For nine months after the fall of Mussolini and the Italian armistice Rome was treated as an occupied city by the Germans.
We start at the point when the war came to Rome for the first time, with the first Allied bombing raids around the city. This was rapidly followed by the fall of Mussolini, the Italian armistice negotiations, and the very brief Italian attempt to defend Rome against their former German allies.
The bulk of the book looks at the period when Rome was under German occupation, which lasted for nine months from the short battle for the city in September 1943 to the Allied liberation in June 1944. We start with a look at the Gestapo, SS and other German organisations that set up in Rome after the occupation. This section should quickly dispel any idea that the German occupation was in some way half-hearted because Rome was at least officially still the capital of an allied power. This was a full scale Nazi occupation, complete with its Gestapo prisoners and torturers, secret police, networks of informers and all of the paraphernalia that we find in accounts of life in occupied Paris or Brussels.
Least there be any doubt, we then move onto the inevitable German assault on Rome’s Jewish community, which began with the typical shakedown, in which the Jews were convinced they could save themselves at least for a bit by giving in to a German demand for gold, followed within days by a roundup and deportation to the death camps. Fortunately the Germans weren’t as successful in Rome as in other areas, and about 80% of Rome’s Jewish population managed to stay in hiding until the Liberation.
Occupied Rome had some unusual features, the most obvious of which was the presence of the Vatican City. This was officially a neutral independent state, and the Germans respected that status. As a result of this, the city was the home of a series of diplomats from countries that were at war with the Germans and Italians, including a British ambassador, a representative of President Roosevelt and official representatives from many occupied countries.
Most of the rest of the book looks at the various intelligence networks operating in Rome, the efforts to help escaped POWs hide in and around the city and the increasingly effective partisan movements that constantly attacked the Germans. However this also provoked the Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 civilians were murdered in reprisal for an attack on an SS unit in Rome.
We do also get a fair amount of information on the life of normal Romans, most of whom suffered badly under German rule, which came with the normal restrictions on life (a ban on all bicycles for instance), but also because the occupation eventually led to a famine.
This is one of those books that really drags you into its world, complete with a cast of characters who recur throughout the text, ranging from the senior Germans to the Vatican priests who helped run the POW escape network. A highly recommended book on an unfamiliar part of the war.
1 – Bombing the Cradle of Christianity
2 – The Frantic Efforts to Leave the Axis
3 – The Former Allies Square Off
4 – War in a Museum – The Battle for Rome
5 – The Gestapo in Rome – Kappler, Espionage, and Sabotage
6 – First They Take the Jews
7 – The Vatican Nest of Spies
8 – Unexpected, but Welcome Help
9 – Allied POWs Seek Freedom
10 – Knocking on the Gates of Saint Peter’s
11 – Official Military Resistance
12 – Ciao Balla, Ciao – The Partigiani
13 – The Rome Escape Line
14 – Life under the Gestapo Boot – Raids, Roundups, Food, and Art
15 – An American Boy Scout OSS Spy in Rome
16 – A Stranded Whale
17 – No Roman Holiday
18 – The Order Has Been Carried Out
19 – The Roman Spring of 1944
20 – Prelude to Liberation
21 – At Long Last, Liberation
Author: Victor Failmezger