Historical Investigation to understand a troubling photograph

October 7, 2010

I have set up this page to facilitate an online collaborative investigation into the historical context of a photograph I discovered in the Harvard library while doing research for an unrelated World War II restitution case.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:41 am

The caption of the photograph reads: “An Archbishop Blesses the Swastika Banner.”

The subcaption reads: “Before the Cathedral of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Dr. Luis Copello blesses the swastika flag of the German pilgrim group, who had gone to the Eucharistic Congress in Argentina.  This ceremony was attended by the German Ambassador and the Argentine Foreign Minister.”

The photograph was published in the Nazis’ foremost antisemitic newspaper, Der Stürmer, in July 1935 (no. 29), when Hitler was preparing to decree the swastika banner the national flag of Germany.  Here is the full page view of Der Stürmer with Copello photograph.

An International Congress took place in Buenos Aires in October 1934.  Archbishop Copello was the host bishop.  The most prominent figure at the Eucharistic Congress was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, who later became Pope Pius XII.

Questions for investigation include (click on each question to follow link to investigation results to date):

1.  Did Der Stürmer, a notoriously vile propaganda vehicle, accurately present the ceremony, or could the Nazi editors have fabricated the photograph and the description of the ceremony?

2.  Are there “mitigating factors”?e.g., could this have been a lapse of judgment by Archbishop Copello, perhaps in the midst of blessing other flags at a large international event?

Oct. 23 addendum: Multiple reviewers have asked a question that points to a possible mitigating factor: Did people fully recognize the dangers of Nazi ideology in the early 1930s?  Answer

3. Who was Archbishop Copello and what was his record in Argentina?  Nov. 5 add: did he act independently?

4. What other photographs exist of swastikas with churches/clergy in the early to mid-1930s?

5.  What was the history of Nazi efforts to procure swastika-blessings in Germany, and how did the German bishops react to such efforts?

Oct. 17 addendum: A comment submitted by a historian (by email) states: It is “well known” that Catholics were blessing Nazi flags in Germany – also, Catholics voted disproportionately for Hitler and the Nazi partyHowever, evidence reviewed in this investigation runs directly contrary to this assertion.  Copello’s swastika-blessing broke a 12-year consistent policy of German bishops prohibiting blessings of swastikas.

6.  What value did the photograph have for the Nazis in 1934-1935?

7.  Was Copello’s swastika-blessing approved by higher authority?  Or disapproved?

8.  What church-state developments were taking place in Germany during the period 1934-1935 when the ceremony occurred and the photograph was published?

9.  While research to date indicates that no historian has ever mentioned this photograph or ceremony, are there any primary or secondary sources (most likely in Germany, possibly in Argentina) that mention it?

10. How, in the final analysis, does this evidence reflect on Eugenio Pacelli and the pope of the time, Pius XI?

Galebach Law Office may remove comments that are off-point or otherwise inappropriate.  Thank you for your interest and/or participation.

Stephen H. Galebach

October 7, 2010

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