Anti-Pius XII Play "The Vicar" to Become a Film

Greek Director Is Adapting Discredited 1960s Work

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ROME, MAR. 2, 2001 ( The theater play that tried to discredit Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer is being made into a movie.

French-educated, Greek film director Constantin Costa Gavras, whose films include «Missing» and «Mad City,» has begun a film based on «The Vicar,» the play that tried to smear the wartime Pope.

The film´s French producer, Claude Berri, said that it is an adaptation of Rolf Hochhuth´s play. «It is the story of an SS official who reveals to the Pope what happens in concentration camps,» Berri told the press. «For the first time, we are going to speak about the Vatican´s role during the last war in a film.»

The premiere of Hochhuth´s play, «Der Stellvertreter,» was held Jan. 20, 1963, in Germany. The play, which lasted seven hours, was published in book form with a long appendix in which Hochhuth claimed that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi coward, and was only concerned with his investments in Germany.

Expert historians have debunked the text of «The Vicar,» on which the upcoming film is based.

As soon as Hochhuth´s work was presented, for example, Emilio Pinchas Lapide, Israel´s consul general in Milan, Italy, wrote indignantly: «It is a duty of conscience and recognition to contradict the falsehoods written by Hochhuth.»

Several experts, such as Antonio Gaspari, author of «The Jews, Pius XII, and the Black Legend» (Planeta, 1998), have demonstrated how, even before the appearance of «The Vicar,» the Pope enjoyed international recognition for his assistance to Jews, especially from important political and religious leaders in Israel. However, from 1963 on, «The Vicar» succeeded in creating a dismal picture of the Pontiff.

In his book «Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy» (London, 1967), Jeno Levai, invited as an expert in the process against Nazi Adolf Eichmann, severely criticized Hochhuth´s accusations.

The play was considered offensive, especially by Israel. On Sept. 25, 1963, Israel´s national theater Habima canceled a performance of «The Vicar.»

The work was promoted in communist countries, however. In Czechoslovakia, the government obliged theaters to show scenes from the play for a long time in all cities, to discredit the Catholic Church.

In another work, «Die Soldaten» (The Soldiers), Hochhuth accused Winston Churchill of the assassination of Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in an air accident near Gibraltar.

Hochhuth was certain that there were no survivors. However, all that he claimed was denied by the plane´s pilot, who survived the tragedy. The BBC and British press accused Hochhuth of distorting the truth to create publicity for his books.

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