The debate about Pope Pius XII, head of the Vatican during World War II, has not subsided to this day. Did dad know about the Holocaust? If he knew, what did he do to help the victims? Why did he never make a public protest? In 2020, the current Pope Francis declassified the archives of Pius XII ahead of schedule to enable researchers to find answers to these and other questions about the controversial period of Vatican politics.
Historian and archivist Johan X has been working in the Vatican archives for more than twenty years. Based on reliable evidence, the author reconstructs the events in which Pius XII and his closest associates were the main characters. And seeks to reveal one of the still unsolved mysteries of the Second World War. Novye Izvestia publishes an excerpt about how Jews were sheltered in a Roman monastery. from a collection of archival material compiled by him on the role of the Pope and the Vatican during World War II , Bureau. Pius XII and the Jews: The Secret Files of the Vatican , published by the Scribes.
February 3, 1944, Basilica and Abbey of San Paolo Fuori le Mura.
Occupied Rome, which has a curfew, is dormant. At this time, no one except the military can be on the streets.
23 hours 30 minutes. At the gates of the Benedictine abbey of San Paolo fuori le Mura, the bell rings, insistently and incessantly.
Brother Vittorino, the porter on duty, asks, "Who's there?" A male voice answers in Italian: “Finally! We are two monks from the monastery of St. Praxeda in Florence, very tired from the road. We spent the whole evening walking around the city until they found you. We finally got there."
Brother Vittorino peers into the darkness. He does not trust their words - something is unclean here. He asks: “Did you walk around the city in the evening during the curfew? It is forbidden to go out after eight o'clock in the evening."
Brother Vittorino steps forward and peers through the peephole. Despite the darkness, he notices that at least one of them is wearing a monastic robe. Two guests insist: "The abbot is waiting for us."
Brother Vittorino's suspicions are dispelled, he takes the keys and opens the heavy gates of the abbey. Suddenly, several armed men push him away and rush inside with weapons in their hands.
The stunned brother Vittorino shouts, trying to stop them: “You are in the territory of the Vatican. You are not allowed to enter." One of the attackers replies with irony: “Yes, we know. We know everything."
The Palatine Guard, who provide security for the abbey, are taken by surprise, they are quickly surrounded, tied up and thrown to the ground, and their weapons are confiscated. The attackers immediately cut the telephone wires to prevent the alarm from being raised. At the same time, about a hundred Italian policemen in civilian clothes rush to help them. They run up the stairs to the rooms where the monks, students and guests are still sleeping, shouting for everyone to get out of bed. Armed people run along the corridors, pound on the doors and demand to open them, and in case of disobedience they break down the doors. They start searching rooms, overturning drawers, throwing personal belongings and clothes everywhere.
All guests, whether monks or guests, are required to go down to the first floor, where they are sorted by age and ordered to go to the large red hall or the yellow one. The Palatine Guard are locked in a small telephone room. All this lasts two hours.
Continuing to roam the abbey, the armed men discover a parish building adjoining the church. Guests are still sleeping in one of the largest bedrooms - who knows how many refugees are among them. There are forty-eight people here.
The invaders shout at everyone, insult and threaten, shoot into the air to intimidate people. Panic reigns. Some jump out of their beds and try to escape through the courtyard, but they are chased, knocked down, beaten with rifle butts. Those caught are dragged into the hall where the monks and other guests are. Many are beaten to the point of blood and cry.
A policeman hit one man in the stomach with a baton. They turned the beds over and scattered suitcases and personal items around the bedroom. All things of any value were thrown into the courtyard, where the military collected all the available gold and silver. The booty was confiscated and distributed among the cars, which then left.
Other witnesses say that the administrative premises of the basilica were also attacked, the contents of the boxes were thrown to the ground, and the documents were carefully looked through. According to an official Vatican report compiled after the incident, about fifteen witnesses saw among the attackers at least two uniformed men who spoke German and, apparently, were in charge of the operation. But everyone was so frightened that some of the witnesses, including the monks, did not want their names to be mentioned in the official report and agreed to testify only on condition of anonymity.
Subsequently, the Nazis protested, stating that the purpose of this raid was to capture a certain Italian general, Adriano Monti, a notorious deserter hiding in the abbey. This could explain the fact that the Germans were accompanied by such an impressive group of Italian policemen.
The testimony of one witness states: “Father Berardi was interrogated. They persistently asked him: “Where is Monty? Where is Monty? Father Berardi replied that he did not know anything about it. Then they put a gun to his temple.” 6
According to other testimony, Berardi's father was trying to buy time by doing everything possible to delay the police. But when he was threatened with murder, he was left with no choice but to show the room where General Monti was hiding. They broke down the door to grab him and found that he was wearing the robes of a Benedictine monk. He was dragged outside and arrested.
One witness relates: “He was beaten and called Signor Monti all the time, not General. He was insulted and ridiculed for the fact that he was in monastic vestments . With all this chaos, some of the monks tried to argue with the Italian police. Like Brother Vittorino a little earlier, they pointed out to the attackers that they were in the extraterritorial zone of the Vatican, without having the right to do so.
The police officers very calmly answered several times that they had the permission of the Holy Father and the government to do so. This, of course, was a lie. They continued to interrogate and insult people. They laughed and mocked everyone they interrogated. The police began to eat, teasing their captives.
In addition to General Monti, many others hid in monastic clothes: this detail was then especially savored by the Italian fascist press.
It was not easy for the police to distinguish a real monk from an imaginary one. To learn the truth, the captives were ordered to read "Ave Mary" and "Our Father". Those who were unable to do so gave themselves away—they were neither monks nor Catholics. Then the police demanded from the abbot of Don Ildebrando Vincenzo Vannucci to swear that all the guests were really believers, but he refused and did not say anything. That long night, the police found more and more refugees who were sheltered by the monks.
Grabbing another victim, the police again began to shout: "Cowards, traitors, scoundrels, scoundrels, bastards!"
And they continued: “While your compatriots are dying for your country, you are hiding here. Everyone stand still, otherwise I will shoot,” after which they fired into the air.
Monk Bartolucci said: “I looked out the window of my room, which overlooks the courtyard, and saw a group of young people running as fast as they could. Most were half naked. But at the gate four or five policemen were waiting for them, who began to treat them very roughly, giving blows to the right and left with clubs and pushing them into the halls. The young people screamed in pain. They were treated very cruelly, like animals. The Italian and German police officers insulted them with obscene language and blasphemy.” 13
Another witness, a young Benedictine student of theology, also said that he saw very cruel scenes: “The screams of the unfortunate, filled with pain, on the one hand, and the fury of the police, shouting words like “bandits”, “traitors”, etc. , with another. And after these insults, kicks, fists and sticks on the back were heard. Half-naked young people wanted to escape from the living room. When they tried to escape, weapons were pointed at them. In this foggy twilight, the ominous light of powerful searchlights snatched out similar scenes here and there, showing us into what a deep abyss mankind had fallen. Ten young Jews and other people were tied up, loaded onto trucks and taken away.” 14
It is not surprising to learn that those who were suspected of being Jews were subjected to the worst treatment: “One policeman declared that they were able to recognize all Jews because they were circumcised. They forced them to undress and checked.”
In the early morning, the frightened captives were gathered together.
“The Germans very disrespectfully said to the abbot: “You sullied your dignity as a priest by sheltering Jews and Italian deserters in the monastery. You also allowed the subversive newspapers that we found in the rooms of some of the monks to spread.”
When the dawn of a new winter day was breaking, the last batch of sixty-six captives was loaded onto trucks and taken to Regina Cheli (Rome's central prison). The fate of many of them remains unknown.