"You know," the correspondent said," in Italy we’re winning this war militarily—but losing it politically!"

PETER STURSBERG February 15 1945


"You know," the correspondent said," in Italy we’re winning this war militarily—but losing it politically!"

PETER STURSBERG February 15 1945


"You know," the correspondent said," in Italy we’re winning this war militarily—but losing it politically!"


C.B.C. War Correspondent

THE place was Rome—a “freed” Rome, which the fighting had passed over, but which still remains the chief battleground of that secondary war

we are waging in Italy. That secondary, almost unknown, war does not use bullets—except infrequently. It is a war of ideas, a war of re-education. It is the United Nations’ first effort to show the people of a formerly enemy country that the ways of dictatorship are wrong and that democracy is better.

Kitty wasn’t really an Italian. She was a Greek, but she was married to an Italian airman who had flown with Balbo to Montreal in that mass flight across the Atlantic before the war. He was a tall thin man who never said much. Kitty, who was dark and vivacious, could talk in five languages. She spoke in French the first time I met her with Joe, because Joe was a French Canadian.

“We’ve got no lights,” she said, holding a guttering candle in the dark hallway of the apartment house in Rome. “A friend of mine has electricity and we’ll go around to her place. I’m so sorry, mais c’est la guerre.” We walked across the street and around the corner to an apartment house whose windows shone brightly. This was October, and there was still such a shortage of electricity in Rome that civilians could only turn on their lights once every four days. Kitty had had her day yesterday and this was her friend’s day.

A party was going on and I heard the sound of people talking in several languages when the friend opened the door. Valenta was also a Greek married to an Italian, and there were Greeks and Italians and three American soldiers there in the flat on the one night in four that it was bright, and, of course, now Kitty and Joe, who was French Canadian, and I.

I sat down on a sofa next to an American, whom I thought was British at first because he was wearing shorts and had bare knees. Actually he was a member of the American Field Service, the volunteer ambulance unit which had been with the Eighth Army ever since the Western Desert, that was why he wore a British uniform. He was leaning forward, talking to a Greek sitting opposite him.

“What I don’t understand is what you’ve been saying about the Communists increasing in power,” the American said. “I don’t like to hear that. Why, in the United States, they’re not . . . well, they’re considered subversive and yet over here they seem to be growing stronger all the time. That’s what I don’t understand.”

The Greek smiled, somewhat patronizingly, as he replied:

“You don’t understand and yet it’s largely due to you. I tell you it’s the ineptness and stupidity of the Allies and their undemocratic methods which have been largely responsible for the increased Communist strength—that and, of course, the example of Russia.

“I think what you really don’t understand is that this war is a revolution as well—that it’s just as much a political matter as a military matter. That’s what I think you don’t understand.”

The Greek sat back in his chair. He was like a cartoon of a left wing intellectual, with his high forehead and long curling black hair. His thick lensed glasses glinted, and he looked old and very wise. In comparison the American seemed so young and naïve and he was just a kid, 19, maybe 20 but no more. A good-looking boy from the Middle West who didn’t know much about politics.

His companions were in the American Field Service as well. One of them was telling Valenta that their leave was up and that they would have to go back to the front tomorrow, and that he didn’t know how long it would be before they could return but he thought that it would be some time, because they had just had 10 days. Valenta seemed upset and Kitty, who was sitting on the arm of the sofa, said to me:

Fantastic Food Prices

THE boys have been staying here and now that they’re leaving, poor Valenta doesn’t know what she’ll do about food. Of course they’ve been providing her with Army rations and there’s been plenty to eat.” “Is the food situation that bad?” I asked. I had been away some time and I had only just returned to Rome but I had already heard rumblings about conditions in the capital.

“Terrible,” Valenta said. She had heard me ask the question and her brown eyes opened wide as she answered in a soft hesitating voice because her English was not as good as Kitty’s.

“It’s terrible,” she repeated, “I think we shall all die of hunger this winter.”

I laughed at this exaggeration.

“You can laugh because the Army feeds you well,” she went on, her wide eyes growing wider, “but we have to buy everything on the black market and the prices are fantast ic. For instance meat costs 400 lire a kilo (about $4 a pound)—yes, any kind of meat, including horse meat.”

Valenta turned to Kitty and spoke rapidly in French (although they were both Greek they seemed to use French just as much as Greek) and then said:

“There’s been no sugar for the last two months and you know what we’ve had to pay for it—500 lire a kilo (about $5 a pound).”

“But surely you get meat and sugar on your ration cards, don’t you?”

“They’re on the ration cards but there’s been none. I told you there’s been no sugar for two months.”

“You’ve got to live on the black market,” Kitty broke in. “The only ration we get is the bread ration. The meat ration is half a kilo (slightly over a pound) for five persons every 10 days. It’s ridiculous, and we don’t even get it.”

“And you know,” Valenta said, “the Allies promised to feed us. They even put it in writing so that everyone could read it.”

She fished out a 100-lire bill from her purse and passed it over to me. It was Allied military currency and on the back in each corner was printed in English: Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom from Want. Freedom from Fear. I had always thought that Freedom from Want might be a difficult promise to keep because it could be interpreted so widely, but it was obviously meant to cover such a fundamental human need as food.

“Are you worse off now than under the Germans?” I asked.

“Yes, we are, much worse off,” Valenta said, and added quickly, “but we’re happier to have the Allies, and less to eat, than have the Germans.

“You know I estimated the other day that it cost about 10,000 lire ($100) a month to feed a family of four.”

“What do people earn here?”

“If they can get any work,” Valenta said with a sad smile. “My husband is a prisoner of war and I get only a few 100 lire a month from the Government. I tried to get a job with the Allies but they told me that my English was not good enough. I’m working noto in a shop. For 10 hours a day, six days a week, I get 2,000 lire a month.”

The radio was blaring jazz and I had difficulty hearing what she said. Kitty had gone into the

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parquet hallway to dance with one of the Americans.

“Two thousand lire a month for a shopgirl,” Valenta repeated. “An accountant in a bank gets only 4,000 lire a month. Kitty’s husband, who is a colonel in the Italian Air Force, makes between 5,000 and 6,000 lire a month, but Kitty’s all right because she has money of her own. I have to sell my jewellery to keep my family, which includes my old father and the two children, from starving. I can still sell things, but what do the poor people do?”

I didn’t doubt Valenta’s sincerity but I wasn’t sure about her accuracy. Ten thousand lire a month seemed a lot of money to spend on food alone, but Akos said that it was a conservative figure. It cost him 30,000 ($300) lire a month to feed himself and his wife and daughter and donna (maid of all work).

Serious Unemployment

Akos was a successful film writer who had worked in Hollywood before the war. He was a Hungarian but he was married to an Italian and had made his home in Rome for some years.

A sensitive ascetic man, who was by religion a Catholic and by politics a liberal, Akos had wrung his hands over the situation in Italy on previous

occasions. Now he paced the marble floor of his apartment, almost exploding with emotion.

“Of course the people are starving,” he said. “There are many evidences of malnutrition. Look at the figures for infant mortality.”

He halted in front of the modernistic painting hanging over the tiled fireplace. It was a strange picture, full of armless and legless and even headless dummies, and I used to think that it was symbolic of all the nightmarish horrors of this war. Akos exclaimed:

“It’s unbelievable. If the Allies had wanted to turn the Italian people against them they couldn’t have gone about it in a better way. This food shortage—the unemployment—the reactionary attitude toward the democratic forces in Italy—the red tape and the inefficiencies—all of these things can’t be blamed on the exigencies of war.

“The unemployment situation in Rome is serious and a lot of it is unnecessary. There’s one factory here which could be put back into operation tomorrow—My God, the workers saved the machinery from the Germans and yet they’re idle now because the place is requisitioned. Evidently once a thing has been requisitioned you can’t get it derequisitioned—there’s so much red tape connected with the Allied Control Commission.”

I thought of the Plaza Hotel, where I had had a drink the night before. The Plaza is one of the best hotels in Rome and had been requisitioned for the French officers at the time of the liberation, but this was October, more than five months later, and all the French troops had gone to southern France in August. Yet the Plaza was still requisitioned and that night its bar and restaurant, which had been so crowded, were empty except for the handful of officers who had been left behind.

The headquarters of the Allied Control Commission (ACC) is in a fine modern building which used to be a Fascist Ministry. Carabinieri in their medieval costumes and British and American military policemen snapped smartly to attention as I walked up the carpeted stairway to the office of one of the higher officials. He was a British officer, a charming cultured man who had a great fondness for the ballet. He leaned back in his swivel chair and said:

“Yes, I know all about the food shortage, but I do think it’s unfair to compare it with the situation which existed under the Germans. Geographically Rome was better off then because it could draw on the north for its supplies. We haven’t got the Po Valley yet. Then the Jerries walked off with all the transport.

“If we had 2,000 trucks we would be a long step toward solving the problem.

At least then we could move the farm products to the cities. We’ve asked for trucks from the military but they won’t give any to us because they say they need all the transport they have to supply the armies in the field. However, Prime Minister Churchill made a statement in the House a short time ago promising some 2,000 trucks to the Italian Government and we should be getting some of them soon.”

He waved at a stack of Italian newspapers on a small table by his desk and went on:

“Of course we’re getting kicked around in the newspapers, but that’s a burden you have to bear for granting a free press and I think you must agree with me that we’ve at least done this.

Freedom of Press

“The newspapers have been comparing our treatment of Italy with the

Russian treatment of Romania and Finland. What they know about the latter I don’t know, but I suppose it’s wonderful.”

He picked up one of the one-sheet newspapers and read from it:

“This one says that the Reds rushed thousands of tons of flour in special trains to Bucharest on the day that they took the city.

“Well, there you are. You know it’s a great pity that the Russians aren’t here — then perhaps the Italians wouldn’t think them so wonderful.”

As the ACC official said, the Allies have granted a fair measure of freedom of the press. Of course there are controls. The circulations of the newspapers are limited by quotas, but that’s largely an economic factor.

The largest quota was allotted to our own newspaper the Corriere di Roma, published by the Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB), the propaganda branch of the Allied Forces. Consequently it had the largest circulation, about 180,000 daily.

Next to this official sheet in circulation was Avanti, the newspaper of the Socialist Party, which sold 94,000 a day and could have sold thousands more. Then came the Communist organ, Unita, and then II Popolo, with circulations of 60,000 and 50,000 daily. II Popolo belonged to the Christian Democratic Party,which is the Catholic Party.

Every one of the six political Parties publishes a newspaper but the circulation of the others was no more than 10,000 or 15,000 and could not be compared with Avanti, Unita or II Popolo.

Thus it can be assumed that the only Parties with broad mass backings in Italy are the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Christian Democratic Party. However, the circulation of Avanti is not an indication of the preponderance of the Socialist Party but is rather a tribute to the leader of the Socialist Party, Nenni, as a great journalist. People buy Avanti to read what Nenni says in his column.

The Italian newspapers were forthright in their comment and they criticized Prime Minister Churchill after his visit to Italy last August. This visit was not entirely a success. The Italian anti-Fascists were disappointed that Mr. Churchill spent so much time with Marshal Badoglio and members of the House of Savoy. In his column in Avanti, Nenni exclaimed angrily: “Mr. Churchill invokes democracy but decries democrats.”

When the Prime Minister returned and told the House of Commons in London that Prince Umberto’s popularity was increasing, the Italian press attacked him for misrepresentation of facts. Even the ACC official with whom I talked admitted that the Italian royal family would not survive the war.

In their comparison of the treatment of Italy with the treatment of Romania and Finland, the Italian newspapers could point to one thing for certain and that was the fact that the Romanian and Finnish Armies were fighting beside the Red Armies on the Eastern Front, while no equivalent Italian force wasfighting with us on the Italian front.

Akos had been greatly concerned over this matter and had said repeatedly to me:

“Naturally the Italians want a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of the world, but you won’t give them that chance.”

I remember how disappointed and disillusioned Enrico had been when he was told that he could not join up. Enrico was an Italian partisan who had fought against the Nazis in Umbria. He had hitchhiked, full of

enthusiasm, to Rome to continue the great crusade hut he had been told that he was not wanted in the Army because the Allies did not want a large Italian Army.

Enrico had nothing left but to return to the home of his father in the Abruzzi. There was no organization to look after the disbanded partisans. He would probably have to walk all the way home. I had seen so many of these brave patriots, ragged and dirty and unkempt, cast out like old shoes after their usefulness was over, standing on the sidq of the highway trying to thumb a lift. The military vehicles speeding along the road had strict orders not to pick up civilians, and how could the drivers tell that those scarecrows were anything else but ordinary “Ities”?

As Enrico had no money I gave him a few 100 lire to buy food on the way. Before he started down the road he said to me:

“You know I saw so-and-so,” and he mentioned the name of a well-known Fascist bully boy. “Yes, I saw him coming out of the Grand Hotel. Yes, I swear to it. What’s he doing free?”

He spat on the ground and added: “Is it for this that I risked my life in Umbria? Is it for this that my comrades died in agony—so that this torturer could sit and drink in the Grand Hotel? I think we have been betrayed.”

The failure to purge the Fascists and Collaborators, the failure to get rid of the old gang and the old gangsters led to the recent resignation of Premier Bonomi and the subsequent political crisis in Italy. After talking with Iínrico I realized what a fundamental issue it was. As his ragged figure disappeared down the road I thought of the Fascist torture chamber which I had seen in Rome. It was a dark fearful cell in the basement of the solid respectable - looking Pensione Jaccarino, near the beautiful Villa Borghesi Park.

Later I was to be present when they exhumed the bodies of the 300 hostages at the Ardeatine Caves just outside Rome. These 300 hostages had been murdered as a reprisal for the bombing and killing of some German soldiers on a Roman street.

The bodies lay under the broiling sun, grey sacks of decay amid the broken earth and stones. The scene filled me with horror, and I looked into the faces of relatives and friends who had come to claim these ghastly remains and I saw something dark and forbidding in them.

The Fascist torture chamber in Rome and the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves, they are deep wounds in the soul of the people and they can only be cured by a thorough purge of the Fascists and Collaborators.

In the midst of all the political tension apparent in Rome during October, it was refreshing to visit George, even though George got very angry over the Allies as far as the electricity was concerned. That was because he lived at the top of an apartment house on the bank of the Tiber and for five months the elevator had not worked and he had had to climb seven flights of stairs several times a day.

It was worth climbing the seven flights of stairs to visit George because he had a beautiful roof garden, full of tubs of oleanders and jasmines, from which you could look out across Rome at the dome of St. Peter’s. He had also a wonderful cook, who could make delectable dishes out of plain ordinary bully beef.

Losing Political War

George was a Swiss correspondent, one of those neutral journalists you

have seen so often quoted. He was as conservative as any Swiss and had a \ pathological dislike of the Soviet Union ¡ and Communism, but even George lost his meticulous way of talking and j started to rant when he got on the subject of electricity and food. lt;

“I tell you,” he said to me,” the Italians are the easiest people on earth to keep happy. They’re lazy, they’re easygoing, and all they want to eat is ■ spaghetti. But spaghetti doesn’t grow like asparagus. It’s got to be made by 1 mills, which are run by electricity, and you’ve got to have flour to make it.” ] “All the Allies had to do was to fix ] up the electricity and bring in enough flour and there would have been none ' of this mess.” •

The outburst was over and George ] returned to his careful way of speaking English, every word finished and ( dropping from his mouth as though it ] were something solid.

“Yes,” he said, “instead of bread and games you should have given them spaghetti and cinemas.”

Just before I left Rome I dropped into the Albergo Citta, which was the hotel where most of the correspondents stayed. Leaning against the bar was a British correspondent who had been in Italy before the war.

“Have some of this filthy cognac,” he said. “It’s most depressing stuff.”

We drank the raw Italian cognac and talked about the food situation in Rome and the obstacles which had been put in the way of the Italian Government’s attempt to get rid of the old Mussolini men and to bring some of the worst Fascists to trial. Already there were rumblings of dissension among the members of Premier Bonomi’s Cabinet.

“You know,” the British correspondent said, “we’re winning this war militarily but losing it politically.”

I wondered . . .