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Aug 16 Operation Baptism

Today we got to 1944 Hungary where a dispatch from Angelo Roncalli to the papal nuncio in Hungary illustrated the intensity of "Operation Baptism". This was the secret effort by the Vatican to get Jews out of the hands of the Nazi regime and smuggle them to safe houses across Europe. This was all done with the support of Pope Pius XII, who since the 1960’s has been unfairly vilified as being Hitlers Pope. Only recently the historical record has been corrected. Angello Roncalli, was then a Vatican Diplomat who would later succeed Pius as Pope John XXIII. He held a series of posts in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, including stints in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey and was nuncio to France from 1944 to 1953 before he was elected Pope.

Operation Margarethe was the occupation of Hungary by Nazi German forces during World War II, as ordered by Hitler in March 1944. A plan for the occupation of Romania was also devised under the name Operation Margarethe II but was never carried out. As the Nazi presence and anti-Semitic laws increased in Budapest, more than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics, and a similar network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. Pope Pius XII appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy. Roncalli would succeed Pius after his death as Pope, and for his actions during the 1930s and 1940s, in 2011 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation petitioned the Yad Vashem museum to recognize Roncalli as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations", an honor reserved for non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust. Also. during and immediately after the war, Pius XII was considered a Jewish saviour. Jewish leaders – such as Jerusalem's chief rabbi in 1944 – said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates "are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour". Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him "a Jew lover".

However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet attempts to undermine the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler's Pope, a book by John Cornwell. During the final years of the Cold War, in 1978, the highest profile defector from Romania to America, Ion Mihai Pacepa explained how he had been behind a Soviet misinformation story defaming Pius XII as being anti-Semitic (pod June 3). The misinformation took root at in 1999 the British journalist and author John Cornwell published a book called Hitler's Pope, spreading the slander, which he has since distanced himself from. A Vatican Monsignor was determined to fight Rome’s Nazi rulers. Called “Ireland’s Oscar Schindler,” O’Flaherty masterminded a large-scale operation from inside the neutral Vatican, to hide and help Jews, downed airmen, and escaped Allied prisoners. Using safe houses and church buildings, the priest sheltered around five hundred Jews in the Holy See and many thousands more Jews and Allied escapees in and around Rome. Unlike Pius his work was acclaimed in the book, Hide & Seek by Stephen Walker.

Recent access to primary sources in the Vatican Archives has revealed that Pius XII was a great supporter of the victims of the Holocaust. Pius XII gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe's convents and monasteries and oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects, Priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. The English historian, Gordon Thomas, unearthed extensive material that will restore Pius’ reputation. Releasing a book in 2013, called, "The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis" Thomas, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before. For instance, the book also tells the story of Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young Jewish doctor who was able to work in a Vatican hospital, inventing a fictitious deadly disease that deterred Germans from entering. Dozens of fake patients were taught to cough convincingly. A feature documentary film is being planned by a British producer, Allen Jewhurst, who has bought the rights to the book.


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