It is possible that within a short time
a court in the United States will prohibit the publication of the
account before us. In the meantime, the testimony given last month
by William Gowen, a former intelligence officer in the United States
Army, at a federal court in San Francisco. The testimony contains
historical and political explosives. It links Giovanni Battista
Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, to the theft of property of
Jewish, Serb, Russian, Ukrainian and Roma victims during World War
II in Yugoslavia. Many studies and stories have already been written
about the thundering silence of Pope Pius XII, who reigned in the
Vatican during World War II. Now the former intelligence officer's
testimony has revealed that after the war, Montini, who during the
war served as the Vatican's deputy secretary of state under the
pope, helped hide and launder property that had been stolen from,
among others, Jews and was involved in the sheltering and smuggling
of Croatian war criminals, such as the leader of the Ustashe
movement, Ante Pavelic.
The smuggling and hiding of Croatian
war criminals was part of the extensive network known as the Rat
Lines. Senior officials at the Vatican were involved in hiding and
smuggling Nazi war criminals and their collaborators so they would
not be arrested and tried. Hundreds of war criminals were provided
with church and Red Cross papers that enabled them to hide in safe
houses and then flee from Europe, mainly to the Middle East and
South America. Among them were Klaus Barbie ("the butcher of Lyon"),
Adolf Eichmann, Dr. Josef Mengele and Franz Stengel, the commander
of the Treblinka death camp.
The Vatican network was also used by
leaders of the Ustashe - the nationalist Croatian Catholic movement
that was active in Croatia and collaborated with the Nazi
occupation. "The Reverend Dr. Prof. Krunoslav Draganovic seemed to
be in cooperation with the Ustasha network. And he was given a
Vatican assignment as the apostolic visitator for Croatians, which
meant he reported directly to Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini,"
states an American document based on a report from the Italian
police; the document was recently placed in evidence at the court in
San Francisco where Gowen testified.
The leaders of the Ustashe headed by
Pavelic are the ones who stole the victims' property: art and
jewelry - silver and mostly gold. After the war they fled with the
treasure and laundered it with the help of Vatican institutions.
According to Gowen's testimony, Montini, who in 1964 became the
first pope to visit the State of Israel, was also involved in the
Vatican's help in laundering the wealth.
In 1999 a suit was filed at a court in
San Franciso against the Vatican Bank (Institute for Religious
Works) and against the Franciscan order, the Croatian Liberation
Movement (the Ustashe), the National Bank of Switzerland and others.
The suit was filed by Jewish, Ukrainian, Serb and Roma survivors, as
well as relatives of victims and various organizations that together
represent 300,000 World War II victims. The plaintiffs demanded
accounting and restitution.
One of the lawyers representing the
plaintiffs is Jonathan Levy. "Many of the plaintiffs have been
reluctant to be pictured, after all these years," says Levy. "Many
are still terrified of the Ustashe, the Serbs particularly. Unlike
the Nazi Party, the Ustashe still exist and have a party
headquarters in Zagreb."
The Ustashe was founded in 1929 as a
Croatian nationalist movement with a deep connection to Catholicism.
From the day it was founded the movement made its aim the
establishment of an independent Croatian state and declared to fight
the monarchy in Yugoslavia. The movement was banned and its
founders, Pavelic and Gustav Percec (who was later murdered at
Pavelic's orders) were condemned to death in their absence. The
Ustashe was linked to the assassination of Yugoslav King Alexander
and French foreign minister Louis Barthou in Marseilles in 1934.
Upon the occupation of Yugoslavia, the
German Nazis and the Italian Fascists formed an "independent" state
in Croatia, which was basically a Nazi puppet state. Pavelic was
appointed poglovnik, the leader of the country. He hastened to meet
with Hitler and allied himself with the Fuehrer. When Hitler invaded
the Soviet Union, Pavelic sent Ustashe units to fight alongside the
Nazis and then joined the declaration of war against the United
States. Ustashe leaders declared they would slaughter a third of the
Serb population in Croatia, deport a third and convert the remaining
third from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism. Anyone who refused to
convert was murdered.
Immediately upon the establishment of
its puppet government, the Ustashe set up militias and gangs that
slaughtered Serbs, Jews, Romas and their political foes. Catholic
priests, some of them Franciscans, also participated in the acts of
slaughter. The cruelty of the Ustashe was so great that even the
commander of the German army in Yugoslavia complained.
Himmler of the Balkans
Under the leadership of Pavelic's
right-hand man Andrija Artukovic, who earned the nickname "the
Himmler of the Balkans," the Ustashe set up concentration camps,
most notably at Jasenovac. According to various estimates, about
100,000 people were murdered at the camp, among them tens of
thousands of Jews (it is interesting to note that some of the heads
of the Ustashe were married to Jewish women). Throughout Croatia
about 700,000 people were murdered. The partisans, led by the Croat
Communist Josip Broz Tito, and the Chetniks - Nationalist Serb
royalists - fought the Ustashe.
After the war, Pavelic and other
Ustashe heads fled to Austria and, with the help of the British
intelligence and their friends in the Vatican, found refuge in
Italy. They hid in Vatican monasteries and were provided with false
documents that gave them a new identity. Secret documents that were
disclosed at the court in San Francisco show that at the end of the
war, British intelligence took Pavelic under its wing and allowed
him and a convoy of 10 trucks that carried the stolen treasure to
travel to the British occupation zone in Austria. The British did
this with the intention of using him as a counterweight to the
Communist takeover in Yugoslavia.
The Ustashe brought the treasure convoy
to Rome, where they put it into the hands of the Croatian ambassador
to the Vatican, Rev. Krunoslav Draganovic. Draganovic also saw to
hiding Pavelic and his aides in Vatican institutions and safe houses
in Rome. American military intelligence located Pavelic's hiding
place. But according to a secret document Gowen wrote in July 1947,
that was submitted to the court, Gowen's unit received the
instruction: "Hands off" Pavelic.
This was an order from the American
Embassy, stressed Gowen in his testimony. It is also stated in the
document, which is classified as top secret, that Pavelic, via his
contacts with Draganovic, was receiving Vatican protection. From
Italy, Pavelic was smuggled on the Rat Lines to Argentina, where he
served as a security adviser to president Juan Peron (Peron granted
entry visas to 34,000 Croats, many of them associated with the
Ustashe and Nazi supporters).
In 1957 there was an attempt to
assassinate him, in which he was wounded. The operation was
attributed to Tito's Yugoslav intelligence, although the possibility
that this was an attempt at revenge by a Chetnik activist was not
dismissed. Pavelic had to leave Argentina and found refuge with the
Spanish dictator Franco. Two years later, in 1959, he died as a
result of complications caused by the wound. The Ustashe has
continued to exist over the years and until the 1980s its operatives
were involved in acts of terror against diplomats and other Yugoslav
The suit filed at the court in San
Francisco is based on earlier investigations and reports from
American government agencies, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and
committees of historians who researched the matter of the Jewish
property in Swiss banks. The case was preceded by successful legal
battles by attorney Levy and his colleagues against the CIA and the
American Army to obtain secret documents. The defendants, on their
part, led by the Vatican Bank and the Franciscan order and others,
deny the charges against them and made every effort to have the
charges dismissed. So far, the court has rejected these efforts
outright and determined that the deliberations would continue. But
the defendants are tenacious and now they are demanding that
publication of Gowen's testimony be prohibited.
After the end of the war Gowen served
as a special agent, meaning an investigations officer in the Rome
detachment of American counter-intelligence. This unit's role was to
track down, among others, Italian Fascists, Nazi war criminals and
their collaborators, including the Ustashe leaders (Gowen said
another mission included, at the request of British intelligence,
surveillance of Irgun and Lehi activists). The code name for the
unit's actions was "Operation Circle."
Parallel to the counterintelligence
unit, other American army intelligence units, and mainly the Office
of Strategic Services (OSS, from which the CIA developed) and
British intelligence were engaged in contradictory actions. They
made contact with Nazis and with the Ustashe people and enlisted
them in their service as agents, collaborators and informers, with
the intention of forming a front against the Soviet spread into
Eastern Europe and the Balkans. "To try and find Pavelic you had to
discover how the Ustashe network in Italy was constituted, how it
operated, what were its bases," testified Gowen.
A key person in the Pontifical Croatian
college was Rev. Draganovic, the Croatian ambassador to the Vatican.
Draganovic and the college issued false papers to Croatian war
criminals, among them Pavelic and Artukovic. "I personally
investigated Draganovic - who told me he was reporting to Montini,"
Gowen related that at a certain stage
Montini learned, apparently from the head of the OSS unit in Rome,
James Angleton, who nurtured relations with Montini and the Vatican,
of the investigation Gowen's unit was conducting. Montini complained
about Gowen to his superiors and accused him of having violated the
Vatican's immunity by having entered church buildings, such as the
Croatian college, and conducting searches there. The aim of the
complaint was to interfere with the investigation.
In his testimony, Gowen also stated
that Draganovic helped the Ustashe launder the stolen treasure with
the help of the Vatican Bank: This money was used to fund its
religious activities, but also to fund the escape of Ustashe leaders
on the Rat Line.