1943 -1944 ROME OPEN CITY: the German occupation of Rome.




TOUR N. 11


The drammatic story of Rome under the German occupation (11 September 1943 to 4 June 1944)


In the days leading up to Italy’s surrender, the government that had deposed Mussolini had declared Rome an “Open City” – a demilitarized zone, harmless and thus a measure to preserve its countless wonders from the ruins of war. Reaffirmed but not respected by the German occupiers and consequently the Allies, this open city would from the outset be a sham. In a matter of weeks Rome would become all but unrecognizable, a mockery of an open 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 always 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. In this atmosphere a resistance movement would arise, 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 of the political parties themselves, the partisans, would prove capable of striking militarily against the German occupiers. Their mission would be to create an armed, insurrectional threat within Rome 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, this would bring calamity, ruin, and a tremendous loss in civilian lives. It could mean the end of everything treasured and beautiful about Rome. This Open City was thus a tinderbox of four conflicting agendas, each incompatible with the other: the Allies trying to capture Rome as their first shining prize of war but discovering impregnable armor 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 and save the world from “communism” as well as Rome and Vatican City from physical destruction; and, finally, the partisans trying to redeem Italy’s honor, first, by making Rome untenable for the occupiers.


WWII TOUR IN ROME: In the footsteps of Nazis & Fascists

Our Tour starts with the visit of the Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome. The Museum was once the headquarters of the SS Kommandantur, where the major representatives of the Roman Resistance, many of whom lost their lives, were interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. The museum relates (mostly by means of graphical and photographical evidences) the atrocities committed in Rome by the Nazi-Fascist regime, with special reference to the events from September 1943 to June 1944. Visitors may see the ten cells left absolutely unchanged; in the punishment ones are still visible the graffiti made by prisoners, a touching evidence of those tremendous days. We will continue with a walking tour in Via Rasella and then the Ardeatine Caves.

The Attack of Via Rasella. Via Rasella looks like  today just as one of the many old streets in the historical centre of Rome but if you look carefully when the street intersects with "via del Boccaccio" there is a building with bullet holes. The owner of that building as well as many others wanted to fill  and cover the holes but  the fine-arts authority that looks after the permanence of the nation's historical treasures denied the permission as they wanted to preserve the memory of what happened 70 years ago. The attack of Via Rasella was the boldest and largest resistance assault, never to be equaled in any other of the German-occupied European capitals. At 3:45 on the afternoon of March 23rd, 1944, a heavily armed column of 156 SS police marching through Rome, was attacked in the Via Rasella by ten partisans, nine men and a 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, or 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 home-made bomb concealed in his trash can and decamped. Some fifty seconds later, twenty-four men were blown apart in an earth-shaking 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 teen-aged boys – a near-perfect cross-section of the male social makeup of Rome, but not one of whom 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 and the prototype of the worst wartime atrocities 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 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, and none of them, like the resistance itself, was free of dissension and intrigue.No one wished to harm Rome. Good intentions, to repeat the proverb, paved this hell.


THE MASSACRE OF THE ARDEATINE CAVES

The Fosse Ardeatine massacre was a mass execution carried out in Rome on 24 March 1944 by German occupation troops during the Second World War as a reprisal for a partisan attack conducted on the previous day in via Rasella in Rome. Subsequently, the Cave ArdeatineFosse Ardeatine) became a National Monument and a Memorial Cemetery open daily to visitors. Every year, on the anniversary of the slaughter and in the presence of the senior officials of the Italian Republic, a solemn State commemoration is held at the monument in honour of the fallen.


For further information, quote and personalised Tour please email: danila65@inwind.it