A true story of war, peace and friendship: a Nazi colonel and an Irish priest The story begins in Rome at the outbreak of WWII, when ardent Nazi Herbert Kappler, SS Obersturmbanfuhrer, and Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty would become adversaries in a real-life game of ‘cat and mouse’ of epic proportions. Hide and Seek chronicles the intimate and intensely personal war between them. A fiercely fought rivalry that would culminate in failed attempts by Kappler to kidnap and then murder his Irish opponent. In July 1943 Rome was bombed for the first time during the war.
As the swastika flew above the city, it was a time of fear, and a moment of choice: collaborate and compromise, or resist and revolt. O’Flaherty decided to quietly resist and fight the new rulers. Dubbed ‘Ireland’s Oscar Schindler’, he masterminded a large-scale operation from within the Vatican, to help Jews and escaped Allied prisoners on the run from the Nazis.
He used a series of safe houses and church buildings and sheltered around 500 Jews in the Holy See, and it is believed that sanctuary was found for some 4000 Jews across Rome, and 4000 Allied escapees. After the Resistance killed 32 German soldiers in a bombing, Hitler was enraged, and declared that he wanted a revenge attack to “make the world tremble”.
He instructed Kappler to draw up plans. Eventually, 335 people would be executed in the Ardeatine Caves, a labyrinth of tunnels outside the city. The massacre would become the worst atrocity committed on Italian soil during WWII. Kappler’s handiwork would remain secret until Rome was liberated by the Allies in June 1944. The Nazi Colonel was found guilty on all the charges relating to the caves massacre. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole. Amazingly, O’Flaherty would continue his relationship with Kappler, going to see his former rival in prison.
The discussions of the two men would become intense and searching, and a friendship grew between them. In later life, after much soul-searching Kappler became a Catholic, and was baptised by the Irish Monsignor.