The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944
by Robert Katz
After 60 years, We Are Still Learning New Things About World War II
Reviewed by John Whiteclay Chambers
Sunday, September 21, 2003; Page BW06
In The Battle for Rome: The Germans, The Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 (Simon & Schuster, $28), Robert Katz supplies an extraordinarily detailed account of the nine-month German occupation of the Italian capital. Drawing on new material, he provides fresh insight into a complex saga of brutality, inefficiency, expediency and betrayal, leavened with occasional acts of moral courage and heroism. The book fully documents the Gestapo's atrocities in the Eternal City: its roundup and deportation to Auschwitz of more than a thousand of Rome's Jews in October 1943 and its massacre of 300 innocent Catholic and Jewish Romans in the Ardeatine Caves outside the city's walls in March 1944.
Katz uses his own interviews with German occupiers, Italian partisans and Vatican officials, plus new documents from the Vatican and Italian archives, and -- most dramatically -- American wartime intelligence intercepts of radio messages between Berlin and Rome, declassified by the CIA over the past three years. These decoded intercepts are startling. They reveal that Washington and London had advance notice of the planned roundup and removal of the Roman Jews. This information, had it not been suppressed at the time, might have been used to rescue the captives. The documents also provide an indisputable paper trail linking Adolf Hitler directly to this act of genocide. The führer personally confirmed the overruling and reprimanding of the German consul who protested against the plan to have the Jews of Rome seized, deported and "liquidated."
With his 1967 book Death in Rome, Katz emerged as one of the early critics of Pope Pius XII's policy of silence toward the Holocaust. Now armed with additional sources, Katz emphasizes divisions within the Vatican and assails its policy of silence as stemming from the pontiff himself. That policy applied, he indicates, even to the atrocities against Jews and Catholics in Rome itself. It was based not simply on an attempt to mediate between Germany and the West to stop communism; in the Roman case, the author argues, the policy of silence was fueled by a papal obsession with protecting by any means the physical integrity of Vatican City against potential threats by Nazis or communists. Katz insists these threats were less real than the Vatican imagined.
The Pity of War
In The Boys' Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945 (Modern Library, $19.95), Paul Fussell continues the attack on the heroic view of combat in World War II that he began in his 1989 book Wartime. Fussell, an iconoclastic literary critic who as a young lieutenant led a rifle platoon in Europe and was severely wounded, has never taken kindly to a genre he derides as "military romanticism."
Instead of the camaraderie, courage and respect emphasized by Stephen Ambrose and Tom Brokaw, Fussell focuses on the dark side of combat -- the absurdity, tragedy and horror. With considerable insight, he stresses the many costly foul-ups ("snafus"), the failures of training, communication and supply, the casualties from "friendly" as well as enemy fire, the desertion and self-inflicted wounds, and the meaning of the "deterioration" of units eroded by continuous service on the front lines.
In Wartime, Fussell largely ignored the moral justification for the war against the Nazi regime and was correctly criticized for it. In The Boys' Crusade, he includes seven pages on the concentration camps. But the thrust of this rather one-sided account remains the brutality and stupidity of warfare and the sacrifice of American youth in the campaign that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower exalted as the "Crusade in Europe."
McKay Jenkins's The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler's Europe (Random House, $25.95) traces this elite military unit from its origins among aristocratic and professional skiers in 1940 to its deployment and combat success against the Germans in the mountains of northeastern Italy in 1945. Jenkins provides an insightful tale of these army skiers and mountaineers, but the division's having spent most of the war (and the first half of the book) training in the United States hampers the narrative somewhat.
The action scenes in the second half are worth the wait, however. Jenkins uses oral histories of combatants to give the reader gripping accounts of the bloody but successful assaults on the heavily fortified Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains. In five days of heavy fighting in February 1945, the newly arrived troops of 10th Mountain Division scaled and captured the foreboding Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere. But the effort cost them a thousand casualties.
Spearheading the American offensive in Italy in the final four months of the war, the division pushed the enemy out of their mountain fortifications, effectively destroying five full German divisions. The cost again was high. Nearly 5,000 of the division's soldiers were killed or wounded (among the severely wounded was a young replacement lieutenant from Kansas named Bob Dole). Disbanded after the war, the 10th Mountain Division was reactivated in 1985 and deployed most recently in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud's A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II (Knopf, $27.95) begins as an exciting story of a group of heroic Polish fighter pilots fighting for England after their own country fell to Hitler in 1939. Named after a Polish patriot who fought in the American Revolution, the squadron chalked up twice as many kills as any other RAF unit, its skilled and daredevil pilots swooping their Hawker Hurricanes directly at the bombers and fighters of the Luftwaffe. In their enthusiasm, the authors overreach by crediting this single squadron with making the difference between victory and defeat in the 1940 Battle of Britain.
This is indeed a tale of heroism, camaraderie and glory. The dashing, gallant, impetuous Poles became the darlings of British high society and were lionized by the press in Britain and America. The authors vividly recreate the airmen's daily bouts with death and nights of partying, their lost lives and loves, and their frustrations with English fastidiousness and idiosyncrasies -- everything in the British planes seemed to be the opposite of where it was in Poland. (Because none of the fliers remains alive, this husband-and-wife team interviewed the pilots' children to augment written sources.)
Olson and Cloud dilute their otherwise fascinating account of the Kosciuszko Squadron by devoting the second half of this lengthy book to a history of Poland in World War II. The result is an unwieldy and ultimately unsatisfactory effort to meld two different stories. The long recapitulation of the generally well-known wartime history of Poland overwhelms the fresh material about the aviators.
In addition, this retelling of the Polish national saga has some rather peculiar aspects. The emphasis is on non-Jewish Poles; references to anti-Semitism or the Holocaust are minimal. The authors have chosen to stress Polish individualism, nationalism and resistance to Nazism and communism on the one hand and the manipulation and betrayal of Poland by other major powers on the other. In their lengthy and rather polemical account of Allied diplomacy, the authors vigorously (and rather simplistically) condemn President Franklin Roosevelt for "betraying" Poland to the Soviet Union.
As these four books illustrate in such different ways, the many disparate aspects of the epochal conflict of 1939-45 can be re-examined through new perspectives and newly obtained sources, from previously classified documents about decision-making to fresh oral histories of ordinary people living in that extraordinary time.
World War II was a defining moment in the 20th century. It was a time of enormous challenge and also of great hope for a better world at home and abroad. Is it any wonder that it continues to be so fascinating today? •
John Whiteclay Chambers II teaches history at Rutgers University and is editor-in-chief of "The Oxford Companion to American Military History."
By CARLO D'ESTE
THE BATTLE FOR
The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944.
By Robert Katz.
Illustrated. 418 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $28.
After Benito Mussolini was deposed in July 1943, the new Italian government headed by Marshal Pietro Badoglio began secret surrender negotiations with the Allies. In mid-August, hoping to spare Rome from destruction, the new government declared it an ''open city'' -- in effect, a demilitarized zone free from military activity by the warring antagonists.
The announcement of a general armistice was broadcast by Eisenhower on Sept. 8, and the Allied invasions at Salerno and Taranto on Sept. 9 marked the opening shots of the Italian campaign, the longest and costliest battles fought in the West during World War II. By invading Italy the Allies hoped to compel Hitler to maintain a large concentration of German divisions there instead of shifting them to northern France to help repel the forthcoming cross-Channel assault in 1944.
Both sides coveted Rome. Churchill was insistent that Rome fall by the end of 1943, and pressed Eisenhower and the Allied ground commander in chief in Italy, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, to bring it about. Although Rome's military importance was primarily its airfields and vast road and rail network, it was a political and psychological prize beyond compare. Its capture would signal that Berlin, already under round-the-clock attack by British and American bombers, was next.
A stunned and infuriated Hitler vowed draconian retribution for what he deemed Italy's perfidious betrayal. As German reinforcements poured into Italy, Hitler's onetime ally became an enemy against whom a series of brutal reprisals was carried out. The notion that Rome was an open city lasted less than a month, as German jackboots echoed in its streets and Allied bombs again began falling.
However, Rome did not fall to the Allies in 1943. Instead, Salerno became the first of a series of grinding battles of attrition fought mostly along the spine of Italy against a skilful enemy. By the end of 1943 the Allies were mired in a deadly stalemate around Cassino, and the liberation of Rome seemed a fantasy.
In October 1943, the Germans shipped more than 1,000 members of Rome's Jewish community to Auschwitz, where more than 800 perished. When Italian partisans began guerrilla operations against the Germans on the streets of Rome, the once distant war suddenly came to the heart of one of civilization's oldest and most beautiful cities.
Thrust into this volatile mix were Pope Pius XII and the Vatican. Alarmed to the point of obsession by what he believed was the threat posed by the Soviet Union, Pius XII was intent on preserving the status quo of the Vatican State and preventing the spread of Communism, an evil he deemed even worse than Nazism. As German outrages continued, some of them within sight of the Vatican, there was no condemnation or protest from the pope, only silence.
So began the fierce battle for Rome, the subject of Robert Katz's gripping new book. Drawing on a wealth of interviews with participants and the recent release of previously secret documents from Italian, German, Vatican, O.S.S. and C.I.A. archives, Katz relates the tragic story of a great city held hostage to the fortunes of war and the contradictory designs of four mismatched parties. There were the Allies, ''trying to capture Rome as their first shining prize of war but discovering impregnable opposition''; the Germans, whose aim was to push back the Allies while holding Rome as a staging ground to resupply their front lines; the Vatican, ''trying to bring the West and the Germans to terms to save the world from 'Communism' and to save Rome and Vatican City from physical destruction''; and, finally, the diverse resistance groups of the left and right, whose common goal was to make life hell for the Germans.
The nine months between the German occupation in September 1943 and the city's liberation in June 1944 form the core of ''The Battle for Rome.'' At the book's center is Pius XII, whose inaction and failure to condemn German atrocities, particularly the massacre of 335 innocent Italians in the Ardeatine Caves in March 1944 -- a deadly German reprisal for a highly successful partisan attack on a column of SS police -- remain an object of fierce controversy to this day.
Katz, the author of several books on Italy and other subjects, skilfully weaves into his narrative the experiences of a large, fascinating cast of characters -- ordinary Roman citizens, informants, craven opportunists, spies and double agents, and some Germans who risked death in an effort to save Rome's Jews. During those terrible months Rome became a hotbed of murder, intrigue, betrayal and the bravery of resistance fighters who were relentlessly hunted by the Gestapo.
The unseemly race between British and American forces to be the first to reach Rome was the culmination of a series of blunders by the Allies, including a disastrous setback on the Rapido River, and at Anzio, where they were nearly thrown back into the sea. It was no small irony that a mere two days after headlines announced the fall of Rome on June 4, 1944, the D-Day landings in Normandy completely overshadowed the city's liberation.
In an addendum, Katz recounts his decade of legal troubles with an unforgiving Vatican and the heirs of Pius XII for having asserted in his 1967 book, ''Death in Rome,'' and in his screenplay for a subsequent film based on the book, that the pope had known in advance of the massacre of the Ardeatine Caves but had remained silent and failed to intervene with the Germans. In 1974, the first of five penal proceedings against Katz and two co-defendants was initiated and resulted in guilty verdicts and jail sentences. After numerous appeals and retrials, Italy's Supreme Court eventually dismissed the case.
Undeterred by his earlier legal entanglements, Katz draws on persuasive new evidence in ''The Battle for Rome'' to condemn unequivocally the ''Faustian pact'' between the Vatican and the Germans, in which the pope remained silent throughout ''the whole range of Nazi and Fascist brutality in Rome.'' His book is a poignant, dramatic and definitive account of a tragic time, and it is likely to reopen the longstanding controversy over the role of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII during World War II.
Carlo D'Este is the author of ''Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life'' and ''Patton: A Genius for War.''
January 5, 2004
Vol. 190 No. 1
Occupied in Terror
In September 1943, after the downfall of Mussolini and the occupation of Italy by the Germans, the Allies landed forces at Salerno, 160 miles south of Rome, opening the attack on Hitler’s Fortress Europe. In Rome, everyone, the Germans included, expected the Allied forces to be in the city within a month. Instead, because of poor military planning and the continued demand for troops for the invasion of France, Rome was not in Allied hands until June 1944, nine months later.
During those nine months under German control, Romans lived in fear and terror. The Germans deported over 1,000 Roman Jews to Auschwitz and massacred 335 hostages in the Ardeatine Caves in reprisal for a partisan attack that killed 32 German soldiers. They subjected hundreds of Romans to the misery of torture and death for conspiring against the German occupation forces. And the German occupation led to the most important charge against Pope Pius XII, that he failed to protect the Roman Jews, a charge that became the basis for Rolf Hochhuth’s play, “The Deputy,” which started the controversy over Pius and the Holocaust.
Robert Katz has written extensively on these topics before, and The Battle for Rome is a reprise of his earlier books, Black Sabbath and Death in Rome, both written in the 1960’s and now fleshed out with recently declassified O.S.S. documents, but not changed in basic interpretation. It is a well-written and extensively documented narrative. Katz interviewed many of the participants after the war, including Germans in prison. The book deals with the occupation of Rome by the Germans, the partisan activity against them, the plans and problems of the Allied armies advancing on Rome, the daily lives of Romans and the response of the pope and the Vatican to these events.
The key questions Katz poses deal with the responsibility of the various German officials (diplomats, military and S.S.) and Italian Fascists for the terror, the responsibility of the partisans for contributing to the terror by their attacks and the responsibility of the pope for not condemning the German terror. He discusses only briefly the problems of the Allied armies and their commanders and leaders and their disputes over which resistance group to support and which military plan would be the most successful.
The German diplomats come off the best, the S.S. commanders the worst, along with Field Marshal Kesselring, as responsible for the terror. Few were given the punishment they deserved after the war. As for the partisans, they are clearly Katz’s heroes and heroines, although it was their attack on German troops in the Via Rassela that led the Germans to exact the reprisal of 10 hostages killed for each German in that attack.
But it is the pope who comes in for the greatest criticism (after the sadistic German and Fascist torturers). Katz argues that the pope did not vociferously protest the roundup of the Roman Jews in October 1943, which is true; but the pope did instruct his secretary of state to protest to the German ambassador, believing that the threat of a protest would be more effective than a protest itself. Katz further argues that Pius knew about the German plan to execute the hostages in the Via Rassela reprisal, which came to be known as the Ardeatine Caves massacre, and that he failed to warn the Romans or to criticize the Germans strongly after the massacre occurred. In fact, the hostages had already been selected by the time the pope learned of the threatened reprisals, which was only five hours before they began; he had no way of knowing that they would take place so soon.
As an explanation for Pius’s behavior, Katz brings out the old canard that Pius “was convinced that Stalin’s Russia was a greater evil than Hitler’s Germany,” an argument that is a misleading interpretation of Pius’s desire for an anti-Nazi government in Germany to prevent the expansion of Soviet Communism into western Europe. Katz further argues that Pius supported the German occupying forces because he feared that the Communist-dominated Italian resistance would take over Italy when the Germans departed, and that partisan activity simply hurt the Romans (witness the reprisals). Above all, he feared for the destruction of Rome and all its monuments. These are sound arguments, but they belie the situation in which Pius found himself.
The pope was in an unenviable position. He did not want the civil chaos that would damage Rome and the church, and the German occupation was guaranteeing order; at the same time, he did not want to give the appearance of approving German actions that would keep order in the city. Further, he feared that if the Communist-dominated resistance took over control of Rome, it would attack the church. As for his foreknowledge of the roundup of the Roman Jews and the Ardeatine Caves massacre, these are contentious issues in the controversy that depend upon a careful contextual reading of the documents and ultimately on the historian’s point of view.
Katz’s anti-Pius stance (in which everything good that Pius did, such as his ordering of food relief, is seen as “Vatican-directed,” while everything bad that happened is seen as “Pius-directed”—and in no controversial event is the pope given the benefit of the doubt) is probably intensified by the fact that in 1974 Katz was prosecuted in Rome on libel charges brought by the pope’s niece. She alleged that his book Death in Rome (1967), charging Pius’s complicity in the Ardeatine Caves massacre, was “defaming the memory” of the pope. Found guilty and sentenced to prison, he worked through appeals that finally “dismissed the case entirely on the grounds of an amnesty dating back to 1970,” he says.
The controversy over Pius and the Holocaust continues to shed more heat than light. The Italian historian Andrea Riccardi said it best: the root of the controversy “is not so much the facts as the criteria by which Pius is to be judged, which are not the same for the critics and the defenders of the pope. The former often demand of him a heroically prophetic stance that takes little account of the consequences or of the historical reality of his situation, whereas the latter sometimes seem in principle unwilling to admit any serious missteps.” José M. Sanchez
José M. Sanchez is a professor of history at Saint Louis University, Mo
The Washington Times
THE BATTLE FOR ROME
Simon & Schuster, $28, 418 pages, illus.
REVIEWED BY PETER BRIDGES
The Allied campaign to take Italy in World War II has had less attention in recent years than the 1944 Normandy invasion or the great naval battles in the Pacific, although the Italian campaign was interesting — and difficult, and bloody, after the relatively easy conquest of Sicily and the lower part of the Italian boot.
Chester Carrs' 1948 history "From Salerno to the Alps" reported that in the less than two years between the Allied landing at Salerno, south of Naples, in September 1943 and the final German defeat at the edge of the Alps in April 1945, there had been 189,000 Allied casualties, well over half of them Americans. These included two badly wounded young lieutenants who would later serve in the U.S. Senate, Robert Dole and Daniel Inouye.
Dead and missing Americans totaled 29,000 in those 29 months, or half the American losses during more than a decade of fighting in Vietnam. As Martin Blumenson wrote in the U.S. Army's 1969 official history "Salerno to Cassino," the Italian campaign "would develop into one of the most bitter military actions of World War II."
The latest of several books on modern Italy by Robert Katz, "The Battle for Rome," focuses on events inside the Eternal City in 1943-44, as the fighting moved slowly north toward Rome. There had been a great debate among Allied strategists over what to do in the Mediterranean, after the eventually successful Allied campaign in North Africa that began in November 1942.
Beyond Sicily, where the Allies landed in July 1943, the Americans favored taking Sardinia and Corsica and invading southern France, as a diversionary measure when the main effort was to be a cross-Channel attack from England; it seemed unlikely that a march up the Italian peninsula, after taking Sicily, would knock out Italy as a belligerent. The British wanted a focus farther east, on the Balkans and Greece and Turkey, but could also imagine Allied landings quite far up the Italian peninsula, to capture not just Naples but Rome.
Unexpectedly, Mussolini was voted down in late July 1943 by his own Fascist Grand Council, and was interned by order of the little King,Vittorio Emanuele III, whom the pompous Duce had scorned earlier. The new Italian government announced that Italy was leaving the war. The Allies crossed from Sicily onto the toe of the Italian boot, and began to move north. Rome, until now one of the three Axis capitals, was a main target. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized an air drop by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to secure Rome. The deputy commander of the 82nd, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor (later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), went secretly into Rome to see the new prime minister, Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The drop might have worked, but Badoglio said it was too late — and soon fled south with his king.
The Germans had managed to move 60,000 soldiers from Sicily to mainland Italy in a sort of smaller Dunkirk, and other German divisions began to come down from the north. The Allies encountered increasing difficulties on their way north overland toward Rome. Their German opponent was an able commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.
In September 1943, the U.S. Fifth Army broke out from the German encirclement of its Salerno beachhead. Two weeks later the Allies took Naples, 100 miles south of Rome, but then were stopped for months by the Germans Gustav Line. This stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea inland across the Apennines, low but steep mountains that today's savvy hikers avoid in winter—a choice the Allies did not have in 1943. A young Canadian officer, Farley Mowat, wrote years later of the grim winter of 1943-44 in his "No Birds Sang."
In January 1944 the Allies made a second landing, at Anzio, only 40 miles south of Rome — and found they were unopposed — and might conceivably have taken Rome but for the caution of the American commander, Maj. Gen. John Lucas, who as Mr. Katz says, "having seized brilliantly, kept on securing."
Meanwhile, as Mr. Katz tells us in fascinating detail, much was happening inside Rome. His account focuses on two well-bred young Romans, Carla Capponi and Rosario Bentivegna, who became key members of the anti-Fascist, anti-German Resistance. Another key player is Peter Tompkins, an American who had spent his childhood in Rome and now returned secretly as an OSS officer. Still another is Pope Pius XII.
Robert Katz has no liking for Pius XII. He was sued years ago by members of the late pope's family, after writing that Pius XII had done nothing on learning that the Germans intended to take horrendous reprisals for a Resistance attack in Rome that killed 30 SS men. But Mr. Katz (who won the court case) is only one of many writers who have criticized the wartime pope. British historian Piers Brendon said that the fact that Pius XII never, throughout the war, directly referred to the fate of Europe's Jews was "the greatest sin of omission ever perpetrated by a successor of St. Peter."
In his new book Mr. Katz brings out more evidence that, as he puts it, " . . . reveals a pope of many silences with many variations." Among the Papal silences was the one before SS deportation to Auschwitz of over 1,000 Roman Jews. The relationship between the Vatican and Rome's German occupiers was, Mr. Katz says, a Faustian pact. The author however makes clear that some of Rome's Jewish leaders, and indeed many members of the Jewish community, simply could not believe that they would suffer at German hands, and remained in the Ghetto until the Germans shipped them to Auschwitz. Mr. Katz also documents the attempt of some senior German officials in Rome to forestall the deportation.
Mr. Katz reports that in recent years Pope John Paul II intended to beatify his predecessor Pius XII, but because of the outcry against Pius XII beatified instead "the nineteenth-century tyrannical anti-Semite Pius IX." Mr. Katz might have said a little more about Pius IX, who was not outstanding for anti-Semitism in a society that then and later discriminated against Jews. What distinguishes Pius IX is that just before his temporal reign ended when troops of the Kingdom of Italy occupied Rome in 1870, the pontiff fortified his spiritual reign through the Vatican Council that decreed Papal infallibility.
One of Mr. Katz's heroes is a young member of the Rome Resistance named Franco Malfatti, who worked closely with the OSS and had fought earlier in the Spanish Civil War and in the French underground. This reviewer had the honor of knowing Malfatti four decades later, when he was the Secretary General of the Italian Foreign Ministry and still a good friend of Americans.
Robert Katz has written a well documented book about a wide range of people under war's pressures — including a German diplomat with a penchant for saving Jews; a middle-aged Resistance leader, Sandro Pertini, who later, at the age of 81, would become Italy's much admired president; a number of brave men who were cruelly tortured by Rome's occupiers; and Rome's populace as a whole, who were nearing starvation before the Allies liberated the capital in June 1944.
Forty years afterward, Rome's liberation anniversary was marked by a 1984 ceremony attended by Italy's top leaders as well as by American veterans including Sen. Robert Dole, Gen. John Vessey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had won a battlefield commission at Anzio, and that beloved battlefield cartoonist Bill Mauldin, whose Stars and Stripes had taken over Rome's main newspaper from the previous Fascist management. As we near the 60th anniversary, there are relatively few survivors of the drama and tragedy that was played out in wartime Rome. We are fortunate that Mr. Katz interviewed 18 of the key players over the last several decades. Their testimony helps make his book both eloquent and moving.
Peter Bridges served twice in the American Embassy in Rome. His first book, "Safirka: An American Envoy," recounted his experiences there and as Ambassador to Somalia.
Apr. 1, 2004 9:32
Turning the other cheek
By SHMULEY BOTEACH
The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope,
September 1943-June 1944
By Robert Katz Simon & Schuster 448pp. $28
I had always heard of the moral cowardice of pope Pius XII in World War II, who never once summoned the courage to condemn the Holocaust. Indeed, I have read extensively on the arguments for and against his position by his supporters and detractors and personally concluded, in various essays, that there was absolutely no moral justification whatsoever for his silence. Indeed, the inability of Pius XII to speak out against the destruction of European Jewry constitutes, perhaps, the foremost moral omission of all time.
Outstanding books like Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell have focused on this crime in great detail. But what Robert Katz, in his engaging, and highly readable new book on the German occupation of Rome brings to the table is context.
To be sure, the book does not focus exclusively on Pius XII, but he is the star of the show. Katz convincingly demonstrates that that Pius's failure, far from being merely a product of a personal prejudice against the Jews, as Cornwell documents, was indicative of a far wider and more serious flaw: an almost callous indifference to the value of human life in favor of papal authority and the preservation of Church property. While never saying so explicitly, Katz's portrait of Pius XII is that of a moral coward with deep fascist tendencies.
There is ample evidence in the book for Pius, an autocrat who told the Roman curia repeatedly that their job was not to give him advice but to follow his orders, as a virtual collaborator with the Nazi government in their occupation of Rome. For instance, although the German government repeatedly violated the Open City policy that both they and the Allies had committed themselves to, Pius never once objected the presence of German military units in the city. Later, when the Americans entered Rome and posted a single tank near the Bernini colonnades, Pius, according to Monsignor Giovannetti, telephoned the Vatican secretariat three times to have the tank removed. Evidently, the site of hundreds of German tanks over the previous nine months never elicited a protest.
When the Nazis committed the heinous war crime of executing 335 Roman citizens, many of them Jews but most of them Catholic, in reprisal for a partisan attack against Nazi troops, Pius was implored to publicly protest and protect his personal flock. Amazingly, even then he said absolutely nothing. It seems that neither the love of God nor the love of his fellow man could ever move Pius to distance himself from the Nazis.
He even granted a secret audience to Supreme SS Polizeif hrer Wolff, who had served Himmler as chief of staff and was then serving as the chief of the entire persecution apparatus in occupied Italy. That Pius realized he was doing something that others would regard as scandalous and immoral is attested to the fact that the meeting took place in great confidence, and Wolff came dressed in disguise. Years later, Wolff had this to say about the meeting: "From the Pope's own words I could sense the sincerity of his sympathy and how much he loved the German people."
All this is sickening enough. But the coup de grace, of course, was how Pius XII, who spent most of the war years trying desperately to protect the monuments and churches of Rome and condemned the Allies for bombing the Eternal City, watched quite literally as the Germans, on October 16, 1943, rounded up more than 1,000 Jews of Rome, nearly all of whom would perish by gas a few days later at Auschwitz. A special SS contingent had been brought in, and since many of them had never seen the great city, used the roundup of the Jews as a partial tourist excursion. This brought them to St. Peter's Square, where many of the trucks actually parked, not more than 100 meters from Pius's window. Even as the Jews were herded aboard cattle trains and taken to their death, Pius dared not upset the Germans by offering any kind of protest. His strict policy of neutrality was upheld as the Jews of his diocese were turned into ash.
Katz does a masterful job of weaving together disparate themes in this highly informative work. Here we discover the brave Italian partisans who fought a ferocious battle to take back their city from the Germans; the bravery of the Allied troops, as they fought their way north from Anzio to capture their first Axis capital, and the courage of the ordinary citizens of Rome who risked their lives to hide Jews and other undesirables. The personalities of Mark Clark, American commander of the Fifth Army who ultimately took Rome just one day before D-Day, as well as the German commander Field Marshal Kesselring, are brought substantially to life.
But through all this, it remains the tragic and corrupt figure of Pius XII that is most remembered. In the autumn of 1943 the Germans had occupied a city that contained within it the leader of the largest religious group on earth, whose followers revered him as a man who was "infallible." Still, through all the suffering of the people of Rome endured, all Pius could think of was protecting his cherished buildings.
As the British and American armies geared up for a massive offensive in the spring of 1944 to finally capture Rome, Pius advised his American bishops to launch public-relations offensives in the United States to pressure the Roosevelt government not to jeopardize the sacred monuments of the city. Yet even amid their efforts, a poll conducted at the time reported that three quarters of Americans believed that no buildings should be spared if bombing them was a military necessity. With so many millions dying in the wake of the Nazi onslaught, the average American understood what the pope did not, namely, that human life is more valuable than bricks and mortar.
Katz's book is an important and timely read as Pope John Paul II, a truly saintly man is considering beatifying Pius XII. For all his white robes, Pius was a dark soul who shall forever be remembered for the high crime of indifference and silence in the face of evil.
The author of 14 books and several international best-sellers, Rabbi Shmuley
Boteach's latest book is The Private Adam: Becoming a Hero in a Selfish Age.
THE ITALIAN VOICE
Notes on Pope Pius XII and the Media
The Italian Voice, 21-8-2003;
Robert Katz's new book, The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, The
Partisans, and the Pope (Simon and Schuster; New York, 2003), is an "updated"
version of his two previous books: Death in Rome (1967) on the March 24, 1944
Ardeatine Caves massacre, and Black Sabbath (1969) on the Nazi round-up of
Rome's Jews on October 16, 1943. Both books defame Pope Pius XII.
Why do Catholics ignore the unscrupulous manipulations of the truth? Do Catholics lack courage to fight for justice? Some Catholics tolerate a sustained campaign of denigration of Pope Pius XII. This was not the case for one Catholic woman, Marchesina Elena Rossignani Pacelli, daughter of the Pope's sister, Elisabetta, who publicly came to his defense. Alone she instituted a calumny suit.
In July 1957, Elena Rossignani invited me to an audience in St. Peter's Basilica and introduced me to her uncle, Pope Pius XII. Forty years later, in my book Yours Is a Precious Witness. - Memoirs of Jews and Italians in Wartime Italy (Paulist Press, 1997), I wrote about the lawsuit she initiated against Carlo Ponti, producer of the film Massacre in Rome, based on the book Death in Rome by Robert Katz. The author's contempt for the facts, in order to permit a more sensational story, is obvious. Both the book and the film contain historical inaccuracies.
On March 23, 1944, a group of Roman residents, mostly GAP (Gruppo Azione Patriottica) extremists identified with the Communist party, set off a bomb which blew 33 members of the German police (Tyroleans with guard duties) to bits as they passed through Via Rasella. Hitler demanded revenge and ordered the immediate execution, within 24 hours, of ten prisoners for every soldier killed. Herbert Kappler, the SS police chief, added five extra victims to the number. Within hours, 335 prisoners were led to the catacombs on the outskirts of Rome and shot, - in groups of five. The massacre took place in complete secrecy.
However, a group of Salesian seminarians followed a half-hidden red cord, and investigated the Ardeatine Caves where they had seen German soldiers several days earlier. They climbed a ladder and looked through a small opening on the top of the cave. They were shocked to see dozens of dead bodies on top of each other. Among them was Don Pappagallo, a priest who had accompanied the prisoners and died with them.
Everyone knew that Hitler would avenge the death of German soldiers. Plus XII
sent Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer, the superior general of the Salvatorian Fathers,
on March 24, 1944 to obtain the release of the prisoners. His inquiries at the
German military headquarters met with rebuffs. Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo
chief of police, would not receive the Pope's "messenger." Later Kappler
testified during his trial that "Pope Pius XII was not aware of the Nazis' plans
before the massacre." Yet, the Pope is accused by Robert Katz as having had
knowledge of the Ardeatine Caves massacre of 335 innocent Italians by the SS.
Attorney Giorgio Angelozzi Gariboldi defended Elena Rossignani Pacelli on November 28, 1973. The Italian courts found Ponti, Katz, and the film director George Cosmatos guilty of calumny. They were sentenced on November 27, 1975. This was appealed, later reversed and, finally, the case ended February 7, 1981, in favor of Pope Pius XII. In 1983, the Italian Supreme Court confirmed the original sentence. Katz received a suspended jail sentence, a 400,000 Lire fine and court costs. Robert Katz claims that the Supreme Court of Cassation ultimately ruled in his favor by declaring the 1981 verdict against him as "annulled" due to the 1970 amnesty. But in the final 1983 verdict, Katz was forced to pay court costs. In both "La Civiltà Cattolica" and in "Columbia Magazine" (December 1983), historian Robert Graham, SJ, pointed out Robert Katz's errors, misrepresentations and falsifications. During the trial Katz used the alleged testimony of an SS officer in Rome, Eugene Dollmann. However, the court itself was transferred to Munich, where it heard Colonel Dollmann give the lie to the claims of Katz.
When summoned to the Tribunal, Father Graham suggested that testimony be requested of Eitel Friedrich Moellhausen, the German consul general living in Rome during the Nazi occupation. Moellhausen wrote that, in German circles, no mention was ever made about Plus XII having had knowledge of the Nazis' plans before reprisals were executed.
states in his book, Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War
(Cambridge University Press, 1986): "The Pope cannot have known that the
massacre was planned, for several high German officers in Rome did not know."
Today the smear campaign against the memory of Pope Pius XII dismisses not only the evidence produced at Nuremberg, but also the tribute's of both his contemporaries and posterity.
Rome today is centuries of history piled one atop another. Move about this eternal city, as they call it, and like it or not you roil the dust of time. Turn any corner, catch a play of amber light, listen not to the din that surrounds you but to what the stones have to say, and you've opened the pages of a robust tale.
On a shining spring day while writing this book, I walked down the Via Rasella. It is a short, narrow, and, considering how central it is, relatively quiet street. It descends from the Barberini Palace on a slope of the Quirinal, one of the seven hills of classical Rome. As an icon of a singular event of the 270-day German occupation of Rome during World War II, the Via Rasella has haunted three generations of Romans and has helped shape the very character of the present-day city. "When people hear me say that I live on Via Rasella," someone nearing sixty who is a lifelong resident said recently, "... they hear 'Via Rasella' and they say, 'Oh, where that thing happened ...' 'What thing?' I say - I make them say it first. 'You mean you live there and you don't know what happened?' they say. 'Oh, I know, all right,' I say, 'and where do you think my father is?'" The "thing" that happened in Via Rasella was an attack of unprecedented proportions carried out by the Roman Resistance against the occupation forces. It was a clash that led to Rome's Ardeatine Caves massacre, a pivotal episode in World War II in Italy. The Via Rasella is the place where the disparate worlds of nearly all the characters in this story collide.
I know the Via Rasella probably as well as any visitor, but I was drawn there again that day. I wanted to visit the street as one might call on an aging, lifelong friend. I feared it had suffered physically in all the refurbishing that took place prior to the Holy Year 2000. Rome, behind a seemingly endless screen of scaffolding, had scrubbed itself to the bone in preparation, sandblasting into oblivion the grime, in some cases, of two thousand years, bathing its incomparable beauty in a sea of sienna and ocher paint. It looked stunning when it came out for the Jubilee, but by now Romans were beginning to miss not the grime but the truth-telling texture of plain old wear and tear.
Decades earlier, I had written of the signs that were still visible twenty years after the Via Rasella attack - mostly bullet-riddled building facades. There were ugly pockmarks in the stucco, with no commemorative plaque or other indication of how they got there. That only added to the mystique when you discovered what they were and understood what they represented. Now well over a half-century had gone by, and though I had seen those bullet holes many times in the interim, I wondered how they had fared in the big spruce-up.
The nature of the street had changed considerably, even in my time. As Italy had grown to become one of the world's leading economic powers, Via Rasella, like all of Rome's centro storico, or "historic center," had gentrified. What used to be a block that housed families rich and poor, aristocrats shoulder to shoulder with the popolani, had become well-to-do, single, professional, chic. The first difference that caught my eye were the computer-generated notices slapped on the walls. "The residents of Via Rasella," the signs proclaimed with rather charmless sarcasm, "thank their kind dog owners for the expressions of thoughtfulness they leave on the street every day." The walls themselves were freshly painted and I despaired. But farther down the street, where the Via del Boccaccio intersects, a building that had escaped the ubiquitous makeover displayed the very same spray of bullet holes that I had first noticed so long before. Some days later I learned that permission for the owners of that building and others to fill and cover the holes had been denied by the Belle Arti, the fine-arts authority that looks after the permanence of the nation's historical treasures. Some owners cheated, I know, just as some Romans have long sought to still the voice of the Via Rasella, but on a few buildings that violence frozen in time was undisturbed. I was reassured. Ghosts never sleep.
It was the boldest and largest Resistance assault, unequaled by the Partisan movements in any other of the German-occupied European capitals. At 3:45 on the afternoon of March 23, 1944, a heavily armed column of 156 SS police marching through Rome was attacked in the Via Rasella by ten Partisans, nine men and one woman, most of them students in their twenties. The target, the 11th Company of the 3rd Bozen SS Battalion, was a new, anti-Partisan police formation. The Partisan strike force was made up of members of the central unit of GAP (Gruppi di Azione Patriottica, "Patriotic Action Groups"), the military arm of the clandestine Communist Party.
As the police column proceeded up the street, one of the Partisans, in the guise of a municipal street cleaner, lit the fuse of a homemade bomb concealed in his trash can and walked away. Some fifty seconds later, twenty-four men were blown apart in an earthshaking explosion. Other Partisans engaged the dazed rear guard with grenades and gunfire, and as nine more SS men, and two hapless civilians, lay dead or dying, they disappeared into the hideaways of the Roman underground.
Notified at his headquarters in East Prussia within minutes of the attack, Hitler shrieked for revenge, demanding a reprisal that would "make the world tremble." His bile alone set in motion a hastily assembled killing machine in Rome that would overcome even internal opposition from the occupiers themselves. The next day, 335 men and teenaged boys - a near-perfect cross section of the male half of Rome, not one of them even remotely connected to the attack - were seized from various parts of the city, trucked to an abandoned labyrinth of caves in Via Ardeatina, near the Christian catacombs of ancient Rome, and slain in groups of five. It was the first wartime atrocity and one of the worst perpetrated on Italian soil.
The Via Rasella attack had been timed to coincide with twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations of the founding of Fascism to signal that the end of the long nightmare was near. It was designed to represent a dramatic escalation of the Partisan movement's battle for Rome and to galvanize the population for a general uprising. But other powers in Rome had differing designs on the Eternal City. The Resistance was the bane not only of the occupiers but also of the Vatican and to some extent the Allies. None of them, like the Resistance itself, was free of dissension and intrigue. No one, with few exceptions, wished to harm Rome. Good intentions, to repeat the proverb, paved this hell.
The dramatic story of Rome under the German occupation (September 8, 1943-June 4, 1944) remains largely untold, particularly outside of Italy. No English-language work on the subject has appeared in the last twenty years, leaving untapped a wealth of significant primary material that has since become available. Between 2000 and 2002 the CIA released the so-called crown jewels of America's wartime intelligence - hundreds of thousands of long-classified documents of its predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The declassified diplomatic papers of the Vatican archives relating specifically to the occupation of Rome have barely been skimmed, likewise those of the Italian archives; similarly underreported - and entirely unpublished - is the mass of material generated in the mid-90s by the two Rome trials of former SS officer Erich Priebke, as well as documents from trials in the late 70s and 80s, including my own. Thus, earlier books about the occupation did not have the benefit of the now nearly complete and nuanced big picture.
Consider that big picture.
On the evening of September 8, 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the Mediterranean, went on the air and stunned the world, and Rome most of all, by announcing the signed capitulation of Italy - the first of the Axis powers to surrender unconditionally. What happened over the next few hours still astonishes more than half a century later:
For the Allies: Timed to Eisenhower's announcement was the launch of World War II's first full-scale invasion of the European mainland. Landings on the shores of Salerno, south of Naples - and later Anzio - initiated Churchill's "soft-underbelly" strategy of penetrating what would prove to be an imaginary weakness in Hitler's "Fortress Europe." They would lead to one of the bloodiest military campaigns in U.S. history, not to speak of the devastation of Italy. For the Germans: Hitler regarded the Italian defection - which had followed the arrest of Mussolini some weeks earlier - as an act of treachery that had to be punished draconically. His Supreme Commander in the south, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, was momentarily caught off guard, however, by the September 8 surrender, and began a tactical retreat from the capital. But when Kesselring learned that the Allied landings, which he had expected to take place just north of Rome, were actually happening 160 miles to the south, he made a lightning-quick decision to turn back and seize Rome. His task was greatly facilitated by one of the most craven acts in Italian history, the predawn flight from the capital by the King and his new government, abandoning the city and leaving no one in charge. Courageous but ragtag opposition to Kesselring's onslaught by the disoriented Italian army and some civilians was quickly crushed, leaving the Germans as the masters of Rome. But at the same time this opposition breathed life into a strategy whose time had come: armed resistance.
For the Vatican: Vatican City was ringed with Wehrmacht troops, its lifeline to the outside world dependent on Hitler's whim (part of which included a threat to kidnap the Pope). Until now Pope Pius XII had labored assiduously to be seen by both the Western Allies and Germany as an authentic neutral. In this way he hoped to spare Rome from the havoc of war and to play a decisive role as a peacemaker. He was convinced that Stalin's Russia was a greater evil than Hitler's Germany, and he had been hoping to broker a general rapprochement between the Western Allies and Germany to contain if not roll back godless Communism. Moreover, that strategy of "neutrality" lay behind his already controversial policy of silence in the face of the Holocaust. Now, in occupied Rome, the most crucial test of that silence was at hand. He had not protested the distant slaughter of Europe's Jews, but should the Nazis lay the terror at his front door, could he still ignore it? For the Italians: An ignoble war fought abroad that was nominally over was now about to come home with a vengeance. Rome would awake that morning of the first day to find itself a prisoner of the Third Reich. Yet the Allies were heading its way, and the vision of Rome as eternal, somehow shielded from the "excesses" the Germans had visited upon the other cities of Europe, seemed intact. Before long, however, that vision would shatter.
In the days leading up to Italy's surrender, the government that had deposed Mussolini had declared Rome an "Open City" - a demilitarized zone - thus hoping by this measure to preserve its countless wonders from the ruins of war. Reaffirmed but not respected by the German occupiers or the Allies, this Open City proclamation would from the outset be a sham. In a matter of weeks Rome would become a mockery of an open city, a city whose walls would shake under the roar of German military traffic to the front and the thunder of Allied bombs. It would swell to nearly twice its usual size, hosting, but ever more frugally, a million refugees from the countryside. Rome would be a city of spies, double agents, informers, torturers, fugitives, hunted Jews, and hungry people.
A resistance movement would arise in this atmosphere, only to become sundered by internal crises. The six anti-Fascist parties in Rome, awakened from a forced hibernation of twenty years, would form a timid, clandestine union, but only the new generation of young men and women, the Partisans, would prove capable of striking militarily against the German occupiers. They would create an armed, insurrectional threat within Rome, hoping to discourage the Germans from attempting to hold the city. The overriding danger - indeed, Hitler's plan should the Allies try to take Rome - was a fierce engagement in street-by-street combat. For a city with its nerves worn thin and desperately short on food, such warfare would bring calamity, ruin, and a tremendous loss of civilian lives. It could even mean the destruction of everything treasured and beautiful about Rome.
This Open City was thus a tinderbox of four conflicting parties, each incompatible with the others: the Allies, trying to capture Rome as their first shining prize of war but discovering impregnable opposition instead; the Germans, trying to throw the intruders back into the sea, holding Rome hostage and using it rapaciously as a staging ground and a supply line to the front; the Pope, trying to bring the West and the Germans to terms to save the world from "Communism" and to save Rome and Vatican City from physical destruction; and, finally, the Partisans, trying to redeem Italy's honor by making Rome untenable for the occupiers.
What a change this was from the start of that summer of 1943.