No. 305  NAI DFA Secretary's Files P77

Extract from a letter from Thomas J. Kiernan to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(P 4/1/43)

HOLY SEE, 29 July 1943

An Runaí,
In continuation of my minute of July 19th 1943 (El 5/27/43),1 after three nights of long air-raid alarms, and one night (18th/19th July) of prolonged anti-aircraft gunfire, from 12.30 to 3.30 a.m., the alarm which heralded the bombardment of Rome was given at 11 a.m. on Monday 19th July and the first bombs were dropped thirteen minutes later.

During the early morning alarm and gun-fire, manifestos had been dropped on Rome. A version of the text is attached.2

All of the family were at home and as the Legation has not got an air-raid shelter we stayed on the ground floor. At 11.30 a.m. the telephone rang (it is forbidden to telephone during an air-raid alarm.). The call was from the German Embassy to the Holy See, from Dr. Hoffmann who said he wished to pay a courtesy call. I suggested his coming to lunch next day but he said that he was leaving for Berlin in the evening and would like to visit me at once. He came at noon, while the bombs were dropping near by, and chatted for almost an hour about nothing in particular. He mentioned that he is head of the Vatican division in the German Foreign Office and had recently been in Stockholm and Budapest. (The new German Ambassador, von Weizsäcker, had told me a few days earlier when he came to return my official call on him that he expected Hoffmann to come to Rome for a few days 'for an exchange of views'.)

Going through the bombed areas in the afternoon, I was struck by the calm and quietness of the poor people who were collecting odds and ends of clothing. The bodies were being dug out and there was no cordoning-off. Many people were hysterical. I was surprised that there were no priests or nuns to console them. There were some priests sight-seeing but none helping the people in the streets. Irish priests to whom I mentioned this said that the parochial confines are jealously restricted by the priests in charge but this seemed a poor reason at this time when the people were so badly in need of moral support.

I saw, in the most devastated area, a district of poor houses, a crowd of men struggling to get at a private car, which could not move for the struggling throng. Inside the closed car the Pope sat alone in the back, and was handing out notes of 1,000 lire each. Altogether he is said to have distributed 60,000 lire; but it was very indiscriminate charity and those who got the notes were what we would call 'toughs'. The Pope seemed dazed. Monsignor Montini3 who had left the Vatican with him had gone ahead on foot to get an officer to make a way for the car; and, after about ten minutes an officer and some soldiers arrived and order was restored. The car continued its slow way over the rubble, towards the Basilica of St. Laurence.

Copies of an English translation of the Holy Father's letter to His Vicar General in Rome, Cardinal Marchetti Selveggiani, are attached.4

The bombs were not of large calibre but were dropped in great numbers by successive waves of bombers. A bomb falling five yards in front of a house would make a crater in the street about two feet deep, and smash all the windows of the house, without, however, breaking the outer walls. If the bombs had been large, this Legation, being so near the bombed targets, would not have escaped. As it is, there was no damage.
[matter omitted]

1 Not printed.

2 Not printed.

3 Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978), a senior figure in the Vatican's State Department and, as his Private Secretary, one of Pope Pius XII's closest confidantes; later reigned as Pope Paul VI (1963-78).

4 Not printed


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