Thursday, December 22, 2016

ADSS 1.248 Orsenigo to Maglione: interview with Ribbentrop

ADSS 1.248 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report 392 (31034) (AES 1840/40)

Location and date: Berlin, 24.02.1940

Summary statement: Report of interview with Ribbentrop.  Ribbentrop believes Germany will win the war and Church-State relations in the Reich will be settled.

Language: Italian


I have the honour to inform Your Eminence that I have received, in perfect condition, the two Danubian maps, which the Holy Father wanted to present to the Reich Government and to the Slovakian Government (1).

I have sent them promptly to their destinations, entrusting the one for Slovakia to Dr Cernak, Slovak Minister in Berlin (2), as I knew that he was intending to go to Pressburg [Bratislava] shortly and therefore had the chance of giving the present to his Government.  I sent the other to His Excellency, Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister, with an accompanying letter.  As His excellency the Minister is away from the office, due to illness, the gift was received in the meantime by the Under-secretary, Dr Woermann (3), who expressed his heartiest thanks, promising to send the gift to His Excellency the Minister at once. Having heard of the gift, M. Ribbentrop requested that I should give it to him personally and yesterday he invited me to his villa on the outskirts of Berlin where he is spending a few days convalescing.

His Excellency the Minister appreciated the old and rare document very much and commented on the kind gesture of the Holy Father in making such a gift to the interested Governments and asked me to convey to His Holiness his most hearty thanks adding that he would also inform Hitler.  During the conversation I could notice that – in his view – was is almost inevitable.  The Minister stated that Great Britain has badly misjudged Hitler who – he said – in October was prepared to sign an agreement, which would have guaranteed peace to all Europe.  When I objected that Great Britain could not have abandoned Poland to whom they were bound by formal promises of assistance, he said: the promise of help was a mistake and one must be wise and courageous enough to admit, if necessary one’s own errors and to remedy them.  A great man, able to look into the future, would have understood this and would have acted accordingly, Chamberlain is not of that stature.  Great Britain unfortunately does not have a wise and strong leader.

After that he stated with complete certainty that, economically and psychologically, Germany can endure a ten years’ war and mentioned several episodes to show how the people are enraged against Great Britain and ready to fight. But he added at once: The war will not last ten years; in a year or two, at the most, it will be decided, with a German victory; this is a certainty.  But even on the hypothesis that Germany should be beaten, Britain’s victory would be accompanied by such losses that they too will remain defeated.

To my question if he thought it possible that the two armies would remain facing each other, ready to fight, but without attacking, so that one day everybody would be convinced that such terrific loss of human lives was neither useful nor permissible, he replied: No, this will not happen, because the people will want to fight; the people want a decision, a clear decision, a lasting one, and this can be obtained only on the battlefield.

Regarding Mr Welles’s visit, His Excellency observed that Germany did not place much hope in it; however, Mr Welles will be received and treated with every kindness (4).

(1) In December 1939 the Vatican Library published the large size edition of La carta dei Paesi Danubiani e delle regioni contermini di Giacomo Gastaldi (1546), reporoduced from the only copy in existence, kept in the Vatican Library and accompanied with a commentary by Roberto Almagià (1884-1962).

On 17.12.1939, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati (1866-1957), Archivist of the ASV (1936-57) suggested to Pius XII that he give a copy of the book as a gift to the Heads of the interested states.  To the inquiry of Anselmo Albareda OSB (1892-1966), Prefect of the Vatican Library (1936-62), Cardinal Maglione replied on 05.01.1940 that he needed twelve copies for the governments of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia and Germany.  Later another copy was added for Turkey.  On 23.01.1940 Maglione sent a circular letter (Sec State no: 9274) instructing the representatives of the Holy See to present a copy of the book to the named governments.

Roberto Almagià was sacked from the University of Rome because of the anti-Jewish Racial Laws (1938).  Pius XI offered him a position in the Vatican Libraries. He worked here until the end of the war. Both the Pope and Maglione told Almagià that his work had been sent to the interested Governments. (ASS 9274, 25.01.1940).

(2) Matúš Černák (1903-1955), Slovak Ambassador to Germany 1939-44.
(3) Ernst Woermann (1888-1979)

(4) Benjamin Sumner Welles (1892-1962) USA Under-secretary of State 1937-43, made a peace mission to Europe seeking ways of avoiding an escalation of the war and to offer the services of the USA as a mediator.  He met first with Mussolini and Ciano in late February before travelling to Berlin in the first week of March.  His meetings with Hitler and Ribbentrop were fruitless between 01-03.30.1940.  Hitler believed the trip was an attempt to drive a wedge between Germany and Italy.  Sumner Welles described Ribbentrop as having a “stupid mind” and being one of the most unlikeable men he had ever met.  Talks in France and Britain were equally fruitless.

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