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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Costa-Gavras, Pius XII, Kurt Gerstein, and WikiLeaks

I've written numerous posts in the past on Pius XII and the Holocaust (I'm in the camp that thinks he didn't do enough), so I was interested to see the subject has surfaced in WikiLeaks.

While I was reading about this, I came upon mention of a 2002 movie by Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras (see my post on the film Z) which was an adaptation of a 1963 play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy. BYW, that play came out during th Second Vatican Council and according to John O'Malley SJ in What Happened at Vatican II, it had something of an effect on the council's discussion of Nostra Aetate (p. 220-76) ....

By August 1961, well before the council opened, the Secretariat had prepared a brief scheme titled "On the Jews" .... Although much of the opposition stemmed from what were perceived to be the political ramifications the declaration might have and the difficulties it might raise for Christians in the Middle East, other reasons were also at play. In early 1963, two months after the first period of the council ended, Rolf Hochhuth's play Der Stellvertreter, usually translated into English as The Deputy but more accurately as The Vicar [of Christ], a rambling and long-winded dramatization of Pope Pius XII's supposed "silence" during the Holocaust, opened in Berlin. The play created a sensation and was soon translated into a number of languages. With equal passion it was denounced as a vilification of a saint and praised as a much-needed exposé. The affair deeply disturbed the Vatican and troubled perhaps nobody more than Paul VI, who had been one of Pius' closest assistants during the war years. The pope worried that the council's declaration might be taken as a validation of Hochhuth's position ..... Thus the document originally intended as a theological statement on the Jews and in some form a condemnation of anti-Semitism, was eventually expanded into the final version ..... the text was revised again and again .... It soon became clear that the pope and Bea did not see eye-to-eye on the text, particularly on what was to be said about the critical issue of deicide .... Bea and others who had hoped for an explicit denial of the guilt of deicide had by now resigned themselves to a weaker but still groundbreaking statement .....

But back to the movie: here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ...

The film "Amen." examines the links between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. The central character is Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, a member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, designing programs for the purification of water and the destruction of vermin. He is shocked to learn that the process he used to eradicate typhus, by using a prussic acid mixture called Zyklon B, is used for extermination in the concentration camps. After witnessing one such gas chamber in operation, Gerstein attempts to notify Pope Pius XII through the Papal Nuncio, but is appalled by the lack of response he gets from the Catholic hierarchy. The only person moved is Riccardo Fontana, a young Jesuit priest. While the character of Kurt Gerstein is historical, the character of the young priest is fictional, and the plot is fictional.

As the above mentions, Kurt Gerstein was indeed a real person, a German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, who, according to Wikipedia, gave information to the Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter as well as members of the Roman Catholic Church with contacts to Pope Pius XII in order to inform the international public about the Holocaust .... His statements to diplomats and religious officials over the period of 1942 through 1945 had disappointingly little effect. He wrote The Gerstein Report, his eyewitness account of the gassing of some 3,000 Jews in the extermination camp of Belzec in 1942, which was later used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials. In 1945 he surrendered to the French, was imprisoned, and apparently committed suicide. As it turns out, Gerstein was a Christian, and like Bonhoeffer, a member of the Confessing Church.

Here's a trailer for the movie ...



For those who want to check out the Pius XII WikiLeaks stuff, go here and here/view R sidebar for more.


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