Summary of Goeto di Felice
Goeto Di Felice’s personal account is a record of events in and around the town of Vittorito from the fall of the Italian Fascist Government on 25th July 1943 until liberation by the Allies on 16th June 1944. His diary entries reveal events at this time including the bombings of Vittorito by the Allies. Goeto himself was a student of Mechanical Engineering at Fermo University and he lived in Vittorito. He also details the raids carried out by German forces on local towns for supplies and escaped POWs, as well as the mistreatment of the local population, and the local population gave aid to any escaping Allied POWs, despite the risk of German reprisals.
Goeto, and the majority of the local male population, also refused multiple times to sign up for any military service which would have aided the Germans. He also details his attempts to stay hidden from the German Army to avoid being conscripted to work for the Germans. After the war ended Goeto emigrated to the United States where he forged a successful career in Civil Engineering.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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Di Felice, G.
N.E. of Sulmona
Memories of World War II
from the diary of
GOETO DI FELICE
25th July 1943 – 16th June 1944
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[Handwritten notes by Keith Killby]
Vittorito N. of Railway near Popoli.
Finished education at Fermo.
Students harangued by Fascists.
[word unclear] damages Oliver Lord in Rome.
Goeto escapes from Fascists when they [word unclear]
4 of them hiding out meet 6 English, 1 Canadian POW with a map from a school book making for Castel di Sangro. Italians [word unclear] food & clothing for them.
Then meet 2 RAF [Royal Air Force] pilots G.F. in ?crowd of Partisans.
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Memories of Word War II
(25-7-43) Vittorito (16-6-44)
DE FELICE Goeto
The original handwritten diary
[Handwritten note by Goeto Di Felice]
To Keith Killby, the me that kept history alive in Sulmona.
Goeto Di Felice
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A Brief Biography vii
The Fall of Fascism 1
The First Air Raids 3
The Armistice 6
All Men Born 1910 to 1925 To Report To Work 8
The Passing of the War Prisoners from
Concentration Camps 10
Raids of the Allied War Prisoners 13
Air-plane Fight over Vittorito 16
The Germans Raiding the Civilians 18
All Men Recruited for Work 27
Second Air Raid over Sulmona/First Air Raid over Popoli 30
Towards Liberation Day 31
Maps and Photographs (following page 40)
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All Rights Reserved
No Parts of this Publication may be Reproduced Without Permission from the Author Printed by Tillma Associates, Everett, MA [Massachusetts]
Copyright 1993 by Goeto Di Felice
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During the Second World War and in particular during the period from the fall of fascism (July 25th, 1943) to the liberation (June 16th, 1944), the people of Vittorito went through events that are not easily forgotten.
At that time, I wrote every day in my diary all that happened in our town and the adjacent towns of the Peligna Valley.
All the facts that are recorded are in chronological order. Personal comments were added later for this publication.
The elderly residents of our town who remember those tragic events will relive those anxious moments. Youngsters of following generations, including our children and grandchildren will learn about the sacrifices, abuses, privations and perils that we had to cope with during that war period.
I am sure that many of the Vittoritesi remember other events of which I was not aware during that time. While they are still living, I hope that in the near future they will report and write about the Second World War in Vittorito.
Vittorito a small community of 1500 (2500 in war time) is located at the north west end of the Peligna Valley.
Famous for its wines Montepulciano and Cerasuolo, Vittorito has a rich and glorious history that goes back to the Roman era. Historians tell us that in the year 49 BC Julius Caesar with his troops crossed the Atenno River between Vittorito and Popoli marching towards Confinio then named “Italia”, the capital of the “Lega Italica”, which rebelled against the Romans.
After seven days of siege the “Italici” surrendered to Caesar: the rest is history.
Originally the diary was handwritten during the 1943-1944 period and in 1990 was rearranged and typed in Italian. In 1993 it was translated into English.
Goeto Di Felice September 1993
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A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
Goeto Di Felice was born in Vittorito where he attended elementary school.
He continued his education at the Technical School in Popoli where he completed the three year course in 1936, obtaining his diploma.
In 1941 he enrolled in the “Istituto Tecnico Industriale Ginolamo Montani” in Fermo (in the Marche Region) and in 1947 he received his Associate Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
In 1947 his father Donatangelo, who had emigrated to the United States, decided to return to Italy. He had been away for many years because of work conditions and later the war.
The employment situation in Italy was not good and in March 1948, Goeto together with his father, came to the United States where he was joined later, in September, by mother Palmira and brother Avio.
The family then settled in Everett, known by the many ‘paesani’ living there, as “Vittorito in America”.
The beginning was hard, due to the language barrier and the unfamiliar way of living in a new country. Nevertheless they tried to make the best of the situation.
While his father resumed work in his former job, Goeto found employment in various places, including a shoe shop in Chelsea for 60 cents an hour.
In 1950, as soon as the Korean War started, Goeto was drafted in to the U.S. Army and sent to camp Devens in Massachusetts where he was trained in the field artillery.
In 1951 he was sent to West Germany to join the American occupation forces in that country.
As soon as he was able to obtain a pass, on January 1952, he went back to Vittorito where he got engaged to his former sweetheart, Adelaide De Benedictis. They were married in 1953.
In September 1952, discharged from the Army, Goeto went back to civilian life in the U.S. where
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he began to look for work.
This time it was easy to find work since the Korean War created much work for the national defense. He applied for a draughtsman’s job at Raytheon but was turned down because he was not a citizen of the United States.
He was a veteran but could not be a citizen because he had to wait five years! That unjust law was rectified later.
Later he applied for a draughtsman’s job in a private engineering firm that was engaged in public work projects. It was there that he started his career in Engineering.
In the summer of 1953 Goeto returned to Italy to marry his fiancé Adelaide who had been waiting with anxiety to realize her dream.
After the honeymoon, Goeto returned to the United States, where after eight months of red tape and waiting, he was finally reunited with Adelaide, establishing their permanent residence in Everett.
Immediately he applied to North-Eastern University in Boston to further his education.
After four years of night school, in 1956 he obtained the Associate Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Employed in the Civil Engineering field Goeto decided to go back to North-Eastern University where in 1962 he obtained the Associate Degree in Civil Engineering.
In the sixties many projects were developed in the civil engineering field. The national highway interstate system was initiated and constructed at that time.
From designer to field inspector to specification writer and later to project engineer Goeto made his way in the engineering world.
In 1967 he, with his associates, founded Bayside Engineering where he worked until his retirement in 1989.
He still resides in Everett with his wife Adelaide. They have three children: Donald, Anna-Marie and Emily.
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All are now adults and college educated.
Now in retirement, Goeto is active in cultural Italo-American organizations.
He is a member of the Dante Alighieri Society and the Circolo Letterario Italiano.
He is involved in historical research on Americans of Italian ancestry in Everett including the Vittoritesi in the USA.
In 1992, he published “The Italians in Everett” the history of the Italian immigrants in Everett.
The publication was well received by the Everett community that honored him with a citation from the City Council and his Honor the Mayor.
He also received a citation by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, in appreciation of the mentioned publication.
[Two black and white pictures of Goeto Di Felice with caption] Then a student (1946) and now retired (1993).
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1 – THE FALL OF FASCISM.
On July 25th, 1943, a warm Sunday morning, the national radio announced the fall of the fascist government.
Two proclamations followed the official announcement: one from the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III and the other from Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Commander of the Italian Armed Forces. Both proclamations exhorted the Italians to be calm and not to panic.
I was still in bed when my mother, coming home from an early Mass, gave me the shocking news. At first I thought I was dreaming as it seemed unreal but then I realized that it was true.
That Sunday morning the people of Vittorito were out in the streets and the main square. They congregated and commented with feverish enthusiasm about what was going to happen in the future to us and our country.
We were receiving news from all over Italy about patriotic manifestations. At first I suggested to a group of friends that I encountered that we organize a demonstration but my idea was not accepted due to the peaceful character of our people who did not want to get involved in any political activity.
We were witnessing a period of confusion that caused serious incidents within the various political parties. The Roman newspapers and those throughout Italy in their editorials were writing about past events unknown to us young citizens.
For the first time we learned about the lies and trickery perpetuated in the education of the juveniles during the fascist regime since 1922.
In fact, I remember in particular, an event where I was involved as a student with my school colleagues.
I was in Fermo in the Marche region, a City famous for its many schools and noted as a cultural centre.
While in class there was an announcement that we had to assemble in the courtyard of the
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soldiers barracks in San Francesco Square to hear a speech from the federal secretary of the fascist party. He came from Ascoli Piceno.
With our instructors leading, we formed platoons and marched towards the place of assembly.
In a short time the courtyard was full of students coming from the various schools and institutes of the city.
In the presence of over three thousand students the federal secretary began talking, calm and collected at the beginning. Then with a more aggressive voice, he started to mention the war being fought then in various war fronts.
It was the year 1941 when the war activities of Italy in the Balkan front were not going well.
The “sermon” by the federal secretary was gaining steam and he was trying to get us interested by saying that while in the Italian Armed Forces there was division, in the fascist Milizia there was unity and fraternity.
Right away we smelled a rat; we understood well the intentions of the federal secretary who concluded his speech without hesitation by exhorting us to volunteer for the Milizia in the paratrooper’s corps, setting the age limits from 15 years old and up.
Turning to the minors, he said no parental permission was needed, but, in case of refusal, he said that it was necessary for each to justify why he did not enrol.
A roar of general disapproval echoed in the courtyard and all headed for the exit portal, locked with heavy steel bars. We forced them open to gain freedom.
Those were the methods used by the fascist authorities, who took advantage of the innocence of the juveniles in order to brain wash them into volunteering for the fascist forces, while they stayed home to take advantage of the situation.
From the fall of Fascism (July 25th, 1943) to the Armistice (September 8th,1943) the free press continued to report about the activities of the past fascist regime.
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Notwithstanding the calm attitude of the people of Vittorito, demonstrations of disapproval against the past regime still took place: a group of juveniles decided to remove the party emblems from the local Fascist headquarters.
Among that group were: Domenico Iacobucci, Ottorino Valeri, my brother Avio and myself.
On the little wall in front of the public school I wrote with red paint the famous phrase of the patriotic poet Berchet written against the Austrians when they invaded Italy:
‘Chi ha un ferro l’affili, chi un sopruso pati’ se lo ricorda’(He who has a weapon sharpen it; he who was abused, remember it).
In red paint we also wrote ‘Viva gli Alleati, Viva la Liberta, Abbasso il Fascismo’. (Welcome the Allies, Welcome Liberty, Down with the Fascism).
Those words infuriated the local fascist believers, who, as we will see later, tried to get even with us.
2 – THE FIRST AIR RAIDS.
While the Italians were busy discussing the various new political parties, the Allies were involved in war actions on Italian soil.
Sicily was invaded and occupied, while our beautiful cities were being bombed and destroyed by the continuous air raids.
Among the many cities hit by Allied bombs was Rome, hit in vital points paralyzing its highway and rail traffic. Targets included buildings and population.
With methodical and continuous bombardments, the national network of roads and railways was so paralyzed that it was impossible to furnish materials and food supplies to the front line in Calabria and to furnish basic food products to the urban centres.
Prior to a bombing, reconnaissance airplanes dropped warning leaflets to the population. Despite these warnings, the human losses were great during the raids.
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The people were terrified and began to leave the cities for safer places in the countryside.
On August 27 we experienced the first air raid, directed against Sulmona, a vital railroad centre linking Pescara, Rana, Napoli and L’Aquila.
It was a beautiful warm sunny day when, exactly from the mountain north of Vittorito, we saw a formation of many airplanes. We had never seen so many in our area; we counted 120 of them (B-24 bombers) flying at very high altitude.
We saw signs we had never seen before; white streaks of smoke (vapor trails) left behind as the planes advanced in the south-east direction, towards Popoli. Then all of the sudden they changed direction, southward towards Sulmona.
We did not know whether those strange looking airplanes were Germans or Allies.
over Corfinio we saw a smoke signal; then the bombs in clusters were released over our heads in a diagonal direction towards the intended target. A roaring explosion echoed over the entire valley.
At that moment we realized that it was an air attack by the Allies planes.
The panic and desperation of our population was not easy to describe, they were scared and terrified; they realized that the war was upon us and it was real.
That day will never be forgotten by the inhabitants of the Peligna Valley. It was the baptism of fire that prepared us for a long period of air war: more than nine months.
The damages to the Sulmona railroad station were so immense that they caused the blockage of all the rail traffic in and out of the city.
The railroad station, the tracks, railroad cars and the surrounding houses and buildings were all destroyed, burned and no longer usable.
Despite the calm and control of the crowds in the railroad station and vicinity, the civilian losses were great.
The entire valley lost electric power for many days.
We learned later that the nearby ammunition
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plant of Pratola, recently constructed, was completely destroyed. It was never reactivated.
As soon as railroad traffic restarted, Sulmona was hit again; this time with a smaller number of planes.
This raid, short and violent, again paralyzed the railroad traffic. Since the attack was expected, precautions were taken and many lives were spared.
The aerial war was with us day and night: a single plane or a even a noise caused panic and confusion among our people, who were now scared and immobilized in their daily activities.
Refugees from Popoli and other towns were then living in Vittorito. It was a safe place to live since no major road or railroad offered targets to be hit.
The panic reached such a point that it was necessary to shift many residents and refugees to the caves outside the town towards Raiano. Some of them were so frightened that they abandoned their homes and established residence in the caves.
With all that tension we, the irresponsible juveniles, still kept a great sense of humor.
On a clear autumn night, with a starry sky, in company with my friend Americo Civitareale, we decided to pull a trick on a group of cave residents scared of air raids.
We went over the high grounds adjacent to a main cave and with a guitar played by Americo, simulated an airplane as it was approaching.
Cesidio Di Felice with his father Domenico (Sensane) hearing that noise said to his father, “Listen, I think they are coming.”
Increasing the noise with the guitar, all of a sudden we saw them running for cover yelling, “The planes, yes they are coming!”
At that point we could not resist laughing any more. We came out to reassure them that it was a trick. We were lucky, as they all laughed in good humor. Though they were mad at us they calmed down.
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3 – THE ARMISTICE
Around the beginning of September, contrary to most conjectures, the supreme authorities of Italy were working secretly and seriously to sign an armistice with the Allies.
On September 8th, the official news about the signing was announced by the national radio; this unexpected event caused a momentary joy in the hearts of the Italian citizens, who tired and demoralized, were getting ready to accept the end of the war.
The fanatic Fascist clique, could not accept the news. They did not care about the destruction of our beautiful Italy; they were more interested in accumulating personal fortunes.
Soon the enthusiasm for ending the war began to fade and a big question surfaced, what would be Hitler’s reaction to all of this? The reaction of the German Dictator was obvious… the invasion of all Italy. Our only hope was that the Allied forces in the southern part of Italy, would soon advance north to liberate us.
Those days were long in waiting, due to the uncertainty surrounding the actions that the Italian army would take. They had been ordered by the King and Badoglio, prior to their escape, to resist any attack from any direction. Were they talking about the Germans? I think so.
The question then was raised by our soldiers, how could they defend themselves if their leaders had abandoned them and were now in secure hands?
In the mean time all the major roadways leading to Rome, Pescara and L’Aquila, were crowded with German vehicles and troops with arms directed against us, ready for action.
Those movements showed us clearly what was happening to our Nation. It was being invaded by the German Army.
A little later we saw a continuous movement of disarmed Italian soldiers who had given up their arms and were returning home. These poor soldiers,
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tired from walking, were coming from places north of us and going towards their home towns south of us. They showed anger and terror in their faces, and they were in need of food and rest.
Our people did their best to help them in many ways by feeding them, by providing comfort and hospitality in their homes, and by giving them directions for the next day’s journey home.
For weeks the roads and the countryside were a spectacle of continuous movement of soldiers heading to their homes.
During that time German troops began to invade our area and soon established an occupation headquarters in our town.
We who had participated in the previous anti fascist demonstration, feared retaliation from the local fascists. They had learned who removed the fascist’s emblem from the local fascist headquarters and the then fascist secretary (Stefano Di Fiore) demanded its immediate return, with the threat of referring to the German Commander the names of the responsible persons. The emblem was returned and for the time being no action was taken towards the demonstrators.
I well remember one day while we were congregating in the main square, and discussing the daily events, that one of my school companions, a fascist sympathizer, threatened to turn me in to the Germans because I was one of the participants in the anti-fascist demonstrations and because my father was an American citizen, resident in the U.S.A.
Present with us was Amelio De Santis, an old friend of my father and a former emigrant to the U.S. who had returned to live in Italy. When he heard of the threat directed to me he came to my defense and said, “If you turn him to the Germans I will cut your throat with this knife”, pulling a sharp stiletto that, concealed under his jacket, he carried to defend himself if attacked by the Germans.
The threat was never carried out and with luck all ended peacefully.
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The first German contingent that occupied Vittorito was not a combat, unit but a working platoon made up of German soldiers and Russian prisoners of war who had volunteered for the German Army. They were not armed, used only for rear front activities, and had their quarters at the elementary school building.
Marshal Zibart, named ‘Bchit’ by the locals, was the first German Commandant in Vittorito.
4 – ALL MEN BORN FROM 1910 TO 1925 TO REPORT TO WORK.
The dissolution of the Italian government put the whole country in chaos. Italy had no leaders, and when Benito Mussolini, the former fascist dictator, was liberated from prison September 12th by the Germans from ‘Campo Imperatone’, an alpine hotel in the nearby Gran Sasso ( L’Aquila). The fascist government was reorganized again under his leadership in northern Italy.
Rodolfo Graziani, ex-marshal of the armed forces, was appointed defense minister. He took charge of the internal affairs of the nation.
He began issuing regulations, such as call to work orders and draft notices.
Near the end of September a manifesto originated from the province headquarters of L’Aquila. It was affixed to the town bulletin board and announced the call to work of all the men born between the years 1910 and 1925. It said all were to work in the immediate area.
Our residents, mainly laborers of the land, recognized that it was not a genuine order so they refused on-masse to obey the order. A deadline of September 29 had been set in that order.
As a result the majority of our men took off for a secure place in the mountain area and began to hide from the Germans.
My brother and I, with about ten more relatives and friends, headed for a well camouflaged hide-out in the mountain that was in the middle of a thick wooded area.
It was a cave with a small entrance big enough
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for us to crawl into. We cut a bushy juniper to hide its entrance when we were away or retired for the evening.
We used another trick to hide the trail; we covered it with leaves as we walked. The older men were in charge and we obeyed their orders.
Those were hard days in our lives, not easy to forget. Abandon home, give up all the good things in life and live in caves like stone-age people.
Home was substituted by a dark cave. Our bed was made up of dry leaves over hard rock, and the food consisted of bread and a slice of salami or cheese. When the weather allowed, we went outside to breathe some fresh air under a tree or sat on a smooth rock.
Water was rationed and many times our throats were burning from thirst caused by the hot sun and the dry mountain air.
We were brought food and received news every two days, pending the availability of our older men, who were not subject to the call.
Sometimes, carefully at night, we went down town to pick up in designated homes the food furnished by our families. We took turns to share the risk of being captured.
Time went by fast in company. We told jokes and played cards, forgetting about the danger of being captured.
The nights were long. When it became dark we went inside our refuge where we talked for a while until we became tired enough to fall asleep.
We endured that life in the mountains for several weeks; others chose a reclusive life, hiding at home in secure places. When they did go out to get some fresh air, they risked being captured if they were seen by the Germans who were enforcing the new fascist government orders.
We began to receive news from nearby towns about raids by the German S.S. [Schutzstaffel] Troops. During daytime, when everything was peaceful, they surrounded the town without warning and captured the men regardless of their age and occupation.
Then they loaded them like cattle into trucks
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and took them away to work in areas next to the front lines exposed to all the dangers of war.
When cold weather approached, we went back to live in town. We all dug up shelters underground or found a secure place around the house so that we could hide in case of a raid. We were then living in continuous fear of being captured. Any little noise or unusual movement of persons gave us the signal to run and hide.
With the German troops all around us, we had no peace. In that unforgettable period the German domination intensified every day in our town.
Peaceful citizens were abused, humiliated, beaten and sometimes murdered.
5 – THE PASSING OF THE WAR PRISONERS FROM CONCENTRATION CAMPS.
Following the passing of the Italian soldiers, heading for their homes, we saw an intense movement of Anglo-American war prisoners coming from various concentration camps abandoned by the Italian soldiers. It was a compassionate and frightening scene because of the presence of the Germans in our area.
I well remember a particular event in which I was involved with some of my friends.
We were then in the middle of October, the time of the grape harvest, when we decided to go for a walk in the country in order to feast on grapes fresh from the vines.
In all there were four of us including myself, Euro Di Loreto, Bruno Di Loreto and Vittorio Lombardi, all in town after the Armistice and in forced vacation due to the war. We decided to head for the zone called ‘Volubro’ , a picturesque countryside of olive trees and vineyards at the foot of ‘Monte Mentino’ in the northeast section of Vittorito.
We slowly advanced towards our destination, one of my father’s vineyards, discussing and commenting about the war situation in Italy when all of a sudden a rain storm forced us to seek
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refuge towards the nearby ‘Casino Pace’.
We approached the building and sought protection in the far side away from the heavy rain already falling hard.
One of our friends left us for a moment, and came back to tell us that, while passing in front of the building, he saw a man going inside the door with grapes freshly picked from the nearby vineyard.
We became curious to find out who was inside the building and, as we looked through the keyhole, we noticed men inside resting peacefully on a bed of straw. Without hesitation we knocked at the door. It was opened immediately by an individual in uniform. We recognized him as a foreign soldier, prisoner of war.
There were seven: six English and one Canadian who spoke French. Some of us understood French but one in particular, Bruno Di Loreto spoke, it well and became our interpreter.
We learned from the Canadian soldier that an English Army Officer was in charge of the group. We noticed that the others were eating a home made pizza with sausages donated by the good people of some nearby town. They were also eating some almonds and grapes that they just picked up, still wet from the rain.
We could see that they were tired and hungry and, with their shoes unlaced, were relaxing on the dry bed of straw. From conversation with the Canadian we learned that they had no more food and that they were heading for the front lines to join the Allied forces south of us near Castel Di Sangro. That was not easy due to the presence of the German troops and the mountainous terrain to cross. They showed us a map of Italy, cut from a school book, and asked us to indicate their present location and how faraway the front lines were. We gave them all the requested information and advised them to stay away from major roadways, towns and to use extreme care not to travel during daylight.
We showed them the safe way to reach the
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front lines. We then promised that we would go into town and return with food and all that they requested, including civilian clothes. We had advised them to get rid of their uniforms.
Due to vicinity of our vineyards we spent a few minutes completing our original mission and feasting on grapes that we consumed with gusto and a speed never seen before.
Without wasting more time, we left to return to town in order to collect the food and clothing for the escaped war prisoners as we had promised.
We were faced with a big problem: due to a poor grain harvest that year and the war time conditions it was not easy to find food in our community.
We asked one of our trusted friends (Nello De Panfilis) to help us to locate some bread.
Time was of the essence. Soon we reassembled at the town square and with seven rations of bread, salami, prosciutto, cheese, apples, almonds and boiled eggs we proceeded back to the escaped prisoners to deliver the necessities as promised.
The timing was just right; we completed our human mission at dusk. We all felt good and relieved.
On another occasion, sometime in the middle of October, while we were harvesting the grapes in the zone called ‘Casetta’, we encountered two pilots of the British R.A.F. (Royal Air Force), again looking for directions to cross the front lines.
This time we were lucky that our ‘paesano’ Domenico Di Tommaso ex-emigrant to the U.S. spoke English and through him we were able to communicate.
We assisted them and informed them about the presence of the German soldiers and told them to remove their military uniforms and exchange them for our civilians clothes. We moved then more efficiently to assemble food and clothing. Our good friend Domenico went into town and returned quickly.
During the waiting period, the two pilots tried to communicate with us using sign language.
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They recognized Allied airplanes on a mission to bomb roads and bridges near Popoli.
Looking up in the air, they made motions with their hands to climb up on an imaginary rope, wanting to join their comrades in the sky.
Only God knows the fate of those men.
We hope they were able to reach the front lines safely and later re-join their families.
I remember asking one of them his name. He replied “Smith, from Liverpool.” To this day I still wonder whether it was his real name or whether he was trying to give us an answer.
6 – RAIDS OF THE ALLIES’ WAR PRISONERS.
Following the dissolution of the Italian Armed Forces, all the concentration camps holding Allied prisoners of war were abandoned by the military guards. This caused a chaotic situation allowing the prisoners to go free. They began leaving on-masse heading for safety.
Many headed for hide-outs in the mountains aided by our brave citizens, others headed south towards the front lines with the hope of crossing them to join the Allied forces.
As I previously mentioned we had some encounters with such prisoners, but more is to be said about their escape from the German soldiers.
In public notices issued by the German Military Authorities orders were given to our population to abstain from helping the prisoners, accompanied with stiff warnings. Any sighting or knowledge of the whereabouts of the fleeing prisoners had to be reported to the Germans. A bounty of 1800 lire ($3.00) later increased to 5, 000 lire ($8.30) was promised for each captured prisoner.
Whoever was found helping a prisoner would be executed on the spot and his house destroyed.
In addition, the entire town population was warned to report any prisoner sighting immediately to the local German Command. Failure to do so would cause retaliation by the Germans who would raid the town and capture all civilians for
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immediate mass deportation to the infamous concentration camps in Germany.
Such stiff warnings did not prevent our people from helping the escaped prisoners. With a great demonstration of human charity they assisted those who were seeking safety and comfort. With all available means they helped to provide food and even shelters in their own homes.
Despite the precautions that our population took in keeping secret the whereabouts of Allied prisoners, the news was at times inadvertently divulged and serious dangerous situations developed that caused reprisals by the Germans.
When the Germans learned of such activities aided sometimes by the information from local individuals at their service, raids of entire civilian populations were initiated by the infamous S.S. [Schutzstaffel] troops. Entire zones were combed to flush out hidden prisoners in the countryside as well as in homes.
The first raid in our town took place on the first day of October. It was initiated from the nearby town of Corfinio, just south of Vittorito, in the location of the Cathedral Valvense along the main highway ‘Tiburtina-Valeria’ which leads to Rome.
The German troops were advancing towards Vittorito in a spread-out formation. They were carrying automatic weapons, hand grenades and rifles and shot at random.
They could care less that our peasants were working the land, and were all over the countryside.
They ran for cover reacting to all that shooting. Regardless, the Germans kept advancing and shooting blindly toward any moving object or hide-outs.
The entire male population, alerted by the shootings, took off for a secure place.
With precautions taken, few of our people were captured and taken as prisoners of war.
A young man of about fifteen years of age, tried to run away, crossing the Aterno River dodging the machine gun fire. Lucky to be alive,
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he finally gave up and was captured and beaten by those savage invaders. This incident took place in the proximity of the Muzi Estate in the town of Raiano.
The troops were now advancing down towards the Aterno River and up the countryside Scerto towards Vittorito. As they progressed many peasants were stopped, questioned, and searched while attending the daily chores on their land.
One of them had a machete used to cut bushes, so it was taken away because it was considered a dangerous weapon. After a sign language type of explanation, it was returned.
In the mean time as the troops were approaching town the firing intensified and some of the curious ones, looking from the ‘Balcone’ on the road to Raiano, ran for cover. The bullets were real and whistling close by in all directions.
As the first German soldiers reached town, all the men were by now in secure places, while the women came out to find out what was the purpose of the raid.
We soon learned that the Germans were asking the whereabouts of escaped prisoners of war. Of course, they were told that none of them were in our town.
Once we learned the main reason of the raid, we also came out, curious to know what was happening.
Not satisfied by the declarations of our citizens, the Germans kept patrolling the town in the direction of our mountain system known as Monte Mentino, on the north side of Vittorito.
The troops were directed towards the road leading to Popoli, east of Vittorito, and we were able to see for the first time the vehicles and weaponry used in the raid.
They had some armored cars, half-tracks and trucks with open sides and wooden benches for troop’s transport. The number of soldiers participating in the raid we estimated to be in the two hundred.
The new phase of the raid took place in the
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countryside Campo and La Foce a rolling terrain that leads to the thick wooded mountain in the north. Two heavy machine guns were placed along the sides of the road leading to Popoli in the vicinity of the soccer field.
During that time of the year, the wood cutters were cutting trees to prepare the fire wood for the coming winter. In the mountain a great activity of men and donkeys was being observed by the German officers with their binoculars.
They thought that they were bringing food to the prisoners hiding in the woods.
A shooting inferno started, directed against those innocent people. To avoid a human carnage our Mayor (Giovanni Santilli) with an interpreter intervened, explaining that those were our citizens cutting the trees for firewood. The order to cease fire was given by launching a smoke signal in the air. In a short time the soldiers reassembled.
Before they left town they questioned and released, after proper identification four men, residents of Raiano, who had been captured in the mountain during the last action.
The German troop’s convoy left town and a temporary calm was restored. While in squares and street corners, our people assembled to discuss and assess the situation.
On that day our ‘paesano’ Giuseppe Marrama, (Peppe. di Spapero) in transit to Corfinio was shot to death by a German soldier. Giuseppe had been trying to make him understand that he was not a resident of that town. He was our first war casualty.
7 – AIRPLANE FIGHT OVER VITTORITO.
On October the second, the day after the shoot out, early in the morning, we heard an unusual airplane noise approaching from a distance. The sky was covered with dark clouds. All of a sudden above the roar of the motors we heard machine gun firing and bomb explosions.
A deadly air duel was taking place over our
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heads in the northern section of Vittorito.
Lately reconstructing the events, we remembered that a formation of Allied planes flying at high altitude were surprised by three German fighter planes. The Germans, taking advantage of the clouds, flew above the Allies and began shooting.
The Allied planes fought back firing their machine guns and cannons. During that shooting we took cover in homes near us.
I recall being near the elementary school building, looking up in the sky and seeing a plane diving and shooting over another plane. Immediately I ran to the first house nearby (the De Matteis’ ) where I stayed until calm was restored.
On my way home I noticed various holes in the roadway caused by the machine gun bursts. Near the electric transformer station on the road to Raiano I picked up a still hot shell fragment that seemed to be from a small cannon. It had torn down a piece of gutter from the building mentioned. I picked it up and brought it home; I still have it as a memento.
After I went home I found my mother scared to death. She told me that she had just been by the electric station. When I showed her that shell fragment she could not believe how lucky she was to survive that dangerous event.
The fight was still going on, the planes were flying, low and all over the valley with the German planes firing their machine guns and the Allied planes dropping their bomb cargo all over our town in order to run faster.
Although the fight lasted only a few minutes, but it was enough to cause the death of one of our citizens (Giovanni Del Beato). He was killed while going to Popoli with his horse driven buggy. The horse was also killed and the other passengers were wounded.
For the first time our sky was the scene of real war and from that time on we saw continuous air traffic day and night. It became a routine every night as isolated planes dropped flares and later bombers hit military targets in our area.
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In full daylight we also noticed Allied diver bombers continuously strafing German vehicles in transit on our roads and .bombing trains carrying war supplies to the front lines.
The planes came in formations of twelve and at the sight of a vehicle on the road, the first one tipped its wings and started the dive, soon followed by the others. All kept on strafing until they saw the vehicle on fire and destroyed.
We observed those actions every day for months to come. That was war, real war, and the damages caused to the Germans were so great that they began to avoid traveling in daylight and travelled only at night.
Regardless of warning leaflets dropped by the Allied planes, we still encountered civilian losses. A continuous air battle was taking place in our area and we did our best to protect ourselves and survive all the dangers of the air war.
During this time the Germans placed an anti-aircraft machine gun unit on the terrace of the Santilli residence in the Castello section of Vittorito. One day a stranded German airplane was fired upon by a former Russian prisoner of war, serving in the German army. The plane was not hit but he was immediately removed from that unit.
8 – THE GERMANS RAIDING THE CIVILIANS.
Soon events would give us unforgettable memories, in particular, for those who were the victims of the terrorizing raids perpetrated by the German S.S. [Schutzstaffel] troops.
Our zone was subject to numerous raids because we were in the rear area of the battle front that had remained stagnant for a long time, from Castel Di Sangro to Cassino. We got reports from nearby towns about the raids initiated by Germans to hunt down men. Rumors were circulated that we were going to be deported to Germany. Later we learned that the captured civilians were taken to the front lines and used to dig trenches, construct roads
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and fortifications for the fighting troops.
There were no class distinctions about the captured; we saw doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, including priests, working side by side with laborers and other workers, digging trenches and building fortifications for the Germans. Their treatment as we see later, was less than human, cruel and abusive by those barbaric invaders.
These men were under continuous danger not only from the air raids by the Allied planes, but also from the close watch of the German guards, who when they saw someone trying to escape, opened fire without hesitation.
Aware of what was going on in the nearby towns we took proper precautions in order to avoid being captured. We stayed away from major roads during the day or we went into hide in our private underground hide-outs in our homes or into the countryside.
We lost our freedom, our human rights and our life was in continuous danger thanks to the open hunting game unleashed by the “rapists of human lives”.
One by one the towns of the valley experienced the raids until finally Vittorito also became victim of such abuse.
At first the German Commandant in Vittorito assured the safety of our men in case of a raid.
That promise was followed by public notices and ordinances inviting the citizens to work for the Germans and to volunteer in the armed forces serving with the Germans or the reconstituted Fascist Republic.
Again firm warnings were issued reminding us that if we refused to go to work or serve in military, the punishment was deportation. If a mass refusal took place, then raids and lootings were going to be directed to the entire town.
We were now in the beginning of November and the German Command in their last appeal to the population, to the workers in particular, said that in order to guarantee safety they had to go
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to work so the German soldiers could be used for combat duties. Many offered themselves for work duty so they could be spared from the raids.
The following days when the working forces reported to work, everyone was finally at peace especially since our Pastor Don Domenico Bonanni Cajone announced in the Sunday sermon that Vittorito was not going to be raided. Then the unexpected aggression took place.
The attack began with a deadly fire power of automatic weapons directed against our citizens trying to escape and terrorizing the entire population.
With a prepared plan the Germans occupied all the strategic points of our town while the mobile troops went after all the fugitives trying to escape the capture; they were shooting to kill strafing everywhere and throwing hand grenades from time to time.
Other troops were assigned to search homes and flush out any men who ran for safety.
The first truck coming from Popoli was full of men captured while working for the Germans.
In the main square and along the road that crossed the town other trucks arrived and soon were full of captured men who had been surprised and had not a chance to run.
And now came the tragic scenes of our women screaming and crying in despair, coming out to see their sons, husbands and fathers being captured and detained without any reason. The death song of rifles and automatic weapons was still in the air as the raid was going on. When the raid was completed, all the captives were taken under heavy guard to the elementary school building.
They were screened and later taken away.
All this happened, November 2, in a warm afternoon, on All Soul’s Day, the day when we celebrate the remembrance of the dead. The following night was a sleepless night for all in town regardless whether they were captured or not.
The situation was still uncertain. About three hundred men were captured and 30 men were
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released for health and other reasons. Some were brave enough to jump out of the windows, and running the risk of being shot to death.
The most tragic moment that hit the ones who had seen their dear ones being captured, was the departure from town of the first group. It took place at ten in the morning of the following day.
It was a scene that the people of Vittorito will never forget. They were all there: women, children, and men who had been spared by the raiders assembled in the area next to the school building.
The personnel carriers were ready with the sides open and one by one, as the captured left the building, they were escorted on board by armed guards.
The first to go were the youngest. About twenty of them walked past their mothers and dear ones, crying and screaming while giving them their last good byes. At the start of the motors the screaming got louder and the convoy left and disappeared for an unknown destination.
After about one hour delay the second group came out of the building: they were the older ones mostly middle aged fathers and relatives of the first group.
There was no hope of coming back, no one knew their destination and their fate was uncertain.
The screaming and the crying of desperation became louder while we, the ones who had escaped into the mountain saw and heard all that was happening.
The day of the raid I and some of my neighbors were digging an air raid shelter in the olive tree orchard, back of our homes in the zone known as Sant’ Angelo.
While working we noticed an unusual noise and movement from the area below us and our friend Lino Ciccarelli told his younger son to go to the clearing to see what was happening. He came back saying “Tata’ I see nothing unusual.” Lino, not satisfied said to me “Since you are older go and see what is happening.”
As I approached the edge of the cliff I saw
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a German soldier with a helmet and a rifle running with long strides along the Raiano road towards the Molino.
At that sight I ran back and without stopping I yelled Rastrellamento and we all ran as fast as we could towards the western part of the olive tree orchard in the direction of the zone Croce.
All the young ones and the men that could run made it to a safe area but the older men left behind us were captured by the Germans.
Helped by the thick olive trees we found refuge in a cave where we stopped and discussed our next move.
It started to get dark and cold; Lino lived in the last house before the olive tree orchard and suggested to go home, pick up some food and warm clothing to protect us from the cold night that we were planning to spend in the mountain.
In a short while he came back with a hastily cooked pizza made without yeast (a local specialty quickly made) and he gave me a heavy woollen shawl given to him by his mother.
(I never forgot that incident and when I was back in Vittorito in 1990 I saw Lino and recalling those days I thanked him again for what he did for me).
We made the Grotta di Lupo (the wolf’s cave) our temporary home and there we rested and devoured that pizza in a flash.
When it became pitch dark, we decided to begin our journey for the mountain, heading for the middle of the forest. There we found a safe refuge and spent the rest of the night and the next day.
So we spent one night and one day without food, water, scared to death and suffering from cold. We were wearing only light clothes and had little to cover us during the night.
Later at dark when all signs of danger were gone we headed for home. We learned about those that were captured and how some of them avoided of being caught.
In particular, we were told that our neighbor Ottavio Lozzi, who when he heard of the raid, left
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his house and running like a rabbit headed down the zone Scerto. He was spotted by a German soldier who began shooting with his automatic rifle while his wife Maria, crying next to the soldier, was pleading with him to stop shooting. Ottavio was lucky he made it in the bushes; the soldier lost sight of him and stopped firing.
We heard other stories of men running to church and hiding with the saints. When the danger ceased, they crossed the square, disguised in women’s clothes, on their way home.
The “hunt of the men” did not stop with that raid. Within ten days the Germans raided the town again. This time it was not as terrorizing as the first raid, since it was limited to the main road that leads to Raiano.
It became such routine that the women gave the alarm so that the majority of the men could find a safe place to hide and avoid the capture.
One time I was captured together with my brother Avio, my cousin Donato and a few other neighbors. We ran for the olive orchard in back of our homes but a young officer and other soldiers cut in front of us. They drew their guns, the officer just loaded his pistol, and we had no choice but had to put our hands up.
With us in front and with the guns in our back they marched us like bandits down Via della Croce, our street where my mother, seeing us both captured, started to cry and screamed “They took my two spring chickens.”
They marched us to the main square and we were escorted inside the personnel carrier already full of captured men.
I remember that German Officer with his pistol pointed towards our citizens who were crowding the vehicle, anxious to see who was captured.
Among those people was my aunt Silena, strong, big and fearless woman. As soon as she saw us she said “Jump down and I will hide you.” How could we with all those guns pointed at us?
My mother’s cousin’s son, Clemente Valeri, now living in Detroit U.S.A. was working at that
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time as a mechanic for the Germans. With the help of the local German Commandant, he was able to convince the Germans that we were also specialists.
At that time my brother and I were students of an Industrial Institute specializing in electronics and mechanics. This was documented in our identification cards.
Thanks to the intervention of the local German Commandant we were all released with the condition that we go to work for the German outfits in our town. That same day I reported to the repair garage near Piazza San Rocco assigned to repair auto-vehicles under the supervision of Clemente Valeri and Dorino Di Loreto.
Clemente and Dorino warned me to say, “ya, ya”.
When asked questions we were to see one of them later to solve any problems.
One day a German soldier came with a truck for repairs and by hand signals was telling me that the motor was not working. So I had to face the crucial test.
I crawled under the truck to observe, while the soldier started the motor. He kept shouting in German, asking me what was wrong with the motor.
As I was told I kept saying, “ya, ya”.
After a while the German caught on with my act and began swearing in German and calling me all sorts of names that I imagined were not so pleasant. I came out and told him that I was going to ask for the “Specialist”. I called Dorino who quickly came and repaired the motor.
Since we were working for the Germans, it became a less stressful routine day in and day out. Once in while we also had some humorous moments.
With the help of the two sergeants in charge: Claus and Otto together with Dorino and Clemente we decided to pull a trick on Luigi il Pazzo (Louis the crazy man).
Luigi was a black-smith who had a shop across from the repair garage and occasionally did some work for the Germans. Luigi had a pair of steel tongs that were broken and Clemente promised him
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that he would repair them.
I went to pick up the broken tongs and Clemente replaced the pin with a lead one. It was done so well that it looked like steel and Clemente told me to bring it to Luigi.
Everyone knew of the trick and were ready for the fun. I went to Luigi and said, “It is all fixed, try it now”.
With the fire going, Luigi, praising the good work, started heating a piece of steel in the forge and when it was hot, he picked it up, the pin melted and he remained with the two handles broken again.
He ran after me, accusing me of a trick, but when he saw everybody laughing like crazy, he realized that others were involved, so he calmed down.
One day that poor Luigi was caught by a German soldier with a pair of shoes in his hands as he was coming out of a military warehouse.
With the shoes in his hands escorted by two armed soldiers, he was paraded along the streets of our town with one of the soldiers announcing: Gran filu’ zariff zaraff comando tedesco. (Grand thief stealing from the German command).
That embarrassment was enough for Luigi who was released unharmed soon after.
The situation in town was stabilized for a while when one day, the men captured in the first raid returned to their homes.
In the middle of the night, taking advantage of the dark, one by one those men left the barracks avoiding the German guards and headed for home.
We were told that they had jumped from an unguarded window and, in groups of three or four, started on their way, crossing the mountain near Rivisondoli, already covered with snow and heavily mined. Without incidents they reached Sulmona at daybreak and at ten in the morning they arrived in Vittorito.
They were tired, hungry and some of them could not walk any longer. They needed the help of donkeys to make it home.
From their accounts we learned about their
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encounters and treatment by the Germans.
From Vittorito they were taken to Rivisondoli, a ski resort town in a plateau south of Sulmona, close to the front line at that time stagnant along the Sangro River.
There they were given in custody to soldiers who had already received others captured in raids of nearby towns.
They were housed in an abandoned home and placed in a room with the floor covered with straw, serving as their bed and resting place at night after work.
The food consisted of a watery soup and about 100 grams of dark, hard bread. They were also fed German soldier’s chow if there was any left over. They had no dishes and were given empty cans previously filled with meat eaten by the Germans.
Work was similar to forced labor and, when someone complained, he was beaten and assigned to harder work.
Even a strong and healthy individual could not live long under those conditions. We wondered why such a highly civilized nation (Germany) demonstrated such barbaric qualities.
Hearing all those stories a group of three ex-officers of the Italian armed forces decided to leave town. They headed towards the front lines to join the units of the Italian army that were fighting with the Allied forces in the south.
They were air force General Domenico Ludovico, captain of the air force Giacomo Pantaleone Golini and army lieutenant Egidio Civitareale.
They left town at night and, after crossing the chain of mountains south-east of Vittorito, they reached the Maiella mountain not far from Palena. There they were captured by the Germans and deported to Germany as prisoners of war.
In town a rumor was circulated that a local prominent fascist had reported their escape to the Germans.
Later we heard that Giovanni Ludovico, a marshal of the Carabinieni serving with the allies,
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returned to Vittorito, after it was liberated.
On his way home he was told about his brother Domenico.
Walking down the street, leading to his house, he met the individual who supposedly reported his brother to the Germans.
As he approached with extended hand to be greeted, without hesitation Giovanni drew his automatic and said: “Am I talking to a friend or an enemy?” “Please do not shoot I did not do it.”
He pled for mercy and was let go unharmed.
9 – ALL MEN RECRUITED FOR WORK.
The period that followed the civilian raids was characterized by the general recruiting of men able to work.
Teams of workers were formed and selected local men were put in charge of such squads.
I recall one day while crossing the main square I was approached by one of the squad leaders who asked arrogantly “Why, don’t you go home pick up a shovel and report to work for the Germans?”
Naturally I refused and left with friends. It was clear in those days that the German propaganda became effective since many of our citizens, scared of reprisals, had to submit themselves and work as they were ordered.
There was no distinction on the type of work to be performed. Students, in particular, were selected to take care the horses, mules, and donkeys that had been stolen by the Germans from the civilians who lived in the towns next to the front lines.
Others were assigned to dig fox holes along major roadways as refuge for the soldiers in case of air attacks by the Allies. One group was assigned to fabricate dummy wood cannons later placed along the Raiano road to confuse the Allied air planes. Pine trees were used for that foolish project. They were cut from our beautiful Pineta that was literally destroyed.
Italian Officers collaborating with the Germans
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selected a group of us students to take care of the stolen animals.
I was also with that group and we were assigned at the Casino Ricci to build mangers. After nine days we were replaced by older workers since they decided to pay for those services.
While I was there, along with all the others I became infected with lice which I had never seen before. With proper care we got rid of them.
When winter came all working activities were temporarily suspended. We were now approaching the Christmas period and peace was restored for a while.
Christmas Day our main church was filled to capacity with our residents, the refugees from nearby towns, and German soldiers of Catholic faith all united in prayer to celebrate the Nativity of Christ.
For the first time we observed the human side of the German soldiers. They put aside their arms while praying with us and in some instances we saw them with tears in their eyes a scene not easy to forget.
In the first snow fall January 1, all roads were cleared, but a second snow fall caused us troubles.
On January 6, 1944 we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. The night before we had over a meter of snow.
That morning my brother Avio and I decided to go to Mass at Sant’ Angelo, a Church closer to our home.
We had a hard time walking and barely made the Mass on time.
As we were leaving the church we heard the screams of the women who were alerting us of the raid that the Germans were conducting. We were then heading down Via Sant’ Angelo towards Via Raiano. At the first house we encountered (Nicola Golini), we found Marsilia who opened the door to let us in. She told us to go up the stairs and hide in the bedroom.
After climbing a steep wooden ladder we entered
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the bed room and decided to hide under the bed.
While there we heard a voice. It was a German soldier questioning Marsilia. She could not understand him but played cool with sign language.
But the soldier without any doubt must have seen us going into the house and was looking for us. All of a sudden we heard steps coming up the wooden stairs. With the noise from the boots, the rifle and gas mask we soon recognized the danger we were facing.
Scared to death, we waited petrified under the bed. When we saw the barrel of the rifle stuck under the bed we heard the word “raus” which means go away. With our hands up we came out saying, “ya, ya.” He escorted us outside where we saw our friends shovelling snow on the main roadway.
A little boy, Galileo’s son, was playing with snow with a small shovel which the German took away from his hands. Giving it to me he said, “arbait,” work. We worked until noon when our squad leader Amelio De Santis told us (my brother and I) to go home and don’t come back.
All snow was cleared from the roads and the traffic resumed with military vehicles transporting goods and ammunition to the front lines.
That snow remained on the ground for a long time. On a sunny day with a group of friends we decided to go skiing down the slopes of the zone Scerto.
We were having a grand time over that soft and untouched snow when a formation of twelve Allied airplanes happened to fly over our heads.
At an instant the leading plane started to dive towards us. Well, where do you hide in the snow? We headed for the closest tree. Scared and unprotected we were waiting to be killed.
Thanks to that lead pilot who saw that we were civilians, he signalled the formation to leave the area.
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10 – SECOND AIR RAID OVER SULMONA-FIRST AIR RAID OVER POPOLI.
The real air offensive over our valley started January 19, 1944 with a continuous attack of heavy diver bombers hitting civilian and military installations in Sulmona.
In a short space of time of three or four hours Sulmona was bombed without let up, first by the dive-bombers and later by the high altitude heavy bombers. The railroad station again was hit and all the rail system put out of use.
Popoli so far was bombed only accidentally by an Allied airplane on the run followed by German fighter planes. On January 19, from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, Popoli received the greatest bombing attack that we ever saw in the valley. After the attack we learned of the damages caused to the town. The railroad was completely destroyed together with entire housing blocks adjacent the various bridges, most of them were missed. Many lost their lives and numerous were wounded.
Some deaths, about twenty, occurred while people were in line at one of the grocery stores waiting to buy rationed food.
For ten consecutive days Popoli was bombed.
Destruction was so great all over the town that it forced the residents to seek refuge in safer towns like Vittorito.
We were then living in a period of great sacrifices and misery since food resources became less and less available.
We noticed people eating bread made from legume’s flour like fava, broom-corn or bran.
Many pawned their dear possessions to buy the essential food for the family.
In our town there was a former officer of the Carabinieri a refugee from Popoli, who was a few times invited by the pro fascists to serve in his former unit. He always refused the invitation, preferring to suffer with his numerous family. He did not have the courage to ask for
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charity from our people, who from time to time were very generous to help.
Those refugees were the ones that we saw suffer the most in our town. Our town was now crowded also with German soldiers from various units and one unit the “Flak” just arrived from the front lines.
One evening in the main square a sergeant after a few drinks of our good wine was taking hats from our older citizens and throwing them into the air, shooting with his pistol as though he were practicing skeet shooting.
To control the situation and keep us home the local commander ordered a curfew at seven in the evening. At that time we had to be home and anyone disobeying the order was going to be shot on sight.
In the morning of February 12, 1944 some of our residents coning from Raiano, gave us the sad news that Rocco Fucinese, my uncle, was killed by a German soldier.
On his way home he was ordered to stop and while he tried to explain to the sergeant why he was late, he was shot in cold blood with no reason.
As soon as we heard the news my brother and I went to Raiano and crossing the main square we saw his body still on the ground covered with a blanket.
We could not contain our pain when we saw our aunt Paola with two small children, victims of Nazi aggression perpetrated on our innocent people.
11 – TOWARDS LIBERATION DAY.
During that period of time, the people of Vittorito were continuously harassed and abused by the Germans who had selected our town as a resting area for the front line soldiers.
Many units settled all over our territory in the countryside under olive trees and places secure from air attacks. About five thousand soldiers were stationed in the Vittorito area.
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On March 3, a public notice affixed on our town bulletin board, announced the recall of all the soldiers who abandoned the former Italian Army September 8, 1943. Anyone refusing the order was going to be shot in the back and considered a traitor.
As usual our people did not go for that threat and again all refused to respond to the order.
On March 20, a public order by the German Command announced a general work mobilization of all men from the age of 18 to 65 and again anyone refusing was going to be deported to far and unknown places. Again there was another mass refusal by our citizens.
On March 22, Popoli was bombed again by the Allies. The damage was great since the population had got used to a period of calm and had returned to their homes after the first air raid. The human losses were much greater than the first air raid.
On March 24, Sulmona was hit again and more damage caused to the reactivated railway system.
From March 27 to the 29 all men born from 1922 to 1925 and all former soldiers in service prior to September 8, 1943, were invited to report to our town hall to the fascist delegation coming from Sulmona.
Once again there was a negative result, no one showed up, but later a group of local young men, scared of reprisals to their families, signed up and volunteered to serve for the renegade fascist government, a puppet regime, now controlled by the Germans.
They were taken to the front line then at Monte Cassino where a furious battle was going on. Seeing all that danger they all ran back to our town.
We noted the firm character of one of our youths, who defying all consequences, refused his father’s advice to go and serve for the new fascist republic.
On April 2, numerous bombs were dropped on the top of Monte Mentino causing fear and confusion to our population.
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On April 6 a German Alpine Company camped in the zones Foce and Morrone under the command of Major Scriba. Since he had the highest rank, he became the commander in charge of all the units in Vittorito and, as we will see later, he was the worst commander that we ever had.
Right away the Major issued a curfew at 7:30 P.M. and he had it strictly enforced.
Vittorito was a quiet town usually very cooperative with the Germans. Whenever they asked they were given food, fresh meat and anything else that they requested. This Major made it known to us that if we did not respond to his request he would order a raid of the town. Later after the pleading of the local authorities the curfew was extended to nine o’clock in the evening.
Now the alpine troops were in greater number in town. At first they were quiet but later they began stealing chickens, pigs, sheep and all that they could put their hands on. That happened during the curfew when our citizens were forced to stay home.
Major Scriba did not accept any complaints, but on the contrary, he got so cruel that he ordered our citizens to declare all the animals in their possession and to post on every door of occupied homes, the names of persons living there, their sex and age.
He was never satisfied. One day his interpreter Edoardo, of Italian origin, a nice man, and well liked, delivered a note to our mayor listing all that the Major wanted. In the list he requested eggs, milk chickens, pigs, calves, sheep and once even flowers. He threatened reprisal raids in case the town failed to deliver the requested items.
During that time a sudden bombardment took place at the intersection of the Sulmona-Popoli with the Tiburtina-Valeria, causing the death of an entire family living in the vicinity of the attack.
On May 3, air raids were conducted over Pratola, Prezza and Sulmona, with great human and housing losses.
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About the middle of May, in Sulmona two houses were destroyed by the Germans who upon an inspection had found arms and ammunition. The nearby towns were warned at a public announcement about that incident. At San Benedetto in Perillis, a small mountain town north of Vittorito, a house was destroyed because the occupant lady housed escaped Allied prisoners of war.
Near the end of May, the Germans began mining all the bridges and all the utility installations such as electric sub-stations, telephone and telegraph central stations and hydraulic installations. That was a sign that a retreat was forth-coming.
A public scandal occurred in our town caused by a group of our citizens who with a German truck went to get some wheat for our population in a town of the Province of Ascoli Piceno in the Marche Region.
When they returned it was discovered that a great number of sacks were missing.
This brought about an angry demonstration by our citizens who blamed the local authority and the responsible persons.
On May 20, in the evening some German soldiers on bicycles came to requisition stables and empty rooms in order to house men and horses passing by our town the following night.
That night about one in the morning we noticed a great movement of men and horses coming into our town. Later in the day we noticed a great traffic of horse driven carriages, soldiers and also some civilians rounded up in Chieti.
Our population was apprehensive on seeing such a movement and rumors were circulating of a possible raid of men by the Germans. We were witnessing a forth-coming retreat from the front lines. A lot of tension was in the air.
Early in June our homes were searched by the German’s Alpine troops asking for our identification documents and if we had any arms or knowledge of Allied prisoners of war.
My school friend Alfio Golini, residing now
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in Windsor, Canada, was surprised by a German soldier, while he was hiding a hand grenade that he found in the countryside.
He was arrested immediately and kept prisoner at the German Command headquarters located at the D’Ascenzo’s house.
Considering the previous good conduct of Alfio, with the intercession of our local authorities, since there was no intention of sabotage, Alfio was fined 6000 Lire and released unharmed to the relief of his family and friends.
One day I was visited by a German Sergeant and two soldiers who came to search my house.
In our cellar I had a radio receiver owned by our neighbor Ernani Lombardi who had given it to me to hide in our cellar.
Every evening I went to the hide-out, a well concealed place in our cellar, made the electrical connection to the light bulb wiring and listened to the news from the Italian occupied zone in the south.
It was strictly forbidden to possess a radio receiver and whoever was found to have one was going to be deported to Germany and have his house dynamited.
It was an early morning when my mother coming home with a load of water from the outside fountain, told me to get up because the Germans were searching the houses.
I dressed quickly and went to the door greeted by the Sergeant in French “Parlez-vous Francais”.
I replied “Oui monsieur je le parle un peu”.
(In brief he asked me if I spoke French and replied, “Yes sir, I speak it a little.”)
He was delighted that I was able to converse with him because he told me that he had just come to Italy from France and that I was the first one to understand him. He was also accompanied by two soldiers and were all armed for combat.
The Sergeant asked me if we had any arms, radios, or if we were hiding Allied prisoners in our home.
Naturally I replied in the negative to all
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those questions. Switching the subject, I asked him if he wanted to eat or drink something. He replied, “yes.”
The other two soldiers not understanding a word of our conversation, became suspicious and started to look around the house when the Sergeant called them back to stay put.
I told my mother to get some bread, cheese, salami and some good home-made wine and invited all of them to eat and drink.
They enjoyed that good food and thanked us for the courtesy. Before they left the Sergeant asked me to go with him and be his interpreter until noon time when he let me go and thanked me for helping him.
My mother was relieved when she saw me safe at home because she was worried about my safety.
Once again I had been lucky. If those soldiers ever found that radio in the cellar I would have been deported to Germany and the house destroyed.
A company of combat engineers, were stationed for a few days in Vittorito to complete the dynamiting of the San Venanzio Bridge on the road that connects Vittorito to Raiano.
On June 3 and 4 the Germans began to evacuate our town and we saw a continuous traffic of men, horses and all sorts of auto vehicles convoys in retreat.
On June 5 few Germans were still in town and among them Major Scriba who had intended to harm us.
With a 24 hour notice, all calves and cows had to be consigned to the German Command with no compensation.
A brave German Cavalry captain who had been stationed in Vittorito for a while came to our rescue. He was a real gentleman, well liked and respected for his civil manners towards us and he even cured our sick animals since he was a veterinarian. He took a stand with the Major and in turn forced him to leave Vittorito first to assure our safety.
On June 6 in the afternoon the bridge over
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the Aterno River on the road to Corfinio was blown up and the next day the San Venanzio Bridge over the Aterno River of the road to Raiano was destroyed.
The last bridge to go was the Calvario Bridge connecting Vittorito with Popoli.
We were completely isolated. No traffic could come to our town. We felt finally relieved of the danger of the war.
On June 7, in the afternoon, the Captain left our town. The Major had left late the night of the sixth. We were told later that the two had an armed confrontation in the main square of our town. They had their service pistols out, pointed towards each other. Thank God the Captain prevailed in forcing the Major to leave first.
As the Captain was leaving that afternoon, our good people came out to greet him with flowers and many thanks.
We learned later that the Captain visited Vittorito after the war and he was well received.
The last German units to go were the combat engineers who began the systematic demolition of bridges and utilities that were already armed with dynamite before.
On June 8, we heard many explosions around the valley and the last one was the destruction of the bridge in Popoli over the Pescara River of the road that leads to L’Aquila.
We were experiencing a new life: no electric power, no drinking water, no communication with the rest of the world. We were anxious and waiting for the Allies to come.
Armed bands of partisans took over the towns of Sulmona, Pratola and Popoli. In the various communities the Liberation Committees began to organize and restore order.
On June 9, in Vittorito, a calm town by nature, we had incursions of armed bands of partisans coming from nearby towns looking for fascists and pro German collaborators.
On June 11, to maintain order in our town we also formed a Liberation Committee with the
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participation of citizens of good reputation and a clean conduct during the German occupation.
Italo Pietrantoni former town Mayor, was nominated a temporary leader.
That same day a heavily armed band of partisans from Castelvecchio invaded town trying to capture the cavalry captain who had already left.
They surrounded Vittorito terrorizing the residents and forced themselves into the residence of Gioacchino Pace looking for the Captain since his daughter Fernanda was the Captain’s interpreter.
Reassured from the local authorities that the Captain had left they ceased their operation.
On June 12, the Marshal of the Carabinieri Domenico Pallotta, was given the command to maintain the public order in our town. He put all the former fascists and German collaborators under arrest in their homes, protecting them from being harmed by the partisans coming from other towns.
A few German soldiers and four Italian soldiers members of the San Marco Battalion were taken prisoners at Mount Morrone by the Corfinio partisans who brought them to Vittorito for interrogation.
We learned from their investigation that those Italian soldiers were instructed to perform acts of sabotage and destroy the communications being reactivated by the Allied forces. They were also to make propaganda about the puppet fascist republic ruling in the northern part of Italy, since propaganda leaflets were found in their possession.
I was also asked to participate with the “Liberation Committee” by my good friend Domenico Pallotta, with whom I shared the daily radio news broadcast by the Allies radio during the German occupation. That day the town hall was filled to capacity and all showed up to learn about the new order and the provisional administration.
I was there when I saw Giovanni Campagna step-father of my friends Pacino and Gino De Simone (Gino is living now in Everett MA [Massachusetts]) tapped my shoulder and asked: “Did anybody give you a hard time during the German occupation?”
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As I turned around I noticed that he was armed to his teeth with two hand grenades hanging from his chest and two automatic pistols on his sides and to note that he had one arm only.
To avoid any disastrous consequences I replied, “No Giovanni, I am fine and I never had any problems.”
Since I had intentions to emigrate to the United States I stayed away from any retaliations towards those persons who had been pro German and not so friendly.
Edoardo, Major Scriba’s interpreter stayed with us, refusing to leave with the Major.
He gave himself up to an Allied prisoner of war leading a band of partisans coming from Sulmona.
Only one Vittorito resident, the town secretary, Spano, an active pro-German fascist, was picked up by the partisans from Popoli and taken to that town to work on the clean up of the ruins caused by the Allied bombings.
We had about a week of coning and going of partisans hunting fascists and German collaborators and thanks to Marshal Pallotta our town was kept from any of the retaliatory violence experienced by nearby communities.
We learned that a group of partisans engaged in combat with a German combat engineer unit near Bussi Officine where after two days of resistance the Germans fled to the north.
On June 12, Popoli was liberated by a unit of Italian Bersaglieri fighting with the Allied forces. They were received by the entire population with a warm welcome.
A fascist fanatic tossed a hand grenade into the crowd. No one was hurt but he was executed on the spot.
Finally on June 16, 1944 Vittorito was liberated by an armored car of the Italian division Nembo that placed the Italian flag and the flags of the Allies on our picturesque fountain in the main square.
We regained our liberty after eight long months of German occupation.
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We breathed the air of freedom so dear and precious to all of us who had lived through sacrifices and dangers.
Normal life was regained. We went back to rebuild our lives, hoping for a better democratic way of living that we cherished for the first time after over twenty long years of fascist dictatorship.
I wish to express my profound gratitude for assistance, support and expert advice to the following:
Robert D’ Attilio for reviewing the manuscript, Amelia Tedesco for her attentive proof reading, Tonino Sabatini for furnishing the photographs. My dear wife Adelaide and our children for their patience and encouragement.
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MAPS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
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[Black and white map of Italy showing the Cassino Front Line, a circle is marked on the map showing the Peligna Valley].
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[Black and white map of Italy. This is a close up map with the caption Vittorito and the Peligna Valley from the Abruzzo regional map].
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[Black and white topographic map of The Peligna Valley. It shows the immediate area around Vittorito and Sulmona].
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[Black and white map showing the detailed area around Vittorito. It has the caption The Territory of Vittorito].
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “Vittorito – The View With Castello”.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “Vittorito – Panorama From The Mountain”. Photo courtesy of Tonino Sabatini.
[Black and white photograph with the caption] “The Square and the Old Fountain”. Photo courtesy of Tonino Sabatini.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “The San Venanzio Bridge”. Destroyed by Germans in 1944. (On the bridge from left Avio Di Felice, Nello De Benedictis and Goeto Di Felice). Photo courtesy of Nello De Benedictis.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “Casino Pace”. It was there that we helped six British and one Canadian prisoners. Photographed by Goeto Di Felice August 1996.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “German Army Officer in Vittorito”. Photo courtesy of Studio Sabatini.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “German Soldiers Assembled In The School Courtyard”. Photo courtesy of Studio Sabatini.
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[Black and white photograph with the caption] “B-24 American Planes Bombing Italy”. Photo reproduced from the publication Cassino by Fred Vittiglio.