Rumors have persisted for a long time that Adolf Hitler wanted to kidnap or kill Pope Pius XII, but facts have come to light supporting the theory, adding to ever-growing evidence clearing the wartime pontiff’s name.
In 1972, former SS General Karl Wolf referred to such a plan in a meeting he said he had with the Pope on May 10, 1944. His story never could be verified.
However, articles in the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire and the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano this week provided more concrete details about a plan the Reichssicherheitsamt (the Reich’s Security Headquarters) hatched in Berlin in 1943.
The reports cite a viable source: the son of one of the key people involved, Niki Freytag von Loringhoven, who is now 72.
According to his account, a secret meeting took place July 29-30, 1943, in Venice to inform the head of Italian counterintelligence, Gen. Cesare Ame, of the Führer’s wish to punish Italians for the arrest of Benito Mussolini by kidnapping or killing Pius XII and the king of Italy.
The plan arrived directly from Berlin, from the head of German counterintelligence, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, and two colonels of Section II (sabotage), Erwin von Lahousen and Wessel Freytag von Loringhoven.
As soon as Ame returned to Rome, the news got out and the plan was shelved, according to the report in Avvenire.
The news is further testament to a well-known fact in church circles: Pius XII was certainly no friends of the Nazis. It follows a growing groundswell of opinion, also among many prominent Jews, that Pius XII not only did all he could to save Jews during World War II but also risked his life to help them.
Last week, L’Osservatore Romano editor Giovanni Maria Vian published a book that further quashed the so-called “black legend” surrounding Pope Pius XII – that he did too little to defend Jews during the war. Vian, like many others, says the smears were the work of communists, with the help of church progressives.
Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play “The Deputy,” which helped create the "black legend," was based in part on a propaganda work published by the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Vian says. Pius XII was vehemently anti-communist, and the Soviets saw him as a serious threat to the regime.
The editor stressed that Pius XII worked in discreet ways to help the Jews, taking that low-key approach to avoid worsening their plight at the hands of their German persecutors.
The Pope "often questioned himself about his attitude, which was nevertheless a conscious choice that he endured in order to save the greatest possible number of human victims rather than continually denouncing the evil with the real danger of still greater horrors," Vian explained.
Church progressives who wanted to create a distance between Pope Pius and his successor, Blessed John XXIII, also worked to smear the wartime pontiff’s reputation, he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Pave the Way Foundation has said it has discovered 2,300 unpublished documents from the World War II era that provide further evidence that Pope Pius XII worked to save Jews from the Holocaust.
The New York-based foundation, which Jewish entrepreneur Gary Krupp founded, said the newly discovered documents were housed in an Italian monastery. Many more similar documents may lie undiscovered, he said.
Krupp, who has made a special study of the wartime papacy, estimates that Pius XII may have saved as many as 800,000 Jewish lives through his actions, which ranged from instructing local bishops and apostolic delegates to protect them from the Nazis, to asking convents, monasteries, and the Vatican itself to open their doors and offer them refuge.
“From our unbiased research, and based on the mountains of evidence we have discovered, the undeniable conclusion is that Pope Pius XII was a true hero of WWII,” Krupp said in a statement. “Quite possibly he saved more Jews than all of the world’s religious and political leaders combined. Moreover, in the true spirit of heroism, he did all this with the direct threat of German rifles leveled 200 yards under his very windows.”
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