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Former Romanian spy chief discusses how the myth of 'Hitler's Pope' started with Stalin.
BY EDWARD PENTIN
Yesterday, former head of the Romanian intelligence service Ion Mihai Pacepa discussed with the Register how the Soviets framed Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizer.
Efforts to muddy Pius’s reputation began in Moscow in a bid to discredit the Catholic Church in Ukraine very soon after World War II. During the Cold War, that campaign of disinformation became known as “Operation Seat 12.”
Pacepa, who defected to the United States in 1978, first made the claims in 2007. He asserts that Rolf’s Hochhuth’s 1963 play The Deputy was used by Soviet intelligence as part of this wider plot to frame Pius. Now, Pacepa is writing a book with on the Soviet plot, called Disinformation. He is collaborating on the work with University of Mississippi professor Ronald J. Rychlak, who doubted Pacepa at first but after spending two years investigating his story became convinced of its veracity.
The Register’s Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin, interviewed Pacepa about the Soviet campaign against Pius XII. The interview concludes today.
The head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem’s Holocaust museum, Dan Michman, told the Register in a recent interview that he rejected any notion of a Soviet plot to smear Pius XII. Michman also did not believe Rolf Hochhuth’s play (The Deputy) was in any way a conscious attempt to smear Pius’ name, but, rather, raised a legitimate moral issue “that is still there in the controversy.” What evidence is there to suggest that the KGB had a hand in creating, rewriting or distributing the play?
Let me first address professor Michman’s belief that Hochhuth’s play was not in any way a conscious attempt to smear Pius’ name. Our book provides evidence proving that all of Hochhuth’s major plays were intended to smear anti-communists. His second play, Soldiers, Necrology on Geneva, was intended to smear the strongly anti-communist British foreign intelligence service by insinuating that it had secretly assassinated Polish Gen.
Wladyslaw Sikorski, who during World War II took refuge in London, joined the Allied forces, and became prime minister in exile of Soviet-occupied Poland, commander in chief of the Polish armed forces and a staunch advocate of the Polish cause. Sikorski died on July 4, 1943, when his plane crashed into the sea immediately upon takeoff from Gibraltar.
Official investigations established that the crash was caused by engine failure. Hochhuth’s play, however, insinuated that Sikorski was killed onboard the airplane by its pilot, Edward Prchal, who was allegedly working for the British espionage service and who intentionally crashed the plane to erase any proof of the crime.
According to Hochhuth, the pilot survived but was later assassinated by the same British espionage service in order to shut his mouth. In December 1968, the legendary British reporter David Frost organized a television interview with the producers of Soldiers, which had recently opened in London, and introduced the pilot, who was very much alive. “Mr. Hochhuth is producing a slander of the century,” Edward Prchal stated. Hochhuth’s biographer noted: “Hochhuth’s ... accusation resulted in a libel action brought by the surviving pilot [Prchal] of the crashed aircraft, which involved the author [Hochhuth] and the producers of the play in London in a costly financial settlement.”
In 1978, Hochhuth published Eine Liebe in Deutschland (A Love in Germany), a novel about an affair between a Polish prisoner of war and a German woman in World War II, which became the play Juristen (Judges) and the film Ein Furchtbarer Jurist (A Terrible Judge). The novel stirred up a debate about the Nazi past of Hans Filbinger, a member of West Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and the sitting minister president of Baden-Württemberg.
Hochhuth’s novel asserted that Filbinger was responsible for the death sentence given to the German sailor Walter Gröger in a British prisoner-of-war camp when the war was already over. The storm over Hochhuth’s accusation forced Filbinger to resign from office, but the debate dragged on for the rest of his life. When Filbinger finally passed away in 2007, Baden-Württemberg minister president Günther Oettinger said:
“There is no legal decision given by Hans Filbinger that caused a person to lose his life. And in the case of those legal decisions that are held against him, he either did not have the authority to make the decision, or else he was not free to make the decision that many people now allege he did.”
In response to this, Hochhuth called Filbinger a “sadistic Nazi.” Two German newspapers said Hochhuth had lied. In his response, which appeared on April 13, 2007, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hochhuth characterized their statements as “pure invention” and complained about the undermining of the “tragedy of the sailor Walter Gröger,” whom Hans Filbinger “personally ordered to be killed while a British prisoner of war.”
The online version of Hochhuth’s article, entitled “The Liar,” was deleted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung one day after it appeared, with the following comment:
“The writer Rolf Hochhuth’s claim that appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of April 13, 2007, (“The Liar”) — that Filbinger had sentenced Gröger to be killed while he was a British prisoner of war — is false.”
It is noteworthy that Hochhuth's researcher for both shows, David Irving, was an English historian who scorned anti-communists and idolized Hitler. In 1969, during a visit to Germany, Irving met Robert Kempner, one of the American prosecutors at Nuremberg. Later, in a letter submitted to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Kempner said that Irving was a “young man who made a nervous and rather mentally dilapidated impression” and who expressed many “anti-American and anti-Jewish statements.”
In a speech delivered in Canada, Irving did indeed make a mentally dilapidated impression, vociferously articulating his contempt and hatred for people who condemned the Holocaust:
“Ridicule alone isn’t enough; you’ve got to be tasteless about it. You’ve got to say things like, ‘More women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.’ Now, you think that’s tasteless? What about this? I’m forming an association especially dedicated to all these liars, the ones who try and kid people that they were in these concentration camps, it’s called the Auschwitz survivors, survivors of the holocaust and other liars, (expletive deleted). Can’t get more tasteless than that, but you’ve got to be tasteless because these people deserve our contempt."
Later, Irving published Hitler’s War, a book he said was aimed at cleaning away the “years of grime and discoloration from the facade of a silent and forbidding monument,” to reveal the real Hitler, whose reputation, Irving claimed, had been slandered.
Irving portrayed Hitler as a rational, intelligent politician whose only goal was to increase Germany’s prosperity. Irving faulted Winston Churchill for the escalation of war, claimed that Hitler knew nothing about the Holocaust, and offered £1,000 to anyone who could find any written command from Hitler ordering the Holocaust. Irving’s anti-Semitism went so far as to “denounce” the diary of Ann Frank as a forgery.
Hochhuth defended Irving's anti-Semitism. In a newspaper interview, Hochhuth called Irving a “fabulous pioneer of contemporary history.” This caused German newspapers and Jewish groups to label Hochhuth an anti-Semite.
In fact, the German publishing house Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt canceled publication of Hochhuth’s autobiography over this matter. (Irving, by the way, pleaded guilty and received a three-year sentence.) This was not the only time Hochhuth had defended Irving. The playwright spoke very highly of him in his memoirs. When critics asked how anyone could write words of praise for someone like Irving, his answer was: “Because I am Hochhuth.”
Now let me go back to professor Michman’s question: “What evidence is there to suggest that the KGB had a hand in creating, rewriting or distributing the play?”
Our upcoming book, Disinformation, contains irrefutable evidence showing the KGB hand all over Hochhuth’s play, Der Stellvertreter: Ein christliches Trauerspiel (The Deputy: A Christian Tragedy). Here is a sample:
The producer of the play, Erwin Piscator, had been a member of the German Communist Party since 1919 and NKVD agent since 1931, when he moved to Moscow. There, he became president of the International Association of Workers’ Theatres (IATB), which later changed its name to the International Association of Revolutionary Theatres.
The Berlin premiere of The Deputy was produced by the Freie Volksbühne, an openly communist theater headed by Piscator. Despite its unsuccessful debut in Berlin, Der Stellvertreter was quickly translated and produced by some of the most prominent names in theater. All were Western communists or sympathizers. The first French version of Der Stellvertreter was translated by Jorge Semprum, a member of the French Communist Party and later of the exiled Communist Party of Spain. The British version of The Deputy (translated as The Representative) was produced by Peter Brook, who during World War II produced a play with the proceeds going to the Aid to Russia Fund.
In 1955, he made a successful tour of the Soviet Union. Later, when Brook put together an anti-Vietnam play, US, the Lord Chamberlain complained that it was “bestial, anti-American and communist.”
The American publisher of Der Stellvertreter was Grove Press in New York, which belonged to Barney Rosset, a self-proclaimed communist. Grove Press also published Che Guevara’s diaries, with an introduction by Fidel Castro.
In a 2006 interview, Rosset was asked about his religion. He replied that he never had a religion: “So I became a communist as a religion. And you better believe it.”
The producer of The Deputy on Broadway was Herman Shumlin, an active communist. According to Time magazine (Feb. 5, 1940), Shumlin was the only American producer who advertised in the communist Daily Worker. The article went on to note that “Mr. Shumlin had almost no friends except leftist Lillian Hellman.” Hellman, with whom Shumlin had a professional and a romantic relationship, was outspoken in her support for communism.
The first review of The Deputy was published in 1963 by I.F. Stone, an American journalistic icon compared to the likes of H.L. Mencken and William F. Buckley, who later was proved to be a Soviet intelligence agent. Recently published KGB documents in the Vassiliev Archive show that I.F. Stone had been recruited by the NKVD in 1936 on ideological grounds and given the code name “Blin” (Russian for “pancake”).
Venona [U.S.-British intelligence] intercepts of highly classified Soviet intelligence enciphered communications from 1944 show that by then Stone was a paid NKVD influence agent.
A following review of The Deputy, also published during 1963, was signed by another American journalist paid by the KGB, Victor Perlo (identified as a Soviet agent by Elisabeth Bentley, Whittaker Chambers and in the Venona electronic intercepts).
Also during 1963, as The Deputy was beginning to create a rift between Catholics and Jews, a KGB-sponsored publisher in the U.S., the Liberty-Prometheus Book Club, republished an old, pro-communist book that mirrored the charges raised by The Deputy. The book was Shylock: The History of a Character, authored by Hermann Sinsheimer, and it focused on the mistreatment of Jews by popes and other Christians. Liberty-Prometheus Book Club was co-owned by Carl Aldo Marzani, an Italian-born American communist and very active Soviet dezinformatsiya agent, probably recruited before World War II. Documents in the Mitrokhin Archive [a collection of notes made secretly by KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin during roughly 1960-1990] show that Marzani (KGB code-named “Nord”) received substantial sums of money from the KGB for having his Liberty Book Club publishing company (code-named “Sever”) produce pro-Soviet material. Marzani was also given an annual $10,000 from the KGB to advertise those books aggressively.
Critics say that your evidence of a plot has never been corroborated. Is this true?
If by “corroborated” you mean a written order signed by Khrushchev or some KGB-written operational plans for framing Pius XII, my answer is a flat: No. We do not have — and to the best of my knowledge, there is no hope to find — such corroborating evidence for any post-1962 KGB framing or assassination operations abroad, even if the KGB archives are someday really opened. Here is why. In August 1961, Bogdan Stashinsky, a KGB officer stationed in East Berlin, defected to West Germany. There, he related that a couple of months earlier he had killed two leading anti-communist Ukrainian émigrés (Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera) in West Germany with a cyanide spray gun.
In October 1962, Stashinsky was put on trial in West Germany for murder. After initially being heard with skepticism, Stashinsky ended up convincing the public of his sincerity and remorse. What had started out as Stashinsky’s trial was soon transformed into one against Khrushchev, as the world learned in great detail what kind of a man and mentality were running the Soviet Union of that day. The flamboyant, impulsive and unpredictable ruler in the Kremlin, whose “secret” speech unmasking Stalin’s crimes was fresh in everyone’s memory, appeared to the Karlsruhe [West Germany] courtroom to be just another odious butcher — and a flat-out liar.
It was not at all true that after the XX Party Congress Khrushchev had stopped the KGB’s killings — he had merely turned the focus abroad. It was not true that Khrushchev had abolished the KGB component for “wet affairs” (“wet” being a euphemism for “bloody”). He had just changed its name. It was not true that Khrushchev was not addicted to crime — he had personally ordered the killings committed by Stashinsky, and he had personally signed the decree rewarding the perpetrator with the highest Soviet medal.
At the end of his seven-day trial, Stashinsky stated: “I wanted to give worldwide publicity to the way in which [Khrushchev’s] ‘peaceful coexistence’ really works in practice.” He had done just that.
A few months later, Gen. Ivan Ivanovich Agayants, the chief of the KGB disinformation component, came to Bucharest to instruct us about Khrushchev’s new rules for framing and assassination operations abroad. In spite of the KGB’s penchant for bureaucratic paperwork, Agayants explained, these particular operations were to be handled strictly orally. They were never to be committed to paper, and they had to be kept totally secret from the Politburo and every other governing body.
“‘The Comrade’ and only ‘The Comrade’” could approve which Western leader should be compromised. “The Comrade” was the supreme ruler of the country. Moreover, regardless of any evidence that might be produced by foreign governments, we were not ever allowed to acknowledge our involvement in such operations.
Finally, “The Comrade” ordered that these operations be routinely disguised, wherever possible, as CIA operations, so that if something went wrong the CIA would be blamed for having done the deed, thereby killing two birds with one stone. “A belled cat can’t catch mice,” Agayants told us, and that held even truer for framing operations aimed at compromising Western political or religious personalities.
We do not have Khrushchev's written order to the KGB to frame Pius XII. Just as we will never find [current Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s written order to the KGB, now rechristened FSB, to assassinate Alexander Litvinenko, who in 2006 was killed in London with radionuclide polonium-210, which was later identified by the Scotland Yard as having been produced by the Russian government.
But we have something else which is as good as corroborating evidence: the KGB’s operational pattern. All intelligence operations, framing included, follow predictable patterns generated by the idiosyncrasies of the perpetrator.
Soviet espionage, like the Soviet government, had an unusually strong penchant for patterns. All Soviet bloc countries were called “people’s republics”; all their police forces were re-baptized as “militia,” and all militia personnel were dressed in blue uniforms indistinguishable from those of the Soviet militia; all Soviet bloc espionage services were identically organized and had an identical modus operandi — the salaries of all their officers were even paid on the 20th of the month to commemorate the founding on Dec. 20, 1917, of the Cheka, the KGB’s predecessor.
In Disinformation, we expose numerous KGB patterns used in the framing of Pius XII. Counterintelligence experts consider such patterns “operational evidence,” showing the fingerprints of the perpetrator. In our view, they amply corroborate the evidence we have about the Kremlin’s plot.
How influential was the Seat 12 plot in altering public opinion on Pius XII’s wartime record, in your view?
According to Paul Kengor, an American professor of political science, TV commentator and best-selling author [and Register columnist], Seat 12 has created a rift between Catholics who rightly admire Pius — and are even seeking to canonize him — and their Jewish friends. The Soviet Union and the Cold War are over, but the war on religion remains, unwittingly reinvigorated by misled scholars who have picked up “facts” that were never actually facts to begin with.
Dec. 5, 2008, brought the death of Aleksi II, the 15th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. He had worked for the KGB under the code name “Drozdov” and was awarded the KGB Certificate of Honor, as was revealed in a KGB archive accidentally left behind in Estonia when the Russians pulled out.
For the first time in its history, Russia had an opportunity to conduct the democratic election of a new patriarch, but that was not to be.
On Jan. 27, 2009, the 700 synod delegates assembled in Moscow were presented with a slate listing three candidates: Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk (a secret member of the KGB code-named “Mikhaylov”), Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk (who worked for the KGB under the code name “Ostrovsky”) and Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga (who had the KGB code name “Topaz”).
When the bells at Christ the Savior Cathedral tolled to announce that a new patriarch had been elected, Kirill/“Mikhaylov” proved to be the winner. Regardless of whether he was the best leader for his Church, he certainly was in a better position to influence the religious world abroad than were the other candidates.
In 1971, the KGB had sent Kirill to Geneva as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches. In 1975, the KGB infiltrated him into the Central Committee of the WCC, which had become a Kremlin pawn. In 1989, the KGB appointed him chairman of the Russian patriarchate’s foreign relations as well. He still held those positions when he was elected patriarch.
In Russia, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. The science of disinformation has proven to be such a miracle weapon that the Russians remain addicted to it. There is no end in sight to the Kremlin’s manipulation of religions for the ultimate goal of consolidating its own power by widening the gap between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome Correspondent.