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Post Love Thy Enemy: Two Stories from WWII
Created by John Eipper on 01/22/18 3:38 AM

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Love Thy Enemy: Two Stories from WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 01/22/18 3:38 am)

Generally when we speak about war we remember episodes of heroism, sometimes incidents of cowardice or cruelty, even of hate (an understandable feeling, but one which absolutely must be rejected).

Very seldom we remember episodes of love.

Now I will relate two of the latter.

The first is of an Italian seaman who was on the tanker ship Recco. When WWII started, this ship was being repaired at the neutral port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands. After many months it decided to try to force the British blockade by moving toward Bordeaux. Two other Italian ships had successfully reached the French port. Unfortunately the ship's departure was noticed and reported by a British spy and the Recco was intercepted near the Azores by the British cruiser Hillary.  The Italian crew sank the vessel, so as not to give her to the enemy. The sailor was taken prisoner on board the Hillary. He ended up in a POW camp near Ramsey on the Isle of Man.

By the way, on 30 March 1940, well before the declaration of war, the US confiscated 28 Italian and other nations' ships in the US or in Central American ports under US control. They prosecuted, and sentenced to up to 20 years, the crew of nearly all the ships that were sabotaged. According to the American judicial system, the scuttling did not follow the seamen's code of honor but was nothing more than a crime. Only two ships were not sabotaged.

The Italians on the Isle of Man were employed on local farms from 1941 until early 1947. A small train dropped the prisoners off in the countryside at the different farms (really not too bad.)

Last year a friend of mine was researching the story of his grandfather on the Recco. He found a package of letters from a lady on the Isle of Man with many photos of a little girl born in 1943.

At this point my friend, through the "social media," decided to find the little girl. Within a week he received an answer from the little girl, now a lady of 74 years, who very well remembered Giulio, the Italian prisoner, who was always playing with her, much more than her legal father did.  She invited my friend and his mother to visit. The meeting of the two ladies (sisters?) was extremely touching. Both were crying when embracing.

The children of the British lady have suggested a paternity test, but psychologically this is something very difficult to face.

The second story is about an Italian taken prisoner by the Germans after the Kingdom of Italy unconditionally surrendered on 8 September 1943. The Italians were considered IMI (Italienische Militar-Internierte). I knew this soldier when he was a seaman on one of the ships on which I served, at the time, as Chief Officer.

He told me that after the Agreement between the Third Reich and the RSI, he was no longer considered an IMI but had to work in industry or in the country as a regular salaried worker.

He chose a farm and fell in love with the young widowed owner. At the end of the war he wanted to remain on the farm in Germany, but his Italian wife sent the police to seize him and return him to Italy.

As I said before, never hate the enemy, because if you are dominated by hate you cannot rationally fight and also because you may end up falling in love with the same enemy.

JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia added in a postscript that the woman's husband on the Isle of Man later committed suicide.  A very sad end to a charming story.

(What's that they say about Italians being better at love than war?  There's no shame in that.)

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  • WWII Italian Ships Interned in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/23/18 8:09 AM)
    Eugenio Bataglia's post of January 22nd reminded me of a Venezuela WWII story my father-in-law once told me regarding some Italian ships that sought shelter in Puerto Cabello, an important harbor on Venezuela's west cost.

    As you might know, Venezuela, during WWII, was a key supplier of oil for the Allies, despite it remaining neutral until just before the end of the war, when it declared hostilities against the Axis. Because of its neutrality, in March 1940, four ships, the Italian Baccicin Padre, Teresa Odero, Jole Faccio, and Trottiera, together with the German Sesostris, running away from British destroyers, sought shelter in the Venezuelan port. They were accepted by Venezuelan authorities and remained there for about 12 months, during which time the crews were warmly welcomed by locals and even achieved a great level of social integration with Venezuelan families, friends and girlfriends.

    On March 31, 1941, under pressure from the US government, the Venezuelan authorities threatened to expropriate the ships. The captain of the Jole Faccio decided to set it on fire to avoid confiscation. The rest of the Italian captains followed suit, and all of them were burned. The flames reached the German ship, but it was the only one that remained navigable. The Italian ships all were destroyed.

    The crews looked for shelter in the city but the angry population hunted them down and they were immediately imprisoned. The Italians stayed in prison for about two years, and the Germans until the end of the war. It is known that most of them remained in the country and married Venezuelan women. The Captain of the German Sesostris, Karl Ueding, stayed in the country and lived for many more years. He married and his descendants still live in the country; my father-in-law, Helmut Geyer, got to know him.

    The Sesostris was towed away to a nearby island, Isla Larga. The shipwreck is still there. I have gone on dives to explore it.

    JE comments:  I've always been confused by the laws of neutral ports in wartime.  The United States was not even at war in March 1941, when it "pressured" likewise neutral Venezuela to confiscate the Axis ships.  (Granted, the US was already helping the British at the time.)

    Images below.  My translation of the news clipping:  Indignant protests were resumed yesterday against those responsible for this horrific act-- Two businesses were nearly ransacked-- Forty crewmembers of the burned ships have not yet been arrested-- Many are hiding in houses around the city, being pursued by the mob-- A visit to the five captains at the police station-- The sadness of an authentic Sea Wolf-- "We are satisfied to have done our duty"-- Different accounts of the event-- [Crew] detained at Colonia Chirgua-- Damages that must be repaired

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