Sidebar:

The Ratlines

Adolf Eichmann, “the architect of the Holocaust,” escaped from Europe after World War II and remained hidden for 15 years before being captured. Germany holds a cache of sealed files detailing this history and is fighting to keep it secret despite critics’ objections. Some observers believe the documents would shed embarrassing additional light on German-Vatican collusion on the “ratlines,” an already proven postwar operation to protect Nazi leaders. Following are a few excerpts from the 1992 book Unholy Trinity, written by Mark Aarons and John Loftus, describing this important chapter in German-Vatican history.
 

It is absurd to believe that 30,000 fugitive Nazis escaped to South America on the few U-Boats remaining at the end of the war, or that they all made their own travel arrangements. Modern popular culture has presented the escape of the Nazis in an adventurous, almost romantic light. The most popular Nazi smugglers are odessa and Die Spinne, although other mysterious groups are also mentioned from time to time. But in the main these stories owe more to the fertile imagination of scriptwriters and novelists than to historical research and accuracy.

The truth is much more ordinary, almost mundane. It is all the more shocking as a result. For whatever successes odessa achieved, they were mere amateurs at Nazi-smuggling when compared with the Vatican. Draganovic’s Ratline [the name given to the Vatican’s smuggling operation] was truly professional, ensuring that many guilty war criminals reached safe havens. Often they did not end up in the remote jungles of South America, but settled instead in Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States. …

The Vatican has consistently claimed that they were unaware of the identity of those who were undeserving of their humanitarian assistance. But some influential priests not only knew who the Nazis were, they actively sought them out and provided extra-special treatment. …

In 1948 Franz Stangl wearily trudged along the road to Rome. Three years earlier he had been an important man: Commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp. He was meticulous in his work. When the boxcars crammed full of deported men, women and children arrived … Stangl insisted on order. The passengers were told to disembark for a routine rest stop and showers. … It was all so swift, so organized, so deadly. The showers were actually a gas chamber where 900,000 people, mostly Jews, were murdered immediately upon arrival. Unlike Auschwitz, no work was done here. Treblinka existed for one purpose only: mass murder of human beings. Franz Stangl had commanded the Third Reich’s most efficient death factory. …

Stangl said that when he came to Rome he was in fact looking for [Roman Catholic] Bishop Alois Hudal, rector of the Pontificio Santa Maria dell’Anima, one of three seminaries for German priests in Rome. It was Hudal’s name that had been whispered throughout the Nazi underground: “The bishop came into the room where I was waiting and he held out both his hands and said, ‘You must be Franz Stangl. I was expecting you.’”

Stangl described the power and influence of Hudal’s extensive smuggling network for fugitive Nazis. It was Hudal who arranged “quarters in Rome where I was to stay till my papers came through. And he gave me a bit more money—I had almost nothing left.” After several weeks, Hudal “called me in and gave me my new passport—a Red Cross Passport … [he] got me an entrance visa to Syria and a job in a textile mill in Damascus, and he gave me a ticket for the ship. So I went to Syria.” …

[Monsignor Karl Bayer, Rome director for Catholic relief organization Caritas] admitted, “Perhaps Hudal did get batches of passports for these particular people.” Finally he conceded that the money Hudal gave Stangl would certainly have come from Vatican funds. “The pope did provide money for this; in driblets sometimes, but it did come.”

Was Stangl an isolated case, a regrettable but unavoidable accident by a legitimate Catholic charity? Or was he one of many who escaped via Hudal’s secret church connection? Simon Wiesenthal, who was responsible for Stangl’s eventual recapture in Brazil in 1967, believes that a sophisticated Vatican network was involved. …

Wiesenthal is convinced that Hudal was also responsible for smuggling the most infamous war criminal of them all: Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the Holocaust. As head of the SS Department for “Jewish Affairs,” Eichmann’s careful supervision ensured that men like Brunner, Stangl and Wagner ran the machinery of death at peak capacity. Wiesenthal believes that Hudal equipped Eichmann with a new identity as a Croatian refugee called “Richard Klement,” and sent him to Genoa. There Eichmann was apparently hidden in a monastery under Archbishop Siri’s charitable control, before finally being smuggled to South America.

Someone so notorious could not be protected forever. Eichmann was eventually tracked down in Argentina by Israeli intelligence, kidnapped, tried and executed in Jerusalem in 1962. What angers Wiesenthal is that a Catholic relief organization, Caritas, “paid all of the traveling expenses for Eichmann” to reach South America.

Official Vatican historian Father Robert Graham admits that Hudal might have helped “a handful, a mere handful of Nazi war criminals to escape”: “When Eichmann was arrested it was alleged he passed through Rome and got some help from Bishop Hudal. Hudal was asked about this and said, ‘I don’t know, I helped a lot of people and Eichmann may have been among them.’” …

If Eichmann was a case of unauthorized assistance, he was certainly not the only instance. Hudal seemed to make mistakes with frightening regularity. Wiesenthal recalls, “During my search for Eichmann I found out that many [war criminals] were living in monasteries, equipped by Hudal with false documents,” showing they were refugees. One point is certain: Many war criminals who escaped to South America have gratefully acknowledged that they owed their freedom to the Austrian-born bishop. …

It is not surprising that Wiensenthal accuses Hudal. The bishop’s pro-Nazi views were well known. Even Father Graham concedes the point: “Hudal was rather notorious in Rome for being openly philo-Nazi. He had this idea that it was his divine call to settle relations between the Nazis and the Catholic Church.” By the early 1930s, Hudal openly supported Hitler, traveling widely through Italy and Germany to address large crowds of German-speaking Catholics. From the very beginning of Nazi rule, he warmly embraced the new government as his own. …

Hudal gave a speech at the Anima in Rome. Among the invited guests were members of the German Diplomatic Corps, as well as local representatives of various Nazi organizations. The bishop [Hudal] told his approving audience that “in this hour of destiny all German Catholics living abroad welcome the new German Reich, whose philosophies accord both with Christian and national values.” … In 1936 he published a “philosophical” treatise, The Foundations of National Socialism. … [T]he book was fulsome in its praise for the ideas, program and actions of the Nazis .… Hudal was not the only cleric to hold these views. The primate of the Austrian Church, Cardinal Theodore Innitzer, was at that time strongly pro-Nazi. It was natural, therefore, that he gave Hudal’s book an “imprimatur,” or official church permission for publication. The cardinal glowingly endorsed it “as a valuable attempt to pacify the German people’s religious situation.” …

Apparently Hudal’s high Nazi profile did not harm his Vatican career. Since 1930 he had been a consulter in the Holy Office, a senior Vatican tribunal working “in the most rigorous secrecy,” as U.S. intelligence reported. … [A]s Hudal’s views grew more stridently and publicly pro-Nazi, nothing was done either to discipline or remove him from this powerful post. Instead the Vatican promoted him in June 1933 from priest to titular bishop, an extremely rare honor for a relatively lowly rector of a teaching college. …

Father Jacob Weinbacher … has no doubt that “Hudal was very close to [Pope] Pius xii … they were friends.” … Far from being just another anonymous cleric on the fringes of the Vatican, “Hudal may well have been the sounding board for the pope in the German-speaking countries.” …

By early 1944 when the Allies landed in Sicily, even Hudal could see that Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” was doomed. As long as the Nazi armies were winning, he had proudly driven around Rome with a “Greater Germany” flag on his car .…

Hudal had nothing but contempt for the American victors who helped him: “… I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and fascists, especially to so called ‘war criminals.’”

Hudal’s self-confessed activities are all the more controversial because he operated with the full authority of the Vatican.

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