In 1986, when I had just started at the bookshop where I still work, I was given a book by a tall, amiable man in late middle age. He was the book’s author and he had just reprinted it himself. He imagined I might be interested.
Branko Bokun’s Spy in the Vatican begins, ‘In April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany and her allies. With the surrender, a new State of Croatia was formed. The Ustashi, a band of Catholic fanatics, backed by the clergy, decided to eliminate all non- Catholics in Croatia. Orthodox Jews, Serbs and Gypsies – men, women and children – were slaughtered in their thousands.’
Four months previously, aged 21, Bokun had been accepted into the Yugoslav Foreign Office. When his country was ‘obliterated’, he joined the Serbian Red Cross and was sent to Rome. Registering at the University of Rome ostensibly to study ‘Corporate Economy’ and the ‘Doctrine of Fascism’, his real mission was to present a file of Ustashi atrocities to the Vatican. As well as eye-witness accounts and photographs, the file included a statement from a Catholic priest: ‘Brethren, up to now we have worked for the Holy Roman Catholic Church with the cross and the missal. Now the moment has come to work with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. The more Serbs and Jews you succeed in eliminating, the more you will be raised in esteem in the heart of the Catholic Church.’ Since Ustashi policy depended on the Vatican’s power, surely Pope Pius XII had only to say that he did not condone it and the atrocities would stop?
One might assume that once our man had got the evidence into the right chap’s hands, the enlightened pontifical head would signal his disapproval. But shocking as the preamble is, what follows is even more so. A week after delivering his file to Monsignor Montini, an influential figure in the Vatican, Bokun was told by the Monsignor’s secretary that he ‘has had a word with the Croatian Ambassador wh
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