War in Italy, 1943-1945; A Brutal Story by Richard Lamb, John Murray, £19.99 RICHARD LAMB HAS enjoyed a remarkable "second life" as a historian. Having retired from journalism about 15 years ago, he has produced six books on different aspects of modern British and European history. This tells the story of the German occupation of northern Italy and the Aegean Islands after the fall of Mussolini's Fascist government in July 1943. Like all of Lamb's work, it shows an extraordinary mastery of both British and Italian archives, accompanied by many personal insights for Lamb himself fought with the British Army in Italy. But his dili
gence and personal commitment are both a help and a hindrance. His research is impressive, and yet he is so archive-driven that he fails to create any thematic or even chronological coherence.
Much of the book is an often gruesome account of the violence and cruelty visited upon the Italians by the occupying Nazi forces after what they saw as their betrayal by the Italian; with the ousting of Mussolini. The Nazi persecution of the Jews is chronicled in great detail, as is the notorious Ardeatine cave massacre and the large-scale executions on the Aegean islands.
Of most interest to modern readers, however, will be Lamb's account of Pope Pius XII's conduct during the war. The Pope helped both persecuted Jews and Catholics as much as he dared, but Pius XII was also a "diplomat" who knew full well that any public Papal demarche against Nazi atrocities would trigger off further persecution of Catholics in occupied Europe as well as the vio lotion of existing sanctuaries in monasteries and the Vatican itself where Jews and others were harboured out of the reach of the SS. The Pope's fears were not groundless: at one stage Hitler planned to send 3,000 SS troops to Rome to occupy the Vatican and deport the Pope to Liechtenstein. The Fuhrer was only talked out of this with some difficulty. Lamb concludes that "Pius XII's record of opposition to Hitler throughout the war is impressive."
By DR RICHARD COCKETT