‘Rome under the Terror’ by M. de Wyss. Publ. by Robert Hale Ltd, London 1945

In a very short review by Robert Gale Woolbert in the journal ‘Foreign Affairs’  (Jan. 1947) I read: ‘The author of this informative volume is said to be a lady who was in Rome continuously during the last days of Fascist rule. It is in the form of a diary running from April 1943 to June 1944, and combines a lot of chitchat with some really interesting items.’  Another review in the Spectator by Robert Hale of 1946 makes a few comments on the book but adds nothing about this mysterious ‘lady’.

Flour for liberated Romans
Flour for liberated Romans

I can find little else about the author of this fascinating book. It is well worth reading by anyone interested in the period, or anyone interested in how it feels to living under occupation by a foreign power. These months of living under constant aerial bombardment by the allies and with their country in the hands of their former German partners-in-arms are tellingly chronicled by M. de Wyss, whoever she was. She seems to have have good access to well-placed sources on both sides and a knack of getting ordinary people to talk freely to her. I thought for a while that maybe she made some of it up, but it’s just too full of real situations not to be anything but a true account.

American troops driving through Rome in British trucks
American troops driving through Rome in British trucks

She is obviously very fond of Italy and Italians but that doesn’t prevent her from having a rather jaundiced view of things now and then. She finds it amusing  the way that the Italians, having by now (August 1943) given up the fight, are so very impatient for the English and Americans to invade and finish the job of getting rid of the Germans. She remarks: ” This is a good example of a wide-spread Italian attitude. Responsibility does not exist for them. The Allies are to do all that the Italians need without the slightest effort on their part! But the country and even the people are charming – charming and childish”. Not a comment that would please her Italian friends! But that’s the sort of book it is. One person’s close up view of an extraordinary time in Rome ‘under the terror’ and her unvarnished views on what is going on around her. I am strongly reminded of Victor Klemperer’s book ‘I Shall Bear Witness’ (Phoenix, 1999) in which he describes what it was like living as a citizen in Berlin in the final months of the second world war and seeing it collapsing all around him. As with his book, the privations of ordinary people are described in telling detail and the constant fear of death from the skies or on the ground is everywhere in the writing.

It is books like these that show us how much we take for granted our lives spent far away from war zones.

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