Early in 2019, trains in and out of Paris were canceled and 2,000 people were evacuated from homes in the Porte de la Chapelle area after a thousand-pound bomb was found and detonated by police. It likely was dropped by the RAF in April 1944 as the British air force targeted Nazi-occupied Paris in advance of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Later last year, in the German city of Hanover, nearly 15,000 people were evacuated while sappers defused a 500-pound bomb discovered at a construction site. It was thought to have been dropped by the Allies at the end of World War II, when more than 2 million bombs were released over Germany, of which 10% to 20% never exploded.
The problem of unexploded ordnance is not just about literal bombs. A Thursday New York Times article, “German Automotive Giant Admits It Was a Nazi Accomplice,” was about the role of the large, Hanover-based German tire and auto parts maker Continental. That day, Continental issued a confessional study of its past, stating it had been “a pillar of the National Socialist armaments and war economy” that employed about 10,000 slave laborers, at least some of whom were worked to death.
After the war, Continental’s top manager escaped punishment and pursued a successful career. Fritz Könecke reinvented himself as a Nazi resister. Some Continental workers protested the obvious lie, yet Könecke, who died in 1979, became the CEO of Daimler. Its website, as the Times notes, “still praises Mr. Könecke for ‘foresight’ and credits him with building the company into one of Germany’s largest corporations.”
These, too, are the unexploded bombs with which Germans lived down to the present as the country strove to reinvent itself. And it is not only a problem for Germany, or France, which has its own checkered past during the German occupation, including collaboration in the death-sentence deportation of French Jews. There is also the Vatican. On Thursday, The Atlantic published an article by Brown University professor David Kertzer, following the March opening of the Holy See’s archives on the wartime pope, Pius XII.
The Church long maintained Pius did all he could to save lives during the war, even though he was silent as the Nazis deported Jews of Rome in 1943 – 1,023 of them – and sent them to Auschwitz (that 16 survived seems like a miracle). The Nazi ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst von Weiszàcker, boasted to Hitler that it was done under Pius’ “very windows.”
Newly revealed materials in the archives show that Pius consulted his expert on Jewish affairs, Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua, who provided a “thoroughly anti-Semitic document explaining why he thought the pope should not, in fact, speak out,” Kertzer told NPR for a story broadcast Saturday. Jews, Dell’Acqua told the pope, threaten a healthy Christian society. Where Dell’Acqua – who later became cardinal vicar of Rome, until his death in 1972 – got the idea the silent pope was presiding over a healthy Christian society in 1943 is another mystery, but we do now know that the Holocaust did not challenge the Church’s bigotry.
“The new discoveries provide ample grounds to believe that the full story of Pius XII and the Jews remains to be written,” Kertzer writes.
In T.S. Eliot’s long poem “The Waste Land,” written as Europe reckoned with the staggering deaths of World War I, the speaker asks his friend:
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?”
Seventy-five years after the downfall of the Nazis, there are still so awfully many corpses like bombs hidden in European gardens, promising anything but rebirth.