Several months ago I was privileged to report an amazing discovery made by my Yale roommate, Steve Galebach. You can find the earlier report here: "Was the the Vatican Soft on Nazism?" It has lots of background you won't find here, so you may want to check it out. In short: In doing some archival research for a client, Steve found this photograph in Der Stürmer, a violently anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper (in fact, not a newspaper -- a wildly polemical propaganda rag) that was widely disseminated and influential in Germany.
|Caption: "An archbishop blesses the Nazi banner."|
[Click on photo to enlarge.]
Is this a big deal? Yes. How big remains uncertain.
(1) There are no other reports that anyone has been able to find that any senior Catholic priest ever blessed a swastika flag. This photograph has never been noticed or reported on in any of the vast scholarship on the relationship between the Nazis and the Roman Catholic Church. The RCC forbade blessing the Nazi symbol.
So Steve's discovery is historic. Future historians of Nazi-Roman Catholic relations will be required to account for it.
(2) Second, the Vatican's emissary to the Eucharistic Congress, guest of Archbishop Copello, and the senior Catholic official present (not at this ceremony) was one Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State. Cardinal Pacelli became Pope Pius XII in 1939. There is a lively historiography as to Pacelli's attitude toward Nazi Germany. While there is considerable evidence of Pacelli's disapproval of Nazism, there is enough uncertainty over what he knew and when he knew about the Holocaust to prompt one author to call him "Hitler's Pope." (John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope, 1999; and there was also Rolf Hochhuth's play, The Deputy which was also highly critical of Pius XII on this score, later made into a movie called "Amen" by Costa-Gavras.) Despite the controversy that continues regarding his attitude toward European Jewry, the Vatican is currently proceeding with the steps required to declare Pius XII a saint.
(3) Copello himself was elevated to Cardinal months later, in 1935.
|Archbishop, later Cardinal, Copello|
(4) The world -- including Argentina, and including in particular Catholics in Argentina -- knew quite a lot about Nazism in 1934. Mein Kampf was widely known, as was the violent antisemitism of the Nazi Party. The incredibly savage purge of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the Nazis' military arm, in which scores and probably hundreds were murdered (including some extremely prominent Germans outside of the military), received worldwide press and was heavily covered in Argentina. (This "Night of the Long Knives" is one of the centerpiece events of of a current popular history by Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts.) That slaughter took place in June 1934. The swastika blessing was in October. The Nazis' methods and motives were already viewed with alarm -- World War II, after all, was only five years off. In the months before the blessing, official Catholic publications in Argentina condemned the Nazis for their anti-Catholic actions, among other things. Could Copello possibly have been merely naive or uninformed? And if he was not, does his decision to proceed reflect in any way on his superiors from Rome?
When I originally reported on this a year ago, Galebach, a staunch Roman Catholic, wasn't quite sure what to make of all this.
Neither was I. My initial concern was that Steve did not have any confirmation that the photograph was authentic. It appeared nowhere (apparently) besides one of the least credible publications in history. I had other questions, and still do, but that one was fundamental.
Well, there are two pieces of news hot off the Internet:
First, the authenticity of the photograph is no longer in doubt. In searching through issues of the Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa from 1934 earlier this year, Steve's wife Diane Galebach found a report of this ceremony and an explicit mention that among the flags Archbishop Copello blessed was the Nazi party flag. Present were the German ambassador and a group of Catholic pilgrims from Germany visiting the Eucharistic Congress. Although not as dramatic as the photograph, this brief passage is every bit as significant -- more so, in fact, because it was not found in a scurrilous Nazi broadsheet like the photo but in a contemporaneous news account from the Eucharistic Congress itself in a legitimate newspaper. In fact, the newspaper reported that the ceremony was a "consecration" -- a greater Catholic honor than a "blessing." Thus, a Catholic archbishop blessed, or consecrated, a swastika on the eve of the visit to the Eucharistic Congress by the future Pius XII. It happened.
Second, Steve and Diane have begun to publish their findings in an online book called The Swastika Blessing. (http://www.theswastikablessing.com/) You may download and read a free introduction that is pretty complete in itself, and for $12 you can download Volume 1, which contains much more detailed information and some fascinating background relating to the relationship between Roman Catholicism and National Socialism. Three more volumes relating to Vatican policy towards Nazi Germany in 1934 and 1935, and additional "causes and context" research are scheduled for release before the end of the year. For your $12 now, you get a 111-page PDF in a Power-Point-type format with lots of text and many photographs and documents, complete with translations. Extremely interesting and clearly presented.
[NOTE: I reviewed and provided extensive comments and suggestions on early drafts of Steve's work on this, before Diane became more involved. Steve's and Diane's project changed considerably in scope and presentation thereafter; I reviewed one early and very different draft of the present format, and the present incarnation not at all. I am mentioned in their acknowledgements.]
The question before the house is: Should this photograph -- rather, should the event it portrays -- provoke a re-examination of RCC-Nazi relations in the years leading up to World War II? And, of more urgent current interest, should it provoke a re-examination of the attitude toward National Socialism of Cardinal Pacelli -- Pope Pius XII -- as the RCC moves ever closer to elevating him to sainthood?
|Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII|
Despite their scrupulousness in presenting evidence favorable to Pacelli/Pius XII, the overall impression the Galebachs leave is one of skepticism as to whether Pacelli's robes are entirely clean. As a result, the reader is left with the further impression that the Galebachs believe that the episode may well be material to the ongoing beatification process for Pius XII -- and, presumably, adverse to the sainthood partisans -- although they are careful not to come right out and say it. (Although their subheading promises "an "investigation into a photograph that changes history.")
That's quite an impression to derive from one photograph and a confirmatory newspaper item. I hope I am not being unfair in attributing it to them. Is it justified?
It should be noted that no one took special note of this event at the time. The photo appeared nowhere until it popped up some months later in Der Stürmer, but the contemporary newspaper account explicitly stated that the Archbishop had blessed the swastika flag -- it used the phrase "cruz gamada," which translates as "swastika." Whatever this might mean to us now, it did not provoke any notice at the time that the Galebachs have been able to find. (To my knowledge -- no idea what goodies they have in store for us in later installments.) If, as the Galebachs have shown, the Nazis' virulent anti-Catholicism and violent suppression of religious freedom were known to Catholic officials, why not?
The Galebachs have found themselves at the center of quite a mystery.
In the absence of direct evidence of either (1) Pacelli's complicity, or (2) Copello's intentions in blessing the Nazi banner, the Galebachs proceed in the only way available to them: By examining the overall context of Nazi/Vatican relations in the mid-Thirties, in Argentina and Rome. What they have produced so far, as investigators with a large family to care for and other jobs to do, is nothing short of astounding. I don't know everything they've come up with or where their own thinking has settled, but I am looking forward to the remaining three installments.
Here's that link again: http://www.theswastikablessing.com/
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