The Italian Government surrendered its forces to the Allies on 8 September 1943, and on the following day General Mark Clark launched Operation Avalanche, the landing of Allied troops on the coast of Italy, near Salerno.
On the 10 September 1943 the Germans occupied Rome, Mussolini’s officials perhaps guided by Mussolini himself tried to substitute half-measures to thwart deportation to the gas chambers in the death camps in the east.
But after his captivity on the Gran Sasso, Mussolini was a deflated balloon, and the Italian government was much weakened, the Gestapo wasted no time, aided by the Jewish registration lists created in the days when Mussolini and his fascist government had issued anti-Jewish decrees.
It was most unfortunate that many of the native and refugee Jews who made their way south following the Allied forces landings in Calabria should have waited in Rome, when the Germans occupied the city on the 10 September 1943 about 8,000 Jews fell into German hands, a sixth of the Jewish population of Italy.
By the end of September 1943 it was known to the German Embassies in Rome and the Vatican City that Himmler intended to send these Jews to the Auschwitz – Birkenau death camp. On the 30 September Bishop Hudal, rector of the German church in Rome warned General Stahel, the Town Commandant, that the Pope might take a position against the deportations.
Stahel decided not to carry out the deportations without the permission of the Foreign Office, at the same time Mollhausen, the German Consul-General in Rome, wrote personally to Ribbentrop, recommending internment in Italian labour camps rather than deportation.
The response could have been predicted, Ribbentrop would not intervene with the SD, from whom Stahel took his orders – the first round-up of Jews in Rome occurred on 18 October 1943.
The always compliant Baron Ernst von Weizsacker was now very much on the spot as Ambassador to the Holy See. Much was made at Weizsacker trial of the warnings which he gave both to the Vatican and the Jewish community leaders of the impending action.
The only certain intervention of von Weizsacker is the forwarding of Bishop Hudal’s protest to the Security Police commander, Obersturmbannfuhrer Hubert Kappler. But that was only on 22 October 1943 after the round-up had already taken place.
According to Gerhard Gumpert, Weizsacker’s First Secretary, Kappler was persuaded that Hudal’s warning to Stahel had been inspired by the Pope. Kappler was now too frightened to continue the actions.
This version of events does not ring true firstly because Kappler did inh fact continue the round-ups, and secondly because the action of 18 October had taken place without the least protest from the Vatican.
The best witness is Weizsacker himself, writing to Dr Karl Ritter, Minister for Special Purposes at the Foreign Office in Berlin:
“Although pressed on all sides, the Pope did not allow himself to be drawn into any demonstration of reproof at the deportation of the Jews of Rome. The only sign of disapproval was a veiled allusion in Osservatore Romano on 25-28 October, in which only a restricted number of people could recognise a reference to the Jewish question.”
Pope Pius Xll negative attitude towards the Jews, he never renounced the 1933 concordant with Hitler and who only denounced the National Socialist regime, only after the German surrender in spring 1945.
However, there can be no doubt regarding the sympathy and practical assistance of the clergy in Rome, monasteries and convents sheltered a very large portion of the Jews who were warned in time and who went into hiding.
Nevertheless, on the night of 18 October 1943 1,270 Jews were arrested of whom 235 had to be released. On 23 October 1,035 Jewish men, women and children arrived at Auschwitz- Birkenau, and 839 people were murdered in the gas chambers.
Until 4 June 1944 when the Allied forces liberated Rome the Germans continued to deport Jews in small batches, approximately a quarter of Rome’s Jews were deported while the rest spent eight haunted months in hiding.
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010