Campaigners hope pope's visit to Israel will see Vatican Holocaust files released
As Pius XII's canonisation is considered, Nazi hunters want to see files on alleged links between Vatican and war criminals
Uki Goni in Buenos Aires
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 May 2014 19.37 BST
The pope's visit to Jerusalem this weekend has given fresh hope to campaigners – some of whom are close friends of the pontiff – who believe that he might use the occasion to open the Vatican's secret Holocaust-era files.
Among them is Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and director of its Jerusalem office. Zuroff told the Guardian: "Giving full access to the Vatican archives from the Holocaust would be a very important step in facilitating a truthful evaluation of several subjects, among them what the Vatican knew about the Holocaust and when they received that information."
Pope Francis will soon have to decide whether Pius XII, the controversial wartime pope who is accused by some of not having spoken out publicly against the mass murder of Jews, should be canonised before the Holocaust files are opened.
Although the Vatican many years ago announced a slow timetable for the release of the documents, it is believed that Pope Francis may now speed up that schedule as a gesture of goodwill towards the Jewish community. He had voiced his support for making the files public before ascending the papal throne.
Abraham Skorka, an Argentinian rabbi who is a longtime friend of the pope and will accompany Francis on this weekend's tour of the Holy Land, claims he has a standing promise from Francis to open the files.
"He undoubtedly feels this is an issue that must be clarified in order to build a sense of mutual confidence that could permit a deeper dialogue between Christians and Jews," Skorka told the Guardian as he prepared to join Francis in Israel.
Four years ago, Skorka and the pope, who was then Buenos Aires archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, co-wrote On Heaven and Earth, a book of dialogues in which Skorka pressed the future Pope hard on the Vatican's files. "What you said about opening the archives relating to the Shoah [Holocaust] seems perfect to me," Bergoglio responded in the book. "They should open them and clarify everything. The objective has to be the truth."
An American historian, Michael Phayer, who is author of The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, believes Pius XII privately shielded some Jews from Nazi persecution, but was unwilling to publicly condemn the Holocaust for fear Hitler would order the bombing of the Vatican.
"The fate of the Jewish people was very low on the Vatican's radar," says Phayer. "Pius XII had concerns, which he considered valid, such as the communist threat, that outranked the Holocaust."
Zuroff, who has dedicated much of his life to tracking down surviving Nazi criminals, would also like access to any Vatican files related to the postwar Nazi fugitives from justice. "We need to know the role of Pope Pius XII and what role senior Vatican officials played, if any, in assisting the escape of prominent Nazi war criminals."
After the war, notorious Nazis such as the Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele and the Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann were granted safe refuge in Bergoglio's hometown of Buenos Aires, with the aid of the Catholic church.
Zuroff says this might influence any papal decision on the matter. "I think that it could be a factor in finally being able to fully research these questions, although it appears to me that the new Pope's openness and friendship with the Jewish people may be more important ultimately," he says.
Should it choose to open its archives, the Vatican would be following an international trend.
"Since the end of the Cold War many countries, governments and institutions have finally faced the legacies of the second world war and the Holocaust," said Steinacher – a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The USA, Russia, countries from the former communist bloc and the Red Cross itself have opened their sensitive wartime and post-war archives in recent years, said Steinacher. "This is probably the best way to come to terms with the past. A decision by Pope Francis to open the archives for that wartime period would fit into the international trend."
But the historical context should probably be taken into account before accusing Pope Pius XII of knowingly aiding fleeing Nazis. "The understanding of responsibility was very different then," said Steinacher. "People believed that those responsible for the Holocaust were Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels and that others only followed orders. Now we have a completely different understanding of responsibility."
********************Vatican hopes secret files exonerate 'Hitler's pope'
Author uncovers evidence on Pius XII's wartime efforts to save Jewish refugees
The Observer, Saturday 9 February 2013 18.08 GMT
Pius XII has long been vilified as "Hitler's pope", accused of failing publicly to condemn the genocide of Europe's Jews. Now a British author has unearthed extensive material that Vatican insiders believe will restore his reputation, revealing the part that he played in saving lives and opposing nazism. Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before.
The Pope's Jews, which will be published next month, details how Pius gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe's convents and monasteries. He oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects.
Thomas shows, for example, that priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. More than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics and a network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. The pope appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy.
During and immediately after the war, the pope was considered a Jewish saviour. Jewish leaders – such as Jerusalem's chief rabbi in 1944 – said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates "are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour". Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him "a Jew lover".
However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet antagonism towards the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler's Pope, a book by John Cornwell.
However, as the Vatican's secretary of state before the war, the future pope contributed to the damning 1937 encyclical of Pius XI, With Burning Anxiety, and, as Pius XII he made condemnatory speeches that were widely interpreted at the time – including by Jewish leaders and newspapers – as clear condemnations of Hitler's racial policies. Due to the Vatican's traditionally diplomatic language, the accusation that Pius XII did not speak out has festered.
Professor Ronald J Rychlak, the author of Hitler, the War and the Pope, said: "Gordon Thomas has found primary sources … He has tracked down family members, original documentation and established what really was a universal perception prior to the 1960s. He's shown what the people at the time – victims, rescuers and villains – all knew: that Pius XII was a great supporter of the victims of the Holocaust."
Asked why the Vatican had not made the new material available until now or, where stories were known, disseminated them more widely,Thomas said: "The church thinks across centuries. If there's a dispute for 50 years, so what?"
William Doino, a Vatican historian, described Thomas's research as "unique and groundbreaking". He spoke of the book's new insight, for example, into Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest: "Everybody has always praised [O'Flaherty] because he helped Jews and escaped POWs. They made a movie about him, The Scarlet and the Black, with Gregory Peck. However, they always say he was acting on his own authority and that Pius was either aloof or not giving him anything. Gordon has spoken extensively with O'Flaherty's family, who gave him private correspondence and told him that O'Flaherty said that everything was with Pius XII's co-operation."
The book also tells the story of Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young Jewish doctor who was able to work in a Vatican hospital, inventing a fictitious deadly disease that deterred Germans from entering. Dozens of fake patients were taught to cough convincingly.
Thomas interviewed Sacerdoti's cousin, who recalled that as a child she was one of those patients – "feeling there was nothing wrong with her, yet having to cough regularly in the ward".
The Vatican is so excited by The Pope's Jews that it is supporting a feature documentary film being planned by a British producer who has bought the rights to it.
Allen Jewhurst, who has produced documentaries for BBC TV's Panorama, said that, with more than a billion Catholics worldwide, interest in the story is huge. After a meeting with two cardinals at the Vatican, he and Thomas now hope to get exclusive access to the archives. "This will, hopefully, be a definitive film," said Jewhurst.
Thomas, who also wrote the book Voyage of the Damned, about Jewish refugees, recalled: "The Vatican people said, 'How wonderful, the truth out at last'."
"The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis" is published by The Robson Press on 7 March
******************The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – review
David Kertzer's nuanced book investigates an unholy alliance between fascism and the Catholic church
The Guardian, Thursday 6 March 2014 10.00 GMT
In 1938, Pope Pius XI addressed a group of visitors to the Vatican. There were some people, he said, who argued that the state should be all-powerful – "totalitarian". Such an idea, he went on, was absurd, not because individual liberty was too precious to be surrendered, but because "if there is a totalitarian regime – in fact and by right – it is the regime of the church, because man belongs totally to the church".
As David Kertzer demonstrates repeatedly in this nuanced book, to be critical of fascism in Italy in the 30s was not necessarily to be liberal or a lover of democracy. And to be antisemitic was not to be unchristian. The Pope told Mussolini that the church had long seen the need to "rein in the children of Israel" and to take "protective measures against their evil-doing". The Vatican and the fascist regime had many differences, but this they had in common.
Kertzer announces that the Catholic church is generally portrayed as the courageous opponent of fascism, but this is an exaggeration. There is a counter-tradition, John Cornwell's fine book, Hitler's Pope, on Pius XII (who succeeded Pius XI in 1939) exposed the Vatican's culpable passivity in the face of the wartime persecution of Italian Jews. But Kertzer describes something more fundamental than a church leader's strategic decision to protect his own flock rather than to speak up in defence of others. His argument, presented not as polemic but as gripping storytelling, is that much of fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews.
Pius XI – formerly Achille Ratti, librarian, mountain-climber and admirer of Mark Twain – was elected Pope in February 1922, eight months before Mussolini bullied his way to the Italian premiership. For 17 years the two men held sway over their separate spheres in Rome. In all that time they met only once, but they communicated ceaselessly by means of ambassadors and nuncios, through the press (each had his tame organ) and via less publicly accountable go-betweens. From the copious records of their exchanges Kertzer has uncovered a fascinating tale of two irascible – and often irrational – potentates, and gives us an account of some murky intellectual finagling, and an often startling investigation of the exercise of power.
The accession of Mussolini, known in his youth as mangiaprete – priest-eater – didn't bode well for the papacy. The fascist squads had been beating up clerics and terrorising Catholic youth clubs. But Mussolini saw that he could use the church to legitimise his power, so he set about wooing the clergy. He had his wife and children baptised. He gave money for the restoration of churches. After two generations of secularism, there were once again to be crucifixes in Italy's courts and classrooms. Warily, slowly, the Pope became persuaded that with Mussolini's help Italy might become, once more, a "confessional state".
Only gradually did it become clear how much the church might lose in the process. Pius fretted over inadequately dressed women – backless ballgowns and the skimpy outfits of female gymnasts were particularly worrisome. Mussolini played along, solemnly declaring that, in future, girls' gym lessons would be designed only to make them fit mothers of fascist sons. He was accommodating in aiding the Pope's war on heresy – banning Protestant books and journals on demand. But Mussolini was creating a heresy of his own. Schoolchildren were required to pray to him: "I humbly offer my life to you, o Duce." In January 1938, he summoned more than 2,000 priests, including 60 bishops, to participate in a celebration of his agricultural policy. Neither the Pope nor his secretary of state were happy, but they feared offending the dictator. And so the priests marched in procession through Rome. They laid wreaths, not at a Christian shrine, but on a monument to fascist heroes. They saluted Mussolini as he stood on his balcony and attended a ceremony where they were required to cheer his entrance, to pray for blessings upon him and roar out "O Duce! Duce! Duce!" That the fascists (beginning with their precursor, Gabriele d'Annunzio) had appropriated ecclesiastical rituals and liturgies could perhaps be taken as a compliment to the church, but to recruit its priests for the worship of a secular ruler was to humiliate God's vicar on earth. Mussolini was cock-a-hoop. It was easy to manipulate the church, he told his new allies in Nazi Germany. With a few tax concessions, and free railway tickets for the clergy, he boasted, he had got the Vatican so snugly in his pocket it had even declared his genocidal invasion of Abyssinia "a holy war".
When it comes to the "Jewish question", Kertzer demonstrates that the Pope's failure to protest effectively against the fascist racial laws arose not simply from weakness, but because antisemitism pervaded his church. Mussolini scored a painful hit when he assured Pius that he would do nothing to Italy's Jews that had not already been done under papal rule. Roberto Farinacci, most brutal of the fascist leaders, came close to the truth when he announced: "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." And Catholic antisemitism was thriving. Among Pius's most valued advisers were several who – as Kertzer amply demonstrates – saw themselves as battling against a diabolical alliance of communists, Protestants, freemasons and Jews.
Avoiding overt partisanship, Kertzer coolly lays out the evidence; he describes his large and various cast of characters, and follows their machinations. We meet the genial Cardinal Gasparri who, narrowly missing the papacy himself, became Pius's secretary of state, handling the negotiations that led in 1929 to the Lateran Accords between the Vatican and the regime. Gasparri, a peasant's son who had risen far, considered Mussolini absurdly ignorant and uncouth; Mussolini thought him "very shrewd". We meet the Jesuit father, Tacchi Venturi, Pius's unofficial emissary, a firm believer in conspiracy theories, who claimed to have been nearly killed by an antifascist hitman (the story doesn't stand up). We meet Monsignor Caccia, Pius's master of ceremonies, who was known to the police and to Mussolini's spies for luring boys to his rooms in the Vatican for sex, rewarding them with contraband cigarettes. And we meet the motley crew familiar from histories of fascism: the doltish Starace, Mussolini's "bulldog"; Ciano, plump and boyish and, in the opinion of the American ambassador, devoid of "standards morally or politically"; and Clara Petacci, the girl with whom Mussolini spent hours of every day on the beach. Some of this is familiar territory, but what is new, and riveting, is how fascists and churchmen alike were forced into intellectual contortions as they struggled to justify the new laws. "Racism" was good. "Exaggerated racism" was bad. "Antisemitism" was good, as long as it was Italian. "German antisemitism" was another thing entirely.
Eventually Pius XI drew back from this casuistry. Kertzer describes the old pope on his deathbed, praying for just a few more days so that he could deliver a speech with the message that "all the nations, all the races" (Jews included) could be united by faith. He dies. Cardinal Pacelli – suave, emollient and devious, where Pius XI was a table-thumper who had no qualms about blurting out uncomfortable truths – clears his desk, suppresses his notes and persuades the Vatican's printer, who has the speech's text ready for distribution, to destroy it so that "not a comma" remains. Eighteen days later Pacelli becomes Pope Pius XII. It is a striking ending for a book whose narrative strength is as impressive as its moral subtlety.
• Lucy Hughes-Hallett's The Pike: Gabriele d'Annunzio has won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, the Costa biography award and the Duff Cooper prize.
***************How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini's millions
Papacy used offshore tax havens to create £500m international portfolio, featuring real estate in UK, France and Switzerland
David Leigh, Jean François Tanda and Jessica Benhamou
Monday 21 January 2013 20.23 GMT
Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James's Square and Pall Mall.
But these office blocks in one of London's most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church's international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini's nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James's Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James's Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company's true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.
Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.
The company secretary, John Jenkins, a Reading accountant, was equally uninformative. He told us the firm was owned by a trust but refused to identify it on grounds of confidentiality. He told us after taking instructions: "I confirm that I am not authorised by my client to provide any information."
Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth. Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganisation in 1999 from two predecessor companies called British Grolux Ltd and Cheylesmore Estates. The shares of those firms were in turn held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA.
British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican's own holding company, accused at the time of "engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests". Files from officials at Britain's Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope's financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.
Nogara's "shady activities" were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result. "Nogara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vatican financial agent and Profima SA in Lausanne is the Swiss holding company for certain Vatican interests." They believed Nogara was trying to transfer shares of two Vatican-owned French property firms to the Swiss company, to prevent the French government blacklisting them as enemy assets.
Earlier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nogara of similar "dirty work", by shifting Italian bank shares into Profima's hands in order to "whitewash" them and present the bank as being controlled by Swiss neutrals. This was described as "manipulation" of Vatican finances to serve "extraneous political ends".
The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican's finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: "The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again."
From the outset, Nogara was innovative in investing the cash. In 1931 records show he founded an offshore company in Luxembourg to hold the continental European property assets he was buying. It was called Groupement Financier Luxembourgeois, hence Grolux. Luxembourg was one of the first countries to set up tax-haven company structures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incorporated the following year.
When war broke out, with the prospect of a German invasion, the Luxembourg operation and ostensible control of the British Grolux operation were moved to the US and to neutral Switzerland.
The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope's merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called "patrimony of the Holy See".
According to a report last year from the Council of Europe, which surveyed the Vatican's financial controls, the assets of Mennini's special unit now exceed €680m (£570m).
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy's wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican's representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church's spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
**************From the archive, 12 February 1929: Fascism and the Vatican
Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 12 February 1929
The Guardian, Saturday
12 February 2011
The concordat between the Quirinal and the Vatican signed in Rome yesterday is an event of such profound significance that no one can tell what its ultimate consequences will be.
One thing seems to be sure – Mussolini has achieved a great diplomatic success, perhaps the greatest of his career. On this there is general agreement. His gain is absolute. Whether the Vatican's gain is so absolute, seems a little uncertain. There is evidently much Italian nationalist sentiment in the Vatican itself. In other words, the Vatican has considerable Fascist sympathies. Pope Pius XI is credited with much admiration for Mussolini. That the Italian clergy as a whole are pro-Fascist is easy to understand, seeing that Fascism is a nationalist, authoritarian, anti-liberal, and anti-Socialist force.
Will the concordat mean closer cooperation between clerical reaction and the various forms of political reaction (such as Fascism) all over Europe? It is impossible to tell as yet, but the question is one that gives Continental Liberals some uneasiness, and there must be some misgivings even amongst progressive Roman Catholics. To many the Pope's spiritual sovereignty is a mystical conception that is violated by any temporal sovereignty, however small the realm over which it is exercised. That this temporal sovereignty should include membership of the League of Nations is a dangerous thought.
Happily there is a clause in the concordat by which the Vatican State expresses its wish to "remain extraneous to the temporal competitions between other States, as well as international congresses convened for this purpose." Presumably the League is such an "international congress." It does indeed seem improbable that either the Roman Catholic hierarchy or the Roman Catholic world would wish to see the Vicar of Christ dragged into the very temporal battles that are fought in the public arena at Geneva. It is reported from Rome that the care of the Roman Catholic missions in the Near East shall be conferred upon Italians. If that is so, Italian influence in the Near East will be reinforced at France's expense, for until now the missions have been in French hands. And yet another question may have to be answered, not yet, but some time. The Fascist dictatorship is strong. But the day will surely come when it will go the way of all tyrannies. What will be the attitude of a free Italy towards a Vatican State so intimately bound up with the Fascist dictatorship?
These archive extracts are compiled by members of the Guardian's research and information department. Email: email@example.com