It would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but Fr.Lichtenberg didn’t.

Fr Lichtenberg

It would be so easy for ordinary citizens to turn a blind eye to the Holocaust, and indeed many did. I do not judge these people, because  faced with a similar situation I don’t know how I would react. Anyone who was critical against the Nazi regime, could face a prison sentence of worse death. And it really didn’t take that much to be sentenced to death. I can therefore understand why people ignored the things happening around them, for many it was a way to ensure survival.

There were those though how saw the injustice and evil and spoke out against it publicly. People like the Catholic Priest Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg.

Ever since the Nazis came to power he spoke out against them. After the pogrom of November 9, 1938,known as Kristallnacht he said the following public prayer in the St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin.

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“We know what was yesterday. We do not know what will be tomorrow. But we have experienced what happened today. Outside, the Temple is burning. That is also a House of God.”

Lichtenberg  prayed publicly for the persecuted Jews at the daily Vespers service. Bishop Konrad von Preysing later entrusted Lichtenberg with the task of helping the Jewish community of the city, via the Welfare Office of the Berlin Diocesan Authority (“Hilfswerk”). In theory non-Aryan Christians were to be supported by the “Fund”. However  the aid was provided to every Jewish citizen who contacted the office.

Lichtenberg protested in person to Nazi officials against the arrest and killing of the sick and mentally ill.In 1941 he wrote a letter to the  chief physician of the Reich, Minister of Public Health Leonardo Conti, in relation to the T4 euthanasia program.

Conti

“I, as a human being, a Christian, a priest, and a German, demand of you, Chief Physician of the Reich, that you answer for the crimes that have been perpetrated at your bidding, and with your consent, and which will call forth the vengeance of the Lord on the heads of the German people.”

Initially the Nazis saw him more of a nuisance then a threat but his  efforts to help the Jews and his calls to put an end to the immoral actions of the Nazis grew stronger. To silence him, the Nazis arrested him on October 23, 1941, and was sentenced to 2 years in prison.But because of his unyielding opposition he was sent to Dachau. However he never reached Dachau.He collapsed and died while in transit, on 5 November 1943 in Hof, Bavaria.

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He died for being a decent Human being , who spoke out about the evil he saw around him.

I am not a Catholic and I don’t believe in saints but of I had to believe in saints, he would be top of my list.

On 7 July 2004 Yad Vashem recognized Bernhard Lichtenberg as a Righteous Among the Nations.

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Sources

The Second World War: A Complete History

Bundesarchiv

Yad Vashem

 

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Otto and Elise Hampel-Ordinary citizens.

Otto and Elise

Some people think that all Germans subscribed to the Nazi regime’s policies and that there was no resistance. But that is not the case, there were many who did resist the Nazi’s warped ideology. And they often paid dearly for it.

Otto and Elise Hampel were 2 ordinary people.

Otto Hampel  was born 21 June 1897  in Mühlbock, a suburb of Wehrau, now in Poland, but then part of Germany. He served in World War I and was later a factory worker.

Elise Hampel (nee Lemme)  was born 27 October 1903 in the Bismark area of Stendal.  She worked as a domestic worker and was a member of the National Socialist Women’s League.

They married in 1935, and were an ordinary working class couple going about their daily lives until November 1940 when Elise got the news  that her brother had been killed in the invasion of France.This changed , their attitude towards the Nazis in general, and Hitler in particular.

They would leave anonymous hand written postcards in Berlin  with messages encouraging people not to co-operate with the government, to refuse to serve in the German army, and not to donate to Nazi organisations like Winter Relief ,and attacking Hitler.Many of the postcards would have the heading “Free Press”.

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free press

Over a time span of more then 2 years the couple left more then 200 of these cards all across Berlin.

Although nearly all the postcards were immediately brought to the Gestapo, it took two years for the Gestapo to find the couple.

Eventually, by chance, the couple were caught and arrested in October 1942. Otto Hampel declared to the police police that he was “happy with the idea” of protesting against Hitler and his regime. The Hampels were sentenced to death on January 22, 1943 by the People’s Court for “Wehrkraftzersetzung-undermining military force ” and “preparation for high treason,” and executed on April 8, 1943.

Two ordinary people who displayed extraordinary bravery, because they knew that they could be caught every time they planted a card, and every card carried the death sentence.

memorialTheir Gestapo file was given to German novelist Hans Fallada, and the story of Otto and Elise Hampel  inspired his 1947 novel, translated into English and published in 2009 as Every Man Dies Alone (Alone in Berlin in the UK). The story was filmed in 2016 as Alone in Berlin.

 

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Sources

History.org.uk

The Guardian

World of Wonder

Wikipedia

 

 

Alfred Delp-“Vincula amoris” -chains of love.

Alfred Delp

I know the Catholic church has quite a few questions to answer when it comes to WWII, but there were many within the church who stood up against the Nazi regime, knowing that it could cost them their lives and for many it did.

Alfred Delp was a German  Jesuit priest. Witnessing at  first hand his country being turned into something he could not stand, Alfred Delp opposed bitterly the rising tide of Nazism, which eventually cots him his life.

He was a member of the inner Kreisau Circle resistance group(a group of about twenty-five German dissidents led by Helmuth James von Moltke, who met at his estate in the rural town of Kreisau)

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He was arrested in Munich on 28 July 1944, with other members of the circle after the attempted assassination of Hitler on July 20 1944. After suffering brutal treatment and torture, Delp was brought to trial. Even though he knew nothing of the attempted assassination.

He was transferred to Tegel Prison in Berlin. Whilst in prison, he secretly began to say Mass and wrote letters, reflections on Advent, on Christmas, and other spiritual subjects,which were smuggled out of the prison before his trial. On 8 December 1944.

On the day of his trial he got  visit from Franz von Tattenbach SJ, sent by Augustin Rösch, Father Delp’s superior in Munich  to receive his final vows to the Jesuit Order. This was forbidden by the Nazis, but the attending policemen did not understand what was going on.Delp wrote on the same day, It was too much, what a fulfillment, I prayed for it so much, I gave my life away. My chains are now without any meaning, because God found me worthy of the “Vincula amoris” (chains of love)

Delp was offered his freedom if he would renounce the Jesuits. He refused and was hanged February 2, 1945. His body was cremated and his ashes spread on an unknown field.

Martyr

 

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Sources

Jesuits in Ireland

Ignatius Insight

Wikipedia

ignatianspirituality.com

Not all Germans were bad-Defying the Nazi regime.

 

Schindler

There is nothing more despicable than an individual or group of individuals who deny the Holocaust. They have a misguided,evil and twisted mind.

On the other hand there is an increase of individuals who deny the fact that a great  number of Germans made sacrifices to resist the Nazi regime. These individuals say that all Germans were evil and responsible for the death of millions.

This does a great injustice to people like Sophie and Hans Scholl who died resisting the Nazis.

Scholl

Claiming that that all Germans were bad also does a great injustice or the brave women of the Rosenstrasse protest movement, who risked their lives every single day of that protest.

The protest was held between February 27 and March 6. It was a collective street protest on Rosenstraße (“Rose street”) in Berlin This demonstration was the initiative of non-Jewish German wives and relatives of Jewish men they also sustained the protest.The men  had been arrested for deportation. The protests which were  mainly led by women, continued until the men being held were released. It  was the only mass public demonstration by Germans in the Third Reich against the deportation of Jews.

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Those who will have seen the movie ‘the Pianist’ will have heard of Captain Wilm Hosenfeld. In the movie he is portrayed as the German officer who saved  Waldislaw Szpilman,but he saved more.Leon Warm managed to escape from a train to Treblinka during the  deportations in 1942  from Warsaw. He made it back into the city, and managed to survive with the help of Hosenfeld who employed him in the sports stadium.

Hosenfeld recorded his disgust of the genocide he witnessed in his diary.

“Innumerable Jews have been killed like that, for no reason, senselessly. It is beyond understanding. Now the last remnants of the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto are being exterminated. An SS Sturmführer boasted of the way they shot the Jews down as they ran out of the burning buildings. The entire ghetto has been razed by fire. These brutes think we shall win the war that way. But we have lost the war with this appalling mass murder of the Jews. We have brought shame upon ourselves that cannot be wiped out; it is a curse that cannot be lifted. We deserve no mercy; we are all guilty. I am ashamed to walk in the city”

Hosenfeld

Johannes Frömming was a legendary German  harness racing driver and trainer. During World War II he employed three Jewish horsemen on his farm outside Berlin and hid them from the Nazi authorities.

Froming

Friedrich Kellner, a justice inspector,not only kept a diary using it as an eye witness account for future generations.

“I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.”

He also helped Julius and Lucie Abt, and their infant son, John Peter escape

He also recorded the account of others in his diary.  Early in the war already showing that word of atrocities reached the average citizens even in the small towns. The entry below is from October 28, 1941.

“A soldier on vacation here said he was an eyewitness to terrible atrocities in the occupied parts of Poland. He watched as naked Jewish men and women were placed in front of a long deep trench and upon the order of the SS were shot by Ukrainians in the back of their heads and they fell into the ditch. Then the ditch was filled with dirt even as he could hear screams coming from people still alive in the ditch.
These inhuman atrocities were so terrible that some of the Ukrainians, who were used as tools, suffered nervous breakdowns. All the soldiers who had knowledge of these bestial actions of these Nazi sub-humans were of the opinion that the German people should be shaking in their shoes because of the coming retribution.
There is no punishment that would be hard enough to be applied to these Nazi beasts. Of course, when the retribution comes, the innocent will have to suffer along with them. But because ninety-nine percent of the German population is guilty, directly or indirectly, for the present situation, we can only say that those who travel together will hang together”

Keeping a diary like that could have cost him his life, leave alone helping Jews.

Diary

The picture at  the start of this blog is of Oskar Schindler. There is no need for me to outline what he has done for the Jews, because it is widely known.

These people and so many others all defied the Nazi regime and even though some of them may have bought in to the rhetoric and the promises of Hitler at the start of his political rise. They soon acknowledged the real policies Hitler had planned.

 

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The 9th of April 1945 Executions

Flossenbürg_April_9_1945_Memorial

The 9th of April 1945 was picked by the Nazi’s to get rid of some those they had considered to be traitors. In fact some of these men were actually heroes, since they all had been part in one way or another(or at least were convicted of that)of trying to kill Adolf Hitler during Operation Valkyrie or the 20 July plot.

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The executions by way of hanging all took place in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Flossenburg

Dietrich Bonhoeffer  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews.He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years.

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Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/05/26/dietrich-bonhoeffer-the-good-german/

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he later turned against the Nazis as he felt Germany would lose another major war. During the Second World War he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for high treason.

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Canaris was arrested on 23 July 1944 on the basis of the interrogation of his successor at Military Intelligence, Georg Hansen.Schellenberg respected Canaris and was convinced of his loyalty to the Nazi regime, even though he had been arrested.Hansen admitted his role in the 20 July plot but accused Canaris of being its “spiritual instigator”. No direct evidence of his involvement in the plot was discovered, but his close association with many of the plotters and certain documents written by him that were considered subversive led to the gradual assumption of his guilt. Two of the men under suspicion as conspirators who were known in Canaris’ circle shot themselves which incited activity from the Gestapo to prove he was, at the very least, privy to the plan against Hitler

Ludwig Gehre (5 October 1895 – 9 April 1945) was an officer and resistance fighter involved in the preparation of an assassination attempt against Hitler.

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At the beginning of the Second World War Gehre was active as a Captain in the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. By 1939 a group in the Abwehr had formed to remove the Nazi regime and end the War. This circle included Admiral Canaris, General Ludwig Beck, Hans von Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Gehre.

By March 1943 Gehre was privy to the Military Opposition’s preparations under Henning von Tresckow to assassinate Hitler. In January 1944 Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was arrested, and in March 1944 Gehre was also taken by the Gestapo. Gehre, however, was soon able to flee and disappeared.

After the failed 20 July 1944 assassination attempt to kill Hitler, the search for Gehre intensified. Gehre, together with his wife, kept himself hidden for several more weeks. Further shelter was procured by the brothers Hans and Otto John. When Gehre realized that he was about to be discovered by the Gestapo on 1944 November 2, he shot his wife and then directed the gun toward himself. Although he was badly hurt, he survived.

Hans Paul Oster (9 August 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany who was also a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943. As deputy head of the counter-espionage bureau in the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Oster was in a strong position to conduct resistance operations under the guise of intelligence work; he was dismissed for helping Jews to avoid arrest.

Hans Oster

He was a key planner of the Oster Conspiracy of September 1938. Oster was arrested in 1943 on suspicion of helping Abwehr officers caught helping Jews escape Germany. After the failed 1944 July Plot on Hitler’s life, the Gestapo seized the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, in which Oster’s long term anti-Nazi activities were revealed. In April 1945, he was hanged with Canaris and Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Karl Sack (born June 9, 1896 in Bosenheim (now Bad Kreuznach), executed April 9, 1945 in Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German jurist and member of the resistance movement during World War II.

Sack

Karl Sack studied law in Heidelberg where he joined a Burschenschaft (Burschenschaft Vineta) and after a time in legal practice became a judge in Hesse. He married Wilhelmine Weber and had two sons. In 1934, Sack joined the newly established Reichskriegsgericht (Reich Military Court) where he quickly rose to a senior position. He was able to delay proceedings against Army Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch who had been falsely accused of homosexuality by the Gestapo in an attempt to discredit him for his opposition to Hitler’s attempts to subjugate the German armed forces. In the fall of 1942, Karl Sack became Judge Advocate General of the Army.

During World War II, Sack maintained contacts within the resistance circles in the military, including Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Major General Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi, as well as with others within the Abwehr (German military intelligence). He was part of the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 and after that failed attempt he was arrested on August 9, 1944. In the very last days of the war, he was brought before an SS drumhead court-martial presided over by Otto Thorbeck. He was sentenced to death and hanged 2 days later. Sack had been slated for the role of Justice Minister within a planned post-coup civilian government.

In 1984, Sack’s role as a member of the resistance was remembered with a bronze plaque placed in the former Reichskriegsgericht in Berlin-Charlottenburg. There was some opposition to this honour as Sack favoured a far-reaching interpretation of what constituted desertion, which must have led to more than a few death sentences.

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Theodor Strünck (7 April 1895, Pries – 9 April 1945, Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German lawyer and resistance worker, involved in the July 20 plot.

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Theodor Strünck studied legal science, graduating at the University of Rostock in 1924, and became a lawyer (later a director) at an insurance company. Initially sympathising with National Socialism, he then turned to opposing the regime on their seizure of power and the subsequent decline in the rule of law. In 1937 he became a Hauptmann in Germany’s reserve forces, working in the Wehrmacht section of the Amt Ausland/Abwehr under Hans Oster. He came into contact with Carl Goerdeler and organised meetings of German Resistance members in his own home.

For his participation in the 20 July 1944 plot, Theodor Strünck was arrested on 1 August, dishonourably discharged from the army on 24 August as part of the “Ehrenhof” (so that the Reichskriegsgericht or Reich Courts Martial would no longer have control of his sentencing), and on 10 October condemned to death by the People’s Court under its president Roland Freisler. He was then imprisoned in Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he was executed together by hanging on 9 April 1945.

The Germans were busy on the 9th of April because additionally to the 6 men mentioned above they also executed Georg Elser by hanging in the Dachau concentration camp.

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Johann Georg Elser (4 January 1903 – 9 April 1945) was a German worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on 8 November 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich.A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform failed to kill Hitler, who left earlier than expected, but killed eight people and injured over sixty-two others. Elser was held as a prisoner for over five years until executed at the Dachau concentration camp.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/10/19/what-if-the-assassination-attempts-on-hitler/

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/02/27/forgotten-history-german-resistance/

The execution of Christoph Probst and Hans and Sophie Scholl.

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Christoph Probst, Hans and Sophie Scholl were members of the German resistance movement “White Rose”.The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign which called for active opposition against the Nazi regime. Their activities started in Munich on June 27th, 1942, and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on February 18th, 1943.They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced unjust trials by the Nazi People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), and many were sentenced to death or imprisonment.

The group wrote, printed and initially distributed their pamphlets in the greater Munich region.

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Later on, secret carriers brought copies to other cities, mostly in the southern parts of Germany. In total, the White Rose authored six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread, in a total of about 15,000 copies. They branded the Nazi regime’s crimes and oppression, and called for resistance. In their second leaflet, they openly denounced the persecution and mass murder of the Jews. By the time of their arrest, members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups like the Kreisau Circle or the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack group of the Red Orchestra.

On 18 February 1943, the Scholls brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the university main building. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they left the lecture rooms. Leaving before the lectures had ended, the Scholls noticed that there were some left-over copies in the suitcase and decided to distribute them. Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets from the top floor down into the atrium. This spontaneous action was observed by the university maintenance man, Jakob Schmied.

Hans and Sophie Scholl were taken into Gestapo custody. A draft of a seventh pamphlet, written by Christoph Probst, was found in the possession of Hans Scholl at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo. While Sophie Scholl got rid of incriminating evidence before being taken into custody, Hans did try to destroy the draft of the last leaflet by tearing it apart and trying to swallow it down. However, the Gestapo recovered enough to match the handwriting with other writings from Probst, which they found when they searched Hans’s apartment. The main Gestapo interrogator was Robert Mohr, who initially thought Sophie was innocent.

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However, after Hans had confessed, Sophie assumed full responsibility in an attempt to protect other members of the White Rose.

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The Scholls and Probst were to stand trial before the Volksgerichtshof— the Nazi “People’s Court” infamous for its unfair political trials, which more often than not ended with a death sentence — on 22 February 1943. They were found guilty of treason. Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, sentenced them to death.

Roland Freisler

The three were executed the same day by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison.

 

All three were noted for the courage with which they faced their deaths, particularly Sophie, who remained firm despite intense interrogation, and intimidations by Freisler during the trial. She replied: “You know as well as we do that the war is lost. Why are you so cowardly that you won’t admit it?” Immediately before Hans was executed, he cried out “Es lebe die Freiheit! – Long live freedom!”, as the blade fell.

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When the Pope tried to kill Hitler.

hitler_pius-620x412

The role of the Catholic church has often been questioned and criticized , and to en extent rightfully so.Pope Pius Pius XII. sometimes derided as ‘Hitler’s Pope’ because of his reluctance to condemn Nazi war crimes, was allegedly trying to stir up German agitators and convince them to strike down the Führer from within.
Historian Mark Riebling claims that Pius’s apparent silence on Hitler’s atrocities against Jews, minorities and even members of his own church was in fact cover while he tried to help members of the German resistance.
His recently -released book, Church of Spies, details secret conversations held by Pius’s go-betweens, who linked high-ranking Germans dismayed with Hitler’s leadership with the Allies, in the hope of securing a way out without the massive bloodshed of the Second World War

spies

 

Backed by a mass of carefully compiled documentation, Riebling shows that Pius cooperated in a variety of plots, initiated by patriotic, anti-Nazi Germans, to assassinate Hitler and replace the National Socialist regime with a government that would make peace with the West.

The Nazis, in fact, were deeply disturbed by the election of Pius XII in 1939, well aware of Pacelli’s many anti-Nazi statements and actions.

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They commissioned an assessment of the situation from Albert Hartl, a former Catholic priest, who warned that the Catholic Church would prove a serious threat to the Third Reich.

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“The Catholic Church fundamentally claims for itself the right to depose heads of state,” Hartl wrote, “and down to the present time it has also achieved this claim several times.” This statement seemed to embolden disaffected German officers who were seeking assistance to overthrow Hitler.

In 1938, several high-ranking German officers began turning against Hitler, for fear he would lead the country into a devastating war. One of these, General Ludwig Beck, was joined in this endeavor by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr (Germany’s intelligence agency), and his deputy, Colonel Hans Oster.

 

 

After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the German military conspirators sought to reach out to their adversaries, especially the British, to seek aid in overthrowing Hitler. In order to do this, they needed a person who could serve as an intermediary and vouch for their integrity, and so they approached Pius XII, who was highly regarded in Britain.

They asked the pope’s top assistants to ask Pius one critical question: Would he be willing to contact the British government and receive guarantees that it would back the German Resistance if Hitler was overthrown? Pius XII replied that he was willing do so, declaring, “The German Opposition must be heard.”

What followed was a series of gripping events, leading to repeated efforts to depose Hitler, all of which were foiled by unexpected turns, deceit, bombs that failed to detonate, and ones that did go off, only to miss their target. In their quest, the anti-Nazi officers received crucial moral and logistical support from Pius XII, as well as from his closest aides.

In the view of Hitler, Catholicism was incompatible with Nazism, as both asked for the whole of a man. Hitler hated Pius and the Church—Pius for his longtime stance against every element of national socialism, and the Church because it (accurately, as it turned out) couldn’t be trusted not to interfere with Nazi plans.

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From the beginning, it was no secret that Hitler hated and mistrusted pretty much everyone, but when he ordered the “liquidation” of the Polish clergy after Germany’s invasion, it shocked even his generals. “The task I give you,” Hitler said to the group, “is a Satanic one … Other people to whom such territories are handed would ask: ‘What would you build?’ I will ask the opposite. I will ask: ‘What did you destroy?’”

The chief of German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, witnessed the order. He already despised Hitler, but enough was enough: Hitler had to go. Canaris had known Pius XII from back in the 1920s, when then-Pacelli was a bare-knuckle Vatican diplomat in Germany. Pacelli, he knew, had three traits necessary to turn an assassination plan into action: realism, discretion, and a dislike of Hitler.

Canaris’s go-between would be a man named Josef Müeller, a lawyer, war hero, and devout Catholic known for representing Jews and opposing the Reich.

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Riebling describes him as “part Oskar Schindler, part Vito Corleone.” Müeller had once survived a personal interrogation by Heinrich Himmler, telling Himmler unapologetically that he had advised the Bavarian prime minister to have Himmler killed. (Word got around of the bold admission, which was a “manly” act, in Himmler’s words.) The SS head tried immediately, though unsuccessfully, to recruit Müeller for the SS, which needed men like him. When that didn’t work, out of apparent sheer admiration, he let the lawyer go. This made Müeller somewhat of a legend even among Hitler loyalists.

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Müeller’s law office was a clearinghouse of information for the Vatican, where the lawyer was well-connected. Because of Müeller’s position in society both as a scholar and war hero, he was able to build a spy network among “army, college, and law-school friends with access to Nazi officials—a community of the well-informed, who worked in newspapers, banks, and even … the SS itself.

German military intelligence knew of Müeller’s work with the pope, and brought him in for questioning. They first tried to recruit him, and when Müeller refused, they raised the stakes by admitting the unutterable: They didn’t want him to spy for Hitler, but for the oppositereason. “We even hope that someday you will be part of the leadership of this headquarters. The leadership of this Abwehr headquarters is, at the same time, the headquarters of the German military opposition to Hitler.”

He informed the Vatican of all this. Sensing the gravity of the plot brewing, the Vatican introduced to the German lawyer the concept of Disciplina Arcani—the “way of secrecy,” a doctrine established not long after the crucifixion of Jesus. “The faith at first survived only as a clandestine movement in Rome,” Riebling writes. “For three centuries, until Christianity became Rome’s religion, the Church concealed baptism and confirmation, the Our Father, the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist, the creeds and Scriptures—not only from heathens, but even from converts to the faith, who, as one later Church authority explained, ‘might be spies wishing to be instructed only that they might betray.’” This wasn’t an unreasonable precaution. All of the first popes were killed in ways that might only be described as gruesome, and over the centuries, 137 popes were driven from the city of Rome, dozens slain on Peter’s Chair.

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The Abwehr established a cover for Müeller. Officially, he was to be a German operative using his contacts with the Vatican to spy on the Italians. His job would be to pose as a conspirator and sound out the Italian pacifists, who might cause Mussolini to go wobbly. He would even file reports for the Reich. “To all bureaucratic appearances, Müeller would advance the war effort by pretending to talk peace [with the Italians],” Riebling writes. “But he would only be pretending to be pretending. He would actually be the plotter he was pretending to be. He would be a plotter, covered as a spy, covered as a plotter. He would do a kind of triple back flip without moving a muscle.”

 

German intelligence presented Müeller with a dossier of Nazi atrocities in Poland, asking him to present it to the pope. “No one could more discreetly and credibly link Hitler’s internal and external enemies than Pius. As perhaps the most prestigious figure in Europe, above party pressures, he had the greatest advantage a ruler could possess: he was the one trusted power amid powers nobody could trust.” The pope could broker peace and convince Germany’s foreign enemies that a German resistance existed and could be trusted.

The Church is not philosophically opposed to “tyrannicide.” Writes Riebling, “over the centuries, Catholic theologians had developed a nuanced doctrine of tyrannicide, covering virtually every conceivable context.” Political violence was not allowed, of course, but if the assassination of a tyrant, among other things, promised to improve conditions in subjugated nations while not sparking a civil war, and if peaceful means were exhausted, then yes, go to it.

Pius began working in earnest with the German resistance, quickly bringing the British into the plot. (The pope’s codename among the resistance was The Chief.) He harried the British empire to accept a “just peace” for Germany and to maintain strict secrecy over the plotter’s doings; if word got out, good men would be sent to the gallows. The Vatican even put this in writing. Neville Chamberlain thus issued guidance to be relayed to the pope: “[Great Britain] would be willing to discuss any conditions asked for if convinced that business was meant.”

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Catholic religious orders soon mobilized—especially the militaristic Jesuit and Dominican orders. They were doubly useful to the pope in that they did not report to local bishops, who might be found out or susceptible to Nazi pressure, but to order heads, who in turn reported directly to the pope.

For the expansiveness of the conspiracy to kill him, however, and the enthusiasm to see him dead, Hitler had “the luck of the devil” for surviving repeated assassination attempts and plans. He canceled speeches without knowing that positioned snipers were intended to take him out. He missed parades where bombers were set to blow him to pieces. Meanwhile, the longer it took for plotters to act, the less patience for such an act there was on the outside. Winston Churchill, upon becoming prime minister, put no faith in “decent Germans” acting to take out Hitler, and put little faith in the pope’s doings. It would be full scale war. Pearl Harbor later brought American patience to an end, and the United States into the conflict.

Plotters attempted again to kill Hitler, first by blowing up his plane (the bomb didn’t go off) and then attempting to kill him with a suicide bomb (the would-be assassin set the bomb for 10 minutes; Hitler left the area in three). A bomb sure to vaporize Hitler was brought for use during a secret meeting with the tyrant in his bunker. For no reason at all, however, Hitler changed venues to a cabin in the woods. When the bomb went off—only meters away from Hitler—those around him died, though Hitler escaped with only minor injuries. Hitler later speculated that he was immortal; in fact, he was spared because unlike a room in a sealed bunker, the cabin could not contain the blast. The fire and pressure instead blew through a nearby wall.

 

During all this, the SS zeroed in on the growing conspiracy against the Führer. Eventually, a member of German military intelligence broke, and he revealed the names of plotters involved. Müeller was placed under arrest, and his handler questioned. Worst of all, the conditions necessary for the German military to kill Hitler were discovered—printed on Vatican letterhead.

After the arrest of Mussolini on July 2, 1943, Hitler vowed revenge against the pope, and to have him kidnapped or killed.

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The pope and Vatican officials had worked feverishly to orchestrate a coup against Mussolini, connecting enemy forces internal and external, just as had been planned for Germany. In retaliation, Hitler ordered a division of paratroopers to the borders of St. Peter’s Square. “On one side stood German soldiers in black boots and steel helmets, with carbines on their shoulders and Lugers on their hips,” Riebling writes. “On the other side were the Pope’s Swiss Guards, in ruffled tunics and plumed hats, holding medieval pikes in white gloves.” (This was not a case of bringing a knife to a gunfight; the Swiss Guard were also known to carry concealed machine guns.)

For his part, Hitler was ready to get things started. “I’ll go right into the Vatican,” he raved. “Do you think the Vatican embarrasses me? We’ll take that over right away. For one thing, the entire diplomatic corps are in there. It’s all the same to me. That rabble is in there. We’ll get that bunch of swine out of there … Later we can make apologies.”

His advisors apparently talked him out of an immediate invasion, though the following month, he summoned Karl Wolff, commander of the SS in Germany for a job of “world historical importance.” Wolff wrote at the time, “He wanted a study made of how troops could occupy the Vatican, secure the archives, and remove the pope, together with the Curia, so that they could not fall into Allied hands … Hitler would then decide whether to bring these Catholic dignitaries to Germany or intern them in neutral Liechtenstein.”

Wolff discouraged the plan, warning that if the pope resisted, he might have to be killed. Hitler didn’t mind, and ordered that plans be drawn up. Any chance at its execution, however, ended when the Allies liberated Italy.

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In the end, of course, Hitler died by his own hand, but not before the SS systematically tracked down the German resistance, whose members were given the ultimate sentence. The SS interrogated them, tortured them, and sent them to concentration camps for extermination. Some were subjected to show trials before being publicly executed. Josef Müeller managed to survive multiple death sentences through happenstance, paperwork problems, and well-timed favors from well-placed allies. In the war’s aftermath, he would help found the Christian Democratic Union political party and credit the pope’s action and restraint for saving not only thousands of Catholics, but also thousands of Jews, and the resistance itself. It was the Vatican’s agents and allies who were so successful in everything from finding and leaking Hitler’s plans for German invasion of Belgium, to helping orchestrate multiple attempts on the tyrant’s life. And, as Church of Spies explains in extraordinary and well-documented detail, it all happened because Pope Pius XII had no qualms with killing the evilest man in the world.

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