The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis

The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis

by Gordon Thomas


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The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis by Gordon Thomas

This revelatory account of how the Vatican saved thousands of Jews during WWII shows why history must exonerate "Hitler's Pope"

Accused of being "silent" during the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII and the Vatican of World War II are now exonerated in Gordon Thomas's newest investigative work, The Pope's Jews. Thomas's careful research into new, first-hand accounts reveal an underground network of priests, nuns and citizens that risked their lives daily to protect Roman Jews.

Investigating assassination plots, conspiracies, and secret conversions, Thomas unveils faked documentation, quarantines, and more extraordinary actions taken by Catholics and the Vatican. The Pope's Jews finally answers the great moral question of the War: Why did Pope Pius XII refuse to condemn the genocide of Europe's Jews?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312604219
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.56(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.12(d)

About the Author

GORDON THOMAS is a bestselling author of forty books published worldwide, including The Pope's Jews, Secret Wars, and Operation Exodus. He has firmly established himself as a leading expert on the often sinister, but always compelling world of secret intelligence.

Read an Excerpt

The Pope's Jews

The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis

By Gordon Thomas

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Gordon Thomas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01355-2



On that cheerless winter morning, February 10, 1939, Eugenio Maria Guiseppe Pacelli stood in the bedroom doorway, watching what was happening around the brass-framed bed. The two middle-aged nuns went about their work with the gentle movements he expected. Dealing with the dead was something years of experience had given them. For Pacelli dying was a guarantee of afterlife. Long ago he had learned that promise from his mother, Virginia, a pious daughter of the Roman Catholic Church.

Her son was His Eminence, the cardinal secretary of state of the Holy See, the second most powerful figure in the church. An hour ago, following the death of the old man in the bed, Pope Pius XI, Pacelli had become the most important figure in the entire Catholic world. He was now the Camerlengo, a position which combined the role of the Vatican treasurer and chamberlain of the Holy See. He would be responsible for organizing the funeral of Pope Pius XI and the conclave to elect a new pope.

Pacelli was sixty-four years old, of medium height, and slim with a typical Roman nose — straight with narrow nostrils and a slight bump in the middle of its ridge. Behind his old-fashioned spectacles was the look of a man who understood a situation at once.

Through the closed window of the bedroom high in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, from two hundred feet below, came the murmuring of the crowd in St. Peter's Square, praying for the soul of Pope Pius XI, the church's 261st supreme pontiff. For twenty years he had held numerous titles, offices, and power which had directly affected the lives of many millions of Catholics. For days Pius had been at death's door, barely kept alive by the drugs his doctors administered. They had left the bedroom, their work finally over. Soon Pacelli would begin his.

Pacelli continued to watch the body, still clad in its white nightshirt. A nun had removed the bed socks the pope had worn because of his poor blood circulation, one of his many medical ailments. He was eighty-one years old, his skin taut on his skull, his hair wispy gray, and the veins stood out on the back of his hands. His eyes had been closed; no longer would they look with gentle inquiry.

Only days ago they had looked at Pacelli as he had sat at the bedside and they had spoken on a familiar subject, the fate of the Jews, or, more precisely, that of Guido Mendes and his family. To the pope and Pacelli they represented what was happening to Jews in Germany and Italy, in all those countries where anti-Semitism was spreading.

Guido Mendes was the son of a Roman Jewish family whose lineage went back to Fernando Mendes, the court physician to King Charles II of England. Eugenio had sat next to Guido at school and later in college. By then they were close friends; Eugenio was a regular guest at the Mendeses' Sabbath dinners, Guido had his place at the Christmas Day Pacelli table. By the time Eugenio began to train for the priesthood and Guido had entered medical school, Eugenio's circle of Jewish friends had widened to a dozen. They came to his ordination and watched him celebrate his first Mass. He had walked with them around St. Peter's Square, pointing out the various statues of saints on top of Bernini's colonnade. They had taught him basic Hebrew.

In a lifetime of travel when Pacelli returned to Rome he always made a point of inviting his Jewish friends to meet him. Increasingly they had questioned him about the treatment of Jews and he had told them what he had seen and heard had pained him and promised he would fight anti-Semitism with all the power he had.

That authority had reached its peak when Pacelli was appointed secretary of state in 1930. He had invited Mendes and his other Jewish friends to attend the ceremony and afterward introduced them to Pius XI.

On what was to be their last conversation before the pope had died, Pacelli had told him the Mendes family was now safely in Palestine. Until a year ago Guido had been a professor of medicine at the University of Rome medical school until Mussolini's anti-Semitic racial laws had led to his dismissal. Pacelli had immediately asked the British minister to the Holy See, Sir D'Arcy Osborne, to provide the family with entry permits to Palestine, then a British mandate. Osborne's readiness to help had started a friendship with Pacelli that would last.

Afterward Pacelli had also arranged for a number of other eminent Jewish scholars, doctors, and scientists to emigrate to the United States, South America, and other countries. He arranged for those who could not leave Rome because of family reasons — a seriously ill wife or a child at a critical part of his or her education — to have posts in the Vatican. They included a world-ranking cartographer, Roberto Almagia, who produced a monograph of the Holy Land. Since the racial laws twenty-three Jewish scholars were found positions by Pacelli in the Gregorian University, the Academy of Science, and the Vatican library.

On his deathbed Pope Pius XI had spoken of the need for Pacelli to continue his campaign against anti-Semitism.

One of the attending doctors would recall that Pacelli was close to tears as the pope said he must continue to be a defender of the Jewish people.

* * *

The nuns had completed their work and murmured the traditional words: "O Lord, I raise to you my prayer ..." Below in the square came the sound of traffic and police setting up barriers to control the growing crowd gathering to mourn the passing of the pope.

Pacelli continued to gauge the moment for him to walk over to the bed. The emotions aroused by death were already settling over the bedroom. The faces of the two nuns were mournful, their voices soft as they prayed. Beyond the window the first rays of the sun passed above the limpid Tiber to touch the cross on top of the basilica of St. Peter. From the square the sound of prayer grew louder. Pacelli walked into the bedroom pausing only for the two nuns to leave. He stood beside the bed and delivered his own prayer.

* * *

As dawn began to lighten the sky beyond the bedroom window, Pacelli knew that before he could begin the funeral preparations and settle a thousand matters before a new pope was chosen in conclave, he must perform his first duty as a camerlengo. He removed the Fisherman's Ring from the pope's right index finger. Later he would use silver shears to break the ring in front of the assembled College of Cardinals before they went into conclave. When a pope was elected he would receive his new ring, a further symbol of his authority.

Pacelli bent over the body and kissed the forehead and hands before leaving the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

* * *

His office was on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. At that early hour the view from any of its windows was impressive. Stretching into the distance were the domes, spires, towers, monuments, palaces, and parks of Rome. To the right of the windows rose the basilica; long ago, when Pacelli had become a fully fledged diplomat, he had memorized its proportions: 651 feet long, 535 feet high, with 71 supporting columns, 44 altars, and 395 statues. He found the details useful in making polite talk at official functions. To the left of the windows was the roof of the Sistine Chapel, offering no clue to the splendor inside. It was there that the cardinals would elect a new pope.

Pacelli sat at a sixteenth-century desk made in the days of Paul VI. It had a hand-tooled leather writing pad, a small clock in a solid-gold frame, a gold-top roll blotter, and a letter opener. They were gifts from his family to celebrate his appointment as secretary of state. One wall was covered with shelving holding leather-bound volumes of Vatican canon law and treaties Pacelli had worked on.

Pacelli placed his first telephone call of the day through one of the nuns who manned the Vatican switchboard. In moments he was connected to Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, informing him that the pope was dead. Having expressed his condolences on behalf of the government, Ciano told Mussolini. The duce had replied, "At last the obstinate old man is gone."

Throughout the day the camerlingo had sent the same message to apostolic nuncios around the world. "Deeply regret to inform you Holy Father passed away. Inform all relevant. Yours in Christ, Pacelli, camerlengo."

Across the world the first wire-service reports of the death were appearing in newspapers. In the office of L'Osservatore Romano in a featureless building near the Porta Sant Anna, one of the gateways to the Vatican, the editor, Count Giuseppe Dalla Torre, was preparing the next edition which would be entirely devoted to the pope's death.

* * *

The winter sun had risen over the Vatican when the two Swiss Guards entered the bedroom of Pope Pius XI. They moved his body off the bed, onto a trolley, and draped it in a purple cloth. The two guards wheeled the gurney to a nearby service elevator and took the body down to the basement of the Apostolic Palace and through the corridors to a room beneath the basilica. Waiting there was the undertaker appointed by Camerlingo Pacelli to prepare the body for lying-in-state in St. Peter's.

* * *

That night Pacelli sat at his desk and read the messages which had come from papal nuncios in Berlin, Warsaw, and Prague. All told the same story: Throughout the Third Reich the persecution of Jews not only continued but had increased. In the German capital Hitler had told a rally there was a need to find a solution for the "Jewish problem."

When he finished reading, Pacelli drafted a message to all the nuncios in the expanding Third Reich. He had prayed for guidance before instructing them on an issue which had been raised on behalf of the German church: What should it do about the mounting terror? Pacelli had decided that, horrific though the persecution was, there must be no public denunciation by the church. To do so would, he believed, destroy an effective strategy he had devised to protect the Jews and give them an opportunity to escape the Nazi tyranny. It was a decision he recognized was the hardest request he could expect anyone to accept in the face of what was happening in Germany. But he himself would show it must be done. The strategy was silence. Any form of denunciation in the name of the Vatican would inevitably provoke further reprisals against the Jews.

His decision, he fully realized, would be misunderstood, since the atrocities already committed by the Nazis called for protest. Yet for him to do so would cause even harsher repression against the Jews. But silence would not preclude him from working behind the scenes to help the Jews. He hoped every priest would understand that his silence was also the only way to save the lives of as many Jews as possible.

The first link in Pacelli's plan to save Jews had already been created on November 30, 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, a night of terror, when across Germany Nazis had burned down synagogues, houses, and businesses of Jews.

Pacelli had sent an encoded priority message to church archbishops around the world. He instructed them to apply for visas for "non-Aryan Catholics" to enable them to leave Germany. His choice of description of the status of the applicants was deliberately intended to try and ensure that the Nazis would not learn of his initiative and make propaganda against the Vatican as an ally of the Jews.

Pacelli had asked for the visas to be obtained under the concordat he had signed with the Nazis in 1933 which specifically provided protection for Jews who converted to Christianity. Pacelli intended they should be issued to Jews who were not converts.

Pacelli had the satisfaction of knowing that already the visas his bishops had obtained were allowing thousands of Jews to leave Nazi Germany. It would not be until 2001 that the figure of successful visa applicants would be revealed to be two hundred thousand who had left Germany in the weeks following Kristallnacht. None suspected the role Pacelli had played in gaining their freedom.

* * *

The Vatican became the focus of the world's attention following the death of Pius XI. After the funeral there would be nine days of Novemdiales, the period of preparation for the start of conclave on March 1, 1939.

From dawn to late evening, soutane swishing softly in rhythm with his stride, Pacelli walked through the corridors of the Apostolic Palace. Each morning the camerlengo's first stop was the Vatican Press Office to check how its staff were dealing with the hundreds of reporters and broadcasters who had arrived in Rome. Pacelli had ignored all but one for a request for a personal interview. The exception was Camille Cianfarra of The New York Times.

Long experience of how the church was portrayed in the media had made him cautious. All too often newspapers used the easy simplification of polemics and the pope was described as the head of a secret monotonic institution. Pacelli knew it was far from that. The Holy See was a disparate array of departments run by cardinals not always in agreement with each other. He knew that the coming conclave would show that. But in the meantime he left speculation to reporters as they tried to penetrate a closed world over which in the coming days he had complete control.

There were appointments to be made, telephone calls returned, telegrams sent. In between apostolic nuncios had to be seen on their return for the funeral; they would remain in Rome to brief the new pope on the situations in their host countries.

Britain had appointed a permanent minister to the Holy See at the outbreak of the First World War. When the war ended in 1918 the decision was taken to keep a diplomat in Rome to maintain a close eye on the Holy See's support for Ireland's demand for independence from British rule. In 1922, when Pope Pius XI was elected, Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the director general of MI6, reported "our envoy to the Vatican has still produced little of value."

However within the secretariat of state Vatican diplomacy was on the move. Ireland had become a republic and a nuncio was appointed to Dublin for the country's predominantly Catholic population. The problems of a divided Northern Ireland showed signs of deepening. In Canada, French Catholics and English Protestants were in open religious conflict. British colonies in Africa were in disagreement over denominational education. In Palestine the British mandate was in conflict over a date to be settled with the Holy See for the Easter holiday. Malta was another problem. The island's population was fiercely Roman Catholic, but was governed from London. The island also had three Anglican bishops; the conflict between the Church of England and the Vatican had been exploited by Italian residents on the island.

It was one more reason for Britain to have a seasoned minister at the Holy See. In 1936 Sir Francis D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne was moved from his post in Washington to Rome. He was sixty years old, a sprightly figure, a devout Protestant, and the son of a noble English family, the dukedom of Leeds.

The Foreign Office had found Osborne a house suitable for a minister to the Holy See on the fashionable Via Mercadante. The tall, slim, unmarried diplomat had furnished it with fine taste: Antiques, paintings, and photographs were a reminder of a career which spanned periods in Washington, Lisbon, and the Hague. The library reflected his interest in astrology, telepathy, and astronomy. Wherever he was posted Osborne had sought out the most respected fortune-teller in the area. On his watch fob chain was a charm against cosmic rays. His circle of friends included the duke and duchess of York, soon to become king and queen of England.

A live-in Italian cook and an English manservant, John May, ran the house. Osborne's private diary offered insights into the relationship between master and servant. They were on first-name terms when alone. "John told me we now have a plainclothes policeman watching the house. Intriguing and disagreeable." Weeks later Osborne diarized, "Today John lost his temper and shouted at me which is intolerable." Another incident compelled Osborne to note, "John's rudeness gave me a bad night." Among May's duties was walking Osborne's terrier, Jeremy. At night the dog slept at the foot of Osborne's bed.


Excerpted from The Pope's Jews by Gordon Thomas. Copyright © 2012 Gordon Thomas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Researchers ix

Principal Personae xi

Forethoughts xvii

Part I The Power and the Glory 1

1 A Way to Die 3

2 Pope Pius XII and the Jews 23

3 The Code Breakers 39

4 Decision on Piazza Venezia 55

Part II The Gathering Storm 73

5 Eyes Which Have Wept 75

6 Nothing Sacred 87

7 Pius Goes to War 105

8 The Sanctuary Seekers 123

Part III Watching and Waiting 135

9 Hitler's Plot 137

10 Gold Rush 153

11 The Executioner 167

Part IV Magnificent Heroes 181

12 Final Preparations 183

13 Roundup 195

14 Black Saturday 211

15 Before the Dawn 229

Part V Liberation 243

16 Living with God and the Devil 245

17 Aftermath 261

Epilogue: Conflict 281

Sources 289

Select Bibliography 293

Index 297

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The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd heard some not complimentary things about Pius XII's role during the Holocaust, and the Catholic church, in general. Assuming that this book is factual, it presents a different story about the Catholic church's role, that, in fact, it did much to save many Jewish lives (one estimate, according to the book, is 800,000). Thomas relates how Pius made it his personal campaign, even before becoming Pope, to save the Jews of Europe...of Rome in particular. He decrees that all Catholic churches were to use whatever means, and resources, were available to save Jewish lives, including issuing false baptismal certificates. It's a great story that restores one's faith in mankind, generally speaking, but there's also a black mark. Thomas also relates that one of the Pope's Cardinals, working inside the Vatican was responsible for issuing documents to help thousands of Nazis escape to places such as Argentina. From previous readings, I know that this is how Eicmann got out. It's a good read, very interesting, and well worth investing in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Catholic church has never hated or persecuted the Jews. The Curch is, however, very much in opposition to the false Judaism that Our Lord spoke against, and its man made traditions, thievery and blasphemy.