Sunday, December 25, 2016

ADSS 1.257 Tardini, notes: Ribbentrop's visit

ADSS 1.257 Domenico Tardini, Sectretariat State

Reference: AES Germany 774

Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940

Summary statement: Two interviews with Ribbentrop.  Ribbentrop pleased with meeting with the Pope.   Maglione complained about persecution in Germany; Ribbentrop complained about ‘Polish atrocities’.  No progress on a Vatican rep in Poland.

Language: Italian


I came in a few minutes after von Ribbentrop had left the Holy Father. (1)  I said “Prosit [good health], Holiness”. He described Ribbentrop to me as a young man, but not too young, vigorous, and excitable like a fanatic when speaking. (2) He himself told the Holy Father that he was a wine merchant and had not previously been interested in politics: but because of the extension of his export business and of the consequent relations abroad he became Hitler’s advisor on foreign affairs.  He declared his belief in God, although not belonging to any church.  He was born a Protestant, but afterwards he abandoned Protestantism because the Church has not longer any strength, organisation or influence.  At this point the Holy Father pointed out to him that the Catholic Church, on the contrary, was very well organised in Germany and strong.  Von Ribbentrop admitted this adding that he (and the Fuhrer) are not enemies of the Church but of the political Catholicism of the clergy. The Holy Father remarked that the German clergy had always been very patriotic, as demonstrated by the Saar plebiscite.

Von Ribbentrop remembered having once et the Holy Father at a reception in Berlin.  The Holy Father replied he remembered his stay in Germany with pleasure, that loved the German people, that he knows and studies its culture. 

Von Ribbentrop remarked that Pope Pius XI had used excessively strong words against Germany.  His Holiness pointed out to him that he addressed kind and gentle words in a speech to a group of German pilgrims.  This – said von Ribbentrop – was noted with pleasure in Germany. The Pope added that no more German pilgrims were arriving.  This Holiness recalled also that he was careful in his Encyclical letter not to offend Germany, although his calling obliged him to speak the truth.  He added that the small country, to which he alluded in his Christmas address, was Finland (in Germany, on the other hand, it had been identified with Poland). 

Von Ribbentrop brought Hitler’s greetings to the Holy Father.  He insisted on telling the Pope that Germany is very strong, that half the world is open to them that they can get all the petrol they need from Rumania and that they will win the war before 1940. (4) He gave this assurance without any trace of uncertainty. (5)  He repeated this more than once, raising his voice and gesticulating.  He added that the entire nation – without exception – stands with Hitler. (6)

The Holy Father called his attention to the fact that, this being so, political Catholicism is non-existent – everybody being on Hitler’s side, without exception.  The Holy Father pointed out that although he did not want to doubt Hitler and Ribbentrop’s intentions, the facts were demonstrating that war was being waged against the Church.  And he cited various positive and clear exampled.  Von Ribbentrop gesticulated for a while … He replied that we are in the presence of a revolution and, compared with others, the National Socialist revolution has not caused so much damage to the Churches. To which the Pope replied that the damages, in fact, have been many – and continued to bring forth examples.

Von Ribbentrop pointed out that the State spends a lot on the clergy and the Church.

The Pope replied that a lot has also been taken from the Church, houses, educational institutions – chasing malo modo the rightful owners out of them at short notice.  The Holy Father has particularly insisted on the subject of schools. 

Von Ribbentrop spoke at length against Communism, saying that National Socialism has prevented the triumph of Communism in Germany.  During 1930-32 (when, von Ribbentrop says, the Pope had already left Germany) Communism was on the verge of triumph.  Hitler conquered it.  Otherwise not one church would have remained in Germany, as was the case in Russia, as Von Ribbentrop himself was able to ascertain de visu. His Holiness observed that it is impossible to say for certain what might have happened … His Holiness then asked if Germany had nothing to fear from its union with Communism.  Von Ribbentrop replied in the negative: the union is only an external one and for the war.  Hitler had declared to Welles: the goal of the war for Germany is peace; for Britain, the destruction of Germany. (7) Replying to the Pope, von Ribbentrop said that there must be an offensive. (8)

The audience lasted from 11.00 to 12.10.  The Pope says its tone was polite.  Von Ribbentrop started by saying that he would speak frankly and clearly.  His Holiness assured him that he would do the same.  He suggested to him also to allow the Holy See to send somebody to Poland to look after the religious situation, for example, Monsignor Colli. (9)

His Holiness mentioned to me that von Ribbentrop notified the Italian government of his return visit to Ciano only on the eve of the day he was going to see him. (10) Apparently there has been some friction.

After the audience the Holy Father received von Ribbentrop’s suite (seven people) to whom he addressed a few words in German.

In the antechamber people were saying that von Ribbentrop entered the Pope’s room with a trouble and nervous face: he came out with a satisfied air.

Let us hope that German bad faith will not take advantage of this visit for its own ends and that instead it will produce good fruits. (11)

(1) The audience began at 11.00 and ended at 12.10.
(2) See ADSS 1.252
(3) The Saar region was 75% Catholic.
(4) Ribbentrop was referring to negotiations between Germany and Romania that culminated with the 27.05.1940 agreement.  Six months later Romania formally joined the Axis.
(5) Ribbentrop had brought a letter (written 10.03.1940) for Mussolini from Hitler which confirmed that Italy would enter the war on Germany’s side. See DDI Series 9, Volume 3, n492, pp415-23; DGFP Series 8, n668, pp871-80.
(6) Robert Lieber, Pius’ private secretary recounted Ribbentrop’s near hysterical response to any talk of peace.
When he [the pope] spoke of the war and of peace, von Ribbentrop shouted:  holiness, every conversation on this theme must end with the sure assumption , that France, and not only France, but Britain too, will beg Germany for peace during this year 1940.
Pius: This may be your view; what does the Fuhrer think?
Ribbentrop: The Fuhrer and I know that this very year France and Britain will beg for peace.
Pius: But what do the German people say about that?
Ribbentrop: The German people are convinced that this year France and Britain will beg us for peace.
Thereupon the pope changed the subject.
Pius XII, Stimmen der Zeit 163 (1958), pp 97-98.
(7) See ADSS 1.252 n1
(8) This was interpreted as a hint at German plans for the invasion of the West.
(9) Carlo Colli (1888-1947), counsellor in the Berlin Nunciature 1931-45.  He had been secretary to the Polish Nunciature 1925-31.
(10) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs 1936-43.  Diario I, pp233-35.  See Ribbentrop’s version of events – DGFP, Series 8, n667, pp894-96.
(11) Tardini’s notes can be compared with Ambassador Alfieri’s repost on what the Pope told him about the visit (DDI, Series 9, Volume 3, n536, pp 466-68), with Benjamin Sumner-Welle’s report, also received by the Pope a few days later (FRUS, 1940, Volume 1, pp 107-08) and with the note written or dictated by Ribbentop in DGFP, Series 8, n668, pp 896-98.

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