Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII

By Dan Kurzman.

Kurzman writes: “Finally, [Gerhard] Gumpert argued that the only answer was to tap the Vatican's influence—indirectly. The two men then considered how to achieve this, and came up with a devious maze of intrigue. They wrote a letter to General Stahel, who was sympathetic to their cause, requesting that the arrests be halted. They then asked a 'high Vatican official,' Bishop Alois Hudal, rector of the German Catholic Church in Rome, Santa Maria dell'Anima, to sign it because he was reputed as being pro-Nazi and would have special credibility.”

A Special Mission, written by a veteran foreign affairs journalist, moves as quickly through the maze of Nazi and diplomatic intrigue as an Indiana Jones movie. It deals with good guyound out that if he spoke out against the atrocities against the Jews, they would feel forced to kidnap him and take him to Germany or actions—or inactions, as some critics assert—of Pope Pius XII during the holocaust. It mainly focuses, however, on the Nazi evil-doings in Rome, and particularly as how they affected the pontiff. The Nazis could never decide on whether to murder Italy's Jews and / or to kidnap the pope, though both plots had been put into motion to varying degrees.

The Nazis in Germany failed to convince their Nazi German underlings in Italy to carry out these deeds because by this time, 1943, it was clear that the war was slipping away from Germany and that the Allies would win or that some compromise with the Brits and Americans would be necessary to fend off the Soviet threat, which even menaced Italy.

Kurzman clearly appreciates Pope Pius' predicament: “The strongest justification offered for Pius's public silence was that any papal protest would provoke Hitler into drastic retaliation. The pope's supporters argue that because Dutch prelates protested vehemently against Hitler's deportations in Holland, several hundred additional victims, mostly Jewish converts, including Edith Stein, the philosopher, were dragged out of Church institutions to their death.”

Also, the pontiff had found out that if he spoke out against the atrocities against the Jews, they would feel forced to kidnap him and take him to Germany or a neutral place. Kurzman argues that Pius did not fear being kidnapped, but feared more than anything Nazi reprisals against the Catholic Church not only in Germany but across Europe.

Kurzman, though thorough in his historical research, is more the journalist in his rendition of events, surmising dialogue between various players and focusing on the peculiarities and relationships of the men, which makes for interesting reading:

“Miglione [the Vatican Secretary of State] thus followed, often with frustration, the priorities set by Pius, especially in his conversations with the German bishops. He didn't mention the extermination camps but stressed the need to save the treasures of Rome and the Vatican. Why provoke a backlash? Why stir up a storm with Catholics who, intimidated by Hitler, might feel it necessary to declare their primary loyalty to him?”

A Special Mission offers us another slice of this great tragedy of modern history. Unafraid to ask hard questions about the Catholic leadership during the war, it also does not unduly criticize or negate the Magisterium's good intentions.

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