's Jews Were Saved From Hitler's 'Final Solution' Rome
The following is a translation of an interview that Mr. Nikolaus Kunkel, a witness to Pius XII's actions to save Roman Jews during the Second World War, gave to the German Catholic News Agency (KNA) on 7 November 2000.
Now 80 years old, Mr. Kunkel was an officer at the headquarters of the military governor of
KNA: Mr. Kunkel, on 10 September 1943, after the Badoglio government broke with the Rome-Berlin Axis, theWehrmacht occupied the Italian capital. The war diary of the supreme command of the armed forces says in this regard: "The Wehrmacht will take care of protecting
Kunkel: For the duration of my time in
KNA: The fact that Pope Pius XII also saw this risk suggests that he had already prepared a resignation statement, if he were taken prisoner. It probably read like this: "They can only arrest Cardinal Pacelli, not the Pope".
Kunkel: Fortunately it did not happen, but the risk was there.
KNA: Were there contacts between the German military governor of
Kunkel: There were many. The
KNA: Who really held the power? Was Kappler under the military governor?
Kunkel: De iure yes, but de facto the SS was a state within the state. Therefore, yes, Kappler was in communication with the general, but in reality the SS led their own life and we did not know what went on within the SS hierarchy. In security questions, the SS more or less gave the orders in collaboration with the Italian Fascist police....
KNA: So the police forces who had not changed sides with Badoglio...
Kunkel: Yes, and that played a considerable role. While Badoglio had joined the Allies, Marshal Graziani, Mussolini's War Minister, still took his cue from the Germans.
KNA: A month and a half after the occupation of
Kunkel: Around mid-October there was a rumour that a special SS unit would be sent to the city and lodged at a small hotel near Piazza Barberini. The unit's task would be to deport the Jews.
I recall that when I went to von Weizsacker I waited in an anteroom and became angry because no one offered me a chair. The ambassador left the room and shortly after returned with the letter, this time sealed by him. He asked me to give the letter back to the general and tell him that this time he "unfortunately could not be helpful". I remember this phrase perfectly. When I gave him back the letter, the general spoke — cautiously — in a very detached way about the ambassador. After this he telephoned Himmler, but I cannot say anything for sure about that.
KNA: Roman Jews were rounded up on 16 October. That same day the rector of
Kunkel: We had the impression that the SS had planned an action, but it reached a dead end and became public. Today we know that about 1,000 Jews were arrested. In our opinion, most Roman Jews had got wind of the imminent SS action because of delays in the preparations and so many of them were saved.
KNA: Of about 8,000 Roman Jews, then, 7,000 were saved?
Kunkel: We were certain that a large number of them were able to take refuge in Vatican buildings, which are numerous in
KNA: 7,486 hid in the
Kunkel: I don't know the number.
KNA: In practice, how did it work? How were these Jews saved?
Kunkel: Probably by entering primarily from
KNA: Was this border between
Kunkel: No. As it is today, there was just a curved line marked between the colonnades. Our guards patrolled along this line.
KNA: Certainly, what Bishop Hudal and Fr Pfeifer said to General Stahel is worth noting: if the roundups of the Jews had been carried out, Pope Pius XII would have vigorously protested and would have pressured Himmler to stop the action!
Kunkel: That was how it seemed to us at the time. We had the impression that the SS action had been delayed until most Jews had reached safety. We considered it a success that only 1,000 of the 8,000 or 9,000 or so Jews were arrested by the SS. Today, of course, one looks above all at the 1,000 victims; at the time we saw the 7,000 who did not become victims and were saved. But many people, institutions and events probably contributed to this rescue. By the way, a few days after the roundup and despite his poor health, General Stahel — an Old Catholic — was transferred to the eastern front.
KNA: And now the decisive question: do you think that a more vigorous protest from Pope Pius XII would have saved more Jews in
Kunkel: At the time I spoke about this with my immediate superior, Major Bohm, a Protestant from
KNA: In his play The Deputy, Rolf Hochhuth expressed the opinion that Pius XII should have made a blistering protest. Since the Pope did not do this, he is guilty of a grave omission.
Kunkel: It is easy to speak after the fact. In any case, we who were on the staff of the German military governor of
KNA: Would the Supreme Southern Commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, with whom Pope Pius XII was in contact, have had the power to stop the roundup of the Jews?
Kunkel: No. The power of the SS was so great that the Wehrmacht — to which Kesselring belonged — could not have opposed it. That would have taken a successful 20 July!
KNA: In your opinion, can Pius XII be reproached for any of his actions?
Kunkel: Pius XII was in the most difficult political situation in which a man can find himself. I recall a conversation with a Jesuit, Fr Otto Faller, concerning
KNA: Might he eventually have been arrested?
Kunkel: Yes, there was also that possibility.
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