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Post Italy under Mussolini: My Family's Story
Created by John Eipper on 01/03/15 3:36 AM

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Italy under Mussolini: My Family's Story (Pietro Lorenzini, USA, 01/03/15 3:36 am)

Though I've been reading with great interest the WAIS writings of Eugenio Battaglia, I've purposely stayed away from commenting, particularly on those dealing with Fascism and the history of Italy under Mussolini. It's not that I haven't had a thought or two about those topics. Rather my silence has been due to life's lessons garnered from many heated discussions with family and friends. As a family where members often hold polar opposite political views, out of respect for different opinions and from a realization that strongly held opinions are not likely changed, I've learned that, at times silence and wisdom are not always at odds. Yet I do want to mention a couple of things.

The first is quick and simple. Reading a comment by Luciano Dondero where he stated that Mussolini's "racial laws" caused Enrico Fermi to leave Italy, for the sake of clarification, I wanted to note that Mr. Fermi was not Jewish, but his decision to leave was, in part, prompted by the fact that his wife was a member of an Italian Jewish family. For those interested in things Fermi, I recommend two good books which are a delight to read. The first, Atoms in the Family, My Life with Enrico Fermi, was written by his wife Laura and was published in the early 1950s by the University of Chicago Press. The other, Enrico Fermi: Physicist, written by Emilio Segre, was published by the University of Chicago in the 1970s.

The second is a personal reflection on the divisions which were created among my family members as a result of the World War II occupation by German troops of my home province in Tuscany and the resulting battle lines.

The Lorenzini and Gregori families come from the province of Massa Carrara, Tuscany's northwestern most province. From ancient times through World War II, the area has experienced countless struggles because its mountains, hills and valleys form a natural boundary separating Tuscany, Liguria and Parma/Emilia. In pre-Roman times Ligurian tribes, such as the Apuani, struggled with the Etruscans. Roman legions finally settled the contest by founding the port city of Luni and then, after decades of struggles, finally crushed the Apuani and settled thousands of these Ligurians in southern Italy. During the Middle Ages the region, known to many as Lunigiana, a name born of the ancient Roman port of Luni (Luna in Latin), experienced centuries of warfare as one after another of the Tuscan Republics (Pisa, Lucca and finally Florence) sought to extend their influence, trade and defense fortifications northward to ward off Lombard and Genoese competitors.

During World War II, the region's key geographic location was underscored yet again as the German Army and its Italian Fascist allies established the Linea Gotica (Gothic Line). The Gothic Line was a defensive barrier which Field Marshall Albert Kesselring expected would be the last reasonable line of defense in northern Italy. While the history of the Gothic Line is officially recognized as running from approximately late summer 1944 to April 1945, local partisans fought Italian Fascist troops and their German allies as early as late September 1943. For almost two years the region saw much blood shed as the contesting parties struck out at each other. As was all too common, a strike against one caused merciless reprisals by the other.

My own family experienced this first hand, as did many other families in the region. For example, as young man barely in his twenties, my father, Domenico Lorenzini, was made a medical orderly shortly after induction into the Italian army. The hand of fate intervened, for as Domenico was about to be shipped to Russia an Italian military physician from Tuscany took a liking to this young fellow Tuscan and had my babbo transferred to the physician's medical unit, a unit bound for occupied France. Later when Mussolini's government fell, that same physician, now head of an Italian military hospital detachment in France, told his men that they could choose to stay, and possibly become subject to the German military authorities, or decide to take the perilous journey back home on their own. My father chose the latter course. He eventually walked from central France all the way back to Fivizzano in Massa Carrara.

Other family members, however, were not so lucky. After my Uncle Pietro Conti's military division refused to fight alongside the Germans, he was arrested and ended up spending almost two years in Dachau. In the end, he was saved by a combination of luck, wits and by the eventual capture of the camp by Allied forces. My uncle, Nello Gregori (my mother Rosina Gregori's eldest brother) serving in the Italian army in North Africa, was eventually captured and almost starved to death at the hands of colonial forces, only to be saved from certain death when the American/British took direct charge of the captured Italian prisoners. Meanwhile, after my father arrived in Fivizzano he was able to avoid arrest because an older and distant cousin was in charge of a munitions plant in Palerone, a town just outside of Aulla (both of these small Tuscan towns along with La Spezia, a key naval port just across the Tuscan-Ligurian border, were heavily bombed throughout the later stages of the war).

In the meantime, in Massa Carrara and La Spezia provinces, many of my father's and mother's friends, and many in their respective families, found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Often these were political choices made after some reflection, but I would contend that more often they were choices driven by outside events which had struck deep into the personal lives of individuals and their families. For example, some family and friends supported Mussolini's reconstituted government, but others choose to resist the Nazis and their Italian allies. As organized partisan activities became more effective and sanguinary, Nazi reprisals became more numerous, ferocious and bloody. In turn, this caused many locals, who in their attempts to survive tried to stay out of the fight, to support the partisans and actively fight against the Germans. After my dad's father, Silvio, and Uncle Settimo and his American-born wife Francesca were arrested by the Germans and held for questioning (during their detention Settimo and Francesca were beaten and tortured under SS direction), my 23-year-old father secretly joined the partisans (4th Brigata Garibaldi Apuania), as did his cousin Paolo Lorenzini (the only son of Settimo and Francesca). Later, Paolo, a young man also in his early twenties, was killed in one of those countless partisan-German skirmishes fought by those unlucky enough to be behind the Gothic Line.

To this day, many Lunigianese families are divided over issues which arose from the war. This is to be expected as so many experienced war's atrocities first-hand. The formal recognition of these scars can be seen in the countless state-sponsored statues to war dead (honoring Italians who died on both sides of the conflict) found in most every hamlet, village, town and city in Massa Carrara and La Spezia provinces. But it can also be seen in the many privately sponsored roadside monuments which even today, some 70-odd years later, pepper the region. These roadside monuments give tangible evidence to the tragedies of war. They speak to the human pain and suffering experienced by those who were captured by German troops and summarily shot alongside picture-perfect Tuscan hillside country roads. These simple monuments also testify that the divisions and injuries of war continue to this day, long after the original wounds were inflicted, their scars remain in the hearts of many Lunigianese family and friends.

Wishing all a best New Year, Pietro Lorenzini

JE comments:  Pietro Lorenzini's family saga is an excellent New Year's present for the WAIS readership.  People caught in the maelstrom of warfare do what they can to survive.  Often, when you live in a contested region, factors beyond an individual's control can separate families, and even divide them along partisan lines.

It's been a great first few days of January, as we've heard from long-silent WAISers Mike Calnan, Anthony D'Agostino, and now Pietro Lorenzini.  A New Year's resolution fulfilled?  I hope so!

All the best to Pietro for 2015.

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