Saturday, February 02, 2013

Pius XII: The diplomatic Pope who was “excommunicated” by the Nazis

Pius XII
The Professor’s latest work, titled “The third Reich against Pius XII” looks into the relationship between Nazism and the Catholic Church, a long text which involved digging for material in half of Europe’s archives.
Where does your interest in Church-regime relations stem from?

There were some members of my family who opposed oppressive forms of Nazism. Especially my grandfather. He was a State Police marshal and was arrested for re leasing some young Jews who had been placed in his custody after a roundup. Another thing that triggered my interest in gaining a deeper under standing of the relationship between Nazism and the Catholic Church, was my curiosity in the figure of Pius XII, whose image remains heavily tainted in people’s memory.
Which fields does your research cover and what information did you find on Pope Pacelli in the Nazi documents?

The aim of the research was to identify all the most confidential Nazi documents that mention Pius XII. The purpose of this was to find out exactly what the Nazis thought of Pope Pacelli. The conclusion reached – after seven years of work and after consulting Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Israel and Moscow’s archives – is that the leaders of the Third Reich had always had a very negative impression of Pius XII. They saw the Pope as an enemy of the State.

Why was the Third Reich hostile towards the Pope?

Because, in the totalizing logic of the Third Reich, whose aim it was to abolish Churches and found one single German National Church, Pacelli was seen as a resistant figure who was difficult to understand and to deal with.

How did Pope Pacelli contribute to helping the victims of Nazism? What concrete actions did he take? 

From the Nazi documents I had translated and then studied and published (approx. 400 pages of them), it appears that the spies of the Third Reich were aware of the humanitarian operations that had been planned and carried out and later continued by the Holy See. Interestingly, the Pope pushed for a solidarity network which involved countries affected by the war in different ways. What the Pope did in concrete terms, was to act together with the International Red Cross and DELASEM (an association created for the defence of Jews), to prevent a war from breaking out and Italy from entering the war, to advocate the holding of a peace conference throughout the conflict, to hide the persecuted, receive news about the oppressed, have prisoners released, prevent Italian cities from being bombed, stop the rounding up of Jews on 16 October 1943, distribute food and medicine in concentration camps, bring in economic aid, support those taking part in risky operations (production of fake passports, fake baptism certificates etc.), getting some prisoners out of the prison on Via Tasso, in Rome and much more.

Why have so many historical works portrayed the Church as not having a very hostile attitude towards Nazism?

Because of misinformation which had two aims: one, to weaken the figure of Pope Pius XII, a figure who showed great hostility to totalitarianism and atheist communism and two, to focus people’s attention on Pope Pacelli, in order to distract them from the terrible crimes being committed, which only came to light later and not easily either: the lack of solidarity many countries showed to Jews, the agreement American companies had with the Nazi government (the calculators used in Auschwitz were made by IBM), Switzerland’s ambiguous role, Stalin’s decision to kill the Jews, the protection the Allies gave Nazi representatives after the war, the eugenics experiments conducted in non Nazi countries etc.

Pope Pacelli: a prudent diplomat? As an historian, how influential do you think the diplomatic skills of his successors were in resolving international conflicts in the 20th century?
The Nazis despised Pope Pacelli (more so than they did Pius XI), precisely because he dealt with them “as a diplomat”: on the one hand he did not break formal communication in order to safeguard the little aid that could have been brought to countries affected by the war and on the other, he operated in secret to counter national socialism (and even met with figures who intended to neutralise Hitler and his staff). As such, any considerations regarding the Popes and international conflicts need to be seen in context and we cannot generalise about all of them. Some serious tensions were overcome in the cases of John XXIII (Cuban missile crisis) and John Paul II (dispute with Argentina and Chile over the sovereignty of the Beagle Channel islands), for example. However, the diplomatic efforts of other Popes were not so successful.

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