Article Note: Rainer Decker, “Bischof Alois Hudal und die Judenrazzia in Rom am 16. Oktober 1943”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 25, Number 4 (December 2019)

Article Note: Rainer Decker, “Bischof Alois Hudal und die Judenrazzia in Rom am 16. Oktober 1943,” Römische Quartalschrift für Christliche Altertumskunde und Kirchengeschichte 113:3-4 (2018), 233-255.

By Suzanne Brown-Fleming, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum*

On Saturday, October 16, 1943, SS-Hauptsturmführer Theodor Dannecker ordered the roundup of Jews in Rome, arresting 363 men and 896 women and children. On October 18, Dannecker and his men deported 1,007 of those arrested to Auschwitz. Only 19 would survive. On the day the roundup started, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Luigi Maglione summoned German Ambassador to the Holy See Ernst von Weizsäcker to a meeting. Maglione’s partial notes from this meeting have been available to scholars since 1975. Maglione made the plea that has become a touchstone for the so-called “Pius Wars,” telling Weizsäcker “It is painful for the Holy Father, painful beyond words that here in Rome, under the eyes of the Common Father so many people are made to suffer simply because of their particular descent.”

When pushed by Weizsäcker as to whether the Holy See would “express its disapproval” or “leave [Weizsäcker] free not to report this official conversation,” Maglione “replied that I had begged him to intervene appealing to his sentiments of humanity. I was leaving it to his judgement whether or not to mention our conversation, that had been so friendly.” Later that day, the controversial Bishop Alois Hudal,[1] Rector of the German National Church in Rome, Santa Maria dell’Anima, sent a letter to German City Commander of Rome Major General Reiner Stahel criticizing the raid. The letter reads in part, “I [Hudal] earnestly request you to order the immediate cessation of these arrests in Rome and its environs. I fear that if this is not done the pope will make a public stand against it […].”[2]

On October 17, Weizsäcker sent a telegram to the German Foreign Office “confirm[ing] the reaction of the Vatican to the removal of Jews from Rome as given by Bishop Hudal and altered Maglione’s phrase “under the eyes of the Common Father” to “under the very windows of the pope.” However, Weizsäcker did not report his meeting with Maglione. Ultimately, the Holy See did not make an official diplomatic protest.[3] Until recently, scholars have worked from various versions of and excerpts from the Hudal letter to Stahel. One version has been preserved in the Hudal papers and in the archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Parts of the letter were incorporated in a telegram from Stahel’s new aide, Gerhard Gumpert, to the German Foreign Office in Berlin. For decades, there has been speculation that the letter was drafted by either Weizsäcker, Gumpert, or Weizsäcker’s aide Albrecht von Kessel, and only lightly edited and signed by Hudal. The role of Eugenio Pacelli in the letter, if the pope had one at all, is contested.

Decker’s contribution to this historical question is to publish the first “exact, complete wording of the Hudal letter;” offer more clarity regarding its origin and authorship; and to problematize our conclusions about its ultimate effects (Decker, 237).[4] In this thoughtful article, Decker lays out hypotheses for the slight differences in phrasing in the various versions and the motivations Weizsäcker, Hudal, Gumpert and others might have had in choosing the excerpts, phrasing, and interpretations of the letter during and after the war. Decker also brings to the fore the potentially important role of the letter carrier, Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer, superior general of the Order of the Salvatorians and Pacelli’s personal liaison with Stahel.

Klaus Kühlwein’s recent edition Pius XII und die Deportation der Juden Roms (2019) states the claim that Eugenio Pacelli sent his nephew Carlo to Bishop Hudal to launch a protest is incorrect (Decker, 233-236). Decker is less sure, noting that some phrases in the letter were very unlikely to have been influenced by Weizsäcker, Gumpert, or Kessel. Decker finds it plausible that Pacelli asked his nephew Carlo to intervene via Hudal and Pfeiffer, both of whom had excellent relations with Stahel, and also plausible that the letter expressed Pacelli’s sentiments as Hudal understood them, even if Pacelli had not spoken with his nephew Carlo (Decker, 244). Decker also finds it plausible that the Hudal-Stahel exchange reached Heinrich Himmler, a position refuted by Zuccotti and others (Decker, 247-249). Decker acknowledges that at this time, the sources to settle this issue are not available (Decker, 249).

Ultimately, concludes Decker, Himmler’s possible receipt of the Hudal-Stahel exchange had no influence over the fate of the arrested Jews. However, the pattern of future raids for the remainder of the German occupation of Rome may have been impacted, he argues. Decker acknowledges that more work needs to be done before we can be sure (Decker, 252). Decker also provides a helpful diagram of the various available versions (253) and the full text of the letter (254-255).

Decker’s article does not change current scholarly understanding that Pope Pius XII refrained from open, public protests of the October 16th round-up “under his very windows.” Decker’s work fits with arguments that Pacelli and his aides chose back channels and unofficial messaging buried in diplomatic pleasantries. The full text of the Hudal letter is a great example of this tactic. That said, as Decker points out multiple times in his carefully crafted article, there are still missing sources that might better fill out this picture. Scholars will soon have access to the full set of materials relating to the papacy of Pius XII(1939-1958). The words exchanged within the walls of the Vatican, and directives given or not given on October 16-18, 1943, will finally become available to us.

*The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or any other organization.


[1] See Uki Gõni, The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón’s Argentina (London/New York: Granta Books, 2002) and Gerald Steinacher, Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice (Oxford University Press, 2011), among others.

[2] Stahel’s new aide, Gerhard Gumpert, forwarded the letter to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, where a copy was preserved. See also ADSS, Vol. IX, doc. 373, p.510. Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows, 161-2 and Decker, 235.

[3] Susan Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 159-160, citing Actes et documents du Saint-Sìege relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale [hereafter ADSS] ed. Pierre Blet, Robert A. Graham, Angelo Martini, Burkhardt Schneider. Vatican City: Libreria Vaticana, 1965-1981, 12 vols. Volume IX: Le Saint Siège et les victimes de la guerre, Janvier-Décembre 1943 (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1975); notes of Cardinal Maglione, October 16, 1943, pp. 505-506.

[4] Decker writes, “Im Folgenden wird erstmals der genaue, vollständige Wortlaut des Hudal-Briefes veröffentlicht.”