In the best tradition of Harrison Salisbury and Cornelius Ryan, novelist/historian Katz (Days of Wrath, 1980, etc.) captures a tumultuous nine months in Rome’s long history, with plenty of circumstantial detail and incidents involving many actors.
That short but bloody period followed the collapse of Mussolini’s regime and the dictator’s arrest, when Nazi forces declared martial law and seized control of the erstwhile ally’s territory. Katz begins his account with a renowned partisan attack on SS police forces within Rome in which dozens of Nazis died, representing a military feat “unequaled by the partisan movements in any other of the German-occupied European capitals.” The assault in the Via Rasella led to swift reprisals: the massacre of Roman men and boys in the long-abandoned catacombs outside the city, accelerated efforts to deport and destroy the city’s Jews. It also emphasized the sharp divisions that obtained among the Romans vis-à-vis the Communist-dominated resistance—divisions that were particularly pronounced within the Vatican, where the reigning pope, who regarded Stalin’s Russia as a far greater evil than Hitler’s Germany, made no official comment on affairs outside St. Peter’s gates, but where individual clerics resisted the occupiers against the pontiff’s wishes. (The pope’s silence, Katz suggests, certainly owed to his personal politics, but perhaps more to his fervent desire to protect the Vatican from attack by any party.) Confusion and division similarly attended the Allied campaign to liberate Rome, a matter involving personality clashes among the commanders as well as the usual fog of war, and Katz’s account of the tangled politics that accompanied their military efforts is one of the best parts of an already strong, swiftly moving narrative.
An episodic reconstruction, complete with a dazzling dramatis personae, of Rome under the Nazi occupation and the Allied drive to free it.