"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

Categories: Europe | History

"Rat Trails" — such an apt name was given by the US special services to the routes along which thousands of Nazis and fascists managed to move to South America. The Vatican, represented by influential bishops and monks of the Franciscan Order, helped the fugitives. Argentina received up to 15 thousand people. About 1.5 thousand Nazis settled in Brazil — 500 people in Chile. Many have found salvation in Paraguay and Uruguay, and on Middle East from 200 fugitives were transported to the Third Reich.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

By the beginning of the Second World War, the countries considered the true support of the papal throne in Europe turned out to be allied or loyal to Nazi Germany. Italy was ruled by the fascist party led by Mussolini, Spain was ruled by General Franco. In Portugal, a "new state" regime was established, headed by General Antonio Carmonam. In Germany itself, 30% of the population were Catholics, and the church occupied an important place in people's lives.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

And the Vatican owes its existence as a state to the fascist regime. In 1929, Cardinal Pietro Gaspari and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Concordat, and the fascist parliament supported it. According to the agreement, Catholicism is recognized as the state religion of Italy, the Vatican is declared a separate state with its own territory, radio and the ability to conduct its own foreign policy.

Nazi Germany was building a new model of society. The images of the Nordic heroes of the past, who are not characterized by Christian softness and forgiveness, were formed for the people. However, Catholicism prevailed in the south of Germany and, especially, in the homeland of the Nazi party, in Bavaria, and Hitler found a way out of the situation that raised his authority in the international arena and within the country.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

On June 20, 1933, a concordat was signed between Pope Pius XI and Nazi Germany. According to the agreement, the Catholic parties in Germany stop political activity, and the rights of the church in the field of education, marriage and the service of priests are expanded.

In the war, the Vatican maintained neutrality. After the victory of the allies, the Holy See was accused of loyalty to the losing regimes, although the Vatican expressed its concern about the Holocaust. Pius XII tried to help the Jews, but still the nickname "German pope" firmly stuck to him.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the NazisThe" German Pope " Pius XII

The Vatican responded to the accusations that interference and criticism of the established order in Europe would only worsen the situation, and the main danger in their opinion was not Nazism, but communism, which rejected all religiosity. Let's say this is so. But how to explain the participation of the highest dignitaries of the Vatican in the rescue of not just soldiers of the losing side, but war criminals?

The Church of the Virgin Mary, which housed a college for German-speaking priests, is located on the Roman square of Piazza Navona. The rector of the institution was Bishop Alois Hudal, an Austrian by nationality and an admirer of Hitler. Before the collapse of the Nazis, Hudal called himself a"bridge builder".

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

The priest was looking for ways of reconciliation and union between the new European order and Catholicism. In 1937, Hudal supported the racist laws of the Third Reich, and in his work "The Future of Religious Europe" argued that the salvation of the Old World lies in the symbiosis of Nazism and Catholicism:

Historians Robert Graham and David Alvarez studied in detail the activities of Alois Hudal and came to the conclusion that the monk was recruited by German intelligence to obtain information and influence the Vatican. There are documented money transfers that have been sent since 1938 from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Hudal. In 1944, the bishop was appointed curator of German-speaking persons who found themselves on the territory of the Vatican and Italy.

Bishop Alois Hudal

Hudal used his appointment to save high-ranking Nazis. For the priest, the surrender of Germany meant the collapse of the West, and in his posthumous memoirs, he wrote:

After the fugitive found himself in Italy, he contacted the bishop. Papers issued by the Vatican refugee aid organization were issued in a fake name. With the received document, the "refugee" easily received a passport of the displaced person from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with which it was easy to get exit documents.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

To escape to Argentina, a tourist visa was placed in the Red Cross passport (a certificate of health and a return ticket were not needed). Cardinal Antonio Cargiano, acting under the patronage of President Juan Peron, was responsible for receiving the fugitive in Buenos Aires. The leadership of the countries of South America expected to use the experience and finances of European fugitives for their own development.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

In his memoirs, the bishop wrote that he considered the Allied war with Germany to be a struggle of economic groups that exploited the concept of democracy and freedom. The monk admitted that after 1945 he felt obliged to devote all his charitable work to former National Socialists and fascists.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

Adolf Eichmann

Among the significant figures who escaped from Europe, the Nazis are listed: Adolf Eichmann (responsible for the murder of 4 million Jews), Josef Mengele (a doctor at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he conducted experiments on people), Walter Rauff (the inventor of the "slaughterhouse") and many others.

One of the bloodiest phenomena of the Second World War was the movement of Croatian fascists, who were called Ustashe. They are responsible for the lives of between 197,000 and 800,000 Serbs, 30,000 Jews, and 80,000 Gypsies, which is a colossal figure for the small and sparsely populated Balkans. The largest "rat trail" was organized by an influential and cohesive group of Croatian priests from the Franciscan Order.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

Croatian Ustashe saw off the head of a captured Serb

The organization was headed by Krunoslav Draganovich, secretary of the Pontifical Institute and a significant figure in Rome. The headquarters of the network was located in Vatican City on Via Tomachelli in the monastery of St. Jerome. Franciscan priests helped the fugitives illegally enter Italy, where they were placed in one of the many monasteries, and through the Red Cross they prepared papers.

Croatian Nazi leader Ante Pavelic

Due to the imperfection of the accounting system, the ICRC staff could not check everyone who contacted them, but there was no reason to distrust the influential Franciscan order, as it seemed to them. After that, the criminals were prepared documents and transported to South America through the port of Genoa. In 1946, the Allies requested from The Vatican has granted permission to search a number of church organizations.

On May 6, 1945, the leader of the Croatian fascists, Ante Pavelic, left Zagreb and moved to Austria. He had fake documents with him in the name of a Peruvian citizen, Don Pedro Gonera. Krunoslav's group transported a fellow countryman to Italy and hid him in the building of the Vatican monastery of St. Jerome. Ante Pavelic was planned to be used in the fight against socialist Yugoslavia and its leader Josip Broz Tito.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the NazisA friend of the European Nazis and the President of Argentina, Juan Peron

A direct proof of this is the report of the American counterintelligence agent Robert Clayton Mood. In February 1947, he entered the territory of the monastery, where he saw Pavelic and other Croatian Nazis disguised in monastic clothes. They drove around the city in cars with Vatican diplomatic plates. It is doubtful that Pope Pius XII did not know about the hoaxes going on under his nose.

"Rat trails" of the Vatican: how the Catholic Church saved the Nazis

The form of the Argentine War after World War II

The United States was also interested in the escape of the Nazis. A new confrontation with the Soviet Union was beginning, and German specialists would be useful in this struggle. Through the" rat trails", American intelligence took scientists of the German missile program out of the Soviet occupation zone. The experience and knowledge of German, Italian, Croatian fugitives was also useful to the leaders of South American countries. The new cadres were used in the fight against Communist partisans and internal opposition. Rat trails are not the only secret of Catholic popes. A secret archive is kept within the walls of the Vatican, the opening of which is still ahead.

Keywords: Vatican | Hitler | Fascism

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