“Your Excellency,” begins Pope Pius XII’s letter to Franklin Roosevelt dated May 18, 1943. “Almost four years have now passed since, in the name of the God the Father of all and with the utmost earnestness at Our command, we appealed to the responsible leaders of peoples to hold back the threatening avalanche of international strife and to settle their differences in the calm, serene atmosphere of mutual understanding.”
The Pope’s August 1939 appeal for a serene atmosphere of mutual understanding could certainly not be established after Nazi boots crossed into Poland the very next month. In his May 1943 letter, Pope Pius relates, with bitter taste, the tidal wave of destruction, despair and disorder that was then washing over the world.
It is in the same letter, the leader of the Catholic faith prays that Roosevelt understands that a bombardment of Rome would undoubtedly dislodge from human civilization the “many treasured shrines of Religion and Art,” that were housed within the city.
This appeal to effectively make Rome an open city failed. Roosevelt was not deaf to the Pope’s question of Rome and the Vatican, reassuring the Pope that bombing efforts would be concentrated upon military targets: “[if] it should be found necessary for Allied planes to operate over Rome, our aviators are thoroughly informed as to the location of the Vatican and have been specifically instructed to prevent bombs from falling within Vatican City.
Rome was eventually declared an open city by her defenders in August of 1943, after the Allied bombing campaign had ceased. The city was captured by the Allies in June of 1944.
The copious correspondence between President and Pontiff would continue after the Allied bombings of Italy, ending with Roosevelt’s untimely death.
Posted by Ryan Casalino, Interactive Content Intern.
Meet the Author – Robert Edsel presents “Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis”
Thursday, May 30, 2013
5:00 pm Reception | 6:00 pm Presentation | 7:00 pm Book Signing
US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
When Hitler’s armies occupied Italy in 1943, they also seized control of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures. As they had done throughout Europe, the Nazis could now plunder the masterpieces of the Renaissance, the treasures of the Vatican, and the antiquities of the Roman Empire.
On the eve of the Allied invasion, General Dwight Eisenhower empowered a new kind of soldier to protect these historic riches. In May 1944 two unlikely American heroes — artist Deane Keller and scholar Fred Hartt — embarked from Naples on the treasure hunt of a lifetime, tracking billions of dollars of missing art, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Titian, Caravaggio, and Botticelli.
With the German army retreating up the Italian peninsula, orders came from the highest levels of the Nazi government to transport truckloads of art north across the border into the Reich. Standing in the way was General Karl Wolff, a top-level Nazi officer. As German forces blew up the magnificent bridges of Florence, General Wolff commandeered the great collections of the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, later risking his life to negotiate a secret Nazi surrender with American spymaster Allen Dulles.
Saving Italy brings readers from Milan and the near destruction of The Last Supper to the inner sanctum of the Vatican and behind closed doors with the preeminent Allied and Axis leaders: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Churchill; Hitler, Göring, and Himmler.
Robert M. Edsel is the author of the non-fiction books, Rescuing Da Vinci and The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, as well as the forthcoming book Saving Italy, to be published in Spring 2013. He is the co-producer of the documentary film, The Rape of Europa, and Founder and President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. In January 2012 George Clooney announced he would write, direct and star in the film version of Mr. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men.