THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE VATICAN'S ACTIONS DURING the Second World War first erupted in 1963 with the publication of Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy, which accused the wartime pope, Pius XII, of being silent in the face of the destruction of European Jewry. In 1964, the Vatican reacted to the controversy: Pope Paul VI commissioned three Jesuit scholars (a fourth joined the group subsequently) who were allowed access to the otherwise closed archives containing the Church's wartime documents. These Vatican-appointed historians were assigned the task of compiling part of this archival material for publication. The result, eleven volumes of Vatican diplomatic correspondence known as the Actes et Documents du Saint Siege, was published over the next twenty years.
This political narrative of the wartime era reflects Pius XII's three main wartime concerns: first, he wanted to play the role of diplomatic peacemaker, which he viewed as an opportunity to save Western Europe from communism and restore the Vatican's power; second, he feared that the Vatican might be physically attacked and even occupied by the Germans, and that Rome might be obliterated by aerial attacks from both the Allied and Axis powers; and third, he wished to protect the German Church. The pope's response was to preserve the Vatican's status as a neutral party at all costs. As I shall argue, neutrality was not only a political stance; it informs the poetic structure and linguistic content of the letters, blinding the Vatican to the totalitarian, even Nazi character of its own language, and presenting a means to evade the reality of German atrocities. The linguistic evidence here points to a serious conclusion: even decades after these letters were written, the collaborationist vocabulary of many leading Vatican officials was not viewed as ethically problematic or politically questionable. Indeed, the Vatican's publication of these documents reflects its desire to return to normalcy without addressing issues of responsibility and memory regarding its activities during the Holocaust.
The first aspect contained within these letters that I wish to explore is the constant differentiation Vatican diplomats make between so-called Mosaic Jews, often referred to as "non-Aryans," and Jews who converted to Catholicism, regularly referred to as "non-Aryan Catholics." Thus, for example, in January 1941, the apostolic nuncio in Bucharest, Andreas Cassulo, wrote the Cardinal Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, requesting help for converted Jews and complaining that these "non-Aryan Catholics" were subjected to the same laws as Jews "because of the race to which they belonged." (1) Similarly, the Vatican representative in Slovakia, Msgr. Burzio, wrote Maglione regarding the situation of "non-Aryan Catholics" in that country, explaining that if the Vatican did not help them emigrate, this "category of Jews" would endure the same fate as Mosaic Jews. (2) In November 1942, the nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, informed Maglione of new laws directed against "non-Aryans" in Germany, complaining that the new law demanded not only the deportation of "non-Aryans," but also of "converted non-Aryans," and Catholics married to "non-Aryans" of either category. (3)
One could perhaps explain Orsenigo's use of the "Aryan" vocabulary as an inevitable product of his residence in Berlin, though he was Italian, like most Vatican diplomats; the heart of the Nazi regime perhaps influenced his choice of words. But what about those Vatican officials who did not live in such surroundings? The Aryan vocabulary was not simply used by churchmen residing in Nazi Germany, nor was it limited to Vatican correspondence with fascist leaders; it was used regularly in papal correspondence destined for non-clergy and clergy alike. Perhaps the use of categorizations such as "Aryan" and "non-Aryan" resulted from the racial laws that were instituted in numerous European countries. …