Warburg in Rome

by James Carroll

From the author of the New York Times best-selling Constantine’s Sword, a novel set in post-World War II Rome, where the fate of recently liberated Jews and the Church’s dark wartime secrets intertwine 

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547738901
  • ISBN-10: 0547738900
  • Pages: 384
  • Publication Date: 07/01/2014
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    David Warburg, newly minted director of the U.S. War Refugee Board, arrives in Rome at war’s end, determined to bring aid to the destitute European Jews streaming into the city. Marguerite d’Erasmo, a French-Italian Red Cross worker with a shadowed past, is initially Warburg’s guide to a complicated Rome; while a charismatic young American Catholic priest, Monsignor Kevin Deane, seems equally committed to aiding Italian Jews. But the city is a labyrinth of desperate fugitives, runaway Nazis, Jewish resisters, and criminal Church figures. Marguerite, caught between justice and revenge, is forced to play a double game. At the center of the maze, Warburg discovers one of history’s great scandals—the Vatican ratline, a clandestine escape route maintained by Church officials and providing scores of Nazi war criminals with secret passage to Argentina. Warburg’s disillusionment is complete when, turning to American intelligence officials, he learns that the dark secret is not so secret, and that even those he trusts may betray him.

    James Carroll delivers an authoritative, stirring novel that reckons powerfully with the postwar complexities of good and evil in the Eternal City.


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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    The Name

    David Warburg had received the notice the evening before, an order to appear, setting this early appointment. He’d come downtown just as the sun was turning the dark city pink. From the window of his office on the third floor of the second most stately building on Pennsylvania Avenue, he’d watched the morning ease fully into its own. The Washington Monument took the light, a garment. At five minutes before the hour, he set out.
       The broad, polished corridors would be bustling soon with Treasury Department functionaries, but not yet. He strode to the central marble staircase, a gleaming gyre below the soaring translucent dome. One hand in his trouser pocket, his jacket back, one hand riding the railing, he skipped down two steps at a time, coming to the grand second floor, which was dominated by the diplomatic reception room and, adjoining that, the secretary of the treasury’s suite of offices. Cool it, he told himself. Swinging left toward the ornate double door, he slowed his pace.
       Last night, Janet had been certain that this meeting with the secretary himself promised something, as she put it, “really good.” But Warburg was wary. It had irritated her that he’d declined to match her high spirits at the news of this summons. In the past, pointer in hand, he’d briefed Mr. Morgenthau on debt security legislation and congressional vote counts, but he’d never been formally introduced to him. This summons had come without explanation, which was enough to spark Janet’s wishfulness.
       Warburg couldn’t acknowledge it to her, or to anyone, but he was appalled to find himself a seat-of-government paper pusher as the war built toward an inevitably savage climax. The latest report was that German troops were marshaling on Hungary’s border, Budapest another morsel soon to be devoured in a Nazi rampage that was not impeded by the Red Army offensive on the Dnieper. Warburg was that rare, able-bodied man of twenty-eight not in uniform. Dancing at midnight on the Shoreham terrace thrilled Janet, but it embarrassed him to be seen there, even with such a beauty. She was happy just to rest her cheek against the lapel of his suit coat, as they softly swayed to the orchestra’s mellow rhythm. He felt tenderly toward her, but tenderness was a flimsy bridge across the yawning gulf that had opened between them, whether she knew of it or not.
       On his office wall, where Janet did not see it, Warburg had posted a floor-to-ceiling map of Europe, with yellow pins denoting General Mark Clark’s stymied army in southern Italy, still the only Anglo-American force on the continent. There were also pins to the north and east, red ones, marking the Soviet offensive lines. Green pins, concentrated between the Danube and Vistula Rivers, marked places reported or rumored to be the Germans’ forced labor, transit, and prison camps. Warburg had been tracking the Nazi killing sites for months, though it had nothing to do with his official work.
       The war, darling, he’d say as they were dancing, by the time it’s over, Europe will be a charnel house. Did you hear me? No, of course she didn’t, because he’d said it to himself. It was not Janet’s fault that he’d become obsessed with the slaughter lands to the east, nor was it her fault that he found it impossible to speak with her of his obsession. And, later, the face powder on his lapel would not come out.
       Right out of law school, Warburg had been conscripted like most men, though the draft, in his case, was not into the Army. When, in the spring of ’42, the law school dean, a former New Dealer named Harold Gardner, had taken the job of general counsel at the Treasury Department, he had taken a handful of newly minted lawyers with him, including Warburg. “Don’t be ridiculous,” the dean had said to Warburg, swatting away his initial demurral. Warburg had already filed enlistment papers, effective at the term’s end, itching to join the fight. But Gardner was insistent: “Washington is where your country needs you, David.” Warburg still refused, but Gardner chided him: as a lawyer in uniform, Warburg would never see service overseas in any case. He’d be a JAG mandarin, bringing acne-faced AWOLs to court-martial, at Fort McClellan in Alabama or someplace worse. In fact, Gardner had promised to see to it.
       And so Warburg had joined the fray in Washington, becoming one of the samurai bureaucrats in the thick of the vast legislative reinvention of federal finances made necessary by the explosion of war spending. The rolling congressional authorizations for the war bond program was Warburg’s particular portfolio. As it turned out, he’d already been central to the raising of more than half a billion dollars in war funding, which helped keep inflation down and the war economy booming. Not bad service, that. But alas, judging by the markers on Warburg’s wall map, Hitler wasn’t as yet much hindered.
       At the treasury secretary’s reception area, a primly dressed woman promptly showed Warburg into the ornate inner office. Harold Gardner was there, sitting with Morgenthau in matched leather wing chairs in an alcove where one large Palladian window overlooked the White House. There was a clear view of the President’s mansion because only the faintest pale lime of early buds tempered the stark black-and-white branches of the late-winter trees. A third man was seated on an adjacent sofa.
       The three men came to their feet at Warburg’s arrival. Henry Morgenthau Jr., a slim figure whose tanned baldness struck an elegant fashion note, was nearly as tall as Warburg. Yet Gardner was the first to stretch out his hand, putting his responsibility for this meeting on display. He let his affection for Warburg show, saying as he turned to Morgenthau, “David was the best we had in New Haven.” But before the secretary could reply, or even grasp Warburg’s hand, his desk buzzer sounded, and he went to the telephone.
       “Friendly greetings to you, Felix,” Morgenthau said grandly into the mouthpiece. Gardner and the other man resumed their seats, but Warburg remained standing, as if holding a hat.
       “Thanks for calling back,” Morgenthau said. “Too early? Of course not. I’ve been at my desk for an hour. Same as you.” Morgenthau listened, then laughed. “How is Frieda?” He paused, then added, “Give her our love.” There would be a performance aspect to this conversation. “The reason I called—I have one of your young relations here with me right now.” Pause. “That’s right. I’m about to brief him on the job I’m giving him. A very important job, and I wanted you to be the first to know. Yes. In Rome, once liberation comes . . .”
       Listening, Warburg thought, Whoa, what’s this? He exchanged a quick glance with Gardner, catching his all but imperceptible nod. Rome? Gardner had insisted more than once that Warburg was indispensable on Pennsylvania Avenue, with three new bills a month coming off his desk. “The Appropriations Committee,” Gardner had barked repeatedly, “is clay on your potter’s wheel. Can’t do without you.”
       “. . . the War Refugee Board,” Morgenthau was saying. My War Refugee Board. Once Mark Clark captures it, Rome will be the nerve center and the escape hatch both. And your young man will run things.”

  • Reviews
    "Carroll, winner of the National Book Award for An American Requiem (1996) and the PEN/Galbraith Award for House of War (2006), both nonfiction, has also written numerous novels in multiple genres. Here he combines fact and fiction in a historical thriller. Carroll makes clear in an author’s note that, while the “main characters and their story” are fictional, everything else in the book, centering on the treatment of Italian Jews during and after WWII, and including a Vatican plot called the “ratline,” which secretly relocated Nazi war criminals to Argentina, is based on fact. This author’s note, which appears at the end of the novel, might have been better placed at the beginning, since what Carroll describes is so horrifying (as in details on a children’s concentration camp) as to seem fictional. The man who encounters this tangle of evil is David Warburg, sent to Rome by the U.S. War Refugee Board at the end of WWII to help bring aid to the European Jews arriving in Rome. Warburg has two guides to the inferno of postwar Rome: a woman Red Cross worker and a young American priest. Their efforts are met, first with bureaucratic roadblocks, and later with full-out betrayal. Carroll’s depictions of the chaos in Rome, along with his insights into the Vatican ratline, are unforgettable. Recommend this utterly engaging thriller to fans of Joseph Kanon’s The Good German (2001) and James R. Benn’s Death’s Door (2012)."--Booklist, STARRED review
    "James Carroll has written a novel with the breathtaking pace of a thriller and the gravitas of a genuine moral center--as if John LeCarre and Graham Greene collaborated to produce Warburg in Rome"—Mary Gordon, author of Pearl and The Love of My Youth

    "Carroll, who explored the history of Catholic anti-Semitism in the nonfiction account Constantine’s Sword, returns to this theme with a suspenseful historical drama set in Rome at the end of WWII and centering on Vatican complicity in the flight of Nazi fugitives to Argentina. David Warburg, a U.S. Treasury Department lawyer, is sent to the city to organize the War Refugee Board, a front for aiding Jewish refugees and helping to create their hoped-for homeland in Palestine. While in Rome, Warburg meets ruthless OSS counterintelligence head Col. Peter Mates, who is opposing Soviet domination of Central Europe through covert means. Warburg and Mates draw Father Kevin Deane, an American priest, and Marguerite d’Erasmo, a French-Italian Red Cross worker, into their plans, not realizing that both have hidden allegiances and motives. As Carroll cleverly weaves these characters among an assortment of liars, schemers, and charlatans, one character sums it all up: “None of us here is innocent.” While high-placed Catholic officials aid escaped war criminals, other factions seek revenge for wartime brutality, and still others begin the bloody struggle for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. And at the heart of all the treachery, murder, and tragedy is the Eternal City."--Publishers Weekly

    "A well-paced thriller from longtime Vatican watcher Carroll (Crusade, 2004, etc.) set in post–World War II Rome, with the Catholic Church athwart a tangle of scandalous politics and incriminating deeds.
    "Sanctuary, Sister, is for the guilty. We may not like it, but there it is." So remarks an American monsignor, Kevin Deane, who’s working to provide relief to Italian Jews, even as others in the Vatican are seeking to extend that sanctuary to their Nazi persecutors. Into this conflict comes refugee coordinator David Warburg, a confidant of Henry Morgenthau, who has warned him that "[o]nce Mark Clark captures it, Rome will be the nerve center and the escape hatch both." If Morgenthau only knew how deeply tunneled that escape hatch was….Helping Warburg—or is she?—is a Red Cross worker named Marguerite d’Erasmo, who "came of age as if she were a nun" but who has hidden resources, to say nothing of secrets. Marguerite is a person of faith much shaken, for this is a time in which "the Madonna seemed indifferent to everyone but her Son," while Warburg is a coolly efficient explorer of the surprising alleys his quest takes him down—not just the Vatican "ratline" that sweeps Nazis out of the path of the conquering Allies (Rome, as Warburg sees it, is "halfway between Vienna and Buenos Aires"), but also a complex storyline that finds highly placed elements within the Vatican opposing Jewish immigration to Palestine on the grounds that by doing so, they are helping to preserve the Holy Land, even as others are aligned with the revived cause of Zionism. Carroll blends a solid command of modern history with a sense for the varieties of evil that have inhabited it—not just the villains, but also the bureaucrats who have self-servingly helped them along and the apologists who have made the world safe for both classes of people.
    Though without the white-knuckle tension of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a yarn that’s of a piece with it—and a worthy successor."--Kirkus Reviews

    "Warburg In Rome creates the atmosphere of a thriller with deeply serious historical undertones - the immediate aftermath of the German occupation of Rome. And the laying down of the infamous ratlines that allowed Nazi principals to escape allied capture with aid from the church. And Roosevelt's belated plan to save Jews still in Nazi territory. That's the history part. Fiction enters with a main character named David Warburg, a secular American Jew from northern New England. Roosevelt has charged him with directing the U.S. War Refugee Board and sends him on a mission to Rome, just after the Nazi retreat. Plenty of other strong characters gather around Warburg - some to help and some to disrupt. There's American priest, whom New York's ambitious Cardinal Spellman has assigned to advance his purposes, while in Rome and 24-year-old Marguerite D’Erasmo, a half-French, half-Italian beauty, whom Warburg finds both attractive and useful for his own plans. She's been working in tandem with a group of resisting priests and local Jewish leaders to save the lives of Jews still in fascist captivity. A long struggle ensues to find justice and love in the wake of the war. But the novel remains consistently entertaining, never didactic - even as a reader moves along, hip-deep in the history of the period."Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

    "Former priest Carroll (An American Requiem) returns with this complex and compelling novel of the Vatican and morality during World War II. The happenings here are dark indeed, and it’s often difficult to believe that the novel is based on real-life events. Lawyer David Warburg comes to Rome to help set up and direct the new U.S. War Refugee Board, an effort that aims to help European Jews rebuild their lives as the war comes to a close. In the course of his humanitarian work, he meets Marguerite d’Erasmo, a Red Cross worker who is motivated by much more than meets the eye. Soon David learns of the Vatican ratline, a system that the Church used to smuggle Nazi war criminals to safety in Argentina. No longer sure whom to trust, he turns to U.S. Intelligence, only to find that the ratline isn’t much of a secret after all. VERDICT This is a fresh look at a scandalous chapter of history, and one that reminds us that even when the war was over, the horrors were not. Sensitive readers should beware, as there are some graphic and extremely unsettling scenes. This book deserves a wide readership, and should especially appeal to readers interested in political and religious history."--Library Journal

    "James Carroll’s 'Warburg in Rome' has many of the ingredients of a great spy thriller: a high-stakes battle between good and evil; a plot full of...