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Archive for March 23rd, 2008

March 23, 1944 – 3:40pm – A troop of SS policeman walked in formation up the Via del Traforo and turned left on to the Via Rasella.  Most of the men, too old to fight in actual combat, were charged with maintaining order in the city of Rome, but that was becoming an increasingly difficult task.

Life under Benito Mussolini was tolerable, but Il Duce’s soft stance on the “Jewish Question” didn’t play well in Berlin.  So, in September 1943, Rome’s SS Chief, Lt. Colonel Herbert Kappler, was ordered to arrest all the Jews in the city.  And things began going downhill rather quickly.  The Italians resisted and helped to hide their Jewish compatriots, and the Germans responded with shootings and deportations…to which the Italians responded with bomb attacks and shootings of their own.  It wasn’t long before it was said that one half of Rome was hiding the other half.  Violence begat more violence, terror begat more terror.

The SS police force slowed some as it climbed the street.  Up the way, a street sweeper was busy cleaning a gutter and smoking a cigar…but not just a street sweeper.  It was a partisan preparing an attack.  His cart was loaded with TNT and pipe bombs, all set to explode with a 25-second fuse.  With the troops closing to within 50 yards, the fuse was lit and the partisan left the scene, disappearing down an alley.

The bomb went off like clockwork, mowing down the column.  Other partisans, waiting for the blast, added to the carnage with guns and grenades, then vanished.  In a matter of moments, it was over.  Nearly one hundred men were dead or wounded with ten civilians also killed.  SS Chief Kappler was quickly on the scene and many arrests were immediately made with no regards as to whether those incarcerated had anything to do with the events.

Upon receiving word of the attack, Hitler’s response was predictable…blow up a quarter of Rome.  That not being feasible, General Alfred Jodl delivered the final message as the night of the 23rd was ending…ten Italians prisoners were to die for each German soldier killed.

And so Lt. Col. Kappler began compiling the lists.

To be continued…

Recommended Reading: Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle For Rome

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