The Palestine Post, April 28, 1944; Page 6

A Papal Audience in Wartime

By “Refugee”

The author of this article arrived in this country in the refugee ship Nyassa.

It is on a sunny Wednesday morning in the autumn of 1941. An up-to-date Roman bus takes me from the center of the Eternal City to the Vatican. In the pocket of my dark suit I have a permit to enter the Palace of Vatican City for an audience with His Holiness Pope Pius XII.

As the bus crosses the Tiber, I can see the complex of Hadrian’s Tomb. A moment later we arrive at the huge square in front of St. Peter’s.

The portal di bronzo, leading to the Governmental Palace, is guarded by foot soldiers, who look like the lansquenets of some centuries ago. They are the Swiss Guards, and their multicolored uniforms and polished halberds and swords seem to be taken from a museum. An officer with a big moustache gives me the pass permit, the Guards take up their halberds and salute while I enter the Palace and mount a staircase. On the second floor a footman, in tight velvet trousers, shows me into a vestibule, where about 80 people are waiting. Among them are many German soldiers, in field uniform, their caps in their hands. For about an hour I stand around or pace the parquet floor among those warriors of Herr Hitler — probably on their way to Benghazi and Tripoli, anxious not to miss the chance of taking a papal blessing with them for further heroic deeds.

After some time we are led into another hall, its walls are decorated with oil paintings, antique engravings and maps. We then pass through a corridor into another anti-chamber, and, finally we stand before huge double doors ornamented with gold.

One of the Papal under-secretaries appears and gives us instructions about what to say to His Holiness and how to behave. Then one after the other, we are allowed to enter the richly furnished hall, where the Pope receives visitors.

I am the last one to enter, after the German soldiers. The Pope, sitting in a throne-like armchair, dressed in magnificent vestments, resembles some wise doctor, a good friend. His eyes shine in a friendly way through gold-rimmed glasses as each petitioner kneels to kiss the ring on the thin fingers of the Father’s right hand.

The Pope speaks to everybody — asking the soldiers in fluent German from which part of the Reich they come and whether they have a special wish. And he speaks so naturally and so simply that one cannot but feel his benevolent influence. Afterwards the Holy Father gives his benediction and hands over the petitions to his retinue: cardinals, bishops and other high dignitaries of Mother Church, officials of the Vatican Government, secretaries and diplomats. They stand respectfully in the background behind the audience chair, dressed in richly colored garments of mediaeval style.

At last it is my turn. I step forward, feeling very uneasy and shy. Then I kneel down on a velvet cushion, bow over the Papal hand, and breathe a kiss on the ring.
Then I look up and address him, stammering some Italian phrases.

But the Pope interrupts me;
”My son, you can speak your own language with me; you are German, too, aren’t you?”

”No, your Holiness, I was only born in Germany. But I am not a German any longer—I am a Jew.”

”So you are a Jew, what can I do for you? Tell me, my son!”

I begin to explain why I have come. I report about the shipwrecked Jewish refugees, saved by Italian warships in the Aegean Sea and now starving in a prisoner of war camp on one of the islands. The Pope listens carefully to my explanations of how to help these poor people either by taking them to Palestine or by bringing them back to Italy to avoid epidemics and further starvation. Then Pius XII says:

“You have done well to come to me and tell me this. I have heard about it before. Come back tomorrow with a written report and give it to the Secretary of State who is dealing with the question. But now for you, my son. You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always be proud to be a Jew!” And the Pope raises his voice that everybody in the hall can here it clearly, “My son, whether you are worthier than others only the Lord knows, but believe me, you are at least as worthy as every other human being that lives on our earth! And now, my Jewish friend, go with the protection of the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!”

After having pronounced these words in his pleasant voice, the Pope lifts his hands to give the usual benediction. But he stops, smiles and his wonderful fingers only touch my head. Then he lifts me from my kneeling position…..

I join the others by the wall, not caring for the expression on their faces. Have they heard it too?

Now the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, rises from his chair, spreads out his hands over us and speaks the general benediction. I bow my head.

Afterwards, after leaving the Palace, I walk alone across the piazza before St. Peters, back to the Tiber embankment. I sit down on a bench looking at the Eternal City, at Rome, her ruins and palaces, at the Capital on which the sun shines brightly from a Roman sky.

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