Vatican City pursued a policy of neutrality during World War II, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII. Although the city of Rome was occupied by Germany from 1943 and the Allies from 1944, Vatican City itself was not occupied. The Vatican organised extensive humanitarian aid throughout the duration of the conflict.
The Lateran Treaty of 1929 with Italy recognized the sovereignty of Vatican City. It declared Vatican City a neutral country in international relations, and required the Pope to abstain from mediation unless requested by all parties. In 1939, the city state was recognized by thirty-eight nations, with a diplomatic corps of thirteen full ambassadors and twenty-five ministers.
As early as April 1939, Pius XII announced a plan for peace, hoping to mediate a negotiation between the major European powers on the brink of war.The first leader contacted was Benito Mussolini, via Pius XII's usual go-between, Jesuit Father Tacchi Venturi. With Mussolini's approval, the next day Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione contacted the nuncios in Paris (Valerio Valeri), Warsaw (Filippo Cortesi), and Berlin (Cesare Orsenigo) and the Apostolic Delegate in London (William Godfrey). The proposed Vatican meeting accomplished very little of substance: if there was any coherent position espoused by the Vatican among its various communications, it was that of appeasement. In particular, the Pope attempted to get Poland to accept the secession of the Free City of Danzig to Nazi Germany, a position Polish ambassador Kazimierz Papée (the former High Commissioner of Danzig) and the Polish government could not accept.
In his 24 August 1939 Radio Message, just a week before war, Pius warned: "The danger is imminent, but there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace; all can be lost with war!"
British historian Owen Chadwick drew four themes from the Vatican mediation attempts:a particular closeness to Mussolini, to the point of sending correspondence of his drafting, from the period May–August 1939; British and Polish disinterest in Vatican proposals, which were suspected of being pro-Italian and pro-German, respectively; major European powers viewed the Pope as "no minor pawn upon their chessboard"; and, above all, Pius XII wanted to ensure compromise between the Western powers to prevent Russian territorial gains.
With Poland overrun, but France and the Low Countries yet to be attacked, Pius continued to hope for a negotiated peace to prevent the spread of the conflict. The similarly minded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-established American diplomatic relations with the Vatican after a seventy-year hiatus and dispatched Myron C. Taylor as his personal representative. Despite the early collapse of peace hopes, the Taylor mission continued at the Vatican.
Despite intense behind the scenes actions, Pius XII was resolved not to issue any public pronouncement that took sides in the conflict; this first manifested itself in a refusal to explicitly condemn the German invasion of Poland.Early on, Pius XII believed that the "rapid destruction of Poland meant the end of the war".
Summi Pontificatus ("On the Limitations of the Authority of the State"), issued 20 October 1939, was the first papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII, and established some of the themes of his papacy.According to Chadwick, Summi Pontificatus exemplified both "the hesitancy and the care" of the pontiff. During the drafting of the letter, the Second World War commenced with the Nazi/Soviet invasion of Catholic Poland. Though couched in diplomatic language, Pius endorses Catholic resistance, and states his disapproval of the war, racism, anti-semitism, the Nazi/Soviet invasion of Poland and the persecutions of the Church.
With Italy not yet an ally of Adolf Hitler in the war, Italians were called upon to remain faithful to the Church. Pius avoided naming the belligerent allies Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as the evildoers, establishing the "impartial" public tone that was to be a hallmark of his pontificate: "A full statement of the doctrinal stand to be taken in face of the errors of today, if necessary, can be put off to another time unless there is disturbance by calamitous external events; for the moment We limit Ourselves to some fundamental observations."
The Pope wrote of "anti-Christian movements" bringing forth a crop "poignant disasters" and called for love, mercy, and compassion against the "deluge of discord". Following themes addressed in Non abbiamo bisogno (1931); Mit brennender Sorge (1937) and Divini redemptoris (1937), Pius wrote of a need to bring back to the Church those who were following "a false standard... misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice, [who] have strayed away from faith in the true God".He wrote of "Christians unfortunately more in name than in fact" having shown "cowardice" in the face of persecution by these creeds, and he endorsed resistance:
Who among "the Soldiers of Christ" – ecclesiastic or layman – does not feel himself incited and spurred on to a greater vigilance, to a more determined resistance, by the sight of the ever-increasing host of Christ's enemies; as he perceives the spokesmen of these tendencies deny or in practice neglect the vivifying truths and the values inherent in belief in God and in Christ; as he perceives them wantonly break the Tables of God's Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai, standards in which the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross has no place?
Pius wrote of a persecuted Churchand a time requiring "charity" for victims who had a "right" to compassion. Against the invasion of Poland and killing of civilians he wrote:
The blood of countless human beings, even noncombatants, raises a piteous dirge over a nation such as Our dear Poland, which, for its fidelity to the Church, for its services in the defense of Christian civilization, written in indelible characters in the annals of history, has a right to the generous and brotherly sympathy of the whole world, while it awaits, relying on the powerful intercession of Mary, Help of Christians, the hour of a resurrection in harmony with the principles of justice and true peace.
In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.
In a further rejection of Nazi ideology, Pius reiterated Catholic opposition to racism and anti-Semitism:
In accordance with these principles of equality, the Church devotes her care to forming cultured native clergy and gradually increasing the number of native Bishops. And in order to give external expression to these, Our intentions, We have chosen the forthcoming Feast of Christ the King to raise to the Episcopal dignity at the Tomb of the Apostles twelve representatives of widely different peoples and races. In the midst of the disruptive contrasts which divide the human family, may this solemn act proclaim to all Our sons, scattered over the world, that the spirit, the teaching and the work of the Church can never be other than that which the Apostle of the Gentiles preached: "putting on the new (man), him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all" (Colossians iii. 10, 11).
When in 1940, the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop led the only senior Nazi delegation permitted an audience with Pius XII and asked why the Pope had sided with the Allies, Pius replied with a list of recent Nazi atrocities and religious persecutions committed against Christians and Jews, in Germany and in Poland, leading the New York Times to headline its report "Jews Rights Defended" and write of the "burning words he spoke to Herr Ribbentrop about religious persecution".
In 1942, Pius XII delivered a Christmas message over Vatican Radio, which voiced concern for the victims of the Nazis' genocidal policies.From May 1942, the Nazis had commenced their industrialized slaughter of the Jews of Europe – the Final Solution . Gypsies and others were also marked for extermination. The Pope addressed the racial persecutions in the following terms:
Mankind owes that vow to the numberless exiles whom the hurricane of war has torn from their native land and scattered in the land of the stranger; who can make their own the lament of the Prophet: 'Our inheritance is turned to aliens; our house to strangers.' Mankind owes that vow to the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or slow extermination."— Pius XII - Christmas Radio Address, 1942
The New York Times called Pius "a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent."
The speech was made in the context of the near total domination of Europe by the armies of Nazi Germany, although the war had turned in favour of the Allies on all fronts. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Pius refused to say more "fearing that public papal denunciations might provoke the Hitler regime to brutalize further those subject to Nazi terror – as it had when Dutch bishops publicly protested earlier in the year – while jeopardizing the future of the church".
In the winter of 1939/40, the Bavarian lawyer and reserve 'Abwehr' officer Josef Müller, acting as an emissary for the early German military opposition against Hitler then centered around General Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the German army, contacted Monsignore Ludwig Kaas, the exiled leader of the German Catholic Zentrum party, in Rome, hoping to use the Pope as an intermediary to contact the British.Kaas put Müller in contact with Father Robert Leiber, who personally asked the Pope to relay the information about the German resistance to the British. After more than a day of "quiet reflection", Pius XII agreed to pass the information along to the British. However he refused to pass the information along to the French or even to his own Secretariat of State.
The Pope's Private Secretary, Robert Leiber, met with Müller, who visited Rome in 1939 and 1940.The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Beck and agreed to offer the machinery for mediation. Oster, Wilhelm Canaris and Hans von Dohnányi, backed by Beck, told Müller to ask Pius to ascertain whether the British would enter negotiations with the German opposition which wanted to overthrow Hitler. The British agreed to negotiate, provided the Vatican could vouch for the opposition's representative. Pius, communicating with British envoy D'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in secrecy. The Vatican agreed to send a letter outlining the bases for peace with Britain, and the participation of the Pope was used to try to persuade senior German Generals Halder and Brauchitsch to act against Hitler.
Negotiations were tense, with a Western offensive expected, and on the basis that substantive negotiations could only follow the replacement of the Hitler regime. Hoffmann wrote that, when the Venlo Incident stalled the talks, the British agreed to resume discussions primarily because of the "efforts of the Pope and the respect in which he was held. Chamberlain and Halifax set great store by the Pope's readiness to mediate."Pius, without offering endorsement, advised Osbourne on 11 January 1940 that the German opposition had said that a German offensive was planned for February, but that this could be averted if the German generals could be assured of peace with Britain, and not on punitive terms. If this could be assured, then they were willing to move to replace Hitler. The Pope admitted to "discomfort" at his role as mediator, but advised that the Germans involved were not Nazis. The British government had doubts as to the capacity of the conspirators. On 7 February, the Pope updated Osbourne that the opposition wanted to replace the Nazi regime with a democratic federation, but hoped to retain Austria and the Sudetenland. The British government was non-committal, and said that while the federal model was of interest, the promises and sources of the opposition were too vague. Nevertheless, the resistance were encouraged by the talks, and Muller told Leiber that a coup would occur in February. Pius appeared to continue to hope for a coup in Germany into March 1940.
Chadwick wrote that Pius XII met with D'Arcy Osborne, telling him that he knew the names of the involved German generals but did not wish to share them.Pius XII insisted to Osborne that he was merely passing on a message and that "he did not wish in the slightest degree to endorse it or to recommend it". When Osborne pressed the Pope on the vagueness of his message, Osborne reported that Pius XII replied "perhaps, after all, it was not worth proceeding with the matter and he would therefore ask me to return his communication to me as not having been made". The Pope further declined Osborne's request to guarantee the good faith of the generals, or whether they could accomplish their goal. In a second meeting, Pius XII flashed a typed, four-page letter in German in front of Osborne, but declined to let him read it or have a copy.
After the German attack on Denmark and Norway, the British refused any further contacts with emissaries of the German military opposition, fearing another Venlo incident. The opposition largely dissolved after the German conquest of France in summer 1940 because Halder no longer dared to stand up against an apparently successful Hitler. It only regained momentum in 1944 when a new generation of younger officers decided to conspire against the ruthless Nazi regime. Leiber remained the point of contact at the Vatican for communications from Colonel-General Ludwig Beck in the lead up to the 1944 July Plot.
In late 1942, senior Italian officials first approached the Vatican with peace feelers.In the eyes of the Vatican, "the neutrality of the Vatican, achieved at such cost, was paying a dividend at last". When Mussolini sent his son-in-law, Count Ciano, as ambassador to the Vatican in 1943, the Germans and others speculated about the possibility of Ciano negotiating a separate peace. The British for their part doubted any such intentions and wanted nothing to do with Ciano.
The Vatican maintained a small force of troops known as the Swiss Guard. During World War II the Vatican's Swiss guards obtained additional submachine guns and gas masks to supplement the existing Vatican arsenal in the event of an attack.
With the German occupation of Rome in 1943, after the fall of Mussolini, came rumors of a plot to kidnap the Pope; modern scholars are still at odds over the authenticity of such allegations.The Vatican City itself was never occupied; in fact, the chief concern within the Vatican was the potential for lawlessness in the period between the German and Allied occupation, not the potential for German occupation. However the Vatican Police Force in conjunction with the Swiss Guard maintained order.
One of Pius XII's main diplomatic priorities was to prevent the bombing of Rome; so sensitive was the pontiff that he protested even the British air dropping of pamphlets over Rome, claiming that the few landing within the city-state violated the Vatican's neutrality.Before the American entry into the war, there was little impetus for such a bombing, as the British saw little strategic value in it. After the American entry, the US opposed such a bombing, fearful of offending Catholic members of its military forces, while the British then supported it. Pius XII similarly advocated for the declaration of Rome as an "open city", but this occurred only on 14 August 1943, after Rome had already been bombed twice. Although the Italians consulted the Vatican on the wording of the open city declaration, the impetus for the change had little to do with the Vatican.
After the Italian surrender, Allied prisoners guarded by Italians were released, and many headed for Vatican City.The Vatican feared such an event would compromise its neutrality and gave strict instructions to the Swiss Guard to prevent any such person from entering the city state; a system of identity cards was instituted to prevent non-Vatican personnel from entering St. Peter's. Some Vatican officials, however, did act independently to assist such persons; the most famous example is Hugh O'Flaherty, whose exploits were made famous in the film The Scarlet and the Black .
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The Osservatore Romano , the Vatican's newspaper, published in Italian, was the only newspaper in Italy not censored by the Italian government.Despite its relatively moderate content, the paper was lionized by the British and French press and vilified by the Italian Fascist press. By 20 May 1940, the paper ceased publishing any articles about the war not authored by the "official Italian war communique", per an agreement with the Italian government. By August 1940 its weather reports were also eliminated when the Italian government protested that they might aid British aircraft.
Vatican Radio was in a similar situation; for example, it ceased news about prisoners-of-war, which the Italian government worried would hint at the location of ships.It also ceased reporting on the weather, for the same reason. After Cardinal August Hlond issued a fiery, Polish-language message to Poland over the radio (which could scarcely be picked up in Poland), "nothing like this broadcast was ever allowed to happen again". After German complaints, the radio ceased any discussion of the situation in Poland, and later ceased discussing the situation of the church in Germany. Pius XII spoke over the radio on several occasions, most notably during his 1942 Christmas address in which he voiced concern at the murder of "hundreds of thousands" of "faultless" people on the basis of no more than their "race or nationality".
In his 1939 Summi Pontificatus first papal encyclical, Pius XII expressed dismay at the invasion of Poland; reiterated Catholic teaching against racism and antisemitism; and endorsed resistance against those opposed to the ethical principles of the "Revelation on Sinai" and the Sermon on the Mount.
Pius protested the deportations of Slovakian Jews to the Bratislava government from 1942. In 1943 he protested that "The Holy See would fail in its Divine Mandate if it did not deplore these measures, which gravely damage man in his natural right, mainly for the reason that these people belong to a certain race."In June 1942 Pius personally protested against the mass deportations of Jews from France, ordering the papal nuncio to protest to Marshal Philippe Pétain against "the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews". In his 1942 Christmas address, Pius voiced concern at the murder of "hundreds of thousands" of "faultless" people because of their "nationality or race".
Following the Nazi occupation of Italy, the Pope ordered Rome's Catholic institutions to open themselves to the Jews, sheltering 4,715 of the 5,715 listed for deportation by the Nazis in 150 Catholic institutions. In the Vatican itself, 477 Jews were sheltered . As German round-ups continued in Northern Italy, the Pope opened his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, to take in thousands of Jews, and authorized institutions across the north to do the same.
From 1943, Pius instructed his Bulgarian representative to take "all necessary steps" to support Bulgarian Jews facing deportation, and his Turkish nuncio, Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) arranged for the transfer of thousands of children out of Bulgaria to Palestine.Roncalli also advised the Pope of Jewish concentration camps in Romanian-occupied Transnistria. The Pope protested to the Romanian government and authorized for funds to be sent to the camps. In 1944 Pius appealed directly to the Hungarian government to halt the deportation of the Jews of Hungary and his nuncio, Angelo Rotta, led a citywide rescue scheme in Budapest.
Upon his death, Pius was praised emphatically by Israel and world leaders for his wartime leadership. But his insistence on Vatican neutrality and failure to explicitly name the Nazis as the evildoers of the conflict became the foundation for later criticisms.
From his Vatican office, and in co-operation with Pius XII,Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irishman, operated an escape operation for Jews and Allied escapees. In 2012, the Irish Independent newspaper credited him with having saved more than 6,500 people during the war.
From 1943, he began to offer shelter to allied servicemen seeking sanctuary in the Vatican. Using fake documents and a clandestine communications network, O'Flaherty defied the Gestapo's war criminal commander of Rome, Herbert Kappler, and evaded capture through the German occupation of Rome. O'Flaherty's '"Rome Escape Line" hid British and American soldiers and Jews in safe houses around the city.Kappler had a white line drawn around the boundary of the Vatican and offered a bounty on O'Flaherty's head. O'Flaherty forgave Kappler after the war and became a regular visitor to his prison cell – eventually presiding at his conversion to Catholicism. O'Flaherty's story was dramatized in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black and Ireland honors his work with the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award.
Occupying powers often requested that Pius XII reorganize conquered Catholic dioceses. Although such reorganization was generally refused, the decision of Pius XII to appoint German apostolic administrators to occupied Poland was "one of his most controversial decisions".These actions were the primary justification of the Polish Provisional Government for declaring the Concordat of 1925 null and void in 1945, an act that had tremendous consequences for post-war Polish-Vatican relations. There was no Apostolic Nuncio to Poland between 1947 and 1989, during the years of communist Poland.
The Allies liberated Rome on 4–5 June 1944.During the liberation, many Catholic Allied troops visited the Vatican for Mass and to hear the Pope speak, including some who drove tanks into St. Peter's Square.
The Pope was the greatest celebrity on the Italian peninsula during this period, and – given the tarnishment of the King of Italy with fascism – there was even talk of extending the temporal power of the papacy.The Pope granted audiences with Allied soldiers and leaders, which were prominently photographed.
Pius XII had refrained from creating cardinals during the war. By the end of World War II there were several prominent vacancies, including Cardinal Secretary of State, Camerlengo, Chancellor, and Prefect for the Congregation for the Religious.Pius XII created 32 cardinals in early 1946, having announced his intentions to do so in his preceding Christmas message.
Pope Pius XII, born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, was head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 2 March 1939 to 1958 when he died. Before his election to the papacy, he served as secretary of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, papal nuncio to Germany, and Cardinal Secretary of State, in which capacity he worked to conclude treaties with European and Latin American nations, such as the Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany.
Pope Pius XI, born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was head of the Catholic Church from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939. He was the first sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929. He took as his papal motto, "Pax Christi in Regno Christi," translated "The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ."
Hitler's Pope is a book published in 1999 by the British journalist and author John Cornwell that examines the actions of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, before and during the Nazi era, and explores the charge that he assisted in the legitimization of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany, through the pursuit of a Reichskonkordat in 1933. The book is critical of Pius' conduct during the Second World War, arguing that he did not do enough, or speak out enough, against the Holocaust. Cornwell argues that Pius's entire career as the nuncio to Germany, Cardinal Secretary of State, and Pope, was characterized by a desire to increase and centralize the power of the Papacy, and that he subordinated opposition to the Nazis to that goal. He further argues that Pius was antisemitic and that this stance prevented him from caring about the European Jews.
Summi Pontificatus is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII published on 20 October 1939. The encyclical is subtitled "on the unity of human society". It was the first encyclical of Pius XII and was seen as setting "a tone" for his papacy. It critiques major errors at the time, such as ideologies of racism, cultural superiority and the totalitarian state. It also sets the theological framework for future encyclical letters, such as Mystici corporis Christi (1943). The encyclical laments the destruction of Poland, denounces the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and calls for a restoration of independent Poland.
Robert Leiber, S.J. was a close advisor to Pope Pius XII, a Jesuit priest from Germany, and Professor for Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome from 1930 to 1960. Leiber was, according to Pius's biographer Susan Zuccotti, "throughout his entire papacy his private secretary and closest advisor".
Pope Pius XII and Poland includes Church relations from 1939–1958. Pius XII became Pope on the eve of the Second World War. The invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939 ignited the conflict and was followed soon after by a Soviet invasion of the Eastern half of Poland, in accordance with an agreement reached between the dictators Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The Catholic Church in Poland was about to face decades of repression, both at Nazi and Communist hands. The Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland was followed by a Stalinist repression which was particularly intense through the years 1946–1956. Pope Pius XII's policies consisted in attempts to avoid World War II, extensive diplomatic activity on behalf of Poland and encouragement to the persecuted clergy and faithful.
Cesare Vincenzo Orsenigo was Apostolic Nuncio to Germany from 1930 to 1945, during the rise of Nazi Germany and World War II. Along with the German ambassador to the Vatican, Diego von Bergen and later Ernst von Weizsäcker, Orsenigo was the direct diplomatic link between Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime, meeting several times with Adolf Hitler directly and frequently with other high-ranking officials and diplomats.
The start of the pontificate of Pius XII occurred at the time of the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust, which over the course of the war would see the murder of millions of Jews and others by Adolf Hitler's Germany. Pius employed diplomacy to aid the victims of the Nazis during the war and, through directing his Church to provide discreet aid to Jews and others, saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Pius maintained links to the German Resistance, and shared intelligence with the Allies. His strongest public condemnation of genocide was, however, considered inadequate by the Allied Powers, while the Nazis viewed him as an Allied sympathizer who had dishonoured his policy of Vatican neutrality.
Pope Pius XII's response to the Roman razzia or mass deportation of Jews on October 16, 1943 is a significant issue relating to Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. Under Mussolini, no policy of abduction of Jews had been implemented in Italy. Following the capitulation of Italy in 1943, Nazi forces invaded and occupied much of the country, and began deportations of Jews to extermination camps. Pius XII protested at diplomatic levels, while several thousand Jews found refuge in Catholic networks, institutions and homes across Italy - including in the Vatican City and Pope Pius' Summer Residence. The Catholic Church and some historians have credited this rescue in large part to the direction of Pope Pius XII, however, Susan Zuccotti researched the matter in detail and discovered that although the pope was aware of The Holocaust, he did not issue a rescue order. Zuccotti states that there is, in fact, "considerable evidence of papal disapproval of the hiding of Jews and other fugitives in Vatican properties."
Pope Pius XII's 1942 Christmas address was a speech delivered by Pope Pius XII over Vatican Radio on Christmas 1942. It is notable for its denunciation of the extermination of people on the basis of race, and followed the commencement of the Nazi Final Solution program to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The significance of the denunciation is a matter of scholarly debate.
Several authors have alleged that there was a plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII by the Nazis when they occupied Rome during World War II. SS General Karl Wolff stated that he had been ordered on September 13, 1943, to kidnap the Pope.
Popes Pius XI (1922–1939) and Pius XII (1939–1958) led the Catholic Church during the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Around a third of Germans were Catholic in the 1930s, generally in southern Germany; Protestants dominated the north. Although the German Catholic church had opposed the Nazi Party, the Catholic-aligned Centre Party capitulated in 1933. In the 1933 elections, the percentage of Catholics voting for the Nazi Party was lower than the national average. Adolf Hitler and several other key Nazis had been raised Catholic, but became hostile to the church in adulthood; Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purportedly guaranteed religious freedom for Catholics, but the Nazis were essentially hostile to Catholicism. Catholic press, schools, and youth organizations were closed, property was confiscated, and about one-third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities; Catholic lay leaders were targeted during the Night of the Long Knives. The Church hierarchy tried to cooperate with the new government, but Pius XI's 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge accused the government of hostility to the church.
During the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), the Weimar Republic transitioned into Nazi Germany. In 1933, the ailing President von Hindenberg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in a Coalition Cabinet, and the Holy See concluded the Reich concordat treaty with the still nominally functioning Weimar state later that year. Hoping to secure the rights of the Church in Germany, the Church agreed to a requirement that clergy cease to participate in politics. The Hitler regime routinely violated the treaty, and launched a persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany.
The public statements of Pope Pius XII on the Holocaust, or lack thereof, are one of the most controversial elements of the historical debate about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. Pius XII's statements have been scrutinized as much, if not more, than his actions during the same period. Pius XII's statements, both public and private, are quite well documented in the Vatican Secret Archives; eleven volumes of documents from his papacy were published between 1965 and 1981 in Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale.
During the German Occupation of Poland (1939–1945), the Nazis brutally suppressed the Catholic Church in Poland, most severely in German-occupied areas of Poland. Thousands of churches and monasteries were systematically closed, seized or destroyed. As a result, many works of religious art and objects were permanently lost.
During the Second World War, Pope Pius XII maintained links to the German resistance to Nazism against Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Although remaining publicly neutral, Pius advised the British in 1940 of the readiness of certain German generals to overthrow Hitler if they could be assured of an honourable peace, offered assistance to the German resistance in the event of a coup and warned the Allies of the planned German invasion of the Low Countries in 1940. The Nazis considered that the Pope had engaged in acts equivalent to espionage.
Catholic resistance to Nazi Germany was a component of German resistance to Nazism and of Resistance during World War II. The role of the Church during the Nazi years was always, and remains however, a matter of much contention. Many writers, echoing Klaus Scholder, have concluded, "There was no Catholic resistance in Germany, there were only Catholics who resisted." The Vatican policy meant that the Pope never challenged Catholics to side either with National Socialism or with Catholic morality, and Pius XII was so adamant that Bolshevism represented the most terrible threat to the world that he remarked, 'Germany are a great nation who, in their fight against Bolshevism, are bleeding not only for their friends but also for the sake of their present enemies'. In a letter of autumn 1941 Pius XII wrote to Bishop Preysing, "We emphasise that, because the Church in Germany is dependent upon your public behaviour...in public declarations you are duty bound to exercise restraint" and "requires(d) you and your colleagues not to protest."
The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis is a 2012 book by the British author Gordon Thomas concerning the efforts of Pope Pius XII to protect Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. The Observer reported in 2013 that "Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before" and had uncovered "evidence on Pius XII's wartime efforts to save Jewish refugees".
Several Catholic countries and populations fell under Nazi domination during the period of the Second World War (1939–1945), and ordinary Catholics fought on both sides of the conflict. Despite efforts to protect its rights within Germany under a 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty, the Church in Germany had faced persecution in the years since Adolf Hitler had seized power, and Pope Pius XI accused the Nazi government of sowing 'fundamental hostility to Christ and his Church'. Pius XII became Pope on the eve of war and lobbied world leaders to prevent the outbreak of conflict. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an "hour of darkness". He affirmed the policy of Vatican neutrality, but maintained links to the German Resistance. Despite being the only world leader to publicly and specifically denounce Nazi crimes against Jews in his 1942 Christmas Address, controversy surrounding his apparent reluctance to speak frequently and in even more explicit terms about Nazi crimes continues. He used diplomacy to aid war victims, lobbied for peace, shared intelligence with the Allies, and employed Vatican Radio and other media to speak out against atrocities like race murders. In Mystici corporis Christi (1943) he denounced the murder of the handicapped. A denunciation from German bishops of the murder of the "innocent and defenceless", including "people of a foreign race or descent", followed.
During the Holocaust, the Roman Catholic Church played a role in the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews from being murdered by the Nazis. Members of the Church, through lobbying of Axis officials, provision of false documents, and the hiding of people in monasteries, convents, schools, among families and the institutions of the Vatican itself, saved hundreds of thousands of Jews. The Israeli diplomat and historian Pinchas Lapide estimated the figure at between 700,000 and 860,000, although the figure is contested.