Not much is known about how Italy was thrust in the middle of World War II, with the fascist regime. Not much is known about the allied forces who were involved in the war in the liberation of Italy. Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945, by James Holland is a book that encompasses all facets of fascism in Italy under Mussolini’s rule, and the German occupation of the country.
I was astounded while reading Italy’s Sorrow, astounded by the actual data that the book contained. One thing that was overwhelming to me was the fact that the liberation of Italy was more or less played down and given a low profile in the newspaper accounts of the day. The events of the Italian liberation sat on the back burner, because of what occurred a few days later in France…D-Day/Normandy’s invasion. Normandy was given full coverage, yet without the Italian Campaign, the outcome might have been different.
That doesn’t make the allied forces attempt to overcome the German occupation any less of a battle, or less important in the stature of battles fought against the German Nazi forces. In fact, there were more U.S. troops lost in the Italian Campaign than in other important geographical areas that were a part of the warring factions in World War II. The total lives lost are estimated to be more than the entire northern European Campaign, and in the end the total was almost 200,00 troops. The total allied deaths (all countries involved) were approximately 320,000, not including the battle of the final surrender.
From Sicily to Naples-Foggia, to Anzio, Cassini and Sardinia, Rome and Arno, events have been clouded over, and little is known about what actually transpired during the days from September 1943 through June 1944. The U.S. chiefs and other allied forces combined together, were more concerned about invading France, and the ensuing Italian Campaign battles suffered due to that reasoning. They also were not given the accolades, by the press, that they most definitely deserved. In fact, many of the troops that were in the Italian Campaign, ended up making their way through Italy, Germany and Belgium, and on through the north of France, making and creating a holding force, which forced the Germans south. Yet, little is referenced, voiced, or known about the Italian Campaign. Almost as many troops were casualties in what is known as the Gothic Line in Italy, as there were in World War I, and the western front. More troops were killed in Italy during WWII than those killed in northwestern Europe.
Italian fascists and partisans fought against each other in a civil war within World War II. Friend or foe, it was hard to separate the two. The poverty stricken Italians had many decisions to make, and some were heart-wrenching. Yet, many of the Italian fascists fought to save Italian Jews. For them, religion wasn’t the issue that divided them. The primary issue was fascists vs ordinary Italians, and fascists vs partisans. Genocide loomed large in Italy, and the Germans occupied the homes, land and buildings in the villages they plundered through. When they were finished, the destroyed everything in sight.
James Holland doesn’t mince words, graphic word images, and details, in his book on the Italian Campaign. It is filled with all the horrors of war, all the atrocities and genocide that the Germans tried to force on the Italians. Nothing is left unturned in Italy’s Sorrow. All the stones are overturned revealing the horrific incidents, and the violence that wreaked havoc on the landscape of Italy. Destruction was everywhere, bodies lay everywhere, bombed out buildings, homes and places of worship were a common sight on what was once a scenic land.
The advance of the allies was not one that was known by all the Italian citizens. One day they had a home, a village, the next day it was bombed out by the allies who were advancing on the Germans. Many of the citizens had no idea what was happening, or why. The Italians were devastated, their land and homes looking like matchsticks. The landscape was a bloodbath, along with the hardships of a muddy terrain.
I won’t describe details in full, and won’t go any further in describing the contents of the book. It is an extremely detailed summation of facts and historical information and documents garnered from newspaper articles, photographs, diaries, journals, witness accounts, interviews, etc. From soldier stories and accounts to the telling of the events by the Italian citizens, the experiences of the Italian Campaign are told. Holland is to be commended on his untiring endeavor to set the record straight through his endless research.
He wanted to set the record straight, and that he has accomplished in ways I can’t even begin to articulate.
History is not only depicted, but honored, and those who served in the military, and those who were ordinary citizens are given recognition. The book is extremely compelling, astounding, overwhelming, and one can’t finish it and let go of what they have read. The words find their own way into the reader’s mind, and the reader is unable to separate from the journey they have taken through the Holocaust, World War II, and the Italian Campaign. One can’t simply put the book down and forget about the Italian people and their once beautiful landscape, which was covered with death, carnage and destruction. Holland has brought a sense of compassion to the Italian campaign through his brilliant and masterful writing of history. Italy’s Sorrow is a telling of brutality, evil, humanity, humankind and human kindness, paralleled with fascism and the Nazis. It is a book that belongs in every school, college, university, and home library.
I salute James Holland for his steadfast concern in telling not only a story of war, but of military heroes, every day heroes, and a historical documentation of lives lost in the process of the Italian Liberation, which took place in June 1944. His sense of time and place, are crucial to the historical events that took place, and nothing about the events, civilians, military, etc., is diminished or demeaned in any manner. In fact, the military personnel along with the every day Italian citizens are given the recognition and honor they deserve, and their long overdue accomplishments are brought to the forefront. He is concise in his deliverance of what took place, and his forthrightness and need to bring the history of the Italian Campaign to the forefront is what impressed me about his writing. I highly recommend Italy’s Sorrow to everyone.
Reading this book (twice, and more, in some parts) has also helped me to realize the intensity and compelling events in a new light, and has given me immense insight as to what my father went through when he served in Italy for the U.S. Army. But, just as important, it gives me knowledge about what many of my Italian relatives (who lived in Naples, Anzio and Cassini) had to endure and what they experienced during this horrific of times. Some survived, some were not so lucky.