SPIES IN THE VATICAN: Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust

David Alvarez, Author . Univ. of Kansas $34.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-7006-1214-7

A professor of politics at St. Mary's College of California and author of a study of WWII-era codes, Alvarez emphasizes diplomatic relations throughout much of this carefully considered blend of Vatican and intelligence history, though he does detail the careers of several spies and works in some cryptology. The opening chapter details the Vatican's cooperation with European monarchies against burgeoning revolutionary movements, as well as depicting the Italian police commissioner who spied on the pope for the Italian crown. The creation of an intelligence department in the Vatican by Umberto Benigni takes Alvarez to the beginnings of WWI, which found the nation courting Italy through the Vatican (Italy joined the Allies in mid-1915); the German spy Valente cuts a noteworthy figure here. After WWI, the Vatican covertly supported the Russian Orthodox Church against the newly founded Soviet Union. The Vatican's relations with Fascist Italy under Mussolini included the pope's support of anti-Nazi German resistance activities; Alvarez also recounts the activities of German agent Father Michael in staid tones. The best WWII story concerns Alexander Kurtna, a convert from the Russian Orthodox Church who studied at the Vatican and became a Soviet spy in 1940. As a double agent working for the Germans, Kurtna was arrested by the Italians, who thought he was only a Soviet agent, in 1942. Freed by the Germans in 1943, he worked for the Soviets while posing as a German agent in 1944, was arrested by the Italian government now allied with the Allies, released and ended up in a Soviet labor camp. The book's last section proposes that Allied governments knew of the Holocaust earlier than the Vatican did, a stance counter to most recent scholarship. While the title and subtitle indicate "trade book," most of the discussion builds on a footnoted case; casual readers will have to pick through to the few thrills. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/14/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-7006-2289-4
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