Father Riccardo Fontana
Father Riccardo Fontana, an idealistic young Jesuit priest who opposes the Catholic church’s concordat with Adolf Hitler and who tries unsuccessfully to persuade the pope to speak out against the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Joining a group destined for Auschwitz, he becomes, in effect, the pope’s representative, or “deputy,” accepting for himself the morally correct role he believes the pope has abdicated.
Kurt Gerstein, an officer in the SS and member of the Protestant Confessing church. Gerstein is a devout Christian who attempts to destroy the Nazi system from within. As an SS officer, he has evidence that the Jews are being gassed in the concentration camps and, knowing the Nazis’ fear of the moral authority of the church, believes that intervention by the pope could stop the persecution.
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli (ew-JEH-nee-oh pah-CHEHL-lee), who is portrayed with grand gestures and aristocratic coolness. He is a symbol of the church as an institution. He does not protest the arrest of the Jews except in empty, diplomatic language and wishes the church to be an impartial mediator for Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The symbolic washing of hands reinforces his refusal to speak out against the mass killings.
The Doctor, an inhuman figure with a charming, likable manner. He sorts the Auschwitz prisoners into the ones who will work and the ones who will die immediately. His role is that of absolute evil, confronting Riccardo with doubts about the existence of God.
Count Fontana, a high-ranking lay adviser to the pope. As Riccardo’s father, he makes the personal confrontation between his son and the pope possible. He is valuable to the Vatican as...
(The entire section is 799 words.)