National Catholic Register

Vatican

The Plot to Kidnap Pius

New Evidence Confirms Hitler Planned to Nab the Pope

BY EDWARD PENTIN

REGISTER CORRESPONDENT

July 12-25, 2009 Issue | Posted 7/4/09 at 9:06 AM

 

Further evidence has come to light confirming that Adolf Hitler planned to kidnap or kill Pope Pius XII, adding to proof that the German führer and the wartime Pope were enemies.

According to a report in the Italian bishops’ newspaper L’Avvenire June 16, a secret meeting took place in Venice on July 29-30, 1943, to inform the head of Italian counterintelligence, Gen. Cesare Amé, of the führer’s wish to punish Italians for the arrest of Mussolini by kidnapping or killing Pius XII and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.

The plan came directly from Berlin from the head of German counterintelligence, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, and two colonels in charge of sabotage: Erwin von Lahousen and Wessel Freytag von Loringhoven. Details of the plot have now been made public by Niki Freytag von Loringhoven, 72, the son of the colonel.

Father Peter Gumpel, investigative judge of Pius XII’s beatification cause, confirmed to the Register June 23 that the testimony is “trustworthy” and “definitely true.” The German Jesuit, who has worked on the cause for more than 20 years, said he had even seen a photograph of those involved in the secret meeting, taken at the Hotel Danieli in Venice in 1943.

Amé, upon returning to Rome, spread news of the plans against the Pope and the king in order to block them, which proved successful. The plan was quickly dropped. According to Avvenire, this testimony coincides with the deposition given by von Lahousen during the Nuremberg war crimes trials on Feb. 1, 1946 (Warnreise Testimony 1330-1430).

Von Lahousen and Freytag von Loringhoven would later take part in Operation Valkyrie, the failed 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, led by Col. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a Catholic. Von Loringhoven was subsequently executed by Hitler for his involvement in the plot, but Von Lahousen managed to avoid capture. Canaris was also part of the German resistance and was executed by Hitler in 1945.

These new revelations further confirm that Pius XII was no friend of Hitler and add to the testimony given some years ago by Gen. Karl Wolff. The German general, who was the highest SS and police officer in Italy, signed a sworn affidavit explaining how Hitler ordered him to draw up a plan to kidnap Pius XII and take him to the north or Lichtenstein (a copy of the affidavit and its translation can be found at PavetheWayFoundation.org).

In it, he explains in much detail, including dialogue between him and Hitler, how Hitler was furious about the treachery of Gen. Pietro Badoglio, Italy’s army chief, who pledged to support the führer but then signed an armistice with the Allies. Hitler was worried that the arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943 would lead the country to turn on Germany, so he drew up plans to send divisions into Italy, which he later did that same year.

In his interview with the Register, Father Gumpel reasserted there was enmity between Hitler and Pius XII from the very beginning, when then Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli was nuncio in Berlin. “When he left Germany, he informed Catholic politicians to be careful of Hitler, telling them the man is a scoundrel,” said Father Gumpel. “He said he was obsessed, someone who tramples on corpses, and so ‘for heaven’s sake keep him out of the chancelleries of Germany — do everything you can do to avoid him coming to power.’”

Father Gumpel said Hitler “knew very well” that as nuncio Pius had done everything he could to prevent him being elected chancellor. Coupled with Hitler’s “choleric outbreaks” following the “Badoglio treason,” he therefore made “sinister threats against the Italian king and the Vatican,” according to Wolff.

The German general said that not only did Hitler want him to kidnap Pius, but Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, also asked him to take care of all the Vatican archives and treasures. According to Father Gumpel, Wolff was ordered to bring all the Vatican treasures to Germany.

Wolff, who was a Christian, was opposed to the plot from the outset.

“He decided to do everything he could to torpedo the whole thing,” said Father Gumpel. “He continually forestalled the plan, and, in the end, succeeded in convincing Hitler to drop the whole thing.”

Wolff convinced Hitler that many people would be needed for the plan to succeed, including specialists to go through the archives, and that the kidnapping would create such a public outcry that the Third Reich would stand to gain nothing.

In the meantime, during the German invasion of Italy, Father Gumpel said that Pius managed to convince Gen. Reiner Stahel, the German military commander in Rome, to find a way to persuade Himmler not to persecute the Jews in Rome.

Stahel, who was opposed to the persecution, drew up false excuses not to round up the Jews, which Himmler believed and which gave time for as many as 4,000 to 5,000 Jewish lives to seek refuge in about 150 Church institutions in Rome and the Vatican.

According to Father Gumpel, Hitler was aware of this.

“He knew that Pius was saving the Jews perfectly well, and he was very annoyed,” said the German Jesuit. “This is one of the reasons for the enmity.” However, his persecution of Jews in Rome was also thwarted by military commanders, such as Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, commander of German forces in the Mediterranean region, who didn’t want anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, the Pave the Way Foundation, which promotes interreligious dialogue, is publishing new documents from Germany that give evidence of Pope Pius XII’s work against Hitler during World War II.

In a statement, the foundation’s president, Gary Krupp, said he had discovered “many new unseen original documents” that “may change the face of this entire controversy.”

The documents are on the foundation website. This evidence, Krupp asserted, “seems to confirm that Pope Pius XII was an active enemy of Adolf Hitler” and added that the Pope was “named as a co-conspirator” in Operation Valkyrie.

“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,” said Krupp 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.”

(Zenit contributed to this story.)

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.