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Behind a Nazi Plot to Seize the Pope

In September 1943, the tide of the war was turning against the Nazis, and a secret plan to kidnap — and possibly kill — Pope Pius XII was under way.

Adolf Hitler, whose mental condition was deteriorating, feared the Pope would speak out about Nazi actions against the Jews, and ordered his SS leader in Italy, Gen. Karl Wolff, to carry out the deed.

Author Dan Kurzman relates the secret plan in his new book, A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius the XII. Kurzman, a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, was the first journalist to interview Wolff following his release from prison after the war.

Kurzman describes Wolff as a successful opportunist who earns both the confidence of Hitler and of the pontiff himself, whom Wolff warned about the plot during a secret meeting at the Vatican in 1944. Wolff and others in Rome hoped to use the pope as an intermediary for a negotiated peace and an Anglo-American-German campaign against the Soviets.

A Special Mission also touches on the 1933 Nazi-Vatican Concordat, the roots of Pius's silence on the murder of the Jews and the role of Rome's chief rabbi, Israel Zolli, who ultimately converted to Catholicism.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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