Appendix E: The Role of the Vatican

The implications of a lie on the scale of the Jewish extermination hoax cannot be constrained to bear on isolated subjects such as Israel or World War II revisionism. Before not many years, it was realized that, during and after the war, Pope Pius XII had never spoken out in condemnation of the supposed exterminations of Jews. This fact naturally raised some problems for the propaganda history of World War II. The specific event that ignited general controversy was Rolf Hochhuth's play Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy). Supposedly based on the "Gerstein statement," the play performs a completely unscrupulous job of character assassination on Pius XII by relating events inconsistent with the "statement," thereby piling invention on invention. However, the play was unquestionably the catalyst for the discussion of a fairly important fact, although the ensuing discussion, carried on among people who had been completely taken in by the hoax, never clarified anything and only amplified the confusion.

It is no more necessary, here, to explain why Pius XII did not speak up about exterminations of Jews than it is necessary to explain why he did not protest the extermination of Eskimos. However, the role of the Vatican is of some interest to our subject, so a few words are appropriate.

First a few background remarks. During the period 1920-1945, the Vatican considered Communism to be the principal menace loose in the world. This being the case, it was open to friendly relations with the Fascists after their assumption of power in Italy in 1922 and the Concordat of 1929, reversing the earlier pre-Fascist anti-clerical policies of Italian Governments. This was the basis for relations that remained generally good until Mussolini fell from power in 1943.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, the Vatican had similar hopes for an anti-Communist regime that would make domestic peace with the Church. At first, it appeared that events would unfold as in Italy, and the Concordat of 1933 with Hitler (still in force), guaranteeing the church a portion of tax revenues and further defining the proper spheres of Church and State, reinforced this expectation.

Things did not turn out so well, however. Although the Concordat had defined the Church's rights in the sphere of education and youth culture in general to the satisfaction of the Vatican, the Nazis found it difficult to live with such terms and found various ways of undercutting the Catholic position without formally repudiating the terms of the Concordat. For example, the Catholic Youth associations were forbidden to engage in sport on the shrewd calculation that such restrictions of such associations to the realm of the truly spiritual would guarantee that they would wither. There were also various means of intimidation employed against parents who insisted on sending their children to Catholic schools. Moreover, Nazi publications such as Das Schwarze Korps (the SS magazine) and Der Stürmer were openly anti-Christian and constantly heaped abuse on the Pope and the Catholic clergy in general, favorite charges being that the holy men were homosexuals or were having amorous liaisons with Jewesses. Although the Nazis never reneged on the most important provision of the Concordat, the commitment on tax revenues, the mutual hostility became so great that many felt that there was always a good possibility for a second Kulturkampf (Bismarck's unsuccessful attempt of the 1870s to break the power of the Roman Church in Germany).

The Nazi-Vatican hostility led, in 1937, to the most unusual Papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge. Issued in German rather than the usual Latin, it was among the strongest attacks that the Vatican had ever made on a specific State. The Pope at the time was Pius XI, and Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who was to become Pope Pius XII in 1939, was the Vatican Secretary of State. Pacelli, a diplomat of world-wide experience, for ten years Papal Nuncio in Germany, and fluent in German, was already regarded as the obvious heir to Pius XI, and his pre-eminence in the area of international diplomacy was unquestioned. Mit brennender Sorge was written under his supervision.[447]

Despite the unquestioned hostility between the Church and the Nazis, it should be kept in mind that Communism, in the eyes of the Vatican, was still the prime enemy. With an antagonist such as the German Nazis, there was room for maneuver for the Church, but the Communists, up to that date, had shown themselves to be total and deadly enemies. Moreover, Germany was not the only European State, with which the Vatican was displeased. France and Czechoslovakia had strongly anti-clerical Governments. Thus, when war came, the Vatican (although, of course, officially neutral) could not be enthusiastic for either side. Because Communism was considered the prime enemy, it is probably correct that the Vatican rather preferred the Axis side, but in their eyes this was definitely a choice of lesser evils. Moreover, there was a considerable diversity of preferences within the Church. For example, the wartime Papal Nuncio in Berlin, Msgr. Cesare Orsenigo, was evidently satisfied with the German victory over France in 1940 and expressed to the German Foreign Office his hope that the Germans would march into Paris through Versailles. On the other hand, the Jesuit-controlled Vatican radio was so anti-German that the British considered it a virtual extension of their own propaganda service.[448]

So much for the political background of the Vatican's situation during the war. We return to consideration of the fact of Pope Pius' silence on exterminations of Jews. It would not be feasible to review here the views of all who have contributed to the controversy, so we shall restrict ourselves in this respect. First, there is the Vatican itself, which is represented mainly by the nine volumes of wartime documents that it published in the years 1967-1975, Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale. The principal editor of this series had been Robert A. Graham, an American Jesuit and former editor of the Jesuit magazine America. Graham, who accepts the extermination legend, has emerged as the principal spokesman for the Vatican in these matters. It is unfortunate that the only volumes of the nine that are devoted entirely to war victims are the last two, published in 1974-1975, which carry the subject no further than December 1943.

Among the numerous authors in the controversy, the various positions are well represented by two recent books: The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators by Anthony Rhodes (London, 1973), a defender of the Vatican, and The Pope's Jews by Sam Waagenaar (London, 1974), a critic of the Pope.

The official Vatican position, as set forth in the Introduction to the eighth volume of Actes et documents, is as follows:

"During his brief visit to the Vatican on 26 September [1942], the personal representative of President Roosevelt, Myron Taylor, renewed an official request for information. They had received, from the Geneva office of the Jewish agency for Palestine, information on the desperate situation of the Polish Jews and the Jews deported to Poland. The report, dated 30 August, described the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, executions in a camp called Belick, in Lwow, and in Warsaw. The destination of the deportations was death: 'The Jews deported from Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, and Slovakia,' said the report, 'were sent to the slaughterhouse, while the aryans deported to the East from Holland and France were actually used for labor.' The memorandum from Taylor to Cardinal Maglione [Vatican Secretary of State] said: 'I would be very grateful to Your Eminence if it were possible to tell me if the Vatican has any information which tends to confirm the report contained in this memorandum. If so, I would like to know if the Holy Father has some suggestions touching on some practical means of using the forces of public opinion of the civilized world in order to prevent the continuation of this barbarism.'

Cardinal Maglione had to reply, on 10 October, that he had on his part no particular information confirming the Geneva report. In effect, the most detailed information, received those days by the Vatican, was the same as that received by the United States. The sources were the Polish Ambassador to the Vatican and the Jewish organizations themselves. 'The reports on severe measures adopted against non-aryans have also come to the Holy See from other sources, but at present it has not been possible to verify their accuracy.' Under these conditions, the second question on practical means to put into operation did not call for a reply.

Very significant are the notes set down by Maglione after having received the Taylor document: 'I do not believe that we have any information which confers these grave tidings. Right?' For his part the 'minutante' [recorder or archivist] wrote: 'There is Mr. Malvezzi's.' The information of Malvezzi, official of an Italian firm, recently returned from Poland, was grave but general and did not harmonize with the Geneva report.

That which the Cardinal Secretary of State heard as 'severe measures' can be interpreted in the light of the documents of these two years. The information received in the Vatican consisted of second or third hand reports, taken seriously however, concerning the brutal treatment imposed on the Jews of Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, France, and other countries. What was the ultimate destination of the deportees, what was the plan of the Nazis, then remained an enigma. When, for example, in the month of March, Msgr. Burzio, the Chargé d'affaires in Slovakia, spoke of the deportees as going to 'a certain death,' it is clear that he based this assertion on the inhuman conditions of the departures and the brutality of the guards. After such a beginning, it was easy to imagine that the old, the sick, and the children were not able to live long, even if typhus did not cut them down in the overpopulated and unsanitary camps. In the same sense was taken the remark of the Croation police chief Eugene Kvaternik, according to whom the Germans had already caused two million Jews to die and that the same fate awaited the Croatian Jews. Afterwards, these words have been confirmed as only too exact. It is obvious, however, that the representative of the Holy See, Father Abbé Marcone, in reporting them to the Vatican, did not believe or was unable to believe that they should be taken literally. One took them at least as a grave intimation of the tragedy which appeared only in general outline.

The end of the year 1942 saw several public declarations on the deportations. On 17 December, the United Nations published in London a declaration on the rights of man, in which it denounced, in strong but general terms, the treatment inflicted on the Jews. On 24 December, Pope Pius XII made, in his Christmas Eve message, a very clear allusion to the deportations, concerning which the world, at that time, was able only with difficulty to form an idea."

This Vatican explanation is not acceptable. It is of course true that only occasional scraps bearing on exterminations of Jews appear in their documents. Moreover, no reasonable person would deny that most of these scraps must be classified as inventive propaganda, for the claims of exterminations are either coupled in some sense with other claims that nobody would defend today, or are associated with other oddities demolishing their credibility. For example, a note of 2 January 1943 to the Vatican from Wladislas Raczkiewicz, the President of the Polish exile government in London, claimed that the Germans had embarked on a general extermination of the Polish population in addition to its Jewish minority (in agreement with our analysis of Chapter 3, the note mentions the Auschwitz concentration camp with an implication that it is not one of the sites of exterminations).[449] We have already noted, in Chapter 3 (p. 128), that Msgr. Burzio, the Papal Chargé d'affaires in Slovakia, sent some invented tales back to Rome. Additional scraps of this sort are reviewed below.

One must, of course, accept the Vatican claim that such information as they had during the war could not have been taken as decent evidence of exterminations; that has already been proved in this book. However, that is not the point. The Vatican spokesmen today assert not merely that their information did not reveal an extermination program, but that the exterminations happened, on a continental scale, without reliable information about them coming to the Vatican. It is this claim that is completely ridiculous and simply cannot be entertained for more than a few seconds.

It is not possible for an extermination program of the type claimed to have transpired without the Vatican learning of it. The slaughters are supposed to have taken place mainly in Catholic Poland, where the Church had its agents, Catholic priests, in every village, situated in such a way (hearing gossip, confessionals, etc.) that no such thing as the exterminations could possibly have happened without the entire Polish Catholic clergy knowing about then. It is true that the Germans imposed a censorship on communications to or from Poland, so that the Polish clergy and the Vatican could not communicate with customary freedom, as explained in the Introduction to volume three of Actes et documents, but as also there explained, there were many ways of circumventing the censorship, notably through Italians, who had business of various sorts in Poland and points east, and through messages carried by private persons from Poland to the office of the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, who communicated with the Vatican through privileged diplomatic channels.

Rhodes realizes that the claim of ignorance of the exterminations is not tenable and concedes (because he assumes the exterminations happened) that Pius XII must have known about them. The explanation for the failure to speak up unambiguously seems to Rhodes to be a fear that any public and explicit condemnation would have made the situation of Catholics in Germany and the occupied territories worse. Rhodes then asserts that "in his private messages to Heads of States in connection with the persecution of the Jews, Pius XII certainly 'spoke up'" (Rhodes' italics), and then gives two examples of such private messages, bearing on Slovakia and on Hungary, which however contain nothing about exterminations, but speak only of deportations and persecutions of Jews in general terms.[450]

Rhodes ' picture of a timid Pius, afraid to speak up against the Nazis and their programs, does not hold up for many reasons. As shown by the documents Rhodes quotes, he must claim that the Pope was also too timid to speak up in confidential diplomatic communications. Moreover, the historical record does not support Rhodes' picture of a Catholic Church terrorized into silence by the Nazis. While, in parallel with their counterparts in Allied countries, they never opposed the German war effort, they were quite vocal during the war in their opposition to the religion-related policies and values of the National Socialist regime and expressed their opposition in the Catholic press in Germany and in pulpits throughout Germany. In December 1942, the German Bishops, meeting in their annual conference in Fulda, sent a declaration to the German Government denouncing the persecution of Catholic Churches in occupied countries. In January 1943, Konrad Count von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, made a public condemnation of Nazi racial theories and policies. In August 1943, the German Bishops publicly denounced the Nazi policies hostile to Catholic education, and this denunciation was read in public all over Germany.[451] The inescapable fact is that the Catholic Church was not terrorized into silence.

Timidity does not explain why Pope Pius failed to condemn the alleged exterminations after the Nazis had been defeated. The Pope's speech to the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1945, was a long and blistering attack on the defeated Nazis, and yet the only thing in the speech that could possibly be interpreted as a reference to exterminations was a reference to "applications of national socialist teachings, which even went so far as to use the most exquisite scientific methods to torture or eliminate people who were often innocent." However, reading further in the speech it becomes clear that the Pope, like so many other people at the time, was thinking of the catastrophic scenes found in the German camps at the end of the war. The only specific victims mentioned are the Catholic priests interned at Dachau, a high percentage of whom perished there for reasons abundantly covered in this book. Although Pope Pius did mention that one Polish auxiliary bishop died of typhus, his remarks leave the impression that he believed that the deaths in the camps were intentional on the part of the Nazis, and the priests interned at Dachau are described by Pius as having "endured indescribable sufferings for their faith and for their vocation." There is nothing in the address about exterminations of any racial, religious, or national group.[452]

While it is the case that the record does not indicate that the Roman Church was terrorized into silence during the war, the Vatican was nevertheless vulnerable to pressure to some degree, as is made evident by an examination of the circumstances behind the declaration of Pope Pius' which came closest to sounding like a condemnation of exterminations, his Christmas Eve message of 1942.

In Chapter 3 (pp. 82f.) and above we saw that, in the autumn of 1942, the Allies inquired of the Vatican whether it had any information supporting the extermination claims that Rabbi Wise and some others had been making for several months and that the Vatican had no such information. While Pope Pius and the Secretary of State, Luigi Cardinal Maglione, no doubt smelled Greuelpropaganda immediately upon hearing such stories, the Vatican material reproduced above shows that they at least made some effort to inquire into the matter. Also, the Papal Nuncio in Italy, Msgr. Francesco Borgongini-Duca, met on November 10, 1942, with Guido Buffarini, Undersecretary in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, for the purpose of discussing the general military and political situation. The situation of the Jews was discussed and Borgongini-Duca reported to Maglione:[453]

"He then spoke to me concerning the speech of Hitler [in Munich on 8 November] and, I having asked him if in allusions to retaliations, they might mean asphyxiating gas, he twice replied to me decidedly no."

Thus, the Vatican had essentially no information, in the autumn of 1942, tending to confirm the extermination claims, and it took this position in its exchanges with Allied representatives when the matter came up. In Chapter 3 (p. 84) we noted that there was one anonymous note supposedly from a Vatican source, produced in late November, which supported the extermination claims. However, since that was not the Vatican position, the note was no doubt a forgery in some sense. If it did come from a source inside the Vatican, it may have been authored by Virgilio Scattolini, an employee of the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, who posed as a Vatican insider during the war in order to sell his fabricated "information", suitably tailored for the buyer, to all comers, and who for a while was considered "our man in the Vatican" by the OSS.[454] A lesser possibility is that the note came from the priest Pirro Scavizzi, who is discussed below.

The information that the Vatican had in December 1942 relative to Nazi persecutions of Jews is well represented by a message composed by Msgr. Giuseppe Di Meglio of the staff of Orsenigo, Papal Nuncio in Berlin, and delivered to the Vatican by Di Meglio on December 9, 1942. The message deals at length with the German policies toward the Jews, and it is a good assumption that such material was written in response to a request from the Vatican to Orsenigo for such information. The Berlin Nunciature was doubtless considered about the best source of such information within the church, because a good deal of the communication between Poland and the Vatican was through Orsenigo's Berlin office, as we noted above. The heart of the part of the message that dealt with the Jews was:[455]

"Since many fled, before the arrival of the German troops, from the Polish territories occupied by the Russians and from territories properly Russian, one estimates that presently, in the Reich and the occupied territories, including the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, there are more than four million Jews, i.e., one fourth of the entire world Jewish population.


1. Institution of ghettos.

Internal quarters of some cities have been designated for the Jews as their official homes, with the right of administration, police forces, and appropriate means of communication.

Of the ghettos established up to now, the most important are those of Litzmannstadt (Lodz) and Warsaw. Some ghettos are also found in the Baltic countries and in the occupied Russian territories.

2. Concentration camps.

Since, as is evident, places cannot be found for all Jews in the city ghettos, immense concentration camps have been created where they lead a harsh life; little food is given them; they are assigned to extremely hard working conditions which quickly lead many to death.

It is said that such concentration camps are found up to now in Poland, that the eastern territories, particularly Poland, have been established in the plans of the German Government as the definitive place of residence for the Jewish population of Europe.

Generally, in order to not attract the attention of the population too much, they are forced to leave in the middle of the night; they are permitted to take little clothing with them and only a small sum of money.

3. The Star.

Since the month of September 1941, a mark of identification has been compulsory for all Jews: a yellow star, six pointed, to be worn on the breast, with the inscription in the center, Jude!

The sight of these wretches who, pale and emaciated (their food rations are much less than those of the Germans; some foodstuffs are denied to them entirely), walk the streets at predesignated hours of the day or, when travelling, cluster together in corners, awakens a profound sense of horror and pity.

Inhuman treatment in the occupied territories and in the countries politically subject to Germany:

An Italian journalist, returned from Romania, gave me, some time ago, a long account concerning the brutal methods adopted in that country, mainly by German instigation, against the Jews.

He related to me that a train was completely filled with Jews; every opening was then closed, so that no air could enter. When the train arrived at its destination, there were only a few survivors, those, that is, who, finding themselves near some incompletely sealed opening, had been able to breathe a bit of air. [...]"

Di Meglio closed this part of his message by noting the anti-Christian character of Alfred Rosenberg's Institut für Erforschung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben (Institute for Investigation of Jewish Influence in German Religious Life) and also by noting the unconcern of the German clergy with the tribulations of the Jews.

In several respects, Di Meglio's information was obviously erroneous. For example, we can gain a fair idea of the actual conditions of the deportations of Romanian Jews from the Report of the Red Cross, both from the excerpt reproduced in Chapter 5 here and from other sections[456] and also from the writings of Ginsburg. It is certain that the events in the story related by the anonymous Italian journalist were invention. Di Meglio seems willing to accept the worst.

Di Meglio's treatment of the role of the concentration camps admits some misinterpretations of the actual conditions. For one thing, he suggested that many Jews were sent to concentration camps because there was insufficient space for them in the ghettos; this is not correct. Jews, among others, were sent to the camps in Poland as labor needs required. Di Meglio also gave the impression that the camps were primarily for quartering Jews, which is also incorrect. He also probably exaggerated the poverty of the diet in the camps, but, as we saw in Chapter 4, he was at least correct on the matter of the high death rate in the camps at the time he wrote his account, although overwork was not the cause of the deaths.

In other words, Di Meglio's description of the situation was the general or approximate truth, with some inaccuracies, and colored by his willingness to believe the worst. It is clear that he had no information on the existence of an extermination program even remotely resembling the one that was then taking shape in Allied propaganda and was being related to the Vatican by various Allied diplomats and Jewish organizations.

The Pope's Christmas address made a passing remark, without specific reference to the Jews, on "the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction." Berlin had mixed reactions to the address; the RSHA considered it a direct assault on the Nazi regime, while the Foreign Office appears to have considered it so much holy hot air. The Allies, we recall from our Chapter 3 (p. 100), had officially embraced the extermination claims on December 17 in a statement, in which "the number of victims" was "reckoned in many hundreds of thousands" of Jews, and they were not satisfied with the Pope's statement and thought it was not explicit enough.[457] From our point of view, however, the Christmas remark seems at first puzzlingly strong in view of the picture of the situation that the Vatican had received from the Berlin Nunciature and also in consideration of the oddity that the Pope's strongest remark of such a category should have been made so early in the war and then not repeated.

An explanation for the appearance of the "death or progressive extinction" remark in the Pope's Christmas address is found in the Vatican's wartime documents. In late 1942 and early 1943, one of the Vatican's principal diplomatic objectives was to secure a pledge from the Allies not to bomb Rome. The British were particularly insistent on their right to bomb Rome, as compared to the Americans, who had a large Catholic minority that constituted a very important component of the political base of Roosevelt's New Deal. The British took the position that Rome could not be given special consideration and would be bombed if and when military factors indicated such action. In pursuit of its objective, the Vatican dealt not only with the Allies, attempting to divert them from their apparent course, but also with the Germans and Italians, attempting to persuade them to remove any operations of a military nature from Rome (there was little or no war industry in the city, but there were military command headquarters and military barracks). In December 1942, the Italian Government agreed to relocate its military headquarters away from Rome. Feeling that some progress toward their objective had been made, Cardinal Maglione met on December 14 with the British Minister to the Vatican, Sir F. D'Arcy Osborne, in order to communicate this development to the British and to further discuss the bombing issue. Osborne, however, was unimpressed and pointed out that there remained Italian troops quartered in the city. Maglione's notes on the meeting summarized the exchange thus:[458]

"The Minister pointed out that one has the impression that the Holy See is particularly preoccupied with the Italian cities, when it speaks of bombings, because they are Italian.

I made him observe: (1) that for Rome there are special considerations. I recounted them to him (and I did not fail to repeat to him that if Rome is bombed, the Holy See will protest); (2) that the Holy See now intervenes against the bombing of the civilian population of the Italian cities because such bombings are in progress. The Minister must not forget that the Holy Father spoke against bombing of defenseless populations on other occasions: when the English cities were being bombed everybody knew that the bombings of the English cities did not escape really harsh words from the Holy Father.

The Minister recognized the justice of my observation and, then, exclaimed: 'But why doesn't the Holy See intervene against the terrible slaughter of the Jews?'

I recalled for him that the Holy Father had already asserted, in his messages, the right to life, to a peaceful existence, and to a sufficient share in the goods of this world for all men, whatever their race or religion.

One must not ignore, I added, how much the Holy Father has done and is doing to alleviate the plight of the poor Jews. These people know it and frequently thank the Holy See for how much it is doing for them.

The Minister insisted on this point: it would be necessary that the Holy See intervene to stop the massacres of the Jews. [end of note]"

Later the same day, Osborne ran into Msgr. Domenico Tardini, Secretary of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastic Affairs (the Vatican Foreign Office), and regarding the departure of the Italian military command headquarters from Rome, Osborne assured Tardini that "It changes nothing!" Tardini summarized his conversation with Osborne in his notes and concluded:[459]

"The removal of the military commands may help put better in evidence that whoever bombs Rome is barbaric (and thus it is well that the Holy See be an interested party), but it will not spare Rome from the bombs."

We thus see the background of the Pope's Christmas Eve remark. To the Vatican, it appeared from the exchange between Osborne and Maglione that the English were in effect proposing a deal: the Pope condemns extermination of Jews and the Allies do not bomb Rome, a persuasive position that can convince even a Holy Father. Aside from any possible ethical considerations, it was obvious to the Vatican that it could not wreck its official neutrality by publicly accusing the Germans of completely fabricated offenses and, in any case, the Germans were still the dominant military power on the Continent at that time, so the remark appeared in the Christmas address without specific reference to Jews or Germany (along with other remarks that sounded more or less anti-German without being specific). However, the Allied bombing threat to Rome did not diminish after Christmas 1942. Thus, except for a brief similar remark ignored by the world press, which occurred in a long papal address of June 2, 1943, no more talk of this nature came from the Vatican. Pope Pius made a favorable reference to the Christmas remark in his letter of April 30, 1943, to his friend von Preysing, but even in that confidential communication his specific words were milder than those of the Christmas remark.[460]

Although the Vatican was entirely justified in interpreting Osborne's remarks as a specific proposition, it is most likely that this was a misinterpretation nevertheless and that Osborne did not imagine himself as offering a deal. It is possible, for example, that Osborne felt that Maglione had a relatively strong position and thus he grasped at something somewhat out of context in order to supplement his side of the verbal exchange. The official Allied declaration on extermination of Jews came three days later, and thus the matter was no doubt somewhat in the air in the diplomatic corps and came to Osborne rather naturally.

Rome was first bombed on July 19, 1943 (by the Americans), the targets being the rail center that German and Italian troops had started passing through after the Allied landings in Sicily on July 9th. In subsequent raids, bombs occasionally fell on the Vatican, but the damage to historical and religious monuments in the Vatican and elsewhere in Rome was slight.

The only other point of some interest in regard to the role of the Vatican is that its efforts in extending aid to Jews were fairly extensive, as discussed by Rhodes. However, Waagenaar should also be read in this connection, on account of Rhodes' failure to make some points. However, from the point of view of analyzing the extermination legend, the only significant inference to draw from such activities of the Vatican is that they offer further data showing that the exterminations could not possibly have happened without the Vatican knowing of them, because the Vatican was somewhat involved in Jewish affairs in Europe at the time.

While the significant points regarding the role of the Vatican are not many and have been covered, there are a few odd matters that we may as well set forth while we are on this subject.

A strange character appearing in the Vatican's wartime documents is Pirro Scavizzi, a very ordinary priest who rode Italian military hospital trains that shuttled back and forth between Italy and the eastern front. He was called an "almoner," and he administered to the wounded Italian soldiers, whatever incantations are delivered in such circumstances. Since he did so much traveling, however, he was frequently used as a courier, and his frequent near contact with, and regular delivery of messages to, high ranking prelates seems to have fired his imagination.

The first oddity we run into was in February-March 1942. Scavizzi produced a letter, allegedly from Adam Sapieha, Archbishop of Cracow, on the subject of the sufferings of Catholic priests under the brutal Germans. As related in Actes et documents, however, the circumstances were most peculiar:[461]

"[...] the Archbishop renounced all precaution and described [...] the rigor of the Nazi oppression and the tragedy of the concentration camps. But after having deposited this testimony with [...] Scavizzi, he grew fearful and sent Scavizzi a message asking him to burn the document 'for fear that it fall into the hands of the Germans, who would have shot all the Bishops and perhaps others.' The Abbé Scavizzi destroyed the note in question, but not without first having made a copy in his own hand and having added at the same time his own testimony on the tragedy and the despair which constituted the daily course of existence of the Catholics of Poland."

Scavizzi's producing of a letter which he had burned, in honoring the request of the author of the letter, necessarily makes one a bit uneasy about him, but let us bear with him a bit. He next appears in connection with a letter he wrote to Pope Pius from Bologna on May 12, 1942:[462]

"In regard to the present Nuncio [Orsenigo in Berlin], the Cardinal [Innitzer in Vienna] deplored the silence about it [the persecution of the Jews] and expressed the judgment that He [Orsenigo] is too timorous and not interested in such grave matters.

The anti-Jewish campaign is implacable and constantly grows worse, with deportations and even mass executions.

The massacre of the Jews in the Ukraine is already complete. In Poland and Germany they also intend to carry it to completion, with a system of mass killings."

Even if Innitzer had held such views, it is ludicrous in the extreme to imagine that he would have confided them to Scavizzi, even for Scavizzi's personal information, not to mention for transmission to the Pope via Scavizzi. One is now entitled to raise suspicions regarding Scavizzi's reliability.

Scavizzi next appears on October 7, 1942, when he wrote a "report on the situation in Poland" that managed to get into the Vatican files:[463]

"The Jews: The elimination of the Jews, with mass killings, without regard for children or even for babies, is almost total. As for the remainder of them, who are all marked by white armbands, civilized life is impossible. They are not permitted to shop, enter business establishments, take streetcars or taxis, attend spectacles or frequent non-Jewish homes. Before being deported or killed, they are condemned to forced hard labor, even if they are of the cultivated class. The few remaining Jews appear serene, almost ostentatiously proud. It is said that more than two million Jews have been killed."

At this point, one develops a second suspicion, namely that the Vatican took as knowledge what we have set forth as our first suspicion about Scavizzi: that little weight should be attached to Scavizzi's statements. They had such material from Scavizzi in their files but did not consider it as confirming the claims of the Zionist organizations, as is made clear above.

Possibly because the Vatican wartime documents are still in the process of editing for publication at the time this is being written, Scavizzi makes no more appearances in them. However, in 1964 (he died around 1967) he claimed in an Italian magazine that the Pope had confided to him, Pirro Scavizzi, during the war on the apparently negative implications of a proposed excommunication of Hitler (a nominal Catholic) for his exterminations of Jews![464] That does it. Scavizzi was obviously a weaver of self-inflating tall tales designed to make him appear rather more important than his humble station in riding the hospital trains would have suggested. It therefore becomes clear that our second suspicion must be correct: Scavizzi was considered by the Vatican to be a harmless nut who could be trusted to administer last rites and even to deliver messages, but not to keep facts straight. It is mildly humorous that, judging from their editorial comments, the editors of Actes et documents seem to take Scavizzi seriously. However, because the interpretation of Scavizzi as a teller of tall tales fairly leaps out at the reader from the documents, it is possible that the editors have other thoughts on the subject of Scavizzi that they have not expressed.

There is, however, one point of not negligible importance in connection with Scavizzi's reports, particularly the report of May 12, 1942 concerning the persecution of the Jews. It is not likely that Scavizzi independently invented the extermination legend, although it is remotely possible. If he did not invent the extermination claims appearing in his letter of May 12, 1942, he must have heard them somewhere, a fact of some interest, as his report is dated over a month before Zionist organizations in the West started talking this way (the first known such statement for the World Jewish Congress was on June 29, 1942, as we noted on page 98). This suggests that such propaganda was in circulation in Eastern Europe earlier than June 1942. This, indeed, is in agreement with the account of Dawidowicz, according to whom extermination claims for the Wartheland (the annexed part of Poland south of the Corridor), claiming killings via gasmobiles at Chelmno, first appeared in the four-page Jewish underground, the Veker, which printed these first extermination claims on pages three and four in issues published in February 1942. Claims of exterminations in the General Government of Poland (via gassing at Belzec) appeared in the underground publication Mitteylungen in early April 1942.[465] The evidence, thus, suggests that the extermination legend owes its birth to obscure Polish Jewish propagandists, but the nurturing of the legend to the status of an international and historical hoax was the achievement of Zionist circles centered primarily in the West, particularly in and around New York.

Since it appears that extermination propaganda was in existence in Poland in the spring of 1942, and because much of the information that reached the Vatican from Poland came through the office of the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, such stories might have reached Orsenigo at the time. Indeed, a letter of Orsenigo's to Msgr. Giovanni Montini (the later Pope Paul VI, who often substituted for Maglione during the war), dated July 28, 1942, was devoted mainly to deploring the difficulty of ascertaining exactly what was happening in regard to the Jews. After commenting on the occasional practice of the Nazis of suddenly and without warning ordering selected Jews to pack up for deportation, he wrote:[466]

"As is easy to understand, this lack of advance notice opens the door to the most macabre suppositions on the fate of the non-aryans. There are also in circulation rumors, difficult to verify, of disastrous journeys and even of massacres of Jews. Also every intervention in favor only of the non-aryan Catholics has thus far been rejected with the customary reply that baptismal water does not change Jewish blood and that the German Reich is defending itself from the non-aryan race, not from the religion of the baptized Jews.

Among such sinister rumors there is no lack of some less bleak: thus for example there is talk that in Holland, where deportations of the non-aryans have now commenced, an outspoken protest by the clergy, with which the Catholic Bishops associated themselves, succeeded in getting the baptized non-aryans excepted from the deportations. Likewise it was reported that in the notorious ghetto of Litzmannstadt, in the Wartheland, a Polish priest, who with a spirit of apostolical heroism had requested it, was granted permission to enter and remain there for the care of the souls of the non-aryan Catholics."

An editorial footnote remarks that the story from Holland was false. We remark in passing that a considerable portion of the Vatican concern for aiding Jews, in this period, was specifically for the families of Jewish background that had converted to Catholicism and whose situation was particularly tragic, since it seemed that nobody wanted them; the Germans considered them Jews, and the Jews considered them renegades.

The preceding remarks of Orsenigo make it clear that he had heard certain horrid rumors, although it is not clear what he meant by "massacres" (eccidi in massa). There were, of course, as we noted in Chapters 5 and 7 (pp. 181, 272), occasional massacres of Jews during the war, and the reports he had received may have pertained to them or they might have had their origin in the extermination propaganda that had recently started coming from Jewish underground organizations in Poland. It is even possible that he was thinking of some report that Scavizzi had made at the Berlin Nunciature in connection with the "information" he transmitted in his letter of May 12, 1942. In any case, the Di Meglio letter of December 9, 1942, shows that the Nunciature, at that time, had accepted no extermination claims (except possibly for the story from Romania), if such claims reached it.

There are just a couple more points worth discussion in relation to the Vatican documents. During the war, the Vatican representative in Greece and Turkey was Msgr. Angelo Roncalli, the later Pope John XXIII. On July 8, 1943, he reported to the Vatican from Istanbul as follows:[467]

"1. In accord with my rule of circumspection in my contacts with various people, even those entitled to special respect, I avoid meetings not strictly necessary or singularly useful. For example, I saw von Papen [German Ambassador to Turkey] only once in six months, and only hastily and in passing on the occasion of my Easter visit to Ankara. At the time there was much talk of the Katyn affair which, according to von Papen, should have made the Pole reflect on the advantage of their turning to the Germans. I replied with a sad smile that it was necessary first of all to make them overlook the millions of Jews sent to Poland and soppressi there, and that in any case this was a good occasion for the Reich to improve its treatment of the Poles.

Now that von Papen has returned, as has the entire diplomatic corps, from Ankara to Istanbul and the Bosphorus, occasions for meetings will not be lacking.

2. Now and then the fine Baron von Lersner comes to see me. [...]"

Roncalli then proceeded to discuss matters not relevant to our subject. When this document was published by the Vatican, the press reported that Roncalli had remarked on "the millions of Jews sent to Poland and annihilated there,"[468] a fair enough translation, but a few words on the point of the translation are worthwhile. The Italian verb sopprimere (whose past participle appears in Roncalli's note) is cognate to the English "to suppress" and the French supprimer (which is relevant because Roncalli and von Papen probably spoke to each other in French). The Italian and French words are equivalent in meaning, but they are not equivalent to the English word because, when applied to people, sopprimere and supprimer carry some implication of killing in large numbers. However, when applied to people, they are not entirely equivalent to "extermination" or "annihilation"; both French and Italian have words cognate to and equivalent to these two English words. To apply sopprimere to a large group of people carries an implication only of large numbers of killings, and may or may not mean "extermination," depending on the context. Thus, one must allow the possibility that Roncalli was thinking of something other then the sorts of extermination claims that the Allies had made and which Roncalli had certainly heard by then. For example, he may have been thinking in terms of such things as the then recent and highly publicized German suppression of the Warsaw ghetto rebellion, in the course of which the Germans killed many Jews. However, I am inclined to reject such an interpretation; it seems more likely to me that Roncalli was indeed thinking in terms of extermination such as the Allies had claimed.

If, however, one reads the Roncalli account carefully against its proper diplomatic background, it becomes clear that it is not really very important what, very specifically, Roncalli was thinking about when he made this remark. He describes a chance meeting between two diplomats, one of whom, he, did not wish a meeting. In accord with his "rule of circumspection" his words would therefore have been chosen to "avoid meetings." What Roncalli in effect said to von Papen was that, if the latter wished to prolong the meeting, Roncalli was going to be difficult. Roncalli communicated to von Papen, in diplomatic language, the attitude he sets forth in plain and direct language in the first sentence of his report. Roncalli's remark was a diplomatic parry of a certain well known type, wherein it is not really important to determine, in better than vague terms, what the speaker was referring to, or to determine whether or not the speaker himself accepted the truth of the allegation in question. All that is relevant in the exchange is that Roncalli did not want to talk to von Papen, and that was all he communicated to von Papen. If, on the other hand, Roncalli wished to speak to von Papen, he certainly would not had opened his side of the exchange with such necessarily antagonistic remarks, either in reference to exterminations or in reference to bloody suppression of ghetto revolts, and quite independently of any of his own opinions on the subject of alleged German atrocities and brutalities.

Because the Vatican was an observer of and participant in the events of World War II, it was inevitable that the extermination stories, which the whole world heard, were heard also by the Vatican. The stories are thus naturally reflected in passages found in the Vatican documents, and when we encounter such passages there, they should be viewed in the context of the possible specific motivations of the person making the remark and also of the evolution of the propaganda as analyzed in this book, especially in Chapter 3. Roncalli, as his report clearly implies in its first sentence, was merely trying to get rid of von Papen at their July 8, 1943, encounter in Ankara, when he repeated the extermination claim which, as he well knew, had not been specifically endorsed by the Vatican despite Allied pressures.

Another letter we encounter in the Vatican documents was written to Pope Pius in August 1942 by the Ukrainian Roman Catholic Archbishop André Szeptyczkyi. The letter dwells at great length on supposed German atrocities, and the reader will be very puzzled, especially in regard to motivation, until the last lines are read and Szeptyczkyi finally comes to the whole point of his letter. He remarks on his failures over a three year period to obtain from the Pope an Apostolic Benediction (i.e. a papal endorsement, most important in religious politics) and then points out that his sufferings and strivings under "evil" Germans should certainly be adequate grounds for granting one at last.[469]

That the few passages appearing in the Vatican documents and bearing on exterminations of Jews merely reflect the evolution of the propaganda, as analyzed in this book, is very clear. In Chapter 3 (p. 128) we noted that Burzio passed on to the Vatican, from Slovakia, tales about soap factories, when such tales were a feature of the propaganda. Another example is a set of notes made by Maglione on May 5, 1943, recording extermination stories. The occasion for composing the notes is not clear, i.e. the reader cannot tell from what has been published whether Maglione was recording his own impressions or merely allegations made by somebody else (other documents written by Maglione around that time do not suggest that he believed the extermination stories). In any case, gas chamber exterminations at Treblinka and near Brest-Litovsk are noted. The editors of Actes et documents, obviously puzzled, remark:[470]

"The information, probably delivered by an Italian official, would seem quite old, since it mentions neither Birkenau nor Auschwitz, where the greater part of the exterminations were concentrated at the time."

Further on this theme, the editors remark that in 1943[471]

"[...] the Allied propaganda, which dwelled abundantly on the German atrocities, was completely silent on Auschwitz, for reasons which have never been satisfactorily analyzed."

Just as it was inevitable that some of the propaganda would manifest itself in the Vatican's documents, it was also inevitable that some of the truth, in regard to the matters we are concerned with here, would find its way into that part of the Vatican archives selected for publication. Thus, the documents suggest that the Vatican did after all have some access to Jews in Poland, not only Polish Jews but also Italian Jews who were deported after the German occupation of Rome on September 8, 1943.[472] Also, the editors of volume 9 of Actes et documents (on the subject of war victims in 1943) note that friends and relatives of deported Jews were known to have later received mail from them, that the members of the Dutch resistance who were "in constant contact with the Jews of their country [reported] simply that the deportees were enlisted for work in the camps, while the aged were sent to ghettos," and that the Jewish leaders in Rome were unaware of any extermination program and feared deportations only in connection with such things as "the rigors of winter and the fragile health of many deportees," as is confirmed by "many letters received then at the Vatican, and which today form a thick dossier in the archives. [...] no mention is made of their brutal extermination." We also read that Father Marie-Benoît (a priest who was deeply involved in wartime aid to Jews) made a report in July 1943 on deportations of Jews from France and remarked that the Auschwitz and nearby camps were work camps where "the morale among the deportees is generally good and they are confident of the future."[473]

Because Auschwitz extermination propaganda started in 1944, we will probably encounter Auschwitz extermination claims in the Vatican's wartime documents when the Vatican publishes documents for 1944-1945, because bearing on exterminations, that is all there is in the documents of this critically situated source: propaganda.

Addendum on Robert A. Graham

The obituary/tribute below first appeared, very slightly modified, in the Journal of Historical Review, March/April 1998, based on my manuscript of 31 July 1997. The Graham letter of 24 January 1983 was reproduced there from the original.


When I was writing The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, I encountered an extraordinary source, viz. the multi-volume collection of documents and commentary Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale (Acts and documents of the Holy See relative to the Second World War). The series, whose principal editor was Robert A. Graham, was still being published by the Vatican and more volumes were in the future.

Graham was a former editor of the Jesuit magazine America. The "extermination" claim was not challenged in the series, and it was generally understood that Graham's main interest was in defending the wartime Pope Pius XII against charges of tacit consent to, and even collaboration with, Nazi policies of physical extermination of the Jews. Such charges crested with Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy.

I believed that the Vatican documents constitute an important source. I devoted an entire appendix of my book to discussing them.

In studying the series of volumes, I was struck by some of the editorial remarks and believed that the editor, although not a revisionist in our sense, was implicitly raising fundamental questions of a revisionist bent. A good example was the quotation of some selected passages from some reports, from apparently well informed sources, delivered to the Pope on 15 July 1943, which described Auschwitz as essentially a work camp and spoke of Jews who had been deported from France sending letters back to their families.[474]

These impressions were so strong that I believed it necessary to contact Graham directly. In early 1977, I wrote to him in Rome, thus starting a very satisfactory and years long correspondence, although the request for copies of documents that I made to him at the time could not be filled, for reasons beyond his control.[475]

In summer 1977, I was in Rome and visited him. Our conversation confirmed to me what I had read between the lines in Actes et documents: the editor was puzzled by the evidence he had examined, because much of it seemed impossible to reconcile with the "extermination" legend. He showed me a pamphlet I had not seen, published in 1943 by the "Polish Labor Group," which was New York based but in touch with the Polish underground. Its title was appropriate: Oswiecim - Camp of Death ("Oświęcim" is Polish for "Auschwitz"). The pamphlet presented the truth with some embellishment, but what was important to Graham was that it did not speak of "exterminations" in any way reconcilable with the legend. He let me borrow the pamphlet to photocopy.

Vol. 10 of Actes et documents was long delayed, and I wrote to Graham several times in my eagerness to see it. Publication finally came in 1980, and Graham was thoughtful enough to alert me personally. I got a copy and found references to more interesting but unpublished documents. Again I wrote to Graham and happily, this time, my request was filled.[476]

At the IHR Convention in 1982, I compared the Holocaust legend to the Donation of Constantine and sent Graham a copy of the paper (see Supplement 2, p. 379). In the paper, I had noted that the Jewish historian Walter Laqueur understood as I did "that the far-flung nature of the operations of the Catholic Church guaranteed that the Vatican would have known what was happening to the Jews".[477] Graham acknowledged receipt of the copy of my paper with a very kind, respectful and encouraging letter, referring to and not disputing the remark about the Vatican:

"VILLA MALTA 24 January 1983

Dear Mr. Butz,

Your airmailed copy of your September 1982 paper reached me today. I hasten to thank you for keeping me in mind when elaborating on your theme.

On a quick reading, I see I must reflect further on the validity of your approach. I never thought of this in analogy of the Donation of Constantine!

I note your quote from Laqueur on the Vatican. He was apparently peeved at us for telling him we published what we had, as of 1942. What makes him assume that there is on the contrary a lot more? This is begging the question.

I wish you a prosperous New Year and fresh discoveries and new insights on a great drama!

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Graham"

I always knew that there was an honest and honorable man editing the publication of the Vatican documents.

Rev. Robert A. Graham, S.J., died in a California retirement home, at age 84, on 11 February 1997.


[447]Rhodes, 171-210.
[448]Rhodes, 246.
[449]Actes et documents, vol. 7, 179.
[450]Rhodes, 347.
[451]New York Times (Jan. 22, 1943), 6; (May 13, 1943), 8; (Sep. 5, 1943), 7; (Sep. 6, 1943), 7.
[452]New York Times (Jun. 3, 1945), 22.
[453]Actes et documents, vol. 7, 82.
[454]Catholic Historical Review, vol. 59 (Jan. 1974), 719f.
[455]Actes et documents, vol. 8, 738-742.
[456]Red Cross (1948), vol. 3, 520ff.
[457]Rhodes, 272ff; Waagenaar, 409, 435f.
[458]Actes et documents, vol. 7, 136ff. Waagenaar, 413, quotes from the Osborne-Maglione exchange, but he does not quote it in its proper context of the bombing threat to Rome.
[459]Actes et documents, vol. 7, 138f.
[460]Actes et documents, vol. 2, 326; vol. 9, 40; Rhodes, 348f.
[461]Actes et documents, vol. 3. 15f. Rhodes, 288.
[462]Actes et documents, vol. 8, 534.
[463]Actes et documents, vol. 8, 669n.
[464]Rhodes, 345; Waagenaar, 431.
[465]Dawidowicz, 295ff.
[466]Actes et documents, vol. 8, 607f.
[467]Actes et documents, vol. 7, 473f.
[468]New York Times (Apr. 5, 1973), 1, 5.
[469]Actes et documents, vol. 3, 625-629.
[470]Actes et documents, vol. 9, 39, 274.
[471]Actes et documents, vol. 9, 42.
[472]Actes et documents, vol. 9, 493, 499, 632-636.
[473]Actes et documents, vol. 9, 38, 42f.
[474]Actes et documents, vol. 9, pp. 42, 393. The footnote on p. 42 should refer to "Nr. 264", not 164. More examples are given toward the end of "Appendix E" of my book.
[475]I wanted copies of the documents about deportations of Jews from France that Actes et documents had quoted but not reproduced. Graham told me to send my "request through channels", i.e. to Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. I did so, but Casaroli replied that since the reports in question "were provided by Jewish authorities in France" then I should address myself to them. I wrote to the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine in Paris, but received no answer. I also visited the Centre in July 1977, but I could not find the documents.
[476]The most interesting document was a letter from Alexandru Safran, Grand Rabbi of Romania, to Msgr. Andrea Cassulo, Papal Nuncio in Bucharest, dated 30 June 1944. It expressed concern that the Jews of Hungary were "exposed to great privations and sufferings", at a time when the legend would have us believe they were mostly dead. The Jews of Hungary and Romania remained in close contact throughout this period.
[477]The paper appears as a Supplement in recent printings of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. "IHR" means "Institute for Historical Review", my publisher at the time.

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