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The Neutrality of Vatican City during World War II Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2019


Second World War is one of the largest wars in the world’s history. The war was a global conflict that involved almost all parts of the world. It took place from the year 1939 to 1945. The major participants were the super powers, which had taken two main positions: the allies and the axis (Chen, 2006). The axis included Germany, Italy, and Japan while the allies were France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the Great Britain.

After 20 years of disagreement between the super powers because of the unsettled dispute left by World War I, participants decided to settle their hatred in another Great War, which led to the emergence of World War II. During the war, more than 40 million deaths were witnessed.

Other countries including Vatican City that were not involved in the war offered some voluntary aid in favor of the states they supported yet maintaining a neutral position. For instance, countries like Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland assisted in terms of humanitarian aid to the Great Britain.

Spain acted in favor of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Vatican City offered massive aid all through during World War II, but was neutral in the sense that it supported all the warring nations irrespective of their ideological inclinations. This paper aims at discussing how the latter state (Vatican City) played neutrality roles during the Second World War. The paper will also discuss how and why the city was neutral during the war.

Vatican City’s Neutrality in World War II

Vatican City was formed after signing of a treaty known as the Lateran Treaty. The Italian prime minister and the cardinal secretary of state signed the agreement in 1929. The treaty was a collection of agreements, which were referred to as Lateran pacts. It clearly and openly stated that the Vatican City had to stay neutral and was not to act as an intermediary except in case when parties agreed on the contrary through a pact (Chen, 2006, Para.1).

In the 1938, Italy enacted a law that forbade marriage between Jews and non-Jews. The Vatican City felt it was a breach of the Lateran Treaty since the two nations had agreed that the Catholic Church would decide solely on matters concerning marriage. In the same year (1939), Eugenio Pacelli became the leader of the Catholic Church. He was named Pius XII.

He came up with various policies to protect the Jews by making an agreement with the Brazilian president to give more than 2000 visas to permit non-Aryan Catholics to be set free thus evading persecution. Before World War II started, Pope Pius XII tried to make negotiations with the world’s super powers to keep the peace and not go into war. Early in 1939, he came up with a plan to keep the peace.

He even went ahead and announced it in public. Pope Pius XII was trying to make negotiations between the European super powers to stop the war. He tried to talk with one of the leaders known as Benito Mussolini and managed to set up a meeting. The proposed meeting did not accomplish anything in stopping the war. Pope Pius XII also attempted to have Poland agree with the action of separating Danzig Free City to Nazi Germany.

This action annoyed Polish Ambassador known as Kazimierz Papee (Danzig’s previous high commissioner). Therefore, he could not accept the plan. In August the same year, according to Katz (2003), Pope Pius XII stated, “the results of war are dangerous and are certain to happen but they can be prevented because there is time to stop it from happening since keeping peace loses nothing while war loses everything” (p.61).

Therefore, Pope Pius XII believed that war was not appropriate and that Vatican City ought to have remained neutral by engaging in the efforts to prevent escalation of the war threats. Such a measure was necessary to stop any loss of human life in both warring sides (axis and allies). Vatican City, through the leadership of Pope Pius XII, held this position amid several attempts to bomb the city with two of such attempts being successful.

Indeed, according to Katz (2003), Vatican was bombed during the second world war once by German and once by British (p.56). This case means that, although Vatican City found it necessary to maintain a neutral position, it was under threat from both warring sides in the effort to push it to incline to one side, either the allies or axis. Pope Pius XII went on hoping for peace to prevail to avoid conflicts although Poland had overrun.

Additionally, other countries and France were yet to be damaged by attacking them. Nations that took part in the Second World War pursued different stands in relation to issues that troubled different people in 1930s and early 1940s. For instance, Germany pursued racism with immense furry. The racist ideology was attributed to Nazi regime in which thousands of polish and Jewish people were murdered brutally or burned to death.

Pius retaliated that the Catholic’s position was that all people were equal irrespective of their racial backgrounds (Phayer, 2008). Therefore, Vatican City was opposed to the Nazis ideology that the Polish and Jewish people were inferior in comparison to the native Germans. In fact, in the verge of holocaust, Pius XII portrayed an immense dismay on the manner in which Poland was invaded by Germans.

He requested Vatican to remain resistant to all people who did not subscribe to ethical principles as implicitly expressed through revelation on Mount Sinai and/or through the Sermon on the Mountain. In 1942 and 1943, large number of Jews was moved into concentration camps. According to Craughwell (2008), through Pope Pius XII, Vatican City objected this endeavor claiming that it was an immense mechanism of denial of fundamental human rights.

The claim is both a religious and a political opinion of Pius on behalf of the Vatican City. It means that the city remained neutral during the second war in that it was not ready to pursue any form of racial discrimination. Such an effort amounted to total segregation of global humanity. Consequently, it is arguable that one of the reasons why Vatican remained neutral during the Second World War was to ensure that human rights were respected including the right to life.

In the World War II era, Pope Pius XII endeavored to ensure that Vatican City continued to be impartial through a careful selection of cardinals for engagements. The arrangements, which would have raised tensions and animosity towards certain groups of people especially the Jews, remained unoccupied until the World War II came to a halt.

Despite the moves made by the Pope Pius XII for the Vatican City to remain neutral in the World War II, the actions he made were seen as a great violation of stance. The extent of perception of violation of stance became even more pronounced when “a German apostolic administrator was appointed in May 1942 to lead the Catholic Church in Poland” (Craughwell, 2008, p.57).

This action not only caused disagreement during the war but also led to the creation of a serious quarrel besides spoiling the good relationship between Poland and the Vatican City. Consequently, in the late 1940s, the Vatican City never appointed an apostolic nuncio to head Poland. At the dawn of 1940s, Vatican newspaper spread the news about the war (Chen, 2006).

The newspaper, which was published by the Italian government, irritated the readers since they found no reports of weather forecasting. It had to be banned by the Italian government after receiving complaints that the reports in the newspaper assisted the British to plan for attacks on Italy. The Vatican City’s defensive force known as Swiss Guard was banned from involvement in politics.

Vatican City also remained neutral by ensuring that it did not denounce the practice of isolation of people based on their diversity differences embraced by the Nazi system. Pope Pius XII refused to make any public pronouncements that would end up being interpreted as taking sides with any country in the conflict. People who represented the US attempted to influence Pope Pius XII to comment on the paining issue in public domain.

However, the pope turned them down “saying that he could not talk of Nazi’s cruel and shocking actions without involving former Soviet Union practices” (Chen, 2006, Para. 9). The altitude towards these practices by the Vatican City could not be verified. This way, it was possible to display the neutrality of the Vatican City during the war.

Vatican City, which was located in Rome, was very dependent on it (Rome). Due to the Vatican City’s location, the allies bombed the capital city of Italy. It was not the allies’ intention to violate Vatican City’s neutrality by mistake. The allies spread a number of inaccurate information many times about Rome, which went beyond Vatican City borders.

Complaints of those actions that interfered with rights were filed. Later, in 1943, Italy changed sides, with Rome being invaded by the German troops, which were to cover Vatican City. Pope Pius XII declared that the government was to go to Portugal. If he were to be captured, the College of Cardinals would elect a new Pope. During the migration from Italy to Germany, most of war prisoners captured by the Italians were freed (Phayer, 2008).

They were heading to Vatican City since it was the closest neutral nation. The people of Vatican City were afraid of hosting the prisoners since they were a group of earlier allied fighters. By hosting them, it would definitely affect the nation’s neutrality. Defense forces allied to Vatican City attempted to curtail war criminals to get into the country.

However, some strong official Vatican people offered help to the prisoners of war who required assistance regardless of commitment to their nation. During this period, reporters said that more than a thousand Jews had been found hiding in the nation, including resident areas, for instance papal summer (Phayer, 2008).

In 1943, in the month of September, Germans residing in Rome demanded to be given 100 pounds of pure gold from the leader of Jewish local community. They required it to be delivered within one day and 12 hours or they would deport more than 250 Jews from the country. Jews could not reach up to the amount of the requested gold.

The Vatican treasury had to offer assistance in terms of raising the necessary amount of money to meet the demand of 100 pounds of pure gold. The money was immediately paid to the Germans. It prevented the 300 Jews from being captured and/or deported. However, it did not take long for the Jews to be captured since, within a month, more than 2000 Jews were detained and deported even after the effort made by the Vatican treasury to save them.

Despite the Vatican’s decision not to make a stance towards the deportation of Jews, Vatican City together with the Catholic Church were praised for the effort to save thousands of Jews in that period of disaster (Phayer, 2008). Adolf Eichmann, Nazi’s regime spokesperson, made a journal record claiming that despite the fact that Vatican City did not precisely portray a certified position in matters of capturing together with mass transfer of Jews, people allied to the Catholic Church objected the Nazi strategy of dealing with the Jewish question.

He also added that they were requesting that the action of arresting the Jews needed to be stopped. A year later, a German catholic and a priest named Joseph Miller, appeared to jeopardize the efforts of Pius XII. He was a conspirator for a war a plot. He attempted to plead with Pope Pius XII by trying to act in an intermediary manner by giving out details and information about how Germans were resisting Hitler.

Pope Pius XII, trying to keep his neutral stand, approached the British Ambassador named D’Arcy Osborne and told him that he knew about the resistance by Germany’s military members occupying the ranks though he refused to mention their names (Katz, 2003: Chen, 2006). Pope Pius XII also declined to offer his help to the British Ambassador since he did not want to involve himself in the whole scandal.

He was also protecting his nation’s neutrality. Two years later, in 1947, after the war ended, the signed Lateran treaty had stated that the Vatican City was a sovereign state. This announcement was included in the Italian Republic’s constitution.


The Second World War brought an immense suffering to people in nations that were engaged in the conflicts. As argued in the paper, the war was instigated by a number of factors. However, the single most important cause was the issue that remained unsolved after the First World War. Nations were divided into allies and axis. Each of the divisions pursued different ideologies such as different positions on issues of racism.

Although Vatican City was included in the war through several repeated attempts to bomb it, the city remained neutral. It never took the position of the allies or the axis because Vatican believed that the most successful mechanism of resolution of conflicts between different parties was through peaceful dialogue through the leadership of Pius XII.

This reason perhaps revealed well why Vatican City maintained its neutrality position even after it was attacked by people who were inclined to the allies’ ideologies on one occasion and persons inclined to the axis’ ideologies on yet another occasion. Indeed, the contribution of Pius XII in enhancing peaceful coexistence of all people irrespective of their demographical characteristics was highly praised after the end of Second World War.

Reference List

Chen, P. (2006). World War 2 Database: Vatican City. Retrieved from ww2db.com/country/vatican_city

Craughwell, T. (2008). The gentile holocaust and Catholic Culture. New York: Paulist Press.

Katz, R. (2003). The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943 – June 1944. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Phayer, M. (2008). Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

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