 6, 2012

ADSS 9.38 Borgongini Duca to Maglione: the Italian report

One of the regular questions that arises in the study of Pius XII relates to what the pope knew and when.  I have dealt with aspects of that question throughout the blog and in my book.  The one area where the pope's knowledge was probably unrivalled was Italy.  The nuncio, Archbishop Francesco Borgongini Duca (1884-1954) made his regular tri-annual report to Cardinal Maglione.  The document reveals considerable detail in its brevity and customary florid language.  The summary statement lists the principal concerns, but reading the report reveals a number of very interesting details, such as the reference to interned "Chinese pagans" in the camp at Tossicia in the Abruzzi.  However it is the plight of the refugees, including Jews, that dominates the report.

This report, sent to Maglione at the end of January 1943 gave Pius a summary of information that he already possessed from a variety of sources.

ADSS 9.38 Italian Nuncio, Francesco Borgongini Duca to Cardinal Maglione.

Reference:  Report number 10944, AES 1171/43
Location and date:  Rome, 31.01.1943

Summary statement: Recapitulates last three years and the racial question in Italy; refugees; help provided to POWs and Internees; exchange of news of POWs; steps for victims of war; many Jews have fled the Germans into Italian occupied zones.

Language: Italian


I have the honour to present this tri-annual report on the activities of the Nunciature characterised as they are by the enormity of the war, which still rages. (1)

The conflict has given the activities of the Nunciature new forms, due mainly to the apostolic charity of the Holy Father.

As soon as the conflict broke out, this Nunciature had to assume the protection of the diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See, and whose countries were at war with the Axis.  The British Legation, and the embassies of France, Belgium and Poland were sealed and the nunciature was charged with the protection of the interests of ecclesiastical and religious personnel of all these countries … (2)

The realities of war have led to a tightening of the racial question.  Many Jews have fled from the territories occupied by the Germans, preferring to come to Italy, even at the risk of being interned.  They have also sought help from this Apostolic Nunciature to go abroad, especially to America.  Many are also in transit, and the Holy Father, in his inexhaustible charity, has provided for many the means for travel.

In a very few cases, the Nunciature was successful in obtaining Italian entry visas for Jews in danger of deportation from Count Ciano. (3)

With the worsening of the conflict, many refugees arrived in Italy in the most pitiable condition, especially from Poland.  His Holiness deigned to place at my disposal considerable sums to help them, and so with the help of the Ursuline sisters, (4) the Nunciature was able to place Polish girls and women, who were more or less abandoned, and provide for men out of work. 

We also entered into communication with other Polish refugees scattered throughout Italy, without neglecting those confined, who are, in some ways, in better conditions because they have bread and a roof over their heads.  Your Eminence knows that the Holy Father is pleased to welcome the humble proposal of this Nunciature, to open a welcoming refuge for women (5), and this was given over to the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus (6) with excellent results and with everything functioning normally.(7)

From all other fronts refugees have poured into Italy, not only from Poland, but from Greece, the Levant, Maltese, Italians evacuated from Tripoli and Cyrenaica, Italians expelled from France, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs.  The Holy Father has, with apostolic gesture, opened up the limited resources of the church of Rome, so that this Nunciature was responsible for the distribution of the goods to all who presented themselves to the Nunciature, as well as for those scattered throughout Italy or in the various concentration camps.

The distribution of money is made, normally, after the local parish priests have received certificates of the good conduct and poverty of the applicants.  The question of religion has never been entered into, because the charity of the Pope embraces all; but for all I have endeavoured to take authoritative assurances of good conduct. 

At the date of this report, the Apostolic Nunciature distributed from the beginning [of the war] Lire 625,816.56 for the Poles, and for the other refugees Lire 307,705.80.

Because of the war the Royal Government set up many concentration camps for foreign civilians more or less regarded with suspicion, and also created prison camps for soldiers captured in combat.  The first camps are generally under the authority of Public Security and the second under military authority.

The Holy Father expressed his august desire that the apostolic nuncio go personally to visit the internees and bring them the comfort of his blessing and august charity.

At the time of writing this triennial report, the visits made by the undersigned numbered 106.  The camps are located throughout Italy, from Bolzano and Udine all the way Puglia and to Calabria, and the island of Sardinia.  The secretary of the apostolic nunciature made five solo visits.

I have found that generally the prisoners and civilians are treated with humanity.  The nunciature has had special attention for religious assistance.  At our suggestion, the government appointed a permanent chaplain in the border colony of Pisticci. (8)  Another (who speaks several languages) was appointed to the camp of Ferramonti Tarsia (9) where the charity of the Holy Father has equipped a church and provided a harmonium. A Chinese-language chaplain (10) was appointed to the Chinese camp in Tossicia in Teramo province, and on the island of Gran Sasso.  With much zeal the good father chaplain has instructed the poor Chinese pagans, printing a catechism in Chinese.  After one year of instruction and testing, fifty catechumens were admitted to baptism, and another fifty the following year.  I went twice myself to the shrine of St Gabriel on Gran Sasso, for the ceremony that was attended by the Chief of Teramo, the Inspector of the Ministry of the Interior and local authorities.

Other conversions occurred in other places especially among the female element, even among the Jews.  The Ursuline sisters teach and instruct these women, and more than one baptism was celebrated.  I have also regularised quite a few marriages in Rome and beyond.

The occupation of Dalmatia (11) resulted in the confinement in Italy of about 50,000 Slovenes and Croats.  They are interned in Tuscany, in the Veneto and the island of Arbe.

I visited the camp of Gonars in Friuli; as well the Apostolic Nunciature is interested in the improvement of conditions for all the deportees, who were all affected by the tumultuous evacuation that occurred in the civil war.  Some improvement is being obtained by the government and by order of Your Eminence and I will soon visit those confined to the island of Arbe.  Meanwhile, His Holiness has welcomed the humble suggestion of this nunciature to take at its own cost 200 young Slovenians to the Pontifical College in Loreto (12) and are in negotiations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which is under enormous strain through the heavy bureaucracy of war) in order to carry out the wish of the Pope.

In addition the Apostolic Nunciature has become a liaison between the Office of the Secretary of State and the Italian Red Cross for the transmission of messages to prisoners in Italian hands and their families abroad, as well as sending prayer books and catechisms, published by the Vatican and books from the Secretary of State to the same prisoners.

For Italian prisoners overseas, this nunciature has a special section to collect the messages of families, which are sent by the [Vatican Information] Office, as well as on behalf of the Secretary of State has collected 16,000 volumes for delivery to the Red Cross for Italian prisoners. (13)

The war has also led to a multitude of questions of all kinds from the suffering, directed to the Holy Father (exemptions from military service, approaches from soldiers, pensions for families, freedom for those confined with convictions even for small infringements and requests for pardon, permissions to marry for those prevented by the race or military laws, advancement of employees, transfers and the like); all these come to the Nunciature, sent by the Secretary of State or directly sent to us by the interested parties, are considered as best we can with an answer provided for each where possible.

Special mention needs to be made about the correspondence with the internees, because all, or almost all of these unfortunate people, without exception, calling for the involvement of the Nunciature with the police, who welcome with great deference our intervention.  In our archives each internee has their own file… (14)

Cross references: 
(1) Covering the years 1940-1942
(2) Information on the protection of extra-territorial buildings omitted.  See ADSS 5.248 were there is a summary of the legal position of diplomatic representations near the Holy See.
(3) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Minister of Foreign Affairs, (1936-1943).
(4) See ADSS 6, page 348, note 3.
(5) The word used is “focolare” and literally translates as “hearth” or “family fireside”. 
(6) This was a Polish religious congregation of women commonly referred to as the “Grey Ursulines”.
(7) Their convent was located at 2 Via di Villa Ricotti (near Via Nomentana).  The convent later hid many Jews.
(8) Pisticci, province of Matera (Basilicata)
(9) Fr Callistus Lopinot, OFM Cap (1876-1966).  See ADSS 8.329, note 1.
(10) Not identified.  There were at least 116 Chinese travelling salesmen interned in the camp after 1940.  See Donald Kenrick (1999), In the Shadow of the Swatika: Volume 2: The Gypsies during the Second World War, p26.
(11) After the armistice with Yugoslavia signed on 17.04.1941, Bastianini was appointed governor of Dalmatia on 20.05.1941.
(12) The relevant information about the college of Loreto has not been found.
(13) See ADSS 8.427, note 2.
(14) The rest of the report is omitted.  It covered the religious situation in Italy.  A reply to the nuncio’s report was sent on 28.02.1943: “ … In particular I have seen with satisfaction the assistance for prisoners of war and the interned civilians with which you, with great zeal, have constantly accorded the intentions of the august pontiff …” (AES 1171/43) 

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