The Croats were largely Catholic, and the idea of a Catholic bulwark against Communism was something that had wide appeal. This concept was mirrored in Argentine fascism, which saw itself and its role in the world in identical terms. Thus it should come as no surprise that there was a natural alliance between the Croats and the Argentines, through the intermediary of churchmen like Draganovic and Hudal. They saw their enemy as Communism, and their natural allies in the fight against the Communists were the Nazis.
Hudal had written a book on National Socialism67 that was well received by the Nazi high command. Although the Third Reich was
suspicious of the Church—and, indeed, were intent on eventually replacing Christianity with their own form of neo-Paganism—they understood that it was better to have the Church on their side, at least for the duration of the war. Politically it meant that the Church would not officially condemn the Third Reich, thus assuring a certain degree of cooperation from both the clergy and the laity. Militarily, it meant that Catholics would have no qualms about joining the German army and that they would be less likely to offer resistance to the Nazis, at least not on ideological grounds. In addition, the Reichsconcordat signed on July 20, 1933 by Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli with Franz von Papen on behalf of Hindenburg essentially left the German Catholics at the mercy of the Reich at a time when Hitler had just been named Chancellor and was on his way to becoming Germany’s dictator. While ostensibly designed to safeguard German Catholics, what it did in essence was acknowledge the Reich’s authority vis- à-vis the Church in Germany. It reduced the ability of the German church to criticize the Reich and effectively neutralized the opposition.
It was within this tense atmosphere of 1930s Europe that bishops like Hudal and clergy like Draganovic could openly support the Nazi regime. The Concordat gave their praise of the Nazi Party a degree of legitimacy they might not otherwise have enjoyed, and it freed them to focus their attention on resisting and defeating Communism, seen as the true enemy of both the Church and the State. There was no official censure of pro-Nazi bishops or priests by the Holy See; had there been, the plight of Catholics living under the Third Reich would have been imperiled. So it was the “lesser” of two evils: turn a blind eye to the horrors of the Holocaust so that the Catholics of Germany would remain safe and out of danger. Meanwhile, some Catholic clergy and laypeople did their best to save as many Jews as possible; but it was not official policy and had to be done quietly.
The man who signed the Reichsconcordat with Germany—Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli—became Pope Pius XII: the wartime pontiff who did not raise his voice against the Nazis but who did, once the war was over, turn his energy and attention to the defeat of Communism, a strategy that fit well with that of the pro-Nazi clergy under his administration and which contributed mightily to the obscene scenario of clergymen helping war criminals accused of the most hideous atrocities to escape justice.
Much has been written about Pope Pius XII and what is perceived as his support—tacit or implicit—of the Nazi regime. The Catholic Church has
been criticized for this by any number of historians and observers, and the Vatican has usually fought back, insisting that the allegations are without merit. The fact remains, however, that the Nazi war criminals most famous, most wanted, most notorious were protected and aided in their escape by a series of Catholic priests, bishops, and cardinals throughout Europe and North and South America. Whether or not this was “official” policy, it most definitely took place and there was no policy—official or otherwise—to stop it.
While many high-ranking clergy were pro-Nazi—and not just in their sentiments but in the actions they took to promote Nazism and to defend its perpetrators—that does not mean that the Vatican itself was pro-Nazi; but from the point of view of the laity, of the people who filled the pews on Sunday and who looked up to their priests as men of God, it could only appear as official policy. A churchgoer in Zagreb or Sarajevo would come away with the clear perception that the Church supported Nazism in all its manifestations. Photographs of Roman Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals standing shoulder to shoulder with men in the uniforms of the SS or the Ustashe, giving the “Heil Hitler” salute, could only be construed as evidence of tacit approval.
It is a luxury for historians to parse the documents and deconstruct the speeches and analyze the treaties and the wars in an effort to identify trends, affiliations, and responsibilities; but the history of the world from the point of view of those who suffer is fundamentally different from the point of view of the comfortable and the powerful. The suffering deal with the experience of history—the blood. The powerful deal with the data of history—the documents. The truth, if it can be discovered, lies somewhere between the two.
This is especially true when documents are released piecemeal due to classification, “national security” concerns, etc. The story slowly unfolds, over the course of years and decades, and as it does it changes. If one dies before the whole story is revealed, one has lived one’s whole life with a lie and under the illusion that what one knows is true.
This issue is central to this book, this research. There is no doubt that lies were told about the death of Hitler; there is no doubt that lies were told about the culpability of persons in the Allied governments concerning the flight and protection of criminals such as Eichmann and Barbie, Rauff and Stangl. But this information has only been coming to light since the mid-
1980s, long after the end of the war when we thought we already knew the “truth.” These deceptions extend to those perpetrated by the Catholic Church at the same time, concerning these same criminals, and for the same reasons. As the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia begin to come clean regarding what actually took place in the weeks and months after the end of the war in Europe, the role of the Church is similarly exposed.
One of the most revealing statements concerning American intelligence cooperation with the monastery route is contained in a document dated July 12, 1948 from Paul E. Lyon and Charles Crawford, both Special Agents of the CIC 430th Detachment in Vienna. The subject line reads; “Rat Line from Austria to South America” and contains unequivocal proof of the involvement of the US military in Draganovic’s operation. Declassified in the 1980s, it can be seen as the “smoking gun” in the wider implementation of the monastery route to include U.S. military and intelligence personnel.
It is worthwhile to quote the memo in length in order that the reader realize the scope of the project:
- Through the Vatican connections of Father Draganovic, Croat, DP Resettlement Chief of the Vatican circle, a tentative agreement was reached to assist in this operation. The agreement consists of simply mutual assistance, i.e., these agents assist persons of interest to Father Draganovic to leave Germany and, in turn, Father Draganovic will assist these agents in obtaining the necessary visas to Argentina, South America, for persons of interest to this Command.
- It may be stated that some of the persons of interest to Father Draganovic may be of interest to the Denazification policy of the Allies; however, the persons assisted by Father Draganovic are also of interest to our Russian ally. Therefore, this operation cannot receive any official approval and must be handled with minimum amount of delay and with a minimum amount of general knowledge.
- On 3 July 1948, these agents contacted the Austrian representative of Father Draganovic in Salzburg, as prearranged. Through the assistance of CIC Salzburg, transportation was obtained and the representative was escorted to Bad Reichenhall, Germany, where he was to meet the German representative of Father Draganovic’s organization. However, due to unforeseen circumstances,
the German representative did not appear. The Austrian representative was escorted back to Salzburg to await developments.
- On 4 July 48 these agents received a telegram from the U.S. contact in Rome (Fred Martin) that the German representative was arrested while crossing the German/Austrian border on or about 1 July
48. It was the desire of the agents to go to Bad Reichenhall, Germany to make the necessary investigation, however due to transportation difficulties, this was not deemed advisable.
6. The status of subject rat line is not settled at this time, however it is felt that with CIC connections in Germany, these agents can assist the German representative and continue their progress as outlined above.
NOTE: It is suggested to the Chief, 430th CIC Detachment, USFA, that a reassignment of jeeps be made, and that two detachment jeeps be assigned to headquarters. These jeeps could be stationed and utilized by Land Salzburg and Land Upper Austria but be prepared to move upon call from representatives of CIC headquarters. In this manner most of the difficulties in obtaining transportations for such operations can be avoided. Also the responsibilities for incorrect use of said vehicles, i.e., police violations, utilizing Government vehicles for pleasure, will be the responsibility of the driver and not the Land Section to which the jeep is originally assigned.
It is believed that in this manner considerable time, personal difficulties, and personality differences could be avoided and assist in the speedy completion of similar missions.
A number of things can be discerned from this memo. In the first place, the decision to assist Draganovic was made as early as July of 1948, even though CIC memos from 1946 and 1947 expressed a certain degree of alarm over his operation. Further, CIC placed transportation and other services at the disposal of the Ratline. And finally CIC kept the entire operation secret from the Russians, who were looking for many of these individuals for war crimes in the Soviet zone and, indeed, the entire operation would not receive “official approval” and would be handled with a “minimum amount of delay and a minimum amount of general knowledge.” It was a black op, an intelligence operation conducted without official approval.
The pact had been made. American military intelligence colluded with the Vatican to assist Nazi and Ustashe war criminals in their escape to South America. The Ratline ran from Austria (and specifically Salzburg, where we will find the Pöch couple at this time) to South America, with the American military providing logistical support.
Some of the clergy involved at one time or another in the “monastery route” include, in addition to Hudal and Draganovic, Msgr. Don Giuseppe Bicchierai, the secretary to Archbishop (later Cardinal) Ildefonso Schuster of Milan, and Archbishop Siri of Genoa. According to Simon Wiesenthal, Msgr. Bicchierai arranged for SS Standartenführer Walter Rauff (and others) to “stay covertly in the convents of the Holy See”68 prior to their escape from Europe. During the 1948 election campaign in Italy—in which there was a danger of a Communist takeover—Bicchierai worked with the CIA to frustrate attempts by the Italian Communist party to seize control of the government, an effort which possibly involved Walter Rauff as well.
Rauff—the SS chief in Milan during the last years of the war—had been working with future CIA Director Allen Dulles in the well-documented Operation Sunrise while Dulles was chief of the OSS in Berne, Switzerland. Operation Sunrise was an arrangement between Dulles, the SS and the Wehrmacht that ensured that the German surrender to the Allies in Italy would take place in a gentlemanly fashion. It was a strange agreement, one that afforded the SS in particular special treatment at the hands of Dulles and the OSS. Dulles had understood early on that the “real enemy” was Soviet communism, and by enlisting the aid of SS officers as well as the generals of the Wehrmacht he felt he could contain that threat more successfully. Walter Rauff was one of the beneficiaries of this arrangement, regardless of the fact that it was Rauff who invented the Einsatzgruppen’s mobile gas chambers—specially fitted vans that had the carbon monoxide exhaust piped directly into the back of the van holding the victims—that were used to kill more than 100,000 Jewish prisoners before the gas chambers and crematoria at the camps were built.
Walter Rauff was a war criminal by every known metric, yet both the Church and American intelligence collaborated in his escape from justice. Rauff eventually wound up in Chile, where the mass murderer lived out the remainder of his days in peace and with the moral support of the significant German community in that country as well as the dictator Augusto Pinochet, and former Chilean Ambassador Miguel Serrano who conducted
a Nazi-style funeral service for Rauff in Santiago when the latter died there in 1984. He was not the first war criminal to use the monastery route of the Ratline, nor would he be the last.
The total number of war criminals who used the monastery route remains unknown, but there is ample evidence for some of the most notorious. We also have documentation concerning the flight of many other persons for whom the Allies may not have had accurate dossiers in the months and years after the war, such as the Ustashe officers who fled en masse to South America, courtesy of Draganovic, or the thousands of Ukrainian Waffen-SS who wound up in both North and South America after the war. Many of these men may have been minor functionaries, lowly guards or bureaucrats, pushing the paper that would send hundreds if not thousands to their deaths; others were merely following orders in the Nazi structure of Führerprinzip: the Führer Principle in which every man had a leader—a Führer—above him whose orders had to be followed immediately and without question. The fact that they had to flee, however, does indicate a certain level of culpability in war crimes.
Take the Ustashe for example.
The Independent State of Croatia was formed as a puppet government of the Third Reich. In 1929 the Ustashe (a form of the Croatian verb “to rise up”) had been conceived as a Croatian liberation movement against the Yugoslav state which was seen as heavily biased in favor of the Serbian population, but by 1941 it included not only present-day Croatia but parts of Bosnia as well. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia itself had come into existence after World War One, comprising several different ethnic groups including the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Montenegrins in much the same way Czechoslovakia was formed out of two disparate ethnic groups, the Czechs and the Slovaks69. As in the case of Czechoslovakia (not to mention Iraq, with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish groups all in a single, artifically-created, country designed by academics and spies after World War One) the various ethnicities did not always relate in harmonious fashion. In the case of Yugoslavia, there were ancient disputes and disagreements. The Croats were largely Catholic and Muslim; the Serbs were Eastern Orthodox. Thus the Ustashe was formed to emphasize a homogenous racial identity— Croat