June 5, 1944 – Allied Forces Liberate Rome!

Italy celebrates its independence on April 25, Liberation Day, the day (most of) Italy was freed from Nazi occupation in 1945.  The date also celebrates the end of 20 years of fascist dictatorship; Benito Mussolini was executed just three days later.

Rome, however, had been liberated on June 5, 1944, and that’s the date that always stays with me.  While Rome was supposedly held as an “Open City,” Romans were nonetheless brutalized by Naxi occupation.  The following photos show Nazis in the Eternal City, on the same streets and piazzas we walk today.

Nazis, including Himmler, in Rome at Piazza Venezia.
Nazis, including Himmler, in Rome at Piazza Venezia. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-2051 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

One of the worst atrocities was the slaughter of 335 people at the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for the Partisan attack on Nazi forces at Via Rasella on March 23, 1944.

A body lies on the street after the attack by Partisans on German troops on Via Rasella
German troops on Via Rasella, just after the attack.  (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-312-0983-10 / Koch / CC-BY-SA 3.0)


German (and Fascist) troops round up citizens at Palazzo Barberini after the Via Rasella attack. Some of the people in this photo probably died at Fosse Ardeatine.
Romans arrested at Palazzo Barberini after the Via Rasella attack. Some of the people in this photo probably died at Fosse Ardeatine. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-312-0983-07 / Koch / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

My favorite local hardware store is just around the corner from the exact place the Partisan attack occurred.  Whenever I go there, I can’t help but think of how the horrors of war were visited on the people of Rome — including but not limited to 1,800 Roman Jews sent to extermination camps.

But, today is a glorious day.  On June 5, 1944, the Yanks rolled into Rome as the Germans withdrew.  U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the liberation of Rome in one of his fireside chats:

My Friends:
Yesterday, on June fourth, 1944, Rome fell to American and Allied troops. The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands. One up and two to go!…

It is perhaps significant that the first of these capitals to fall should have the longest history of all of them. The story of Rome goes back to the time of the foundations of our civilization. We can still see there monuments of the time when Rome and the Romans controlled the whole of the then known world. That, too, is significant, for the United Nations are determined that in the future no one city and no one race will be able to control the whole of the world….

It is also significant that Rome has been liberated by the armed forces of many nations. The American and British armies — who bore the chief burdens of battle — found at their sides our own North American neighbors, the gallant Canadians. The fighting New Zealanders from the far South Pacific, the courageous French and the French Moroccans, the South Africans, the Poles and the East Indians — all of them fought with us on the bloody approaches to the city of Rome.

The Italians, too, forswearing a partnership in the Axis which they never desired, have sent their troops to join us in our battles against the German trespassers on their soil.

There is much criticism of the U.S. commander involved in the liberation of Rome, General Mark Clark. But today is about Rome and Italy.  The photo at the top of this post shows U.S. Fifth Army Private Elmer Sittion, getting a joyful kiss of gratitude from an Italian lady as he arrives in the Eternal City on June 5, 1944.  Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words…