The Battle for Rome. the Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944

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The Battle for Rome. The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944. By Robert Katz. (New York: Simon & Schuster. 2003. Pp. xxiv, 418. $28.00 clothbound; $ 16.00 paperback.)

We know what happened afterward: the Normandy invasion; Western Europe's liberation by the British and Americans; the full horror of the Holocaust revealed; later, the end of Stalinism; and, finally, the collapse of European Communism. But all this lay in the future when the Germans occupied Rome from September, 1943, to June, 1944. Written in light of later events, The Battle for Rome portrays Pius XII during those months as morally unfit to be Supreme Pontiff. Robert Katz has done so in a well-written, deeply researched, and extremely engrossing account. Despite its virtues, however, The Battle for Rome presents not history but polemic.

While minuscule and enclosed within the Italian capital, Vatican City was a fully sovereign state, although one ruled by the head of a universal church which repudiated violence. Thus, following the flight of the post-Fascist government from Rome and its occupation by Hitler's forces, Pius XII faced great dilemmas. In a world conflict of unprecedented slaughter pitting liberal democrats and atheistic Communists against Nazis and emperor-worshiping pagans, could the pope remain neutral? Enveloped by a German-controlled city, what consequences would follow papal condemnation of the evils taking place?

Katz presents his opinion unequivocally. Influenced by anti-Semitism, paranoid anti-Communism, pro-German affections, and otherworldly detachment, Pius XII remained silent despite moral obligation to condemn Nazi crimes. During Rome's occupation, such infamy included the deportation of one thousand Roman Jews to Auschwitz and the massacre of 335 hostages at the Ardeatine Caves in reprisal for a Partisan ambush of German police on Via Rasella.

This reviewer wishes the pontiff had unequivocally denounced the Holocaust. But that is his moral sentiment, not his historical judgment. Faced with the uncertainties of the time, Pius XII had to consider possibilities that Katz ignores: compromise peace between Hitler and Stalin; failure to open an Allied second Front; Soviet conquest of the Continent. For all the terrible consequences of silence, Pius XII had to consider worse possibilities were he to condemn all the horrors swirling about him. Katz argues the pope worried more about his beloved Rome than he did about his obligations to humanity. The opposite seems true. Protesting the impending fates of Rome's Jews and the Ardeatine Caves victims would not have saved them, any more than papal denunciations of German atrocities in Poland had ended those. However, given Hitler's hatred of the Church, to anathematize the Nazi regime would have invited slaughter of the hierarchy and priesthood but saved no one. …