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.

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