As the chief Vatican diplomat in Berlin, Orsenigo had opportunities to voice Vatican concerns directly to Hitler. Below is a photograph of one such occasion:
I received an e-mail from someone with a version of this photograph where everyone is cropped out except Orsenigo and Hitler. Along with the picture is this text:
On April 20, 1939, Archbishop Orsenigo celebrated Hitler's birthday. The celebrations, initiated by Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) became a tradition. Each April 20, Cardinal Bertram of Berlin was to send "warmest congratulations to the Fuhrer in the name of the bishops and the dioceses in Germany" and added with "fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars."
(Source: Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell)
It is interesting to note the the source of this picture and text. The British edition of Hitler's Pope has the photograph found in my last post on the cover with a caption dating the picture March of 1939. As I explained, this date is false. The cover of the American edition doesn't give this false date, however, the picture has been doctored in such a way that this false date appears possible. I concluded that the doctoring of this photograph was not accidental, but a deliberate attempt to deceive people. Thus, the text that accompanies the above picture is questionable at best.
Did Pacelli initiate a tradition to celebrate Hitler's birthday each April 20? He couldn't have done it personally because, as I stated in my last post, Pacelli left Berlin never to return four years before Hitler came to power. He could have initiated it from Rome. If he did, he would have needed approval of Pope Pius XI, who died February 10, 1939.
Would Pius XI approve an initiative to celebrate Hitler's birthday? Judging by correspondence between Orsenigo and the Vatican, the answer would be no!
In 1936, Orsenigo asked instructions regarding an invitation from Hitler to attend a Nazi Party meeting in Nuremberg, along with the entire diplomatic corps. Pacelli replied, "The Holy Father thinks it is preferable that your Excellency abstain, taking a few days' vacation."
In 1937, Orsenigo was invited along with the diplomatic corps to a reception for Hitler's birthday. Orsenigo asked the Vatican if he should attend. Pacelli's reply was, "The Holy Father thinks not. Also because of the position of this Embassy, the Holy Father believes it is preferable in the present situation if your Excellency abstains from taking part in manifestations of homage toward the Lord Chancellor,"
In Hitler's much publicised visit to Rome in 1938, Pius XI and Pacelli refused to meet with Hitler by leaving Rome a month early for the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. Pius XI's remarked, "The air in Rome makes me ill."
The Vatican was closed, and the priests and religious brothers and sisters left in Rome were told not to participate in the festivities and celebrations surrounding Hitler's Visit. On the Feast of the Holy Cross, Pius XI said from Castel Gandolfo, "It saddens me to think that today in Rome the cross that is worshipped is not the Cross of our Saviour." (He was referring to the swastika.)
If this was the attitude of Pius XI and the future Pius XII (Pacelli), why was Orsenigo photographed at a birthday reception for Hitler on April 20, 1939? The answer is simple, this date is as reliable as the rest of the text with it. This photograph was actually taken at a New Year's reception in Berlin on January 1, 1935.
What would Orsenigo and Hitler talk about on such occasions? We may not know what they were talking about in this photograph, but we do know that on May 4, 1939, Orsenigo voiced Pius XII's concerns on what appeared to be an imminent war. Hitler showed little interest. Hitler gave the same response (or lack of) in November of 1943 when Orsenigo spoke on Pius XII behalf about the status of persecuted peoples in the Third Reich, apparently referring to Jews.
On these two occasions, Orsenigo met no success; however, diplomacy did have some affect, at least early on. A key to this diplomacy was the Reichskonkordat, which I mentioned in my last post. I found this photograph of the signing of this concordat online, along with the following text:
The Concordat between the Vatican and the Nazis
Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli (later to become Pope Pius XII) signs the Concordat between Nazi Germany and the Vatican at a formal ceremony in Rome on 20 July 1933. Nazi Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen sits at the left, Pacelli in the middle, and the Rudolf Buttmann sits at the right.
The Concordat effectively legitimized Hitler and the Nazi government to the eyes of Catholicism, Christianity, and the world.
There is some truth in this text, but only a selected portion of the truth. The goal of getting this concordat signed was not to legitimise Hitler and the Nazi government, but to secure the rights of the Church in Germany. Pacelli had been working for such a concordat since the 1920s, but was unsuccessful. When Hitler came to power, he accepted the concordat proposed to the Weimar Republic to gain international respectability. However, the concordat helped the Jews more than it helped the Nazis.
The concordat gave priests and bishops the right to speak out against moral wrong doing, so they were able to legally condemn Nazism as time went along. It also prohibited Catholic priests and bishops from joining the Nazi Party. (Protestant ministers were not protected in both of these regards.) Most importantly, the memorandum accompanying the ratification to the concordat specified that "Jews must be treated with Christian Charity."
Five months after the concordat was signed, the Austrian bishops stated the following in a letter:
The concordat recently concluded between the Holy See and Germany does not mean that the Catholic Church approves of the religious errors of Nazism. Everybody knows how tense is the situation between the Church and State in Germany. . . . The Catholic Church has never agreed with the three fundamental errors of Nazism, which are first, race madness, second, violent anti-Semitism, and third extreme nationalism.
Between 1933 and 1939, Pacellie issued more than fifty protests of concordat violations, mostly over the treatment of the Jews. In these protests, the language used regarding violations against the Jews was virtually identical to the language used regarding violations against Catholics.
Another important feature of the concordat was that the Church had standing to protect and object to the maltreatment of Catholics. The Church used this to protect Jews by issuing false baptismal certificates. A few Jews were actually baptised, but for the most part, they were issued the certificates without being baptised.
As these historical facts suggest, Catholics were discouraged from honouring Hitler, both by Pope Pius XI and by Pope Pius XII. When possible, Vatican diplomats, such as Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli and Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, did everything they could to protect Catholics, Jews, and anybody else persecuted by the Nazis. In attempting to secure such protection, these Vatican diplomats had to negotiate face to face with Nazis, including Hitler himself. To suggest that such diplomacy with the Nazis was collaboration is utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, by simply putting deceiving captions under actual photographs, many are misled.