Forgive and Forget
The Vatican and the Escape of Nazi War Criminals from Justice
Keywords:Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII, war crime trials, Early Cold War, Nuremberg system
Vatican and other Catholic leaders had ideas about crime and punishment that were different from those of the Allies. The leadership of the Catholic Church - Pope Pius XII, his closest advisors, and many cardinals and bishops - opposed the Allied war crime trials and denazification efforts after World War II, and their opposition intensified over time. This included numerous direct interventions with Allied authorities in favor of Nazi perpetrators as well as coordinated PR campaigns to undermine and discredit the denazification program.
At the same time the Vatican was also shielding Nazi collaborators from extradition to stand trial. In some instances, Vatican officials were even hiding wanted war criminals inside the Vatican City or on Vatican property. Institutions, such as the Papal Aid Commission and Catholic dignitaries, were helping Nazi criminals and their collaborators escape Allied justice by fleeing overseas to the Americas, Spain, or the Near East.
While actively aiding Nazi escape and shielding perpetrators from prosecution represent different points on a spectrum, it is often unclear where one ends and the other begins. The author argues that Catholic help for Nazi war criminals was ultimately an aspect of the Vatican’s reaction to the new postwar order and the Early Cold War. The Vatican responses to the Nuremberg system in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust also offer a unique and under-explored avenue for evaluating competing models of transitional justice.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Gerald J. Steinacher
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