By Jesús Colina
ROME, JAN. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- An Italian priest who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution during World War II is attesting that Pope Pius XII was a big player in this effort.
Father Giancarlo Centioni, 97, who served as a military chaplain for the National Security Volunteer Militia in Rome from 1940 to 1945, affirmed this in an interview with H2oNews today.
The militia, also called the Blackshirts, was organized by Benito Mussolini as a fascist paramilitary group in support of his movement.
Father Centioni affirmed, "Given that I was a chaplain for the fascists, it was easier for me to help the Jews."
While in Rome, he lived in the house of a group of German priests known as Pallottines.
These priests had instituted a group to aid the Jews called St. Raphael's Society.
The society, Father Centioni said, helped Jews to escape from Germany into Italy, and then later to Switzerland and Portugal.
In Germany the society was led by Pallottine Father Josef Kentenich, who is known for founding the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt. He was later sent to the Dachau concentration camp for his opposition to Adolf Hitler's regime.
Father Centioni said that in Rome, the society's activity was based on 57 Pettinari Street under the direction of another priest, Father Anton Weber. Father Weber coordinated the action with Pope Pius XII and his secretary.
Money and passports were given to Jewish families for their escape, explained Father Centioni. These resources were provided by Father Weber who "received them directly from His Holiness' Secretary of State, in the name of and paid by Pius XII," Father Centioni said.
He continued, "I often brought money to Jewish homes. At least 12 German priests in Rome were allowed to help me."
Father Centioni stated that this network "began prior to the War" and "kept going" until after 1945, "because Father Weber had an intense relationship with the Vatican, with the Jews, and with a lot of people it was very strong."
He noted that two Jews who they helped hide later aided the society in return: Melchiorre Gioia, an author, and Erwin Frimm Kozab, a composer from Vienna who wrote songs and operas.
The priest recalled: "One we hid on Giuseppe Street, near Bari, and the other on 57 Pettinari Street. Later they assisted us quite a lot, giving us very explicit information."
Father Centioni affirmed that he helped hundreds of people, and they all knew who was behind the operation. "Pius XII helped them," he said, "through us and other priests, by means of St. Raphael's Society as well as the German Verbiti Society in Rome."
He described one incident in which he helped a man named Ivan Basilius, who turned out to be a Russian spy. "No one knew he was Russian or a spy," the priest said, only "that he was a Jew."
Father Centioni recalled: "Unfortunately, the SS arrested him and he had my name written in his notebook.
"Therefore -- oh my -- the Holy See called me; His Excellency Bishop Hudal said to me, 'Tell me, why are the SS here to arrest you?
"'What did I do?'
"'You assisted a Russian spy.'
"'Me? How should I know? Who is he?' Then I fled.'"
The priest said that he had known Herbert Kappler, police chief of the Gestapo in Rome, who instigated the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 Italians were murdered, including many civilians and Jews.
He said, "After the massacre was carried out in March , I said to Kappler, whom I saw frequently, 'Why were the military chaplains not called to be present at the Fosse Ardeatine?'
"He replied, 'Because they would have been killed -- and they would have killed you as well.'"
Father Centioni and his testimony was discovered and analyzed, along with other testimonies, by the Pave the Way Foundation, which was founded by Gary Krupp, himself a Jew from New York.
An Italian lawyer, Daniele Costi, president of the foundation in her country, attested to the veracity of the interview.
The priest's narrative is further confirmed by the documentation accompanying an award given to him by the Polish government. As further corroboration of his testimony, Father Centioni cited expressions of gratitude he received from several Jews he aided, including some who were able to reach the United States with passports from the Vatican.
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On the Net:
Video Interview (in Italian): www.h2onews.org
Pave the Way Foundation: http://www.ptwf.org