How the Catholic Church Sheltered Nazi War Criminals
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, an Austrian wandered into Rome looking for a Catholic prelate. He needed the help of a bishop he thought was named Hulda (actually Hudal). “I had no idea how one went about finding a bishop at the Vatican,” he confessed to the British journalist Gitta Sereny in 1972. “I arrived in Rome and walked across a bridge over the Tiber and suddenly found myself face to face with a former comrade.” His outlaw companion asked, “Are you on your way to see Hulda?”—a question that implied this bishop was known to be of help to people like them. After a short walk, the Austrian arrived at the episcopal residence he was seeking. “You must be Franz Stangl,” the bishop said, warmly holding out both his hands. “I was expecting you.”
Stangl had been commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka death camps. Wanted for the murder of nearly a million Jews, he was desperately seeking to escape the clutches of Allied justice. He had come to the right man. Also an Austrian, Bishop Alois Hudal (1885–1963) was rector of the college in Rome known as the “Anima,” a seminary for German-speaking priests. He was also a profound sympathizer with National Socialism and someone dedicated to extending papal charity to “so-called” war criminals. These men, he thought, were “in many respects personally innocent, and had only been the executive organs of orders.” After finding Stangl a job at the German College, the bishop eventually supplied him with travel documents, a steamship ticket, and a factory job in Syria. Later, Stangl traveled to Brazil, where he would bring his wife and family. In Sao Paolo, he found work in a factory that manufactured, of all things, Volkswagens.
About the Author
Kevin J. Madigan is Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard. He is the author, with Jon Levenson, of Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews (Yale University Press, 2008). His last article for Commentary, “Two Popes, One Holocaust,” appeared in our December 2010 issue.