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Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler Hardcover – 29 Sep 2015
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Other scholars...have written about the Vatican s connection with the German Resistance, but never with the detail, insight, and proof Riebling marshals here.... [A] groundbreaking new history of the Vatican-German Resistance.... Writing with the craft of a novelist and the conscience of a meticulous scholar, Riebling has produced a masterly account of these events. --National Review
Mark Riebling takes readers into the seldom-explored mysterious world of Vatican espionage with a deeply researched and fresh account that reads like a spy thriller. The crackling narrative of Church of Spies delivers an important and compelling addition to the debate over the legacy of Pius XII, the most powerful and complex Pope of modern times. --Gerald Posner, author of God s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican
Riebling, an expert on secret intelligence, compellingly explores the papacy s involvement in espionage during World War II.... This book has much to surprise, especially the many German officers, separately and together, involved in attempts on Hitler s life.... Pius, vilified by critics who believed he ignored Germany s atrocities, comes off as a politically savvy man who realized his interference would precipitate Hitler s mortal overreaction against German Catholics. Not only a dramatic disclosure of the Vatican s covert actions, but also an absorbing, polished story for all readers of World War II history. --Kirkus
In this stunning revision of the role of "Hitler's Pope" in WWII, one of our top intelligence experts recasts Pius XII-allegedly a Nazi sympathizer-as an anti-Nazi spymasterSee all Product description
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Without mentioning Cornwell, Goldhagen, Zuccotti, and others from the other side of the barricades until the acknowledgements, and then merely briefly in jest as if at a virtual dinner party in his head, the US historian, Mark Riebling counterattacks on three fronts.
First, because the subject was surrounded by secrecy with the oldest and most sophisticated secret service, involving cloak and dagger encounters, many never noted on paper, but with the protagonists no longer alive to verify, the author could freely turn on the flow of evidence he chose which he deemed appropriate to the intended goal. Second, Riebling transforms the work into an encyclopaedia web on the lives of persons from Pacelli in the Vatican in Rome, down to the lowest informing foot soldier and activist in Germany among all resistance groups, leaving the details speak for themselves. The narrative and analysis, consequently, moves away from the Pope to the more direct work in the field, where each event comes out as a force of strength and weakness in the character of the individuals, a humane ideological struggle between two creeds: the good and the evil one. Third, and finally, by supplying the required details he could choose to review cause and effect of events occurring elsewhere, and present all variables over time as part of the same scheme and producing domino effects.
Even before War broke out, as Secretary of State and framer of the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ('With burning anxiety') in 1937, which protested against the Nazi show trials aimed at removing the Church from its work in education, and encouraged racial equality, Pacelli was at best looked upon by the Nazis with hostility as anti-German, at worst anti-Nazi, and a real danger, due to his past tenure as Nuncio in Munich and Berlin, as well as his fluency of German. Riebling lays his cards out immediately, underlining that war was imminent, and even if it did not occur, Hitler had to go – emphasizing he believed in regime change, and if necessary death. The Pope’s main difficulty was appearing to favour exclusively one side while representing the voice of all Catholics, made easier after the six week campaign against Poland, in October 1939, in the encyclical Summi pontificatus, attacking the wanton butchering of the cream of Polish Catholic society, and the Jews, and appealing to the 'unity of the human race.' But based in Rome, Pacelli lived like an emotionally repressed caged animal: on more than one occasion he had to refrain from publicly inciting hatred for fear of personal reprisals from angry trigger happy Fascist Blackshirts.
The Pope, together with his closest advisers – Dr Josef Müller (Joey Ox) in Germany, Mons. Ludwig Kaas and the Jesuit Father Robert Leiber in Rome, were close to the “Good” Germans –which the author calls as “Decent” in the Catholic and Lutheran churches, and through them in the labour movement, the Kreisau Circle, and, most important, the Army A Good German: Adam Von Trott Zu Solz,Operation Valkyrie [DVD], Sophie Scholl - The Final Days  [DVD], Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Throughout the War he was kept informed and alert of all the plots, and tried to intervene first with Britain under Chamberlain, later Churchill, and until Pearl Harbor with the USA and Roosevelt, to bring quicker peaceful and less chaotic relations. Despite talk of invading the Vatican after 1943, of arresting Pacelli and possibly even replacing him with a Nazi puppet, the Führer only had definite proof of the Vatican’s extended network after the failure of Valkyrie and Stauffenberg’s plot of July 20th 1944, when the offices of the German Military Intelligence, the Abwehr, were raided, and Admiral Canaris’ secret papers came to light. That was when in the final months of the War Hitler personally demanded revenge and elimination of such decadent scum including Admiral Canaris himself, General Beck, the lawyer Helmut von Moltke of the Kreisau Circle, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and thousands of others.
German historians may find much old hat, as the stories have already appeared in German in the separate resistor histories, biographies, and the rare autobiography Bis zur letzten Konsequenz: Ein Leben für Frieden und Freiheit. What is new is that Riebling claims Pacelli’s involvement with the fall of the Duce from late 1942, his arrest by the small Freemason King Victor Emmanuel and replaced with the anti-Fascist Freemason FM Badoglio, as a first stage in a anti-Nazi establishment regime change in the Reich.
There was always hope, maybe slight, that the battles would be averted in Italy, and later on German territory to prevent misery, destruction, and arouse divisive hatred, but the author stresses that Stalin was already informed through his loyal British mole Kim Philby. Obsessed by likely Capitalist imperialist treachery and double-dealings with Nazi-Fascism, a separate peace, and then being attacked by their former allies, he imagined the West seeing through the Great Patriotic War 1941-45 as more than a fight for national sovereignty but an ideological struggle for furthering international Communism, and extending the Soviet influence in postwar Europe. He thus insisted on the demand for “unconditional” surrender, agreed in January 1943, at the Casablanca conference by Roosevelt. Robert Dellak’s most recent biography hints that FDR’s illness may have prevented him from standing up firmly to Stalin, so changing the progress of the War, the future map of Europe, the growth of Western Communist parties, and the lives of millions in Central and Eastern Europe until 1989 Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.
It is possible, however, and I sense that the behind the scenes persistence of Pacelli after the fall of Fascism in Italy in July 1943, may have stopped FDR and the US from turning its “secret weapons” in the winter of 1944 against Germany, and divided Italy to speed up the end of the War sooner.
Riebling strongly denounces the accusation that he turned his back on the plight of the Roman Jews, 1,007 of whom were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, just fifteen of them survived to the bitter end. During that time, however, as Riebling makes clear, 477 Jews were hiding in the Vatican, and another 4,238 were concealed in Roman monasteries and convents. Around five sixths of the Roman Jews escaped death.
Will all this finally rehabilitate Pacelli? Maybe yes, maybe no; but does it matter any more? Only because since the fall of the Berlin Wall one can now no longer accept that the German Communists were the people’s sole anti-Nazi opposition - something which had to be repeated in public even if not totally believed within the former DDR. And their official historians had also been given a political agenda to present the Communists as the real liberators against the Nazis, not to write objective history or that experienced by the people.
I did stress previously that the author had a particular goal and he directed his defence to reach that end. Secrecy hides what one wants. He chose what he could find well for his defence. It is both enlightening, convincing, very well written and feels almost like a novel, and so could easily be represented in future on the big screen. So is it a good racy historical novel, or a good, bad, insignificant novel history? Answer: informative, a good read.
At the moment treat it as an investment for more future history in the event that President Putin should choose to open the Kremlin archives to a wide selection of Russian and foreign historians. Before then, general readers, and specialists alike will enjoy Mark Riebling and his obvious hero Joey Ox, a veteran of Dachau, and Flossenbürg, and one of the founders of the post-war CSU. This minor individual became big because of his guile to tell Hitler’s chief bodyguard in February 1934 in Gestapo custody that he would put Himmler up against the wall, and shot. Good start.
That is not to say that Riesling is not a partisan of Pius XII, but even so, it leads to a conclusion that he has been pretty unfairly indicted by those who accuse or imply that he was pro-Nazi and facilitated their activities. The evidence was that he was Hitler's enemy and was regarded by the Nazis as a serious enemy.
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