The Simon Wiesenthal Center today released 43 pages of documents, many of them previously marked classified by United States intelligence agencies, which link Walter Rauff, the Nazi war criminal now living in Chile, to important figures in the Catholic church in Italy.
The release of the information follows four months of research by the Center conducted after the Vatican last year denied allegations that it aided Rauff’s escape after the war from Europe to South America.
With the release of the documents at a news conference here, the Center reiterated an earlier call on the Vatican and Pope John Paul II to conduct an investigation into the church’s post-World War II activities which the Center alleges through the documentation aided and abetted Rauff’s escape.
The Center also called on the Vatican to use its influence with the Chilean government of President Augusto Pinochet to have Rauff extradited and brought to justice for his war crimes. Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas vans used in the early stages of the Holocaust, is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during the war.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center, noted that the Vatican maintains “considerable influence” with the Pinochet government. He said that just recently, the Vatican persuaded the Chilean authorities to deport four terrorists who gunned down the Mayor of Santiago. They were provided safe passage to Ecuador, Hier said, “all at the behest of the Vatican.”
‘ROUTE LINKED DIRECTLY TO VATICAN OFFICIALS’
Rauff was a high-ranking gestapo official in Italy in 1943 through the last days of the war in 1945. He was captured by the Allies and moved to an Allied detention center in Rimini, Italy, a place from which he later escaped. Six months prior to his escape, documents note, 20 Nazis escaped dlong a “route linked directly to Vatican officials. “
Rauff is quoted as saying he escaped from Rimini at the end of 1946 and went to Naples. “There I was helped by a Catholic priest to go to Rome where I stayed more or less 18 months, always in convents of the Holy See,” Rauff told the Chilean Supreme Court in 1962 when it reviewed an extradition request from West Germany for the Nazi war criminal. The request was later denied.
He also told the court, according to documents, that later, “with the help of the Catholic Church my family was able to come from the Russian zone in Germany to Rome. ” After being reunited with his family, Rauff went to Syria, then to Ecuador and Finally to Chile. He does not have Chilean citizenship and travels on a German passport.
The Center’s contention today is that while the name of the priest who helped Rauff in Italy during the 18 months is not known for certain, there was a relationship between Rauff and two leading church officials during the war and that it is unlikely that Rauff did not in some way contact them, or mentioned their names in order to obtain safe haven.
Documents provided by the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), later to become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), note the numerous meetings Rauff had with Monsignor Don Giuseppe Bicchierai, and Cardinal Idefense Schuster, the Archbishop of Milan.
‘NO ORDINARY CHURCHMEN’
“These were no ordinary churchmen, ” Hier said. “Cardinal Schuster was one of the most respected and powerful leaders of the Church. He was mentioned as a possible successor to Pope Pius XI. Msgr. Bicchierai was both a priest and a lawyer, charged with conducting surrender negotiations on behalf of the Cordinal.”
The negotiations both with Mussolini and the Nazis, were according to Sister Pascalina — an aide and confidante of Pope Pius XII — “carried out through the Archdiocese of Milan at the specific request of Pope Pius XII, ” Hier said.
Rauff was a key figure in those negotiations and “hod a close relationship with Bicchierai,” Hier said, adding that they exchanged personal gifts and Rauff circumvented an order from a gestapo chief to arrest Bicchierai. This and other information provides evidence that the Church knew who Rauff was since he regularly communicated with it for a period of two years, Hier said.
After escaping Rimini, Hier contends that when Rauff was in Italy “it is reasonable to conclude that Rauff would have told the priests who helped him all about his good standing with Bicchierai and Schuster.” It is “even possible to believe” that the two church officials knew of Rauff’s long stay in “convents of the Holy See” during those 18 months, Hier contended.
“It is also reasonable to presume that Pope Pius XII would have known about Walter Rauff as he monitored the ultimately fruitless negotiations for the surrender of Nazi-occupied Italy,” Hier said. Heir is asking for an investigation into the facts pertaining to Rauff’s post war stay in Rome.
RAUFF’S RELATIONS WITH THE CHURCH DURING THE WAR
Significant in all the information released today according to Hier, is the relationship Rauff maintained with church officials during the war. He said that it has been previously assumed that Rauff went to Italy and was treated as any other refugee.
But Hier contended that because of his long-standing relationship with high-ranking church officials, Rauff went to Rome as a “well-connected man in church circles. Our implications are that he would have surely told this priest” who helped him of his contacts during the war with Schuster and Bicchierai.
Continuing, Hier said it is impossible to determine, because Vatican archives are closed, whether “Schuster and Bicchierai knew anything about Rauff’s stay in Rome. They may have. Indeed it is logical to assume that somebody may have checked with them shace Rauff would have used their names.”
OTHER FACH IN THE DOCUMENTS
Among other fach contained in the documents released by the Coalor were the following:
* The U.S. State Department authorized an official complaint to the Vatican Secretariat of State asking for church intervention into charges detailed in the La Visla Report. The 1947 La Visla report, written by Vinconl La Visla, a U.S. foreign service officer in Rome, called the Vatican the “largest single organization involved in the illegal movement of emigrants,” including Nazis. The U.S. complaint was transmitted to the Vatican in the form of an “oral message” in August 1947.
* Rauff traveled to Switzerland during the war to meet with a Prof. Hussman of the Swiss Intelligence with the knowledge of Allen Dulles, then of the Office of Strategic Services, who later became director of the CIA.
* A U.S. intelligence report on Rauff asserted that he was a dangerous man who brought with him “… political gangsterism to streamlined perfection …” and “… everlasting malice towards the allies… “
*A confidential CIC report, which linked the escape route of 20 Nazis from Rimini detention camp in 1948 directly to the Vatican, also labelled the International Red Cross as “a haven for the passage of agents.” The report recommends “curtailment of passport services of the International Red Cross.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.