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An invaluable contribution to the history of the Catholic Church during the Second World War, this is a richly detailed eyewitness account of the life and politics of the Vatican by an American who worked there from 1940 to 1944.
The question of whether Pius XII and the Vatican must bear blame for failing to act decisively in response to Hitler’s Final Solution is as hotly debated today as in the years directly following World War II. INSIDE ...
An invaluable contribution to the history of the Catholic Church during the Second World War, this is a richly detailed eyewitness account of the life and politics of the Vatican by an American who worked there from 1940 to 1944.
The question of whether Pius XII and the Vatican must bear blame for failing to act decisively in response to Hitler’s Final Solution is as hotly debated today as in the years directly following World War II. INSIDE THE VATICAN OF PIUS XII presents for the first time the observations of an American diplomat who spent four years inside the Vatican. This memoir of Harold H. Tittmann, Jr., describes his encounters with Pius XII and offers details that give a full picture of daily life in the Vatican. Writing of his own activities as a diplomat, Tittmann chronicles his role in assisting and hiding escaped prisoners of war and his experiences navigating the tensions with the representatives of enemy states, with whom he lived side by side. Deftly conveying the beauty and solemnity of events that took place in the dramatic settings of St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel, and the Pope’s private chapel, Tittmann’s work will be valued by historians and students of history for generations to come.
In August 1939, my father was appointed U.S. Consul General in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time, Hitler was threatening to invade Poland if the Poles did not meet his demands regarding Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Despite British and French commitments to support Poland if the Germans attacked, Europeans did not want to believe that the Polish crisis would lead to yet another major war. Nevertheless, World War II broke out shortly after my father began his new assignment in Geneva, and he recorded his impressions of this dramatic event in his memoirs:
A week before the Nazis invaded Poland, I arrived in Geneva to assume my new job as Consul General. It was the end of August in 1939. I had come from Washington where I had been in the Division of Western European Affairs at the State Department. Looking back, it seems extraordinary that, although we knew many of the details regarding efforts to keep the peace, we somehow lacked awareness that Europe was on the brink of a real disaster. My family was with me; after docking at Le Havre, we motored through France, stopping on the way to enjoy the countryside and to leave our ten year old son, Harold, with American friends outside of Paris for a visit. But he surprised us by arriving in Geneva on the train only one day after we ourselves arrived, explaining as he got off the train that his hosts had suddenly departed for the United States, convinced that France was about to go to war. During our brief stay in France we had not been conscious of the imminence of such danger, and the French people we talked with did not seem at all disturbed. Even when I arrived at my office in Geneva, I encountered little sense of impending danger. Our son had first brought us the sad tidings.
It was at a bathing beach in Geneva on September 3, with family and friends, that we heard over the loudspeaker the British and French prime ministers announce to the world that their countries were at war with Germany. There was practically no reaction. We all simply shrugged our shoulders and continued to enjoy the warm autumn sun and the refreshing water of the lake. This extraordinary display of apathy in the light of such catastrophic forebodings was an example of the sentiment that prevailed everywhere in Europe during the following six months. Only Switzerland immediately put in strict rationing. After the surrender of Poland, military activities on both sides were at a standstill and neither one displayed any desire to get them started. This was called the period of the "phony war."
When we first arrived in Geneva, we stayed at Hotel de la Paix for a month or so while my parents looked for a house to rent. The hotel, relatively small and cozy, was one of Geneva's best, located on a lakeside quai only two blocks from the offices of the Consulate General. I remember particularly the elegant dining room, which had a superb view of the lake and Geneva's trademark jet d'eau, a graceful artificial geyser thrusting hundreds of feet above the lake. One day at lunch, my father commented to the headwaiter that it obviously must be expensive to provide enough energy to throw up so much water. Wouldn't it be better for mankind, my father added, if the funds spent for this spectacle were used instead to help the poor? "Monsieur," replied the headwaiter, "there are no poor people in Switzerland." Indeed, there were no slums in Geneva; the city displayed subdued, well-ordered prosperity that the wartime restrictions would not seriously affect.
We soon moved to "Campagne Mallet," a lovely seventeenth-century country house rented by my father in the Geneva suburb of Cologny. I remember particularly the extensive grounds surrounding the house, which included a working farm where we obtained fresh eggs. Campagne Mallet provided my father, for the only time in his career, with an opportunity to create a small vegetable garden, despite his wooden leg. He managed to grow a few rows of American sweet corn, which matured nicely in the summer of 1940. The driveway leading to the villa was lined by two rows of magnificent horse chestnut trees, which in the fall produced an abundant crop of shiny brown fruit. Though inedible for humans, they were used by the Swiss farmers as emergency wartime rations for their pigs. My brother Barclay and I would collect the horse chestnuts in large sacks, which we were able to sell for a modest amount of pocket money.
My parents chose to continue our schooling at least partly in the English language. Although Barclay and I had learned to speak French at an early age from Swiss governesses in Rome, our writing ability was nil. After a brief stint at the International School in Geneva, my father sent me to Le Rosey, a fashionable boarding school for boys located halfway between Geneva and Lausanne. The school was bilingual in French and English, and was known for attracting the sons of royalty and the wealthy from all over the world. After the war broke out, the school's sources of students largely dried up, allowing my father to negotiate a reduced tuition, the normal size of which he could ill afford. During the winter term, the entire school would move to a campus in the ski resort of Gstaad. I have only vague recollections of that school year, my first away from home, but I think on the whole it was a happy time and I received a good education. Although the number of students had shrunk from 110 to around 30, the school kept on all its faculty. As a result, the students benefited from unusually close attention from the teachers.
As the "phony" war continued into 1940, my father found his work in Geneva "much too quiet for [his] taste," as he wrote to his mother in February 1940. One of the functions of the Consulate General in Geneva was to report on developments at the League of Nations, which was based in that city. However, the League was in its death throes, and not much of interest was happening. My parents were warmly received by Geneva society; my father speculated that this was partly due to self-interest, as the Swiss may have foreseen the day when they would need the wartime support of the United States. This does not do justice to the great charm and social graces of my mother. She was an accomplished golfer, and soon became the ladies' champion at the Geneva Golf Club.
At the end of 1939, President Roosevelt decided to appoint Myron C. Taylor as his personal representative to Pope Pius XII. It was a decision that would have a profound effect on my father's diplomatic career. His memoirs describe the background to the Taylor mission:
In November 1936, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State of Pius XI, was the luncheon guest of President Roosevelt at his country estate at Hyde Park, and the question of relations between the U.S. and the Vatican was broached in a general way. Thereafter, Roosevelt often referred to Pacelli, especially after he became Pope Pius XII, as "his old and good friend," a personal and familiar touch which was unusual when statesmen dealt with the Pope. Although there was no formal change in the traditional policy of United States aloofness from Vatican affairs, Roosevelt demonstrated a more sympathetic attitude toward the Pope and the Holy See by designating Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador in London, as Special Envoy of the President at the Coronation Ceremony of Pacelli as the newly elected Pope on March 12, 1939. This was the first time an American president had been officially represented on such an occasion.
During the summer of 1939, as the war clouds were gathering and turning black, President Roosevelt became convinced of the need for establishing some rapport with the Holy See, in view of its importance in world affairs. The Vatican had representatives, diplomatic or otherwise, in a total of seventy-two countries throughout the world, from which it could gather much information. In addition, the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, representing thirty-eight countries, constituted in itself a potential source of useful information.
In July 1939, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles sent a personal letter to William Phillips, the U.S. Ambassador in Rome, asking for his thoughts on the possible establishment of U.S.-Vatican diplomatic relations. Phillips replied that he favored such a move, since this would make available to the Department of State an important source of political information. Phillips also noted that U.S. diplomatic relations with the Vatican would enhance the prestige of the Pope and thus help him in his dealings with the Italian and German governments, as well as in his efforts to preserve the peace in Europe. "At present," Phillips wrote, "the Pope is living in the shadow of a dominant personality and he may well hesitate at times to take any action that might incur the displeasure of Mussolini."
In August, Welles and Secretary of State Cordell Hull advised Roosevelt that the Vatican had many sources of information, particularly for Germany, Italy and Spain, which the U.S. did not possess, and that it was obviously desirable to obtain access to such information. Hull recommended against the appointment of a regular ambassador, which would require the consent of the Senate. Instead, he suggested the naming of a personal representative of the President to the Pope, thereby avoiding Senate involvement. The Vatican had for years maintained an informal "Apostolic Delegation" in Washington, which had no diplomatic standing.
In October, Archbishop Spellman of New York, who had close contacts with the Pope, met with Roosevelt to discuss relations with the Vatican. The President told him that he had decided to establish a special U.S. mission to the Holy See which would not require Congressional approval. In order to make sure that there would be no interference by the Congress, he planned to announce the decision during the Christmas legislative recess. He advised Spellman that his representative would be either Myron C. Taylor, ex-Chairman of U.S. Steel Corporation, or Breckinridge Long, a former ambassador to Italy and currently an Assistant Secretary of State-both Protestants. After informing the Vatican of his conversation with the President, Spellman advised Roosevelt that either candidate would be entirely acceptable to the Holy Father.
In a Christmas message to the Pope, Roosevelt informed him of his decision to appoint a personal representative, Myron Taylor, who would carry the rank of ambassador, but without the formal title. In a letter of confirmation to Taylor, Roosevelt requested him to proceed to the Vatican as soon as possible to act as a channel of communication between the Pope and himself and to report to Washington on "any matters which may come to your attention in the performance of your mission and which you feel may serve the best interests of the United States." Taylor, aged sixty-six, was a close friend of Roosevelt, a leading U.S. business executive and a wealthy man. He also served as the President's representative on the Inter-Governmental Committee on Political Refugees, established in 1938 to facilitate the emigration to the Western Hemisphere of refugees, many of them Jewish, from Germany and German-occupied territories.
The establishment of the Taylor mission soon met with strenuous objections from Protestant quarters, who viewed it as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. Conscious of this non-Catholic opposition in the U.S., the President attempted to disassociate as much as possible the Taylor mission in the eyes of the public from a formal diplomatic appointment. Mr. Taylor would constantly emphasize the unusual and unofficial aspects of his position, letting it be known that all his reports were addressed directly to the President outside official government channels. This was not exactly the case, since such reports only rarely escaped the notice of the Secretary of State or even the ambassador to Italy, the American Embassy being the only safe means of communication between Taylor and Roosevelt. Moreover, Taylor served without salary from the government, and his expenses were paid from funds appropriated from the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees.
Roosevelt's first objective in sending Taylor to the Vatican was to join forces with the Pope in attempting to persuade Mussolini to keep Italy out of the war. Roosevelt was determined to assist the British and French in their struggle against Nazi Germany in every possible way, and maintaining Italy's nonbelligerent status was a key element of the President's strategy. He knew that the Pope, fearing that Italy's entry into the war, in addition to the inevitable human suffering, would result in massive damage to the Catholic Church's incomparable religious and artistic assets in Italy, was pursuing the same goal.
Roosevelt requested the State Department to provide logistical support to Taylor, and in early February my father, because of his intimate knowledge of Italy, was ordered to join Taylor in Rome as his "assistant." The assignment was temporary, as my father continued to hold the post of Consul General in Geneva. He did not have great expectations about his new job; he wrote to his mother that he had been "ordered to proceed to Rome to act as a cicerone to Mr. Myron Taylor . . . I have not the least idea what I am expected to do." But he looked forward to returning to Italy.
My father traveled to Rome on February 20, 1940, establishing his quarters in the Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto. A few days later, Myron Taylor arrived from the United States. Taylor was an imposing person, the archetype of the successful big business executive, in both appearance and personality. He was a man clearly used to commanding; one Italian official, who visited Taylor in Florence when he was ill in bed, felt that, despite his prone position, he appeared to be sitting on a throne.
Taylor also settled in the Excelsior; his large suite would serve as the base for his mission. For the next six weeks, my father accompanied Taylor on a constant round of official calls on Vatican officials and on diplomats accredited to the Holy See. Taylor would then receive return calls from these dignitaries at the Excelsior. As Easter approached, the Vatican diplomatic corps attended a series of religious services. My father recalled one particularly dramatic ceremony:
Towards evening on the Thursday before Easter of that portentous year 1940, the office of the Matins of Tenebrae began in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome as the clergy silently entered the magnificent basilica, now dark and bare. The only light, coming from the small number of wax tapers distributed around the high altar, flickered dimly on the paneled ceiling above, which had been covered centuries ago with gold from the New World. The lovely melodious "Miserere," the gradual extinction of the candles one by one and afterwards the praying in complete darkness and silence when not even a bell was heard, and finally the resounding noise echoing down the ancient aisles produced by the beating on benches with iron bars to recall the disturbance of the forces of nature at the approach of Christ's death, were all intensely dramatic. As we were leaving the basilica, Ambassador Taylor turned to me and grimly reflected that the noise caused by the beating on the wood could also represent the ferment then pervading Europe, the ominous developments of 1939 and 1940.
My father had little to do with Taylor's dealings with the Pope and did not attend his numerous papal audiences. Taylor had brought along his personal secretary, and prepared his reports to President Roosevelt on these meetings with the Pope entirely on his own. Moreover, during the crucial months of April, May, and June, my father spent only one week in Rome with Taylor. His memoirs consequently describe the diplomatic aspects of the Taylor mission essentially in terms of an outside observer:
On the western side of the Atlantic, there was deep concern over the situation in Europe. President Roosevelt did not shut his eyes to the fast-deteriorating political situation; in fact he had been watching developments very closely. According to Italian archives seized by the Germans when they occupied Rome in 1943 and later recaptured and publicized by the Allies, the President played an increasingly important role in the various attempts to keep Italy neutral since the end of 1939. These files reveal that on January 6, 1940, he proposed to the Italians a "common, effective action" by the Pope, Mussolini, and himself "for the restoration of peace in Europe," and had even expressed the desire for a personal conference with the Duce sometime in 1940.
Not surprisingly, Myron Taylor's appointment and the public exchange of messages between the Pope and the President, created the image of a triumvirate composed of Pius XII, Roosevelt, and Mussolini combining to bring about a peace that would be 1) anti-Bolshevist as proposed by the Holy See, 2) pro-capitalist as desired by the United States and 3) providing a European balance-of-power according to Italian concepts. In a meeting at the White House during the latter part of January with the Italian Ambassador in Washington, Don Ascanio dei Principi Colonna, President Roosevelt requested the envoy to convey to Mussolini his ardent desire that Italy should continue to remain a nonbelligerent, as she had declared when war erupted.
Then on February 26, 1940, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, in Rome for the first of two visits to the Italian capital during a fact-finding tour in Europe, met the Duce and delivered a letter from President Roosevelt in which the oral request already made through Ambassador Colonna was repeated in writing. The Pope assured Myron Taylor and Sumner Welles, at an audience on March 18, that Roosevelt could perform a valuable service in the interest of peace by exerting his influence on the Duce to keep Italy out of war.
Mr. Taylor was granted private audiences with the Holy Father on seven different occasions during this critical period in 1940-February 27, the Pope's birthday, March 2 with Sumner Welles present, March 18, March 29, April 26, May 11 and May 23-an unusually large number of audiences accorded to any one foreign diplomat over so short a period. The main theme of the conversations between the two was the necessity for devising without delay some means to keep Mussolini out of the war. Both admitted as events proceeded that there was little hope that their endeavors could meet with success. From the beginning the Pope kept stressing the fact that President Roosevelt's influence on Mussolini would be of key importance and the Cardinal Secretary of State, Maglione, on his part informed Mr. Taylor that Roosevelt's authority in world affairs could be more powerful than that of any single statesman or group of statesmen in the West.
The British Government itself was willing to go to great lengths to keep Italy out of the war. On April 18, a message from the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, to Myron Taylor, delivered by the British Minister to the Holy See, D'Arcy Osborne, stated:
Please tell Mr Taylor that this is undoubtedly a critical moment and I should be very grateful for anything he could advise the President to do with a view to restraining Mussolini of the feeling he is believed to entertain that the Allies' aim is destroying the Fascist Regime in Italy as well as the Nazi Regime in Germany. It would, therefore, be helpful if Mr Taylor would suggest to the President that he might impress upon high circles in Italy the fact that we are in friendly relations with many countries which are governed by an authoritarian regime and that the kind of regime prevailing in other countries is no business of ours.
Lord Halifax then pointed out that the British Government had never thought of placing the Nazis of Hitler and the Fascists of Mussolini on the same plane and ended his message by saying that while he understood that the Duce might be convinced that Germany was invincible, he nevertheless felt that Mussolini should realize that he could have much greater influence in the reconstruction of Europe if he were to stay out of the melee altogether.
On April 19, Taylor telegraphed to President Roosevelt that he had conferred with the Cardinal Secretary of State, the British minister and the French, Belgian, Romanian, Polish and Spanish ambassadors to the Holy See and, of course, with the American ambassador to Italy, William Phillips, as well. They all agreed that the situation of Italy vis-à-vis Germany was uncertain and critical and that there was a real danger of Mussolini either joining Hitler or engaging separately in new aggressions. They expressed belief that an immediate communication from the President to Mussolini urging that he refrain from this type of action would be most desirable. Taylor asked Cardinal Maglione whether the Pope would be prepared to take "parallel action" with the President for peace by also appealing to the Duce. Maglione replied that he would need to consult with the Pope before giving an answer. Taylor advised the President:
I am definitely convinced that a communication from you to Mussolini would be timely and helpful and can be so worded as to contain no possibility of harmful results either to our own country, considering our neutral position, or to yourself. In any event, it seems to me that this is the only remaining effort you can make at this moment to try to circumscribe the war.
The next day, on April 20, 1940, the Pope sent word to Taylor that he agreed with him completely and that he should urge President Roosevelt, in the name of the Holy Father, to make an immediate personal appeal to the Duce to keep Italy out of the war and that the Vatican would take the "parallel action" suggested at the same time. The Pope warned, however, that because of the necessity to preserve the neutral status of the Holy See, Vatican participation in such a combined effort should not be revealed. On April 26, the Pope addressed a handwritten letter to Mussolini urging him to remain neutral.
President Roosevelt's initial reaction to Mr. Taylor's telegram was negative. He had already sent two similar appeals to the Duce, which he felt should be sufficient. The State Department therefore informed Taylor on April 25 that, while the President himself did not believe the moment opportune for another Presidential message, he nevertheless saw no reason why the Holy Father, if he saw fit, should not make his own independent approach to Mussolini. Taylor cabled to Washington the next day that he had again been to see the Pope as well as the Cardinal Secretary of State to inform them of Washington's negative attitude. Although disappointed, they were convinced more than ever, as Mr. Taylor was himself, that the President should repeat his appeals without delay.
In his reply dated April 30 to the Pope's handwritten letter, the Duce appreciated the Holy Father's recognition of his own tireless efforts to avoid the war which broke out in September. He then declared that if it had not been for the "absurd" Franco-British precondition insisting upon the return beforehand of the German armed forces already on the move in Poland back to their line of departure in Germany, the peace conference he had in mind for the first days of September could have taken place and not only the Polish problem would have been solved, but also other questions that were awaiting settlement. He concluded by stating that he could give the Pope no absolute assurance that Italy would not enter the war, since everything depended on the attitudes of third parties (not identified), but he could promise that Italy would not take part in the conflict unless her honor, interests and her future absolutely demanded it.
In the meantime, President Roosevelt experienced a change of heart and decided after all to take the requested action. No doubt this was not due alone to the exhortations of the Pope and Mr. Taylor, but also to the further entreaties of British, French and other statesmen who had now become desperate as a result of the mounting German military successes. President Roosevelt's action took the form of a message read personally on May 1 to Mussolini by Ambassador Phillips. The "parallel action" to persuade Mussolini to refrain from entering the war was thus being implemented.
To President Roosevelt's communication, the Duce answered that peace was not possible until the fundamental problems of Italian liberty had been settled (which might mean anything). The reply from Mussolini was read to the President at the White House on May 2 by the Italian Ambassador in Washington and the President took the opportunity afforded by the meeting to request the Ambassador once again to convey urgently to the Duce the desire of the United States that Italy should not enter the war. This was the President's fourth appeal.
In spite of the two unsatisfactory responses from the Duce, Mr. Taylor, at the insistence of the Pope, continued to beg the President to continue his efforts to influence Mussolini in the right direction and to keep the current contacts alive. The reaction in the White House this time was favorable, and three more Presidential messages went forward in rapid succession to Mussolini on May 14, May 27 and May 31, delivered through the Italian Foreign Minister since the Duce had bluntly refused to receive Ambassador Phillips personally.
Mr. Taylor had become so discouraged by the hopelessness of the outlook that he had sent a telegram on May 17 to President Roosevelt suggesting that he be ordered to return to Washington for consultation. He felt that there was no further reason for continuing the "parallel action" with the Holy Father which was the main purpose for his presence in Rome. However, the President instructed Mr. Taylor to remain at his post in view of the fluidity of the situation. In spite of the Duce's negative or noncommittal replies to the urgent appeals of the American President (seven in five months), certain quarters in Washington felt that, with the situation becoming more critical by the hour, still another attempt should be made to sway the Fascist leader. Accordingly, an eighth message from the President to Mussolini was actually drafted in the State Department on June 7. By this time, no doubt, loud cries of "enough!" could be heard in the White House, with the result that this final project was dropped.
On May 10, the German Army invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and the relative calm reigning at the Geneva Consulate General was shattered. The State Department, fearing that the Germans would soon attack France through Switzerland as well, ordered my father to arrange for the repatriation to the United States of consular staff families. He obeyed with reluctance, as the move was most unpopular with the families concerned, who did not appreciate the inconveniences, particularly the interruption of the school year for children. Viewed from Geneva, the State Department's fears seemed exaggerated, as there were no indications that the Germans intended to test the resistance of the well-equipped and -trained Swiss Army.
The Tittmann family was of course included in the repatriation program. I was instructed by the headmaster of Le Rosey to pack my suitcase and join my mother and brother in Geneva. The next day, along with several other consular families, the three of us boarded a train for Paris, and spent the next two days at the Hotel Crillon. Since the German advance was threatening to cut off the usual route back to the United States, via Le Havre and the United Kingdom, the American Embassy in Paris recommended that we head for Portugal, where we could eventually board a Pan American flying boat linking Lisbon to the United States. The Embassy advised us to make a stopover in southwestern France and await developments at the front, where the French and British armies were still resisting.
We settled in a hotel in the Basque seaside resort of St. Jean de Luz. It was hard to realize that there was a war on, except for the growing flow of refugees from northern France and Belgium passing through on their way to Spain and Portugal. The hotel was comfortable and the food plentiful and excellent. By the middle of June it became evident that France was defeated, and my mother decided that it was time to move on to Portugal. The first step was to go by car to the Spanish city of San Sebastian, which was only a short distance from St. Jean de Luz. But it took us many hours to cross the Spanish frontier because of the flood of refugees fleeing from the approaching German Army. At the Spanish border, our car happened to be next to a magnificent Mercedes convertible, loaded with luggage and a supply of French baguettes. A distinguished-looking lady sat in the back seat: she was the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, who was also fleeing the Germans.
We spent the next night in San Sebastian. The contrast between France, even during wartime, and Spain was striking. The city looked drab, the hotel not very comfortable, and the food dismal-all of which was not surprising, since the Spanish Civil War had only just ended. The next day we boarded a train for Lisbon, where we stayed in a hotel in the seaside resort of Estoril. The comforts of life in Portugal were a great improvement over Spain, and we spent several weeks enjoying the delightful beaches of the Portuguese Riviera, awaiting our turn to board the flight back to the United States.
By this time, France had capitulated, the Pétain government establishing itself in Vichy, controlling an area in central and southeastern France unoccupied by German troops. Switzerland had not been invaded by the Germans, and it was now clear that its neutrality would not be violated. My father decided that it was no longer necessary for us to return to the United States, and we happily agreed. We flew to Barcelona on an Italian airliner to meet my father, who had motored from Geneva to pick us up. My father recorded in a letter to a friend in the United States that the trip to Geneva through unoccupied France was uneventful, except for frequent identity controls by the French military. Thousands of unarmed French soldiers loitered by the roadsides, waiting to be discharged. The French populace seemed to be accepting the defeat of their nation with stoicism, relieved that the dreadful butchery of the First World War had not repeated itself. Food was plentiful and good. Our family saga as privileged "war refugees" ended when we arrived in Geneva on July 10. In the meantime, the Taylor mission to the Vatican was winding down, having failed to achieve its aim of keeping Italy out of the conflict.
At 6 p.m. on Monday, June 10, Mussolini announced to the Italian people that on the following day Italy would be at war with Great Britain and France. He spoke from his famous balcony overlooking Piazza Venezia in Rome before a large crowd, which demonstrated less enthusiasm than usual.
Before the war, when Rome had become the seat of the Fascist government headed by a dictator who had never felt warmly toward the Holy See, Vatican officials had been clearly unhappy. After Italy became a belligerent, they were gripped by anxiety almost amounting to despair. When rumors circulated that the Fascist Black Shirt militia were about to force their way into the Vatican to seize its archives, the Holy See was inclined to believe them. It requested the Italian Government to adopt appropriate measures "to prevent the dignity and independence of the Holy See, so solemnly guaranteed by the Lateran Accords, from being assailed." On June 14, the Italian Government assured the Vatican that there was no foundation to the rumors, but Vatican officials feared that under war conditions, Mussolini would be more inclined than ever to ignore the Lateran Accords and impose his will on the Pope. The Duce could do this by simply cutting off vital supplies such as water, gas, and electricity.
The Vatican had to tackle the immediate problem of the status of diplomats accredited to the Holy See representing countries now at war with Italy. In peacetime, all diplomatic missions to the Vatican were located in Rome, in accordance with the Lateran Treaty. Article 12 of that treaty was supposed to cover the case of diplomats from belligerent countries, but the wording of the provision was admittedly vague. It did not make an explicit reference to war condtions, but stated that foreign envoys could continue to remain on Italian territory, "even though their countries might not maintain diplomatic relations with Italy." In discussions with the Italian Government which had taken place from time to time since 1938, when it became likely that Italy might become a belligerent, the Vatican had always insisted that under the Treaty, the diplomats of enemy countries should be able to continue to exercise their functions in Rome. However, the Italian Government kept evading the issue. In May 1940, the question became acute and embarrassing for the Vatican, but it was only towards the end of that month that the Italian Government made clear its position. The Italian Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, informed the Apostolic Nuncio to Italy that diplomatic representatives to the Holy See of countries that might eventually be at war with Italy would have to leave Italian soil and establish their residences within the neutral state of the Vatican City.
When Italy went to war, the Holy See had no choice but to offer the affected diplomats these alternatives:
1.They could return to their home countries or move to a neutral country in Europe, where they could keep in touch with the Vatican through its diplomatic representatives, or
2.Following the suggestion of the Italian Government,
they could accept the Pope's invitation to move into the Vatican, there to remain interned for the duration of the war as his guests.
The representatives of Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Poland were instructed by their governments to remain near the Pope, come what may. The Holy Father was pleased to act as host to the Allied diplomats, and living quarters were made available to all four missions in the Hospice of Santa Marta, located in the southwest corner of Vatican City and reached by turning sharp left after entering the Vatican from St. Peter's Square through the Gate of the Bells. Santa Marta served in peacetime as a hostel for pilgrims from abroad, but upon arrival of the diplomats, it was turned into a form of "compound." Because of its high walls, iron gate and guard house, Vatican gendarmes could easily keep track of the movements of the diplomats, which by request of the Italian government were reported to the Italian police.
The gated entrance to Santa Marta opened onto a spacious courtyard adorned by a large statue of the Virgin and Child overlooking a fountain carpeted by white-flowered Madonna lilies. On the right was the five-story main building, the "palazzo," with enough space to accomodate the four diplomatic missions. Across the courtyard stood a two-floor annex, the "palazzino," which later would also be used to house diplomats. The Sisters of the Order of St. Vincent de Paul, in their steel-blue habits and wide-winged white coifs, administered Santa Marta and operated a refectory on the ground floor of the main building for Santa Marta residents who did not take their meals in their lodgings. The apartments assigned to the diplomats were modest, having previously served as dormitories for pilgrims, but they were comfortable and clean.
Thus, within a matter of days following Italy's entry into the war, the envoys of the four Allied nations were safely ensconced with their staffs and families inside the Vatican, where, with the exception of the Belgians, they were destined to reside for the next four years until the liberation of Rome by the Allied armies. Ciano reportedly favored this solution, as he could imagine circumstances arising in the future when it would be useful for him to contact enemy countries through their representatives in the Vatican.
The Belgian Ambassador, Adrien Nieuwenhuys, moved into the Vatican even though Italy had not formally declared war on his country. However, a few months later, he appealed through the Vatican to the Italian authorities to allow him to return to his embassy residence in Rome because of ill health. He was suffering from neurasthenia, which manifested itself through a continuing fear that he would eventually be punished for not supporting his King, Leopold III, after the latter had surrendered to the German Army in Belgium. Nieuwenhuys was afraid that the King might consider him a deserter for joining the Allied diplomats in the Vatican. Furthermore the incessant ringing of the bells of St. Peter's aggravated his condition. The Italian Government eventually granted Nieuwenhuys permission to return to his Rome residence, after ascertaining that King Leopold bore no grudge of any kind against him. The Pope himself was glad to have an ambassador return to his Rome residence, as it showed that the Italians were respecting the provisions of the Lateran Treaty. On the other hand, Nieuwenhuys's colleagues who remained in the Vatican were unhappy, because they felt that his position as an Allied sympathizer had been compromised by the acceptance of a favor from the Fascist Government. As time went on, Nieuwenhuys proved to be an ardent supporter of the Allied cause.
On June 15, Taylor fell seriously ill with gall-bladder trouble and ten days later was operated on in the presence of an American doctor and a trained nurse whom Mrs. Taylor had brought with her from New York especially for the occasion. The operation was successful. He then planned to leave for New York on August 23. The failure of the "parallel action" of the Holy Father and President Roosevelt to keep Italy out of the war came as a severe blow to each of them and, of course, to Myron Taylor as well, who now felt more than ever that his usefulness in Rome had come to an end. Shortly before his departure, the Holy Father granted an audience to Taylor, who found the Pope in a depressed state of mind. The British, Italian, and German governments had reacted negatively to his confidential peace enquiries of June 28, when he had asked the three governments to study the possibility of an agreement to end the war. Their coolness made it plain that there was not the slightest hope for the success of such a project.
A further Vatican peace effort later in July had also been rebuffed by the British. On July 19, speaking once more from the Reichstag, the German Chancellor addressed a direct appeal to Great Britain for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Lord Halifax bluntly turned this down. On July 25, the American Ambassador to Belgium, John Cudahy, who happened to be traveling through Rome on the way to the United States, was received by the Holy Father. The American diplomat was obviously concerned with Britain's plight and was convinced that the British were in no position to resist a German invasion. Cudahy therefore believed that the acceptance by England of peace negotiations with Germany would be preferable to an invasion. He suggested to the Pope that it was the right moment for the Pontiff to take another step toward peace by advising the British government, perhaps this time through Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, to avoid giving the impression to the world that it had completely rejected Hitler's offer. Regardless of its worth, Cudahy believed that the British should at least request the German government to specify in detail its ideas for peace.
Pope Pius XII took Ambassador Cudahy's recommendation to heart and the next day instructed the Apostolic Delegate in London, Monsignor Godfrey, to get in touch with Cardinal Hinsley, in order to discuss the matter with him and possibly to approach the British government itself. The reply from the Delegate on July 29 indicated that both he and the Cardinal agreed that the Pope's suggestion, if presented to the British government, could easily be misinterpreted as associating the Holy See with Hitler's efforts to persuade Great Britain to accept the present situation without further fighting. Furthermore, the Delegate reported that the British government did not in any way regard the German Chancellor's Reichstag speech as a peace offer. Cardinal Hinsley observed that the Hitler Reichstag speech was a tissue of insults and threats.
The British Minister to the Holy See, D'Arcy Osborne, was much less intransigent than either Cardinal Hinsley or Monsignor Godfrey. When the Secretary of State, Cardinal Maglione, who was embarrassed by the reports from London, permitted Osborne to read the exchange of communications between the Vatican and London, the British Minister stated that he had fully approved of the Pope's initiative because he had understood the spirit with which it was taken and was not pleased with the unyielding attitudes of the two British ecclesiastics. He felt, as did Ambassador Cudahy, that Great Britain should avoid giving the impression to the world that she had abandoned every possibility for peace and should embrace any honorable opportunity that presented itself in the future. He also said that he understood perfectly that there was no idea in the Pope's mind of pressing England to capitulate or of humiliating that country. Osborne promised Maglione that he would advise the Foreign Office in London immediately of his own personal feelings in the matter, but the attitude of the British Government remained unchanged.
The Pope's attempts to bring about peace had all failed. He had tried to prevent the war from breaking out; when it did he tried to stop it; and then in 1940 he tried to keep Italy neutral. The only thing left for him now was to dedicate himself to the humanization of the now irrevocable ordeal. The Holy Father told Myron Taylor during their final audience that he was especially concerned over the future of Great Britain, which seemed very black indeed. When Taylor endeavored to comfort him with visions of the vast potential of American military and economic aid, the Pope replied that, although he was impressed by Taylor's words, he feared that the aid would turn out to be too little and too late.
I left Geneva on August 17 and made my third and last trip to Italy, this time to bid farewell to Mr. Taylor. Because of his uncertain health, he was unable to set a firm date for his next visit to Rome. I was instructed to return to my post in Geneva, and thus the Roosevelt mission at the Vatican became inactive. I had been in Italy for only sixty-six days in 1940. In the United States, however, Mr. Taylor continued to remain in close touch with the Holy See through the Apostolic Delegation in Washington.
For the remainder of 1940, my father remained at his post as Consul General in Geneva. "Geneva is now a most interesting place," he wrote to his mother on August 22, "the crossroads of all travel in Europe today. We have had a constant stream of diplomats and ordinary Americans from the northern European countries, all with stories one taller than the other-except that the stories are true." But in December, he was permanently assigned to Rome.
Posted April 2, 2010
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Posted May 29, 2010
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