Monday, January 28, 2013

ADSS 3.1.51 Orsenigo to Maglione: situation in Western Ukraine

In the previous post we read Montini complain at the attitude of some of the Catholic press who believed the pope was not doing what he should be doing in the face of German atrocities in Poland.  I find it interesting that the level of outrage at the stories emerging from Poland points to a general disbelief that such barbarism was unthinkable in 1939.  Montini's lament at the media's inability to understand Pius XII's delicate diplomatic position also points to a general consensus among many in, as yet, unoccupied Europe, that the pope had a moral obligation to speak out against, what was quite clearly, moral evils, and do so in unambiguous language.  

It helps the student to gain a better perspective when the following document is read.  Pius relied on information sent to him from across Europe - occupied and free.  Much of that information came from the network of nuncios who, in turn, drew their information from a variety of sources, some accurate, others less so.

In this document the German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, relays a report given to him by "religious persons" who have recently visited Lvov in Soviet-occupied Western Ukraine / Poland.  The account described the process of Soviet despoliation of Church property.  What was particularly notable was the reference to the Jews.

Orsenigo's information was partially true but not completely accurate.  

Many Jews in Western Ukraine welcomed the Soviet invasion but there were many who did not.  At first, the Soviet occupation indulged in a propaganda battle to convince the newly "liberated" people of the freedom they would now enjoy as Soviet citizens now safe from the twin evils of Polish democracy and German Nazism.  For Jews this was not all bad; the discrimination imposed by the Polish governments in the 1930s were now lifted.  To many non-Jews this became evidence of the pre-disposition Jews had towards Bolshevism.  It was to be a deadly myth that served an even deadlier purpose a few years later.

Orsenigo's report was written in late November after the sham elections were held in October 1939 with the unsurprising victory of the communist delegates and the escalation of Sovietisation including the beginnings of collectivisation of land, persecution of non-communists and the closing of all institutions that did not accord with the Soviet world-view, especially religious institutions.

In the absence of more reliable news, Pius and the Secretariat of State had to read, discern and balance the data they received.  It was a very difficult task and lends credence to later claims that news was often very difficult to verify.

ADSS 3.1.50

Reference: Report 248 (29.565) AES 8682/39
Location and date: Berlin, 25.11.1939

Summary statement: Report on the situation of the Poles under Russian control. Fines, harassment of clergy.  The Jews are best equipped to endure the situation – they have their own schools and military groups.

Language: Italian

I am in a hurry to send to your most reverend Eminence another note regarding the Polish-Russian territories.  Religious persons who have recently visited Lvov [Leopold] have reported:

1. That the enormous fine of 600,000 zloty imposed on his excellency the Ruthenian [Greek Catholic rite] archbishop, Andrea Szeptyckyj, cannot be paid, the archbishop not having at his disposal more than 35,000 zloty, which he has already paid and which may become the pretext for other oppressive measures.

2.  that the monastery of the Redemptorist fathers, as well as the Basilian father was dissolved; the fathers were dispersed, money was confiscated and the house given to the Jews (there are about 300,000 Jews from German-Poland who have emigrated to Russian-Poland). (1)

3.  that part of the convent of the Dames of the Sacred heart has been requisitioned for a dramatic company; the sisters have adopted civilian attire; eight sisters continue to teach in their high school with about 900 students, almost all of them very poor; the sisters receive 200 zloty a month from the Soviet authorities for their work; but the individual who supervises the college turned up one day – revolver in hand – and demanded one thousand zloty, but when the safe was opened, took two thousand.

It is hard to imagine the level of animosity of the Ukrainians against the Poles for the abuse they claim to have suffered.

In general the best-treated group in this Russian-Polish territory are the Jews, who have their own Jewish language school and special military groups only for Jews.

The worst treated are the poor peasant farmers, who have been burdened with a heavy tax on foodstuffs, which will inevitably result in another famine and to a high mortality rate.

Among the Redemptorists are nine Belgian fathers [left Russian-Poland]; the others, who are not foreigners, remain.  The father provincial, although Belgian, generously remained behind at the request of Archbishop Szeptykyj.  I pray your Eminence would be kind enough to send a copy of his report to his Eminence Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, secretary of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches, because of his great interest in the events in that region.

Cross references: 
(1) Orsenigo’s figures are inaccurate.  About 336,000 refugees fled into the Soviet zone of whom about 198,000 were Jews.  The Jewish population of the Soviet zone was 8.4%.  Within weeks of the invasion Sovietisation of the occupied zone began in earnest.  Systematic despoliation of church property was one aspect of the process.

ADSS 3.1.22 Montini notes: Papal "silence" ...

In the opening weeks of the war there was expectation from many sources that the Pope would speak out forcefully and condemn German atrocities in Poland.  Pius had adopted a strict formal and public neutrality upon the outbreak of the war, understood by most as a political requirement of his position, but not as a "muzzle" for his voice in speaking out against moral evil.  Giovanni Battista Montini who worked beside Pius XII throughout the war noted that the perceived silence of the pope was going to be a major obstacle to overcome, if it was overcome at all.  This was to be a vexatious issue throughout the entire war.  

Giovanni Battista Montini

ADSS 3.1.22

Reference: AES 7478/39
Location and date: Vatican, 08.10.1939

Summary statement: The press does not explain the Pope properly – negative opinion follows.  Necessary to explain to the Pope’s opinion towards Poland.

Language: Italian


After an audience with His Holiness.

08.10.1939:  Perhaps it would be good to prepare an article that explains the attitude of the Holy Father with regard to Poland. (1) From various sources it is insinuated that the Holy Father does not speak as expected, has not invoked the principles, deplored the aggression etc.  La Croix, for example reported the record of the Pope’s speeches, mutilating them so that the French public can not know the true tenor of the words and the attitude of the Pope. (2) The Italian and French press give such a succinct report that the people believe (as is clear from the letters that arrive at the Holy See) that the Holy See remains indifferent or silent etc.

It might take an occasion to explain what is and has been the real attitude of the Holy See: His Holiness did not fail to recall the “principles” (Cf speeches at the presentation of credentials of the ambassadors of Poland and Belgium etc).  On the occasion of audiences, where a word of “consolation” had been requested (such as Cardinal Hlond to the Holy Father) His Holiness spoke with great affection and so on.

Cross references: 
(1) See ADSS 3.1.28
(2) The French Catholic paper La Croix published on 14.10.1939 the full official text of the speech with the remark that delays in the post had resulted in the full text not arriving in time for publishing.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

ADSS 3.1.33 Orsenigo to Maglione: situation in Poland

Continuing along the theme of "what did the pope know and when" I think it important to note that Pius and his Secretariat of State were given quite detailed descriptions of the horrors inflicted upon civilian populations from the earliest days of the war.  This document is a report sent by the Nuncio in Germany, Cesare Orsenigo to Cardinal Maglione describing the visit to Warsaw made by Carlo Colli, a member of the Berlin nunciature staff.  Colli had served in the Warsaw nunciature between 1924 and 1932 before his transfer to Berlin.  While it may be assumed he had some grasp of Polish, he appears to have communicated in French and German.  

Colli had been given permission by the German government to travel to Warsaw to inspect damage to the nunciature buildings.  He left Berlin on 14 October, two weeks after the Wehrmacht occupied the city, and stayed until 17 October.  In three days Colli saw first hand the devastation visited upon Warsaw, the massive destruction of buildings, infrastructure and all basic utilities.  He spent time with the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, Bishop Stanislaw Gall and met with priests and religious who had been detained and arrested by the Gestapo.

What makes the report so significant is its timing and the lack of concern that the Germans appear to have had over a nunciature representative visiting a German-occupied city that was still very much in a state of shock and deep trauma.  Colli wrote of mass graves in the city squares, where flowerbeds had been dug up; of dazed people wandering the bombed out streets; and the huge number of unknown dead who lay beneath the rubble of still collapsing buildings.

Colli was astounded at the number of civilian casualties, many of whom had been killed by the indiscriminate strafing indulged by the Luftwaffe.  This was something new in warfare.  

Towards the end of the report there is an ominous warning: winter was approaching and the first snow had fallen in the city.  Archbishop Gall appealed for help from Poles living in the United States. 

Orsenigo's language reveals, I believe, an air of disbelief at the level of destruction and loss of life, but is also relatively calm as though this was an aberration and not likely to be repeated.  Nonetheless, by mid-October, the Pope had first-hand knowledge of what was to become an all too familiar pattern of Nazi barbarity against the people of Eastern Europe.  There is no mention of anti-Jewish persecution in Warsaw, most likely because the first major anti-Jewish action did not occur until November with the order to wear the Star of David on a white armband.  In October things were still chaotic in the immediate post-battle environment.

The full text may be found in the pages section.

Warsaw, October 1939

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pius XII and Christmas 1942: an analysis

In December 2012 Yad Vashem hosted a conference on the subject of The end of 1942 - a  turning point in World War Two and in the Comprehension of the Final Solution?  I was invited to present a paper on the papal Christmas Address of 1942 and although  I was unable to attend I sent my paper through and a recording was played to the gathered historians.

This is the synopsis of my paper:

During the second half of 1942 Pius XII's awareness of the scope of the German-led murder of European Jewry was considerable and, from the archival material available, largely accurate.  From various sources across German-occupied Europe and the Soviet Union, Vichy France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Vatican gradually pieced together a considerable archive of data that led to the dreadful and unavoidable conclusion that the Germans were engaged in a process of intentional mass-murder that beggared belief.  The Holy See was determined to preserve its public policy of neutrality at all costs, even at the risk of appearing unsympathetic or worse, towards the plight of the Jews, even if some of the murdered were Catholics of Jewish descent, such as Edith and Rosa Stein.  In the autumn of 1942 as war news gave hope that an Allied victory might be possible, diplomats immured within the Vatican led several official delegations to demand a papal response based on the pope’s religious and moral leadership. Under increasing pressure to add his voice to the condemnation of the slaughter and all too aware of the power politics of the Allied Declaration on 17 December the pope addressed the world on the eve of the Solemnity of Christmas.  Opinion has been divided as to whether Pope Pius XII fulfilled the ethical demand “to do good and avoid evil”.

The full text may be found in the pages section of the blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Presentation on Pius XII at ADL 10 January

In an earlier post I mentioned that I would be speaking at the Anti-Defamation League's New York office on Thursday 10 January.  It was a very successful evening and although the group was on the small side - about 50 people - the quality of the questions was excellent and the conversations that followed were encouraging for those of us who try and maintain the integrity of the historical process with regard to Pope Pius XII.

It was a pleasure to meet people who had only been known to me via email, especially Professor Deborah Dwork who came down from Clark University, MA for the presentation.  It was also great to meet people from a wide range of inter-faith groups, education and other professions who share an interest in getting to understand the historical and contemporary issues surround Pius XII.

I repeat my thanks to Abe Foxman and all the ADL who made the evening possible and who have shown once again their commitment to ongoing professional dialogue on issues that cause concern between Christians and Jews.  I have to again thank Rabbi Eric Greenberg and Lynne Rabinoff for their support and friendship.  These evenings are very important in ensuring that the voices of the "via media" are heard and understood.

ADL has posted the recording of the presentation via YouTube.  I invite you to view it here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wrap up on Pius - December 2012 - January 2013

This is a summary of some of the latest posts on Pius XII from the last month of 2012 and the first half of the first month of 2013.

1.  Doris Bergen's review of Hubert Wolf's detailed study of the Vatican's relationship with the Third Reich, Pope and Devil (2010) appeared in the January 2012 Harvard Theological Review.  Her opening line sums up one of the fundamental truisms of sound history work: "... that the writing of good history requires access to good sources". 

2. Bill Loughlin reviews Gordon Thomas's The Pope's Jews (2012) in The National Catholic Register (not to be confused with the National Catholic Reporter).  What caught my eye was Loughlin's opinion that two of the most significant sources for the history of Pius XII are the former chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, who disappeared from Rome just before the German razzia and who later converted to Catholicism in 1946, and Sr Pascalina Lenhert, Pius' deeply unpopular and greatly resented housekeeper who wrote a very personal take on the pope a long time after her unceremonious departure from the Vatican in 1958.  Loughlin has not changed my general sense of scepticism about the book especially with his final paragraph:

For decades, papal critics have used the delay in opening the papal archives as an alibi to justify their complaint that Pius was silent. Given the public record, so well scrutinized in Thomas’ The Pope’s Jews and by others, there’s little reason to expect the opening of archives will alter the end results, namely that the Catholic Church, under Pius’ leadership, rescued more Jews than any other institution or government.

3.  In some of the darker corners of the Catholic Church lurk some who still hold to attitudes and beliefs that the vast majority of believers have long abandoned.  Accusations of "Jewish conspiracies" have a long and tortured history within mainstream Christianity and were appropriated by the Nazis as one of the mainstays of their Antisemitism.  This article from Forward is a reminder that some who call themselves Catholics live on a different planet to the rest of us.

4. Writing on the publication of Pius XII and the Holocaust by Yad Vashem for Vatican Insider Andrea Tornielli gives a general review of the 2009 symposium attended by a number of historians and scholars who have written in the field. I was one of those who attended.  Tornielli also mentions the recent - November 2012 - gathering at the Sorbonne in Paris.  I hope that there will be more information on the Sorbonne conference in the near future.

5.  Finally, just before Christmas, the Catholic League published a major advertisement in the New York Times under the eye-catching heading "New York Times salutes Pope Pius XII".   There was a minor flurry but it seems to have passed without major damage.  Bill Donohue has a long-time reputation of rushing to defend the Catholic Church against the enemies arrayed against it.  He enjoys no official endorsement from the Church and his comments should be taken as a personal expression, not as a statement from the Church.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Paul on Pius at the ADL New York 10 January

Vacations are wonderful times of the year, and I have been enjoying mine, but it is nearly time to get back into the work mode and so I am heading off to New York shortly for this special occasion.  

If you are able to join me at the Anti-Defamation League National Headquarters I would very much enjoy meeting you.  Please follow the details given below.  I am especially grateful to Abraham Foxman, the ADL, Lynne Rabinoff, Lauren Steinberg, Palgrave Macmillan and my good friend Eric Greenberg for making this event possible.