|Full Name||State of the City of the Vatican|
|Alliance||Neutral or Non-Belligerent|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
The modern city state of Vatican City government was formed when Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri signed the Lateran Treaty in Feb 1929; the treaty was one of three agreements collectively known as the Lateran Pacts of 1929. One of the clauses established in 1929 was that the Vatican must remain neutral, and would not act as an intermediary unless all parties agree upon such an arrangement. A religious state, the country's chief executive was the Pope of the Catholic Church. In 1938, when Italy passed a law forbidding marriage between Jews and non-Jews, the Vatican considered it to be a breach of the Lateran Pacts, as the two nations had previously agreed that the Catholic Church should be the sole authority on matters of marriage involving Catholics. On, 2 March 1939, Eugenio Pacelli became the head of the Catholic Church; he took on the papal name Pius XII. Within his first few months as the head of state, he implemented several policies to protect Italian Jews. First, he appointed several prominent Jewish scholars at posts at the Vatican after they had been dismissed from Italian universities due to their ethnicity. Then, on 23 Jun 1939, he reached an agreement with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas for Brazil to issue 3,000 visas to allow non-Aryan Catholics, some of whom were Jews recently converted to Catholicism to escape persecution, to travel to Brazil (ultimately, however, only under 1,000 visas would be issued).
When the European War was about to begin in 1939, Pope Pius XII attempted to mediate between the powers to maintain peace. He informed Mussolini via Jesuit Father Tacchi Venturi of this intention, and received Mussolini's agreement to proceed. Next, Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione reached out to Vatican representatives Valerio Valeri in France, Filippo Cortesi in Poland, Cesare Orsenigo in Germany, and William Godfrey in Britain. The discussions resulted in the recommendation for Poland to accept a German annexation of Danzig, to which Poland refused, thus accomplishing nearly nothing.
During the war, Pope Pius XII made attempts to maintain Vatican City's neutrality. For example, there were very few appointments of cardinals during the war; many of the positions were left vacant until after the war, resulting in 32 cardinals being created in 1946. Despite the attempts at remaining neutral, one action he took was viewed by some as a gross violation of such stance. In May 1942, the church appointed a German Apostolic Administrator to lead the Catholic Church in occupied Poland. This action was not only controversial during the war, but also created a serious rift in the diplomatic relationship between Poland and Vatican City; as one of the consequences, between 1947 and 1989, Vatican City did not appoint an Apostolic Nuncio to Poland.
On 20 May 1940, Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano began to carry only war news published by the Italian government. In Aug 1940, readers found that there were no more weather reports in this newspaper; this was stopped after the Italian government complained that such reports were used by the British for planning aerial attacks on Italy. The Vatican Radio followed suit. In Dec 1940, Vatican City officially banned the Swiss Guard, the nation's small defensive force, from discussing politics.
During the war, the Vatican City never publicly condemned the Nazi systematic extermination of various groups, which included many Catholics. Speaking to American representatives who tried to persuade him to do so, Pope Pius XII expressed that he could not speak of the Nazi atrocities without also bring up similar Soviet practices. It was also the Vatican's official stance that the alleged atrocities could not be verified. However, Pope Pius XII's Christmas address of 1942 did make mention of human aggression and the racial violence, with language suggesting that he was targeting the Germans without specifically naming them.
In late 1942, Vatican City was approached by Italian representatives who wanted a return to peace. This again resulted in little, as Britain distrusted Italy's ambassador to Vatican City, Galeazzo Ciano, who was Mussolini's son-in-law.
Due to Vatican City's location within Rome, the Italian capital city was subjected by Allied bombing rather infrequently, as the Allies did not wish to violate Vatican City's neutrality by accident. The Allies dropped propaganda pamphlets a number of times over Rome, and a few of them drifted over across Vatican borders; complaints of such infringements were filed.
After Italy switched sides in 1943, Rome quickly became occupied by German troops. In the case that German troops were to occupy Vatican City as well, which never happened, Pope Pius XII decreed that the government was to exile to Portugal, and if he became captured, the College of Cardinals would elect a new Pope. During the Italian-to-German transition, many Allied prisoners of war were released by their Italian captors, many of them headed for Vatican City as it was the nearest neutral nation. The Vatican feared that housing such great numbers of former Allied fighters would become a burden on its neutrality, thus the Swiss Guard prevented the former prisoners from entering the country's borders. Many Vatican officials, however, acted independently to harbor those who sought for assistance, regardless of their allegiance. At this time, there were also reportedly thousands of Jews who were in hiding in Vatican City and at the papal summer residence. On 27 Sep 1943, Germans in Rome demanded from the local Jewish community 100 pounds of gold in 36 hours, or 300 Jews would be deported. When the Jews failed to come up with the gold, the Vatican treasury opened up to make up this amount. The payment saved 300 Jews from immediate capture, but within a month, on 16 Oct, 2,091 Jews were deported by the Germans anyway. Although the Vatican failed to make a stance against the extermination of Jews, Vatican City, and the Catholic Church in general, was credited with savings thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Nazi official Adolf Eichmann, for example, had written in his diary that while the Vatican took no official stance, members of the church "vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, requesting the interruption of such action".
In 1944, conspirator of the July Plot Joseph Müller, a German Catholic priest, attempted to persuade Pope Pius XII to act as an intermediary, passing information about German resistance of Hitler to the British; maintaining his neutral stance, when the Pope met with British ambassador D'Arcy Osborne, he only informed him of his knowledge of resistance within Germany, with members of the military in its ranks, but did not disclose names nor offer his support.
After the war, the Lateran Treaty which gave Vatican City its status as a sovereign state was incorporated into the Constitution of the Italian Republic in 1947.
Visitor Submitted Comments
All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.
- » Chester Nez's Passing (4 Jun 2014)
- » Bill Guarnere's Passing (9 Mar 2014)
- » WW2DB's Ninth Anniversary (29 Dec 2013)
- » See all news
- » 788 biographies
- » 309 events
- » 30,121 timeline entries
- » 699 ships
- » 307 aircraft models
- » 164 vehicle models
- » 270 weapon models
- » 80 historical documents
- » 65 facilities
- » 340 book reviews
- » 228 maps
- » 19,003 photos, 1,608 in color