Robert Katz’s History of Modern Italy
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Death in Rome: The Life and Times of a Book
Update 1 — 1994
he first edition of Death in Rome was published in the United States on January 30, 1967. A few days earlier, a reporter in the Rome bureau of United Press International, having read an advance copy, defined what would become its central issue for a long time afterward. He sought a response from the Vatican to my contention that Pope Pius XII knew of the impending massacre and, for reasons adduced in the book, made no discernible attempt to prevent it. The Vatican spokesman, giving the journalist a story carried around the world, said the charge would be "simple to disprove because it is a vicious lie." 1
The role of the pope in the events of March 23 and 24, 1944, was only one of the questions discussed in the book. All were of matching importance, I believed. The reader will find them presented at the outset, in my original introduction. There, I stated my intention to re-examine the events with a view toward understanding the larger issue of how totalitarian rule was confronted in a particular place and time. The truth was, however, that I had written my book and it was now appearing under the impact of the enduring passions stirred by Rolf Hochhuth's 1964 play, The Deputy. His work, along with the seminal research of Saul Friedländer, had dramatized for all the world the failure of Pius XII to protest Hitler's extermination of Europe's Jews. It was therefore hardly surprising that attention would focus on this aspect of Death in Rome. One result, I imagine, was that the book went on to be published in nineteen editions in thirteen countries and in ten languages, though the Vatican never fulfilled a public promise to respond in the Osservatore Romano "after the book was published." 2
It was not until Death in Rome was made into a film and found its widest audience when released internationally in the fall of 1973 that a response of sorts was forthcoming. Criminal charges for having "offended the memory" of Pius XII were filed in Rome against me as the writer of the book and the film and against the film's producer, Carlo Ponti, and director, George P. Cosmatos. The complaint had been brought by Pope Pius's niece, Elena Pacelli Rossignani, and thus, in January 1974, a ten-year court battle began to establish whether a crime of high insult had been committed in the Eternal City.
I will not tax the reader's patience by recalling the vicissitudes of five full-blown trials and as many conflicting verdicts by which we defendants were convicted and sentenced by the first court to a combined total of twenty-eight months in prison, only to be fully exonerated by a higher court, then re-tried, re-convicted and finally "forgiven" in an intervening amnesty. Looking back one cannot but marvel how something so utterly academic could have happened on so large a scale, dragging itself along like a dinosaur in the real world of changed, tumultuous times.
What made the matter moot was the court's misplaced attempt to determine the truth about whether Pius XII knew of the imminent massacre. I had offered evidence, much of it new, to demonstrate that he did know; it had come from six separate sources, though no single element was entirely conclusive (see pp. 250). My efforts to obtain additional information at the Vatican as the primary source were to no avail (see pp. 252-253). 3
Nevertheless, I felt justified by the weight of what was now known in concluding that Pius XII behaved in this case as he had in others, maintaining a well-elaborated policy of silence as the lesser of two evils. "An attitude of protest and condemnation ...would have been not only futile but harmful," was the way Pope Paul VI explained it at the height of the Hochhuth controversy (see p. 258). This was, however authoritative, an opinion, as, on a far lesser plane, was my criticism of both the policy and its author. My opinions, though barely more than an echo of the outcry unleashed by The Deputy, were, it seemed, what Countess Rossignani found so offensive to the memory of her venerated uncle. On the other hand, could a court of law in a democratic society such as Italy deny anyone the Constitutionally guaranteed right of expression? If, however, it were shown that Pius XII did not know about the reprisal that would go a long way, I suppose, to impinge on the credibility of the book. The problem was how could that be done without merely piling on more opinion?
The court in the first trial, the Tribunal of Rome, spared neither effort nor expense in its quest for revelation. Apart from sitting in the capital for nearly two years, it traveled and reconvened in the military fortress-prison at Gaeta to take testimony from former SS-Colonel Kappler, who was then serving his life sentence as the perpetrator of the atrocity;4 it traveled beyond Italy's frontiers reconvening in Germany to hear former SS-Colonel Dollmann, who had been one of my sources of new information, and again beyond frontiers to reconvene in Vatican City itself and gather the recollections of Cardinal Nasalli-Rocca, who had been at Pius' side for part of those tragic days in March. At last, when it had heard everyone out, including a procession of lesser known witnesses, the Tribunal arrived at what it called the "one and only truth." It declared that "in the hours that preceded the Calvary of the Ardeatine, the Pontiff knew nothing of the order for the reprisal and the way it would be carried out." 5
The ensuing legal proceedings in the higher courts were rather more cautious about pronouncing categorical truths. An intervening factor was that in 1980 the Vatican quietly released one of the most startling documents to come out of its secret archives since it began publishing tens of thousands of its wartime papers in 1965. This single document, unique among 380 related to the German occupation of Rome, swept away any lingering doubt. It proved that before the reprisal took place the State Secretariat of His Holiness had been authoritatively informed that it was foreseen that for every German killed in Via Rasella ten Italians would be executed.6
The time on the document revealed that this particular piece of intelligence had been received prior to 10:15 on the morning of the war crime. The contemporary reader, who is in better position than earlier readers to evaluate the evidence from my sources regarding the Vatican being informed, will reach his or her own conclusion whether this is the earliest indication of what terrible event was looming. It records, however, the first time anywhere outside the official order from the German High Command that the chilling ratio of 10 to 1 is mentioned explicitly. Be that as it may, 10:15, it seems important to recall, was five hours and fifteen minutes before the first man was killed, six hours and thirty minutes before the final group was rounded up at Regina Coeli prison, and nine hours and forty-five minutes before the last man was shot. Was nothing done with Ing. Ferrero's stunning news?
In addressing the question of how Pius XII responded, the Vatican historians who prepared these volumes of wartime papers were compelled to conclude that "no document permits us to establish" that the pope or his emissaries intervened in behalf of the men expected to be victimized by the reprisal. Indeed, they found a total absence in the Vatican archives of any other reference to the affair (apart from the receipt on April 19 of a partial list of victims and a formal request on April 22 that the Germans reveal the complete list to the families).
What did these Vatican historians make of all this? "This information," they wrote in their analysis of the document, "was of the sort that would mobilize Pius XII to immediate action. ...However, the official of the Governatorato di Roma had not provided the essential detail that the execution of the hostages would take place within 24 hours." One can only wonder how much time the Vatican thought it had before it would be too late, and in the end, the analysts could do little more than ask what a papal emissary could possibly have done after the "bloody challenge" in Via Rasella. The partisan attack, they noted, was a "serious blow to the strategy employed by Pius XII to save Rome from ruin and chaos." The attack in Via Rasella had "compromised the Pope's policy as well as his prestige with the German authorities." 7
This is much the same argument used in Death in Rome in an attempt to understand the lack of a papal intervention, but the Vatican analysts concluded by affirming that nevertheless, since Pius XII had intervened in several far less imposing cases to alleviate suffering, one may imagine that even here, though he left no trace behind him, he did step in somehow. To believe this, we can be certain now, after all the Sturm und Drang of fifty years, is a consummate act of faith. Faith, like opinion, is a freedom that ought never be gainsaid or denied.
Nearly thirty years have passed since I wrote the closing line of this study in which, anticipating the release of the Vatican papers, I looked forward to further word on an "unfinished story." I know now that no quantity of new material can ever complete it; there are dimensions of history, particularly for those who lived it, that cannot be reconstructed on the cold bones of documentation. Nevertheless, virtually all of the issues assessed in the book, which, like the role of the pope, once caused so much heat and so little light, as they say, have been more or less resolved by now. Few people today would, as was done well into the 1970's, attempt to use one or another of the old distorted versions of the events for political ends. One might even affirm that with this fiftieth anniversary the case of one of the major controversies of the history of the Second World War in Italy has been, or can be closed. The passions are spent. The players are gone. The work is done. All we are left with is an abiding obligation that can never be wholly discharged: we call it remembrance.
R.K., New York, January 1, 1994
Update 2 — 1996
wo years ago, I wrote a new introduction for the edition of this book that was published in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the Ardeatine Caves massacre. The time had come, I observed, when one might venture to say that this case, one of the major controversies of the history of the Second World War in Italy, could be considered closed and all that remained was the abiding obligation to remember.
At about the same time that the book came out, however, an American television news program, making headlines throughout the world, broadcast a report from Argentina that dramatically reopened the case, along with all the old wounds.
A tall 80-year-old grandfatherly-looking man was seen getting into his car when a TV newsman walked up to him with his microphone extended and asked a fateful question. "Señor Priebke? Sam Donaldson of American television. May we talk to you for just a moment?" And the man, a respected citizen of a picturesque town in the foothills of the Andes, where he had lived for nearly fifty years under the name of Erico Priebke, could think of no reason not to accede to the request.
From the ensuing interview, however, it became clear that "Señor" Priebke was being unmasked before the eyes of the television viewing public as ex SS Hauptsturmfuehrer (Capt.) Erich Priebke, one of the principal perpetrators of the Ardeatine atrocity, who had escaped prosecution when he vanished from a British prisoner of war camp in Italy back in 1947.
Following an eighteen-month, intercontinental battle for extradition, in which the families -- by now the descendants -- of the victims played a crucial role, Priebke was at last brought back to Italy where he is due to face a military tribunal in the coming months.
It would therefore be premature to attempt to write about this dramatic turn in events at this time, but I would like to assure the reader that the facts that have come out since Priebke's capture do not in any way alter what was known about his role in 1944 as recounted in the pages that follow. On the other hand, it is no longer true, as I wrote in 1994, that "the passions are spent." On the contrary, there is still much work to be done.
R.K., New York, February 12, 1996
Update 3 — 2004nly months before her death in November 2000 at the age of 82, Carla Capponi - whom the reader of this book will come to know with a certain intimacy, and, perhaps, like so many others, never forget - completed a lifelong ambition. Shortly after the liberation of Nazi-occupied Rome, in which her prominent role in the resistance earned her the nation's highest military decoration, the medaglia d'oro al valore militare, she decided to record her recollections of her tumultuous experiences in the underground. But not until the final years of her life could she fulfill her desire to stand witness to her times. Time had taught her that memories unrecorded gave license to others to manipulate them. "The untold things I first hand," she wrote, "would not permit me to leave them to the whims of my erstwhile enemies." By now, more than a half-century had passed but her powers of recall had not ebbed. They were at least as acute as they were in the mid-1960s when I set out to write this book. At my request, she had gathered the partisans of the Via Rasella in her mother's famous apartment in Foro Traiano - which had served during the war as a kind of secret anti-Fascist sanctuary for so many hunted souls - and for the first time, they reconstructed at great length their individual roles in the attack, all that came before and all that ensued. That reconstruction as it unfolds on the pages of this 6th Italian-language edition - the 22nd worldwide - has never been in need of alteration - despite the continual "revelations" from the revisers of history.1 Against their endless labors, Carla Capponi opposed her message of endless resistance; the lesson for us all is clear.
Curiously, the tide of revisionism reached tsunami proportions, more so than ever, in the spring of 1996. The whole world watched, at least now and then, as a tiny Roman courtroom prepared to hear what was then being called the "last Nazi trial," that of Erich Priebke. The former Gestapo officer and one of the chief perpetrators of the Ardeatine massacre, Priebke had been found by an enterprising journalist nearly fifty years after his escape from a prisoner-of-war camp. To everyone's surprise, Argentina allowed the 83-year-old fugitive to be returned to the place of his crime to face a military tribunal in Rome. The previous Italian edition of Death in Rome was published on the eve of that trial, and though I had played a peripheral role in Priebke's capture, there was little I could add at that time. Writing from New York, in my 1996 introduction (see Update-2), I alluded to the need for a "Priebke chapter" at some later date.
Back in Rome before the trial started, I set myself to the task. My observations, gleaned from my presence at all 25 court sessions, appeared first in magazines both in Italy and the United States, and before long the "Priebke chapter" - as the proceedings took one dramatic turn after another - grew far too unwieldy to imagine as a single addendum. A verdict that effectively declared Priebke only slightly guilty, freeing him as unpunishible, produced a near-riot in the courthouse, a national embarrassment - worsened by the prosecution's evidence of a patently biased tribunal - and worldwide condemnation. By then, I had begun writing a book-length study of the entire phenomenon and was still at it months later when the Supreme Court of Cassation redeemed the honor of Italy's military justice by annulling the proceedings, a salutary development that foreshadowed a retrial and, incidentally, provided a hopeful ending for my book.2 My Priebke "chapter" goes well beyond the scope of Death in Rome, but some parts are quite relevant and bear mention here along with more recent developments.
Three features of the Priebke trial provided entirely new information specific to the story told on these pages. The first was an unprecedented outburst of revisionism in its most virulent form; second was the improbable but authentic discovery of another, barely known SS officer, older and higher-ranking than Priebke, but exactly like him in having killed two men in the Ardeatine caves: Major Karl Hass, a swashbuckling octogenarian who had made a seamless transition from wartime Nazi espionage to Cold-War spying in the secret services of the U.S. and later Italy. Third, and finally, was the historic judgment of the military tribunal in the second Priebke trial (with Hass as his hostile co-defendant).
Neo-revisionism, Year I. In the period leading up to the trial all the threadbare lies and distortions were rolled out and put up like tents in a traveling circus. The whole pile had been dormant for many years, and the passage of the years themselves had taken many of the original fact doctors with them. Representing a kind of neo-revisionism was a powerful new voice, Vittorio Feltri and his brash and fearless daily newspaper Il Giornale. Feltri inaugurated the time of the neos - an era yet to run its course - with an astonishing journalistic feat. In a front-page commentary appearing shortly before the trial, he succeeded in packing seven certifiable whopping lies and misrepresentations in a single sentence of one short paragraph. Depending on his intent, the total could actually be eight, but in any event, four of the seven indisputable misstatements were brand new.3
The most outrageous was the final falsehood, that a human head, that of a boy killed in the attack, was seen rolling down the Via Rasella. The head in question was said to be that of 13-year-old Pietro Zuccheretti, who had somehow wandered into the street at the last moment and was killed along with the Germans in the explosion. Although the boy's family had published two telltale death notices in the same edition of Il Messaggero that carried the German communiqué about the attack and the reprisal, surprisingly the Zuccheretti incident had been overlooked in the half-century search for verbal ammunition to use against the resistance.
The old prevaricators could do no better in the long interim than repeat without surcease a press dispatch circulated a few days after the attack by the Fascist-controlled news agency Stefani. It reported that seven civilians - mostly women and children were killed in the attack "while crossing the street"; not a shred of evidence was ever found to substantiate the claim and no one but the revisionists gave it any credence.
Nor was there any forensic proof in support of inexpert testimony at the 1948 Kappler trial that the death of an unidentified child in the Via Rasella resulted from the explosion. In the absence of evidence and the flimsiness of the revisionists' charges, I was among those unaware of Zuccheretti obituaries, and though I knew of the 1948 testimony, there was no reason to exclude the boy from the known casualties caused by the Germans firing wildly long after the partisans had made their getaway.4 Against the corroborated statements of individual partisans in Via Rasella that civilians on the street were warned and chased until the very last moment, nothing supported the counterclaims. There was simply no proof. (See box)
But now, as the time counted down to the May 8th start of the Priebke trial, proof, or a semblance thereof, was offered. The Rome daily Il Tempo, in an article headlined "The Secrets of Via Rasella," published for the first time ever, a photograph purporting to be the head said to have rolled down the street. The grisly picture showed what was actually a head and torso detached from the body of a child said to be the Zuccheretti boy. The newspaper offered no documentation to authenticate the photograph, only the sad but conflicting story told by the boy's twin brother, Giovanni Zuccheretti, now a 65-year-old retired butcher. Headlined as fact but revealed in the fine print as conjecture was Zuccheretti's statement of the final moment of his twin's life. "He was seated on top of those eighteen kilos of dynamite. The partisans saw him but did nothing to save him." Muck-maker Feltri, however, who had the same photo, waited for the largest worldwide audience the Priebke trial would ever have - the opening day of the trial - and literally reached for the sky. The poor boy-head was reproduced larger than before on Il Giornale's front page, and according to the story, the head no longer rolled but flew. "An instant before the explosion," wrote a reporter, "the partisans saw a young boy sitting on the street-cleaner's cart where they had hidden the bomb. … [and] probably, as they fled, they even saw the body horribly fly apart in the air, the head detached from the trunk..."
The greatest difficulty with any scenario was the photograph itself. The head and torso that had been blown away from a body "horribly fly[ing] apart in the air" - fell back on the cobblestone pavement intact, lacking even a scratch. It is seen lying on the street close to the curb of a sidewalk, but in 1944 there were no sidewalks on either side of the Via Rasella. The report of an expert in photo imaging, Carlo Gentile, after examining all of the known photos of the site made on that day, declared it "highly improbable that the picture could have taken in Via Rasella," and in a subsequent decision of the Tribunal of Rome it was found to be false (see below).
The Error of the Five Extra Men. The most wrenching mystery of the tenfold punishment in the Ardeatine caves was the death toll. To avenge the 33 Germans killed in the partisan attack, Kappler had drawn up a list of 330 Italians, everyone of them transported to the caves, checked-in, then slain. When it was over, however, the dead numbered 335, not 330, five victims whose names had not been listed. The court in the 1948 Kappler trial had concluded that the discrepancy was a counting error, casting a large part of the blame on the Kappler's list-keeper, Capt. Priebke. The original list had been destroyed, the list-keeper already a fugitive. The vexing question of who among the 335 were the unlisted five and how they came to be there remained. It had haunted two generations of the victims' kin and seemed impenetrable until answered at last in the 1996 Priebke trial.
When the list-keeper himself exercised his defendant's right to remain silent, that answer required nothing less than the "resurrection" of another accomplice to the crime. Former SS Major Karl Hass, Kappler's intelligence chief, had long been listed dead by the German government, but Priebke in one of his many garrulous moments in the presence of journalists boasted of a 1978 trip to Rome, to revisit the past and having "dined in the company of Major Hass". Swift action by Chief Military Prosecutor Antonino Intelisano traced Hass to his place of retirement near Milan. Although the 85-year-old ex-spy was already in flight, Intelisano found him Switzerland and convinced him to return to Rome as his star witness.
In direct testimony, the following exchange took place:
The superannuated mystery of the so-called "counting error" was suddenly gone, discharged in a simple rhetorical question; so horrible in content yet almost elegant in form. What do I do with these five... First there was one man, or perhaps a boy, then there were two and so on. One by one, the came down from the trucks, their name not on the list, made to wait, watching and listening to the gunshots in the caves, seeing "it all"; waiting until dark for all 330 to die so that the list-keeper could count how many unlisted he had and Kappler could contemplate their fate under a nighttime sky.
Nuremberg, Italian style. In joining the worldwide chorus of condemnation of the 1996 Priebke verdict, the newsweekly L'Espresso had called the verdict "Norimberga, alla matriciana," but a year later, on July 22nd, the retrial tribunal handed down a series of unprecedented rulings that elevated the highest principles of international law. Rejecting the obeying-orders defense adopted by both Priebke and co-defendant Hass, the military judges declared that both men, violating the provisions of even the Nazi-era military penal code against executing illegal orders, had carried out Kappler's orders with "indifference to their criminality".6 The panel then defined the killings in the Ardeatine Caves as both a war crime and a crime against humanity under international law, punishable by ergastolo, and not subject to any statute of limitation. The 119-page verdict went on to distinguish the differences in responsibility between Priebke and Hass, which had a decisive effect on the sentences of both defendants. To the many critics of state power being applied indiscriminately to a pair of harmless old men, Prosecutor Intelisano had always maintained that any sentence would be applied humanely. The tribunal apparently agreed. It found legal reasons to reduce Hass's punishment to ten years, instantly rendered symbolic under existing general amnesties. Priebke, too, received some benefits that reduced his sentence and allowed it to be served under house arrest. Although there were cries of too much leniency, and some of too little, the tribunal's ruling that time cannot run out on the prosecution of war crimes was seen as an unblemished victory, particularly by the families of the victims. The prosecutor, who had championed their search for justice, had the last word. "Even a sentence of a single day," he said, "can be enough when it is a statement that we have not forgot." 7
Last words. The many battles waged in Rome in the last years of the century by and for the octogenarian Gestapo men of the Via Tasso had as their principal target the octogenarian partisans of the Via Rasella, particularly Rosario Bentivegna and Carla Capponi whose central roles in the attack were well known. When the boisterous free-Priebke propaganda campaign was taken up by the mainstream right-wing media, the old partisans returned to the fray, fighting not on the streets but in the courts of Rome. An unbroken string of victories silenced, and most cases punished their adversaries, but more important settled some long-festering wounds in the entire affair.
The newcomer Vittorio Feltri and his Il Giornale, who strayed farthest from any semblance of the facts in his daily attacks on the partisans, casting them as the moral equivalent of the Nazis, paid the dearest. Indicted on multiple counts of defamation, Feltri was convicted in 2001 of opening the pages of his newspaper to slander-mongers calling for the partisans of the Via Rasella to be tried for the attack on the SS Police company.8 In a civil suit brought by Bentivegna against Il Giornale, an appeals court in Milan ruled on Feltri's "coverage" of the case of the "head seen rolling down the street". After examining the evidence, the court, in a 2003 verdict stated that the photograph of the dead boy's head and torso was an "unequivocal falsification". Several other assertions by Feltri and his staff writers were declared untrue, and Bentivegna was awarded some €50,000, mostly in "moral damages" from Feltri and company.9
In a more bizarre court case, Priebke, while serving his life sentence for his crime against humanity, accused Bentivegna of character assassination, or defamation, and sued him for 300 million lire. The defendant had co-authored a book attributing the extended torture undergone by one of the victims in the Ardeatine caves to Priebke. Priebke claimed innocence. The victim, Maurizio Giglio, had in fact been arrested and tortured by the Koch gang.10 Bentivegna promptly admitted his error; he had named the wrong torturer. In a 2002 sentenza (verdict), the court agreed with Priebke, but sided with Bentivegna. The former's three-fold role as an organizer of the massacre, on-site list-keeper and a multiple homicide in the Fosse Ardeatine was torture enough for any victim. The error was termed "irrelevant", the damage claims dismissed with the plaintiff ordered to pay all court costs.11
It was in this brief no-win atmosphere for revisionism that a long-overdue, historic decision was reached by the highest criminal court in Italy. As far back as 1957, the Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that the attack in Via Rasella was a legitimate act of war. That decision, coming nine years after some family members of five men killed in the Ardeatine had sued Bentivegna, Capponi and others, had settled the legitimacy issue in terms of civil responsibility (see below, pp. 214-216). The Priebke trial, however, ended a forty-year wait for revisionist "justice". Feltri's newspaper had called for put the partisans not Priebke on trial and that had become a rallying cry, and the families of the Zuccheretti boy and the other civilian killed in the attack, Antonio Chiaretti, filed criminal charges against the surviving gappisti of the 1957 case: Bentivegna, Capponi, and Pasquale Balsamo. There was never any question that the defendants could be found guilty. In the long interim several laws enacted by parliament as well as an accumulation of case law had reiterated the immunity of the partisans as having acted solely as patriots and under the authority of the state. In the post-Priebke case, neither prosecutor nor tribunal make any attempt to refute this principal, but a judicial decree meant as a final dismissal of the case, was regarded by the partisans as less than a clear vindication. Using the platform of the revisionist charges, the Via Rasella gappisti sought a definitive judgment from the penal side of the Supreme Court of Cassation. In February of 1999, the last word was handed down. It simply upheld all prior laws and legal precedents, dating back to 1945, that had established the Resistance as an institution of the state. Thus, said the highest court, the battle in Via Rasella was a legitimate act of war.12
***By far, the most significant new source for any study of Rome under Nazi occupation emerged in mid-2000. The reluctant release by the CIA of 400,000 pages of documents held in absolute secrecy since the war were hailed as the "crown jewels" of intelligence operations conducted by the CIA's predecessor, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). Until then, the heirs of America's first spy agency had played a shell game with the documents considered most secret, removing them from files slated for declassification and hiding them in still-classified files. The sheer quantity of these long-buried OSS papers, roughly estimated by their volume as containing up to 3 million pages, all but guaranteed surprises, and the first 400,000 batch fulfilled the promise. 13
From my own preliminary research at the source, it appeared that about 15 percent of these papers directly concerned Italy and the Vatican between 1942 and 1947, and Rome in particular. In September of 2003, taking the 270 days of the occupation as my theme, the results of my study of these papers, along with other new documentation, was published simultaneously in the United States, Great Britain, and Italy14 While most of the new information bears directly on the roundup and deportation of the Jews of Rome and the role of the Vatican, the German occupiers and the Allies, it adds to our understanding of the events leading up to the attack in Via Rasella and the factors contributing to the German reprisal in the Fosse Ardeatine.
For example, one of the biggest surprises found in the new files were the Allied-intercepted and decoded telegrams originating from the radio traffic between the highest levels of the SS in Berlin and Rome's Gestapo chief, Herbert Kappler. Until now, British intelligence's cipher-smashing Ultra project had failed to crack the code used by the Gestapo, and the hitherto unknown Rome-Berlin intercepts disclosed, first of all, what was known about Nazi plans and operations in near-real time by the Allies. In the case of the roundup of Rome's Jews, Washington and London, aside from having collected advance knowledge of the razzia, were aware of the number of arrests, where the prisoners were being held, the date and time of their departure, the train markings and its route, and the inadequate size of the escort. In terms of Death in Rome, the whole body of traffic, though it breaks off well before the massacre, adds dramatically to the credibility of Kappler's postwar statements. His paramount responsibility in the Ardeatine crime, as the reader will see, grows exponentially with the passage of every minute in the 24 hours preceding the massacre. His testimony at his trial and those of other Nazis is laden with details that more often than not have proved to be reliable, yet almost all that was known about his deeds in occupied Rome came from Kappler himself. Thus the new decodes constitute an independent source of unquestionable authenticity, forcing a revaluation of his worth as a witness.
In the same fashion, the documents boost the credibility of two other Germans to be encountered in these pages. One of them, Eitel Friedrich Möllhausen, the young diplomat left in charge of the German embassy in Rome, was a rare non-party member, whose active opposition to Nazi brutality is confirmed and elevated in the new documents While Möllhausen distinguished himself in the deportation episode, his presence in Death in Rome is secondary, but the other German gaining prestige from the CIA release was a man who claimed a singular mission to the Vatican to engage Pope Pius XII in an attempt to forestall the impending bloodbath. He was SS Colonel Eugen Dollmann. Confirmed in the OSS files was a long-held suspicion that Dollmann had at war's end gone on to serve as a source for Allied intelligence, but not before undergoing a two-month interrogation by the British in the summer of 1945. A post-interrogation assessment of his character ends in two words: "Reliability: Good". The present-day reader is thus in a more advantageous position than earlier observers to judge the veracity of the statements made by these men. 15
A final word about the new OSS material concerns the OSS itself. The sleight-of-hand treatment to hold back certain documents from public scrutiny revealed itself, when at last declassified, as a cover-up. From the first thumb-through, it was apparent that the extent of Allied inertia in the face of advance knowledge about, say, the raid on the Roman Jews, would be an embarrassment even generations after the fact. A less obvious cover-up was the corruption in the OSS, notably behind enemy lines. Research into piles of uninviting "mission reports" on operations in Italy were nevertheless rewarding. It allowed me to reconstruct the complex vicissitudes of American spy in Rome Peter Tompkins, who at times faced a greater threat from his fellow agents inside the occupied city than from Kappler's Gestapo.16
Tompkins' failed effort to rescue his heroic radio operator Maurizio Giglio is recounted in Death in Rome as a kind of sub-plot, laconic by nature and written long before even the blandest OSS files were declassified. As a consequence, only a very small part of a very big story emerged. Military historian Carlo D'Este in his 1991 book on the Anzio campaign was among the first in a position to use war records in recognizing the "unheralded … young operative in Rome named Peter Tompkins, who masterminded the clandestine efforts of the OSS in the Italian capital". From the eve of the American Fifth Army's landing at Anzio in January 1944 until Giglio's capture, Tompkins established, D'Este wrote, "one of the most effective intelligence operations of the war" - a network of some 100 partisans and anti-Fascists ranging from peasants watching and recording all German troop movements to double agents in the highest circles of the German High Command. D'Este also reported Tompkins' struggle against the machinations in Rome by professional spies recruited by the OSS from the ranks of Mussolini's secret services - "gangsters…[who] concocted false intelligence"17 - but it was not until the 2000 CIA release that the full extent of Tompkins' risk became known. Uncovered after a half-century of concealment is clear evidence of threats of betrayal from within, along with blackmail and at least one scheme activated in behalf of the Fascist-era professionals to send Tompkins to his doom.18
That is a tale yet to be told, though not here. I leave the reader with the story that follows in this book, which I have come to think of as a time capsule; sealed within, unchanged and by now unchangeable, is a large part of what was or could be known some twenty years after that terrible death in Rome.
Notes for Update-1
Notes for Update-3
Copyright © 2004 by Robert Katz
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