We Are Designers Contacts
Skip to main content
Reviews of Paolo il Danese

Reviews of Paolo il Danese

Militært Tidsskrift, August 2011, by Poul Grooss, Captain (Royal Danish Navy), Centre for Military History, Danish Defence Academy, in

Thomas Harder who recently published a book on Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC**, SBS, has now published a revised version of his book on the Danish partisan Paolo who fought in Northern Italy 1943-1945. It is an amazing story of a Dane, Arndt Paul Richardt Lauritzen, who converted to Catholicism, became a Benedictine monk, an officer, a Catholic priest, partisan, father, businessman, and secret agent. It’s a highly readable book on a remarkable man.

This is a new and revised edition of Thomas Harder’s book”Paolo il Danese” which was published in 2005. The subject is a highly unusual Dane, Arndt Paul Richardt Lauritzen (1915-1978). In a life of continuous changes he was a Benedictine monk, an officer, a Catholic priest, a partisan commander, father, businessman, conference interpreter and secret agent.

The author, Thomas Harder, whose book on Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC**, SBS, Anders Lassens krig, was published last year, is a brilliant storyteller with an eye for details as well as for the wider context. His book tells a number of different stories: of the main character, of the Catholic Church before and during the war, and of the dramatic guerrilla war which was fought in German occupied Northern Italy from the autumn of 1943 to the spring of 1945.

As a young man Arndt Lauritzen chose to convert to Catholicism and right after graduating from high school he decided to become a monk and took up the life of a novice in a monastery in Luxembourg. Before giving his eternal vows he went back to Denmark to carry out his national service in the Danish Army, becoming a reserve officer. He was a serving officer when Germany invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940, and he was part of the force which was brought over to neutral Sweden by its commander colonel Helge Bennike.

The author’s Danish-Italian background and extensive knowledge allows the reader an insight into the history of the Catholic Church in Denmark and the Church’s view of World War 2 and the German and Italian regimes. The author sets his subject’s experiences into the wider context of World War 2 and provides some interesting views for the present debate on morals, ethics and war. Even though war is an obvious infringement of the Fifth Commandment – “You shall not kill” – Catholic moral theology teaches that in certain circumstances killing may be not only permissible, but even necessary. Soldiers are allowed to kill in self-defence and to defend their country. The book explores the many aspects of killing, as the legitimacy of killing turns into a very pressing problem for Lauritzen who during the war was a parish priest in Northern Italy as well as a partisan commander – while, by the way, one of his Danish officer colleagues was the German commander of a town in Lauritzen’s area!

A key character in the early career of the young Benedictine monk was the French cardinal Eugène Tisserant, who according to the author was the only 20th century cardinal to have led a cavalry charge! The cardinal had served in the French army during World War 1 and subsequently remained in contact with the French intelligence services, which also came to have some significance for Arndt Lauritzen.

Deeply religious as he was, Lauritzen constantly considered the use of force from a moral perspective.

In Denmark the general view of Pope Pius XII seems to be that he did nothing about Nazism and Fascism, but reality is much more nuanced than this. With a letter written to the Bishop of Paris in June 1940 Cardinal Tisserant tried to gather support for his efforts to get the Holy See to invite individual human beings to follow their own conscience instead of blindly obeying orders. Tisserant wrote:”I fear that history will find that the Holy See practiced a policy informed by selfish convenience and little else.” However, according to one of the book’s sources an Israeli historian has shown that the Pope’s personal efforts contributed to saving between 700,000 and 860,000 Jews.

Harder’s protagonist, Arndt Paul Richardt Lauritzen – known in Italian simply as ”Paolo” – is an enigmatic character in many ways, and parts of his story are shrouded in uncertainty. Lauritzen published a novel, which describes his own life before and during the war, but only partially, and Thomas Harder has had a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction, but whenever there are doubts he duly points them out.

The problem at the centre of Arndt Paul Richardt Lauritzen’s life was always his religious qualms about resorting to violence. The war made it impossible for him to follow his calling and be a priest. He followed his conscience and fought arms in hand against an evil which threatened Christian values. He felt forced into a situation where he had to give up his search for the meaning of life. As a priest he felt that he had betrayed his faith by blindly accepting the logic of violence. His partisan friends fought for their loved ones and their land. He, however, sacrificed his personal freedom fighting to liberate Italy and the rest of Europe. A surviving partisan told the author that when Lauritzen was fighting in the mountains of Northern Italy he felt the loss of his calling very painfully.

As the protagonist keeps changing “careers” the reader moves from one world to another. The reader is introduced to a series of surprising milieus and stories which would have seemed preposterous, had they not been so well documented. There are stories of love in convents and monasteries, of an abbot who ran away with his monastery’s funds, secret agents in the monasteries, a renegade mother superior and con-woman who set up a finishing school in Switzerland among whose pupils is the Danish Princess Anne-Marie (and, later queen of Greece), and many many others

The book contains very detailed notes and references and a large number of well-chosen photos and relevant maps.

As mentioned above, this is a book which covers a lot of ground. It tells the story of a highly unusual Dane and unfolds part of recent European history. The author describes complex matters and thoughts in a very elegant and accessible manner. This is a highly readable book written by a brilliant author from whom we hope to see more books.


Information (national daily), 31 May 2005 By Georg Metz (historian, writer, columnist), Information, 31 May 2005.

… men who go into battle full of fear and trepidation and tormented by guilt at taking other men’s lives, but driven to do so by indignation and by a desire for justice, are predestined to become heroes.

Such a man was Arndt Paul Richardt Lauritzen … little known in Denmark, but a hero in Italy, where especially the Parma region benefited from this remarkable man’s struggle against Mussolini’s criminal regime and the brutal German occupation, and from Paolo il Danese’s humanitarian attitude to his enemies and his moderation when the accounts were settled after the war.

About this unique man, Thomas Harder has written a unique book of the kind that remains in your hand long after you should have turned off your reading light. Thomas Harder remains true to his training as a professional historian. His biography of Arndt Lauritzen works its way steadily and systematically through a wide network of sources and moves along a number of different tracks in order to place the hero as close to the reality of the past as possible.

The amazing thing about Arndt Lauritzen is, of course, the wide range he spans as a human being, and his never faltering conscience which leads him – the devout Catholic – from the life of a monk, to the military profession in the Danish army, and then, after the Fall of Denmark on April 9 1940, back to the Catholic heartland of Italy, where he gives up definitively his calling as a monk and places himself in the forefront of a whole region’s struggle against Fascism and the Germans.

Lauritzen’s story is so completely different and so fantastic that, had it been a novel, it would have been criticized for being sensation-seeking and without any basis in real life. That is why Thomas Harder has worked so thoroughly with his sources, among them Lauritzen’s own memoirs, Cammina frattlo, cammina … (1984), and has collected so much additional material, e.g. in the form of oral accounts. Before it was too late.

This book is a very notable achievement. Thomas Harder has given to posterity an important contribution to the understanding of the nature of partisan warfare and of the war seen at eye level with all the surprising, and very often bizarre details that marked the fighting in Italy during the final year of the war.

First and foremost, Thomas Harder has described a deeply interesting and touching human being whom you feel that you know intimately after having read this book. And still. Harder does not force himself closer to Paolo il Danese than the sources and his subject himself will allow him. Exactly this distance which makes him the born leader in a situation of deadly danger, is what keeps Paolo il Danese together: to this point, but no further.

An outstanding piece of history at a time when the profession is so full of demagogy.

Berlingske Tidende (national daily), 19 May 2005.

By Kristian Hvidt (historian)

When Paolo il Danese, a.k.a. Arndt Lauritzen, died in 1978 he was practically unknown in Denmark, but he left behind a myth of heroic deeds and secret missions as a spy in Denmark and Italy. …

Thomas Harder, an expert on Italy, has … set out to transform the myth of this man into documented truth.

The motto of this book could have been “Se non è vero è ben trovato” – even if it’s not true, it’s a good story. …

Arndt Lauritzen was born in 1915. In 1933 he toured Germany on bicycle. … He joined the Benedictine abbey at Clerveaux, Luxembourg, and lived there as a monk until the outbreak of WWII when he returned to Denmark to serve in the Danish army.

On 9 April 1940, when the Germans occupied Denmark, Lauritzen was a subaltern in the regiment commanded by Colone Bennike who, refusing to capitulate to the Germans, let his men take the ferry to Sweden, hoping to be able to fight the Germans there. As the Germans never invaded Sweden, Lautitzen tried to get to Norway to fight there, but in vain.

On his return to Denmark, Lauritzen became secretary and protegé of the Catholic Bishop Theodor Suhr, a wealthy man with international contacts. In November 1940 they went to Rome together, where Lauritzen, once again a Benedictine monk, lived the following three years in the shadow of Fascism … He was received by Pope Pius XII …

In the summer of 1943, after the Allied invasion of Southern Italy and Mussolini’s fall from power, Lauritzen went to Parma where he worked as a preceptor to the son of a rich Italian nobleman whose wife was Danish. Here he underwent his next transformation, from Catholic priest to hardboiled leader of the local resistance against the Germans and Fascists. With his extreme self-discipline, learnt as a Benedictine monk, and his military training from the Danish army, he turned into Paolo il Danese and commanded a partisan brigade in the Parma area. Here he lived an extremely dangerous life as a fighting partisan and as a secret negotiator between the German commandant of Parma and the British SOE-mission which had arrived in the Apennines by parachute.

… A street in Parma is named after Paolo il Danese.

The story of Lauritzen’s activities as a partisan make up half of Thomas Harder’s book, which is as exciting as a novel, and even romantic, as Paolo fell in love with Rosita, a courageous Resistance woman whom he married In August 1945 and with whom he spent the rest of his life. ...

Thomas Harder’s book is based on a colossal piece of fieldwork comprising interviews and research in archives and libraries … and on a mysterious manuscript left behind by Lauritzen and published after his death in Parma. … Thomas Harder allows his readers to follow his critical investigation of Lauritzens “paralitterary” autobiography …