That could’ve been the headline of every world newspaper had the Vatican’s plan succeeded. Yes, the Vatican. One of the most powerful institutions in the world was one the Nazi leader’s greatest opponents who wanted to bring an end to his reign as much as he wanted to see the end of the Church.
But, who was behind the scheme to end the life of the fascist tyrant? Pope Pius XII. There is evidence that links him to underground actions against the Nazis and three assassination attempts of their leader: the first operation happened between October 1939 and May 1940, the second from 1942 to the spring of 1943, and the last one was the famous Operation Valkyrie on July 20, 1944. Had the plot been successful, it would’ve become the most notorious murder in history.
This is the case presented by Mark Riebling, historian of intelligence organizations and counterterrorism expert for the United States, in his book Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler, a book that took eighteen years of research to bring forth.
Riebling describes Pius’s antagonism towards the head of the Nazi party is evident in the fact that the Catholic leader hid Jewish citizens throughout different convents in Rome. His own bedroom of his summer residence Castel Gandolfo became a makeshift maternity ward where 42 Jewish children were born. This proof of the pope being an enemy of the Nazi is in conflict with the popular idea that has criticized Catholic leaders as being passive observers of the Holocaust.
Pius’s wasn’t the only conspiracy against Hitler’s life. It’s believed that there were up to forty plots that the fascist leader was able to avoid with surprising luck: he’d cancel public events where snipers were waiting for him and was late to parades where bombs were set to go off. He even walked away without a scratch after an attempted murder in his own bunker, which resulted in several of his closest advisors being killed.
The Führer’s revenge
After Valkyrie, the Germans discovered the Catholic Church’s part in the plot. Hitler took advantage of Mussolini’s arrest in July of 1943 and took over Italy, creating the Italian Social Republic, a strategy to exact his revenge on Pius XII by occupying the Vatican. General Karl Wolff was tasked with the mission; however, he did not agree with Hitler’s plans and ordered his troops to surrender to the allies.
History is then charged of putting every player in their correct place. No attempt on defeating Hitler worked. However, the weight of the inevitable future led him to die by his own hand. He took his life with a bullet to the head when the fall of the Third Reich was more than evident. He did not die alone, he was accompanied by his wife who chose to end her life with poison.
The Swastika became the Nazi symbol of death and horror, but it wasn’t always theirs. In fact, Hitler appropriated this symbol from other ancient cultures.
Mark Riebling’s Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler.
Translated by María Suárez