Thursday, April 24, 2014

Generalplan Ost - what the Pope could not have known

What the pope could not know and did not know.

The General Plan for the East

As the German-led war “in the east” unfolded with ever-increasing severity and brutality the position of the church in north-central and northeastern Europe grew more and more precarious.  We have seen through ADSS volumes 3.1 and 3.2 how the German occupation imposed varying degrees of terror and insecurity on local populations based on the National Socialist bio-political worldview.  Throughout the war years the response of the Catholic Church through its bishops and other religious leasers also varied in response to the level of local terror.  And these responses formed the basis of much of the information that was sent to Rome. 

For many of the persecuted the realities of daily survival precluded the luxury of rationalizing the “why” of Nazi terror.  In fact most of the leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States were at a loss to understand the murderous hostility shown to the church, even if their religious-cultural histories allowed a measure of “understanding” of German actions against the Jews.

Pope Pius XII was certainly not the only one who did not grasp the extent of the murderous intent of the German plans for Eastern Europe and European Russia.  It was not until after the war that the first information of a systematic plan to reshape Eastern Europe was revealed; firstly at the Nuremburg Trial in the testimony of former SS Standartenführer Hans Elich (1901-1991), one of the planners of what was known as Generalplan Ost (Master Plan for the East).

Generalplan Ost (GPO) grew out of the Nazi concept of lebensraum (living space) an idea that Hitler had spoken of regularly since the 1920s.  In its simplest form, lebensraum was the belief that Germany’s growing population needed more living space.  That “living space” would come from “the East” in general, and Poland and European Russia in particular.  Since in the Nazi Weltanschauung most of the peoples of Eastern Europe were one or other members of different untermenschen (sub-human races) they had no permanent place in the New Order.  Their fate was either a form of servitude for the Germans who would in course settle the new lebensraum or they would be expelled.

Planning the GPO began around January 1940 and continued through a number of revisions until late 1942 when the emerging crisis at Stalingrad brought the planning to an abrupt halt.

The GPO was executed under the supervision of the Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete (Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories) and the RSHA (Reich Main Security Office) with constant reference to the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler.  A government planning team of this nature would not have met without the explicit approval of Hitler. 

GPO was supposed to work on two actions; movement of desirable people in, and movement of undesirable people out.  Himmler envisioned GPO would take about 30 years to implement but shortly afterwards insisted that the program be completed in 20 years.  It was his hope that by the end of that period the Greater German Reich would not only be territorially huge, but it would be populated by a majority of Aryan Germans and tiny minorities of non-Aryan groups would serve the Herrenvolk (Master Race) with unquestioning obedience.  GPO statistics suggested that an estimated 4.5 million ethnic Germans would be settled in the conquered territories over the lifespan of the plan.

Part one of the GPO was the expulsion of racial undesirables in the newly conquered land (1939-1941) and the settlement of ethnic Germans in their place.  Over the three years the GPO was in operation about 850,000 Germans were settled “in the East”, mostly in Poland and the Baltic States, but some in Ukraine and Crimea.  Ultimately the GPO forecast a future population of about 23 million of which 5.3 million were existing Germans, a residual German population of 5.4 million and 12.4 million German immigrants from the Reich.

The second part of the GPO was the removal of “alien races”.  Czeslaw Madajczyk’s study of GPO, General Plan East: Hitler’s Master Plan for Expansion (1962) sets out the percentages of local populations slated for removal and / or destruction.  The welfare of populations targeted for “resettlement” were not a concern of the architects of the New Order.

An estimated 45 million people were to be removed from Eastern Europe and European Russia:

Jews – 100%
Latgalians (indigenous Latvians) – 100%
Poles – 80-85%
Lithuanians – 85%
Russians – 75%
White Russians – 75%
Ukrainians – 65%
Latvians, Estonians, Czechs – 50%

The remaining 14 million people were to be judged for racial suitability and Germanisation or kept for slave labour for the German settlers.

GPO planners were under no illusions that the scale of expulsions would result in deaths on a previously unimagined scale but incorporated this into their planning. 

Deliberate murder of a population was only used against the Jews after the summer of 1941 and, in that regard, was the only part of the GPO that approached its target goal.  Originally Jews were, like other undesirables, to be expelled into Siberia.

The implementation of the plan stalled in February 1943 after the loss of Stalingrad and the call for Total War before it was “shelved” as Germany faced defeat.  However, if “success” was to be judged by the number of non-German dead in the area proposed for the GPO, then the plan attained some of the goals its authors intended. The total number of deaths in Eastern Europe and European Russia exceeded over 30 million men, women and children.

David Kertzer Book Panel: The Pope and Mussolini ▬ February 26, 2014

Professors Kevin Madigan, Suzanne Steward-Steinberg  and Kevin Spicer join Professor David Kertzer in a discussion about "The Pope and Mussolini", at the Watson Institute

Professor Kertzer opened his presentation with a reference to the February edition of "First Things" and quoted from an article on Pius XI by Filup Mazurczak.  Mazurczak's article is a somewhat "rose-tinted glasses" view of the papacy of Pius XI.  The truth, as Kertzer reminded us, is somewhat more complicated.

At the heart of the book is an extensive examination of the role of the church in keeping Mussolini in power.  It is the stuff of cloak and dagger crime fiction, except it is assuredly historical fact.  Kertzer's 16,000 words of references, notes and archival file numbers dispells any notion of flights of anti-Catholic or anti-papal fantasy.  Kertzer writes history.

One of the many characters who emerge in this story is the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi, the pope's private messenger to Mussolini.  This man was obsessed with ideas of Jewish plots and, without the pope's knowledge, "kept hectoring Mussolini that he was under threat by the Jews and he better take action against them".  Pius kept Tacchi Venturi because of his access to Il Duce not because of his antisemitic paranoia that was certainly not shared by the pope.  Tacchi Venturi proved himself so useful that Pius XII kept him in his position of unofficial mediator with Mussolini.

By mid-1930s Pius XI had doubts about Mussolini, but he was surrounded by curial officials who were determined to preserve the relationship between the Church and fascist state.  The most disturbing reality that emerges is the Italian government's reliance on the Secretariat of State and, in particular, the Secretary, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli to shape and steer Catholic opinion around the world in a pro-Italian fashion especially after the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

Then there is the sad deal between Mussolini and the pope just before the passing of the first antisemitic laws in Italy.  In return for the silence of the Church over Italy's new anti-Jewish laws of July 1938, the regime would ensure a steady stream of benefits, gifts and privileges.

From the outset Kertzer underscored the importance of "triangulation" of archives in order to corroborate the thousands of documents from the ASV, Italian state archives and other sources.  No fact could be allowed to stand alone; it must be put into its context against other sources.  I interpret this to be David Kertzer's all too familiar experience with the tactics of those who seek, through thinly veiled smear campaigns, to impugn the academic and personal integrity of historians who set about to do their job, and do it well. It is a point that Kevin Madigan also makes.

The presentation of all speakers makes it clear that the historical narrative is far more nuanced and complex than the "official" narrative maintained by the Vatican and elements of restorationist and neo-conservative Catholic groups.  Kertzer's book makes for uncomfortable reading, and so it should.  However, if there is to be an honest and open discussion of the role of the church, the papacy and individuals within the Vatican, the acceptance of a less than perfect history must be the starting point.

At the end what David Kertzer's research has revealed is sadly simple.  Pius XI was a tragic figure, a man with a medieval world view, limited in his ability to respond and deal with the threat and seductive charm of fascism, who came to see too late in his life that he had indeed supped with the devil. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kevin Madigan reviews David Kertzer's "The Pope and Mussolini".

If you haven't bought your copy of The Pope and Mussolini you are missing out on a sterling piece of historical research that establishes a new benchmark in the study of the papacy in the twentieth century and its dealings with fascism in Italy.  

David Kertzer tells a gripping story that would be worthy of Ian Fleming and the Bond novels, except that unlike Mr Bond, this story is true, disturbing and very uncomfortable.  It is another reminder that histories on the relations between the Catholic Church and the regimes of the right in the first half of last century are still evolving.  Kertzer's examination of documents from the Vatican archives along with corroboration in Italian state archives presents the most complete picture to date on the devilishly difficult path Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli and their fellow workers in the Vatican found themselves treading from 1922 onwards.

Il Duce and Il Papa

Kevin Madigan's article, originally published on Israel-Commentary, gives a thought provoking review of Kertzer's book.  I am grateful for Professor Madigan's permission to publish his article here.

How the Vatican Aided Mussolini

National memories like personal ones, tend to be self-flattering, soothing, and often glorious. So it comes as a shock when historical research shows those memories to be false. It is even more shocking when research unearths new historical narratives that are awkward, shameful, or even intolerable. Since the end of the Second World War, both the Catholic Church and Italy have treasured heroic memories of their supposedly contentious relations with Benito Mussolini, his Fascist regime, and the anti-Semitic racial laws of 1938. The traditional, self-consoling narrative goes something like this:

Brava gente, the good people of Italy opposed Mussolini’s Fascist regime and the racial laws it produced. The Catholic Church in Italy resisted Italian Fascism. Its cantankerous pope, Pius XI, fought Mussolini and his dictatorship, as did other high-ranking Vatican churchmen. When Italy’s racial laws were published in 1938, church leaders protested them vigorously. They were appalled that Jews would be disenfranchised, marginalized professionally and educationally, ostracized socially, defined by race, and declared ethnically and culturally inferior to their European neighbors. Only semi-heathen and politically illiberal Germany could possibly have championed this sort of pre-Christian tribalism and discrimination.

David Kertzer, the distinguished historian of modern Italy at Brown University and author of the brilliant The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,(Vintage, 1998), tells a much different story in his latest, meticulously researched, and captivating book. The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (Random House, 529 pages) is based in large part on tens of thousands of documents made available only in 2006 in the Vatican Archives, covering the pontificate of Pius XI (1922–1939), as well as a treasure trove of newly available sources for the same period in the Jesuit archives, along with the rich Fascist archives for these years. Among Kertzer’s conclusions are that the Vatican bureaucracy, far from resisting Mussolini, enabled and sustained the Mussolini dictatorship. Several important Jesuits, including the order’s Superior General, helped support the Fascist regime and tried to muzzle papal criticism of Hitler. These Jesuits also did much to sustain the notion that there was a worldwide conspiracy of Judeo-Bolsheviks intent on subverting healthy Christian society and establishing a Communist empire in the West. Not only did the church fail to resist the 1938 racial laws; church-approved writings provided much of the rationale for discriminating against Italy’s tiny Jewish population. Among those who suppressed criticism of the Italian racial laws and sought to ease tensions between the pope, Mussolini, and Hitler was the Vatican secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, who would succeed Pius XI in 1939.

Most of all, Pius XI and the dictator, who both came to power in 1922, depended on each other for support and for achieving mutual goals. They shared many political ideas; both loathed democracy and Communism. Pius gave sacred legitimacy and removed political obstacles to Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Mussolini restored many ecclesiastical prerogatives that had been lost over the previous decades. Only near the end of Pius XI’s pontificate, when the aging pope grew enraged with Mussolini and his friend and ally Hitler, did the unholy union begin to unravel. But the unraveling was knit up after Pacelli became Pius XII.

As he rose to power, the anti-clerical and irreligious Mussolini (his first publication: “God Does Not Exist”) felt that he needed the support of Italy’s Catholics. Among the obstacles to his rise to power had been the Italian Popular Party, founded by the Sicilian priest Luigi Sturzo in 1919 with the support of Benedict XV. Intended to draw Catholics away from the Socialists with a program of progressive Catholicism, it was by 1922 among the country’s largest parties. The Fascists saw the Popular Party as one of several countrywide organizations that blocked their path to power, and to clear the way, they beat priests, raided party meetings, and sacked party buildings. Unlike Benedict, Pius XI had never embraced the Popular Party, partly because of its professed independence from the Vatican. In addition, both the new pope and Mussolini had profound misgivings about democracy—and both hated Communism and feared a Bolshevik takeover of the West. In the eyes of Pius XI, Mussolini and the Fascists would provide an indispensable bulwark against Communism and other detestable aspects of modernity.

Eventually, the new pope concluded that it would be best to throw his support to the Fascist Party. In 1922, he had his secretary of state send a letter to bishops forbidding priests from joining any party, and in 1926 the Popular Party was disbanded altogether.

Pius XI had done a critically important favor for Mussolini, and upon Il Duce’s assumption of power in 1922, the new leader was eager to communicate his gratitude to the new pope. He ordered his men to kneel in prayer for a moment. As Kertzer observes, Mussolini was well aware that the support he had received from the church was “priceless.” Pius XI made sure that never again would the Vatican-vetted Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica denounce Fascism. Indeed it would legitimate it. Just before the first election held under Mussolini, in 1924, the journal reminded readers of all the benefits provided by the Fascists and of how tirelessly Mussolini had already worked to improve church-government relations.
For his part, Mussolini pleased the Vatican by restoring crucifixes to the country’s classrooms, adding church holidays to the civil calendar, and showering the church with funds to rebuild places of worship damaged in the Great War. In 1921, in one of his earliest speeches as leader, Mussolini pledged that Fascism would help restore a Christian society in Italy. He would build a Catholic state appropriate to a Catholic nation.

The two most powerful men in Italy had fallen into what Kertzer calls a “fatal embrace.” The pope had cast his lot with the former “priest-eater” for the benefits he would provide the Catholic Church in Italy. The Fascist revolution, Kertzer concludes, had become “a clerico-Fascist revolution.”

Then, crisis. In 1924, the leader of the United Socialist Party, Giacomo Matteotti, was murdered by Fascist thugs (following a broad hint from Mussolini that they should do so), after he had criticized Fascists from the Chamber of Deputies and suggested that the recent election, marred by violence, be annulled. Mussolini’s government was in trouble, and the pope “decided to do all he could to save” Mussolini and his regime. The Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an editorial reminding its Catholic readers to obey the civil authorities, as Romans 13 instructed them to do. Catholic party members were given a special warning not to help bring down the Fascist regime. The pope sent an emissary to Mussolini to convey his support. In early September, the pope instructed university students that Italian Catholics could never cooperate with Socialists, a parliamentary alliance that would be required if Mussolini were to be deposed.

In the end, Fascism did not fall, “not least,” Kertzer concludes, “due to the pope’s constant efforts to undermine any possible alliance to put an end to Fascist rule.”

Flash forward to 1935, when Mussolini shocked the world by invading Ethiopia. In response, the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions on Italy, and American newspapers began to focus attention on similarities between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. President Roosevelt denounced Italian Fascism for the first time. Mussolini turned to the Vatican for help. Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, was at the ready. He helped organize international resistance to the boycott. He also met with several European ambassadors and threatened that there would be no peace until the sanctions were lifted, which the League did on July 7. Cardinal Pacelli had done the first of many favors for Mussolini. Throughout Mussolini’s time in power, Pacelli was Il Duce’s most powerful and reliable ally in the Vatican. 

By that time, a confidential intermediary between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S.J. (1861–1956), had long been attempting to persuade Il Duce of something that many of his fellow Jesuits and Catholic intellectuals believed: that the greatest enemy of the state (and the church) was “the worldwide Jewish-Masonic plutocracy.” This had not been a part of Mussolini’s ideology. In an interview held with the widely read German Jewish journalist Emil Ludwig, he declared that he saw no racial or Jewish problem in Italy. That would change.

In a book replete with intriguing and unsavory characters, Tacchi Venturi is surely the most conniving—and among the most influential. A “powerbroker extraordinaire,” as Kertzer calls him, he hurried from one ministerial office to the other.1 The Jesuit was discreet, but his bond with Mussolini did not go unobserved. Romans dubbed him “Mussolini’s confessor.” He had taken upon himself the task of alerting Mussolini to the threat posed by Western Jews as well as those in Central and Eastern Europe. This was not church doctrine. While Pius XI had—at least at one time—believed that the “hordes” of Jews in Eastern Europe posed a threat to the health of Christian society, he never thought Italy’s tiny Jewish community (one-tenth of 1 percent of the Italian population) was in any way an enemy of the state or the church. But Tacchi Venturi made no such distinction between Eastern and Western Jews. He believed the Jews sought revolution, embraced Bolshevism, and wished to destroy current society and dominate the world by themselves, “as their Talmud prescribes.” Mussolini was, the Jesuit tried to persuade him, the victim of a Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy. The League of Nations, under the domination of “the Jews and Masons,” was aiming to end Fascism and the Mussolini regime. Their goal? To install a Judeo-Bolshevik “empire in Italy.”

Under pressure from the British and French, and feeling himself friendless, Mussolini was quickly seduced by this view, and he eventually saw to the passage of Italy’s 1938 racial laws. He justified them in part with the observation that the new anti-Jewish laws would be no harsher than those that the popes themselves had for centuries imposed on the Jews in the Papal States. He surely even viewed them as more liberal, for as the text of the agreement worked out secretly between Tacchi Venturi and Mussolini put it—an agreement made in the pope’s name just before the announcement of the racial laws—some of the more odious anti-Semitic restrictions would not be put back in place:

As for the Jews, the distinctive caps—of whatever color—will not be brought back, nor the ghettoes, much less will their belongings be confiscated. The Jews, in a word, can be sure that they will not be subject to treatment worse than that which was accorded them for centuries and centuries by the popes who hosted them in the Eternal City and in the lands of their temporal domain.

For Tacchi Venturi and the Jesuits who had composed anti-Semitic articles for decades in the Vatican-vetted Civiltà Cattolica, the racial laws represented the realization of all their religio-political fantasies. The Jews would at last be subject to restrictions aimed at protecting Christian society from their noxious influence. For its part, the Holy See agreed not to criticize the anti-Semitic laws. Given the history of the papacy’s merciless treatment of the Jews in Rome, it was hardly in a position to do so, even if it wished to.

Tacchi Venturi was not the only Jesuit on whom Mussolini knew he could rely or who was overjoyed at the passage of the racial laws. Elected in 1915 to his post as general superior of the order, Wodzimierz Ledóchowski (1866–1942) was the Polish priest who would hold that powerful position for over a quarter century. Ledóchowski did nothing to challenge and much to bolster the belief of both leaders in the existence of a worldwide conspiracy of Jews aimed at undermining healthy Christian societies and bolshevizing the West. He was quite open in his enthusiasm for Mussolini’s Fascist regime, so much so that he effectively neutralized much ecclesiastical and all Jesuit criticism of the regime. In 1936, for example, an article critical of Fascism was published in the Jesuit journal America. Through his ambassador, Mussolini made it known he was displeased. Ledóchowski, as superior general of the Jesuit order, immediately fired the journal’s anti-Fascist editor and replaced him with a new one, who was enthusiastic for the Fascist cause. Ledóchowski observed to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See that attacks on Musssolini for waging war in Ethiopa were “simply a pretext from which international Judaism is profiting in order to advance its attack on Western civilization.”

The view at the top of the Vatican, however, was changing. In 1936, Pope Pius XI, at the urging of the German bishops, prepared an encyclical urging the Nazi government to respect the terms of its 1933 Concordat with the church. Secretary of State Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, was reluctant to antagonize Hitler and advised the pontiff against issuing his criticism in the form of an encyclical. Instead, Pacelli suggested, the pope should simply send Hitler a letter to be shared only with the German bishops. Pius XI rebuffed Pacelli, and in March 1937, bishops and priests throughout Germany read from their pulpits the papal encyclical “With Burning Anxiety,” a critique of Nazi anti-Catholicism. At the same time, the Holy Office had been working on a separate document, recording a list of fundamental principles of Nazism that the church deemed to be in grave error. Among these principles were passages clearly taken from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Throughout the drafting project, Ledóchowski did all he could to prevent the pope from denouncing Hitler. He urged the pope to “avoid going into questions that are very difficult and subtle.” In a handwritten letter in 1936, Ledóchowski urged the pope to issue a worldwide warning about the “terrible danger that grows more menacing each day.” The danger came from Moscow’s atheistic Communist propaganda—all the product of Jews, he said—while “the great world press, it too under Jewish control, barely speaks of it.” He advised: “An encyclical on this argument [would] lead not only the Catholics but others as well to a more energetic and better organized resistance.”

Sharing Ledóchowski’s belief that Communism posed the graver danger, Pius XI agreed to have a special encyclical prepared and, over the following months, frequently sent him drafts for his comments and suggestions. Unhappy that they said nothing about the Jews, Ledóchowski kept pushing the pope to add language linking Jews to the Communist danger. 

“It seems necessary to us in such an encyclical,” Ledóchowski advised, in reaction to one such draft:
at least to make an allusion to the Jewish influence, being certain that not only were the intellectual authors of Communism all Jews, but also that the communist movement in Russia was staged by Jews. And now, too, although not always openly in every region, if you look more deeply into it, it is the Jews who are the primary champions and promoters of Communist propaganda.

Over the course of his pontificate, Pius XI grew more suspicious of Hitler’s racism, which he took to be incompatible with the Catholic doctrine of creation. He was appalled when Mussolini invited Hitler to visit Italy. Indeed, Pius XI was so upset with the prospect of Hitler’s disgracing his beloved nation that he choked up in the company of aides and left the city for the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo. After Hitler left, Pius complained that the colossal tribute to Hitler was just the latest sign of Italy’s servility to Germany.

Pius had good reason to rue. In the diocese of Orte, for example, the Franciscans covered their friary with Nazi flags and decorated their bell tower with swastikas. As a train carrying the two Fascist leaders passed, they chanted: “Viva Mussolini! Viva Hitler!” It is not impossible that Hitler’s visit was related to the timing of Mussolini’s anti-Semitic campaign, announced shortly thereafter. “Mussolini,” Kertzer concludes, “was eager to impress the Nazi leadership and undoubtedly thought that nothing would please it more than taking aim at Italy’s Jews.”

Soon Pius XI would commission the admirable American Jesuit, Father John Lafarge, who had written a book against American racial injustice, to draft a secret encyclical on racism and anti-Semitism. Ledóchowski was outraged. “The pope is mad,” Ledóchowski thundered. The Jesuit superior general required that Lafarge be accompanied by two colleagues of his choosing as he drafted the encyclical. When the three Jesuits delivered the text to their superior Ledóchowski, they assumed the Jesuit general would send it directly on to the pope. But for seven months, Ledóchowski kept the draft encyclical far from the Throne of Peter. Pius XI died in 1939 before the so-called secret encyclical against racism could be published.

When Pacelli was elected Pius XI’s successor, Kertzer reports, “Mussolini and the other Fascist leaders felt as if they had woken up to find an irritating sore that had long plagued them was miraculously gone.” Within 48 hours of his election, Pius XII summoned the German ambassador, Diego von Bergen, and said he was eager to assure the Nazi government that he sought a new era of understanding. After telling Bergen how close he felt to the German people as a result of his many years in Munich and Berlin, the new Pope came to his main point. He understood, he said, that different countries adopted different forms of government. Amazingly, he concluded that “it was not the pope’s role to judge what system other countries chose.” While much attention has been paid to Pius XII’s relations with the genocidal Nazi regime, until now very little has been written on the same man’s earlier role in quelling criticism of the Nazi and Fascist regimes and in preserving the Vatican’s good relations with Mussolini. Indeed, there is a serious movement within the Catholic Church to make Pius XII a saint. Will the new material Kertzer has uncovered and expertly analyzed make it into his canonization dossier? Not very likely. More likely, Pacelli’s apologists, ever alert to protect Pius XII no matter what the evidence suggests, will (if recent history is any guide) accuse Kertzer of all manner of scholarly dereliction.

On the other hand, intellectually honest historians who have the requisite philological and historical expertise will credit Kertzer with a remarkable achievement in bringing to light, through researches wide in scope and profound in depth, a previously hidden history. And Roman Catholics eager to purge their church of all vestiges of anti-Semitism will welcome his exposé of this unhappy and largely unfaced history. Perhaps Francis I—pope, Jesuit, and philo-Semite—will finally enable historians to uncover this history in all its fullness.

1 One of the strangest chapters in Tacchi Venturi’s curious life was a mysterious attempt to murder him by a young man who got into his apartment and stabbed the Jesuit priest with a paper knife. Tacchi Venturi did everything he could to convince the police that he had been the target of an international assassination attempt. Based on oddities in the story and the physical evidence, the police disbelieved him.  In fact, the reasons for attacking him were personal and not political.  As it turned out, the attempt on his life had been made by a young man with whom, at least according to a police informant, the Jesuit priest may have had illicit relations.  As the Fascist police were not anxious to look into the personal life of the Jesuit who was so close to both Mussolini and Pius XI, or look into his possible relations with boys or young men, they were content to bring the investigation to a close.  The attacker was never found.

About the Author

Kevin J. Madigan is Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School and the author, with Jon D. Levenson, of Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews (Yale University Press, 2008).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

ADSS 9.433 Salvatore Asta notes on Padre Benedetto

ADSS 9.433 Fr Salvatore Asta (1) notes on Padre Benedetto.

Reference:  ASS Guerra Varia 43/10

Location and date:  Rome, 19.11.1943

Summary statement: Information on the activity of Fr Marie-Benoît for the Jews.

Language: Italian

 Dr Carlo Carapelle, Commissioner for Immigration – in Via Romagna – told me in confidence, that he had been instructed to denounce some people, including Padre Maria-Benedetto, Capuchin, because they have forged his [Carapelle’s] signature and the stamp of his institution, in order to obtain ration cards for approximately 300 foreigners. (2)

He wishes to save Padre Benedetto who is considered to be an appointee of the Vicariate or the Holy See. (3)

It seems that in the meantime, the said religious, has made an effort to help these poor unhappy people obtain ration cards, believing that the agency had granted the appropriate permissions.

It would be necessary to prevent the lodging of the denunciation, and also to prevent the people, almost all Jewish, who have received the ration cards, from being handed over to the German authorities.

Dr Carapelle promises his support and that to help them reach their goal it would be a good idea to have a word with Commissioner De Dominicis from the same office.

Dr Carapelle, the Commissioner for Migration and Colonisation, ensures that as long as the current situation with regard to the Jews exists, he will suspend the lodging of the denunciation against the people who have forged his signature and the High Commission’s stamp.

20.11.1943: Note of Angelo Dell’Acqua

I told Padre Benedetto repeatedly, (and the last time in a very clear manner), to use the utmost caution and prudence in the interests of the Jews …:  It seems, unfortunately, that he did want to listen to the humble advice offered to him … (4)

Note of Cardinal Maglione:

But is there anything that can be done now?  I do not think so.

(1) Salvatore Asta (1915-2004), worked in the Secretariat of State
(2) The organisation was Padre Benedetto’s Comitato Assistenza Profughi – Committee of Assistance for Refugees.  See ADSS 9.264, 267, 412, 415
(3) The “vicariate” refers to the administration of the Diocese of Rome.  The pope is the bishop of Rome, but the administration of the diocese is entrusted to the pope’s vicar, hence the term vicariate. Vatican City State is not included in the Vicariate of Rome.  Governorship of the Vatican City is overseen by the Governor of the Holy See, an office held at the time by Marchese Camillo Serafini (1864-1952) and the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State.
(4) The editing of this note could be open to suggestion that the editors decided to omit something less than positive in Dell’Acqua’s comments.

ADSS 9.487 Notes of the Secretariat of State on steps taken for Jews

Although many in the Vatican were aware of rescue activities occurring throughout the city, there were varying degrees of anxiety and concern over the nature of the activities and the level of involvement, voluntary or otherwise, that could bring unwanted attention from the Germans.  Padre Benedetto and his colleagues with Delasem, the Italian Jewish aid agency, operated and planned schemes that caused some serious angst in the Vatican.  In this document we see the "angst" along with remarks that point to serious mistrust and suspicion about Jews. 

ADSS 9.487 Notes of the Secretariat of State

Reference:  ASS 1943, Razza 11

Location and date:  Vatican, 29.12.1943

Summary statement: Information concerning steps taken for the Jews.

Language: Italian

 A trustworthy person has learned directly from Israelite elements existing in Rome that there is an organization made up of people of the Jewish faith and individuals “of responsibility in the Vatican” which has as its aims:
1. to issue Vatican City identity cards with false information and bilingual cards (white and yellow) to Jews; (2)

2. to facilitate the admission of members of the Jewish faith to [religious] institutions or communities;

The same person refers to:

a) that some of those elements have been talking to friends and acquaintances and sometimes ostentatiously showing, as proof, the documents referred to above;

b) that people have announced that the son of X has been admitted into the Palatine Guard of Honour;

c) that there are many individuals in Rome who have shown the documents referred to in point 1 to others.(5)

(1) Not identified.
(2) These documents in German and Italian were given to Vatican employees.
(3) See ADSS 9.371
(4) Angelo Dell’Aqua (1903-1972), Secretariat of State, noted: “Several times I have observed that various persons employed at the Vatican or close to Vatican circles interest themselves too much (in a manner that I dare to call almost exaggerated) in the Jews, favouring them, maybe even with elegant schemes … I have always believed … in using the maximum prudence in speaking with Jews, to whom it would be better to speak less … Regarding the bilingual cards … in my opinion it would be opportune to make an inquiry in order to avoid possible trouble …”
(5) The group referred to in this document was the Comitato Assistenza Profughi (Committee for Assitance for Refugees) founded by Padre Benedetto ofm cap in late 1943.  Padre Benedetto’s work created some measure of upset among some in the Vatican.  Susan Zuccotti wrote: “Strangely, when Dell’Acqua’s notes were published in ADSS, Padre Benedetto denied he had ever met or spoken with him.  Perhaps Dell’Acqua had sent an assistant”. Susan Zuccotti (2013) Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French priest together with Jewish friends saved thousands during the Holocaust, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, p160 n10.

Angelo Dell'Acqua