During World War II, after the Allied forces invaded Italy, Adolf Hitler schemed a secret plot against Venerable Pope Pius XII.
Hitler, concerned about the influence Pius XII could wield under Allied forces, gave one of his generals an order to occupy the Vatican and kidnap Pope Pius XII.
In the Fall of 1943, Hitler had ordered SS General Karl Wolff to carry out the mission — kidnap and take the Pope to Germany.
Wolff testified at the Nuremberg trials that Hitler had talked of seizing the pope in 1943, and discussed deeper details in 1972 in a written statement to Vatican officials weighing the case for setting Pope Pius on the road to sainthood.
“I do not want him to fall into the hands of the allies or to be under their political pressure and influence,” Hitler told Wolff, according to the report. ‘The Vatican is already a nest of spies and a center of anti-national socialist propaganda.”
Defying orders and risking his life and rank, General Wolff, wearing civilian clothes, secretly went to the Vatican for an audience with Pius XII, accompanied by Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer, superior general of the Salvatorian Fathers and alerted them of the plot and gave his assurance he would not carry out his orders.
Acting on this piece of intelligence, Father Giovanni Battista Montini – later to become Pope Paul VI – along with the director of the Vatican Museums, made plans to safeguard the Pope by hiding him in “The Tower of Winds” inside Vatican City, where allied troops would parachute and evacuate the Holy Father.
After the war, Pius XII was criticized for not speaking more openly against the Nazi regime and their atrocities, but documents revealed Pius XII’s secret plots and action to save Jewish lives. His efforts, including issuing fake documents and opening monasteries as places of hiding to Jews, are estimated to have saved tens-of-thousands of lives.
Pius XII was declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict in 2009 and his case for canonization remains open.