The Last Year of the War
Topolski visited Italy in the summer of 1944. Rome had been liberated from the Germans in June but conflict continued in northern Italy. In early 1945, he accompanied the Allied forces fighting in western Europe to achieve the final defeat of Nazi Germany.
Topolski spent much of his time in Italy accompanying the Polish 2nd Corps which was taking part in the Allied offensive against German forces. He visited the monastery fortress of Monte Cassino, captured from the Germans after months of fierce fighting and the scene of legendary Polish heroism. He visited Rome, newly liberated and filled with Allied troops and witnessed the Pope receiving General Anders, the Polish military commander, and Mr Pappé, the Polish government-in-exile’s ambassador to the Vatican.
Other aspects of wartime Italy that Topolski recorded here were Italian partisans in the mountains, whom he observed were dressed in the style of Garibaldi, and German prisoners held by Canadian troops. He also included the execution of the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini whose body is shown hanging upside down.
In the early months of 1945, Topolski accompanied Polish troops as they fought through the Netherlands and Belgium and into Germany. In the Century he depicts an incident he witnessed when two young German snipers who attacked his unit were shot. Incorporated here are some photographs belonging to one of the snipers which Topolski picked up at the scene. He was particularly affected by their youth, and by their fanatical devotion to Hitler even though the war was clearly lost for Germany.
Topolski incorporated into the Century scenes of suffering and chaos that he witnessed in western Europe at the end of the war, particularly at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, as well as images from the war crimes trials at Nuremberg.