Showing posts with label Dongo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dongo. Show all posts

28 June 2019

Walter Audisio - partisan and politician

Claimed to be the man who killed Mussolini

Walter Audisio addressing a Communist Party rally a couple of years after the end of the Second World War
Walter Audisio addressing a Communist Party rally a
couple of years after the end of the Second World War
The partisan and later politician Walter Audisio, whose claim to be the man who executed Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in April 1945 is generally accepted as likely to be true, was born on this day in 1909 in Alessandria in Piedmont.

Mussolini was captured in the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como as he tried to flee from Italy to Switzerland, having accepted that the Axis powers were facing near-certain defeat to the Allies as the Second World War moved into its final phase.

He was taken along with his entourage to the village of Giulino di Mezzegra, 20km (12 miles) south of Dongo along the lakeside road, and after spending the night under guard in a remote farmhouse was taken back into the village, where he and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were ordered to stand against a wall.

There they were shot dead by a partisan who went under the nom de guerre of "Colonnello Valerio", before their bodies were taken to Milan and hung by their feet from the roof of a petrol station in Piazzale Loreto, which had been the scene of the massacre of 15 partisans a year earlier.

A simple cross marks the place where Mussolini and his  mistress, Claretta Petacci, were killed in a lakeside village
A simple cross marks the place where Mussolini and his
mistress, Claretta Petacci, were killed in a lakeside village
Two years after the event, the Communist Party of which he was a member revealed that Colonnello Valerio was, in fact, Walter Audisio, and that it was he who had pulled the trigger.

Audisio claimed that, as an official of the National Liberation Committee (CLN) and the head of the Italian resistance in Milan, he had been ordered to carry out the sentence in accordance with a CLN directive that all Fascist leaders were liable to the death penalty.

His account of the execution described how the dictator and his mistress cowered before him as they awaited their fate, their agony prolonged as his own machine gun and then his pistol each jammed as he pulled the trigger. Another partisan, standing nearby, handed him a second machine gun, which did successfully discharge.

Audisio claimed that he felt he was shooting “not a man but an inferior being” and said that Mussolini had shown no dignity. He said that his mistress, who he also killed, had pleaded for her lover to be spared.

Audisio served as a Deputy from 1948 to 1963
Audisio served as a Deputy
from 1948 to 1963
Before the war, Audisio had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on the island of Ponza for his anti-Fascist activities in his home town of Alessandria, where he worked for the Borsalino hat company before becoming an accountant.

Upon his release, he resumed his activities against the government of Benito Mussolini, and in September 1943 he started to organize the first bands of partisans in Casale Monferrato, not far from Alessandria. During this time he managed to hold down a job in the Fascist civil service.

He joined the Italian Communist Party and became the inspector of the Garibaldi Brigades, a faction of the National Liberation Committee, commanding formations operating in the Province of Mantova and the Po Valley.

By January 1945, he had become the principal figure of the Italian resistance movement in Milan, where he acquired his nom de guerre. Confusingly, the name Colonnello Valerio may also have been used by Luigi Longo, another partisan.

Once the conflict was over, Audisio continued to work with the communist movement, and in 1948 was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for Alessandria as an Italian Communist Party member and part of the Popular Democratic Front. From 1948 to 1963, he served three consecutive terms as a Deputy.  As a legislator, he was a consistent supporter of bills to outlaw or curb fascism.

Audisio's tomb at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome
Audisio's tomb at the Cimitero Comunale
Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome
He supported the party until 1963, when he entered the Senate. In 1968 he left to work for Italian fuel company Eni.

Audisio died five years later in 1973 of a heart attack. He was buried at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome.

His memoirs, titled In nome del popolo italiano - In the Name of the Italian People - were published two years after his death, in 1975.

Dongo is a picturesque town on the shore of Lake Como
Dongo is a picturesque town on the shore of Lake Como
Travel tip:

Dongo is one of many picturesque towns along the shore of Lake Como, with a number of hotels, restaurants and shops.  It is very popular during the summer months and also attracts walkers, who can explore nearby mountain villages on foot. Dongo has a small harbour adjoining the town's main square, where one can find the Palazzo Manzi, built in 1803 and now Dongo's town hall.  The ground floor houses the Museum of the End of the War, refurbished in 2014, dedicated to the partisans and in particular to the capture of Mussolini.

The city of Alessandria, with the famous Cittadella in the foregroud
The city of Alessandria, with the famous
Cittadella in the foregroud
Travel tip:

The historic city of Alessandria became part of French territory after the army of Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800.  It was ruled by the Kingdom of Sardinia for many years and is notable for the Cittadella di Alessandria, a star-shaped fort and citadel built in the 18th century, which today it is one of the best preserved fortifications of that era, even down to the surrounding environment.  Situated across the Tanaro river to the north-west of the city, it has no buildings blocking the views of the ramparts, or a road bordering the ditches.

More reading:

The founding of the Italian Fascists

Mussolini's last stand

The death of Benito Mussolini

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, advocate of good manners

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso


23 June 2018

Giuseppina Tuissi - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissa came from a strong anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissi came from a strong
anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissi, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.

Tuissi and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.

He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.

Tuissi, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades during a period earlier in the year in which she had been held captive and tortured by Fascist militia and handed over to the Nazis but was then released.

Although she was born Abbiategrasso, about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Milan, Tuissi lived and worked in Baggio, a suburb of Milan. Her father Umberto, a blacksmith, her brother Cesare and boyfriend Gianni were active anti-fascist militants and members of the resistance movement.

In 1943, Tuissi became active in the movement, operating as a courier under the pseudonym Gianna.  Despite being small in stature and slight in build, she became known for her courage.

Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri, with whom Tuissa had a close bond
Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri,
with whom Tuissi had a close bond
Her attitude towards the Fascists, who remained in control of the puppet Republic of Salò (also known as the Italian Social Republic) even after the Allied invasion, hardened after her boyfriend was captured and murdered by Fascist thugs.

She teamed up with the partisan Garibaldi Brigades, becoming a close associate of Luigi Canali, who operated under the pseudonym Captain Neri, and began plotting attacks on Fascist and German forces.

But they came under the surveillance of Mussolini’s secret police and were seized in the village of Lezzano by Fascist militia in January 1945, taken to a prison in Como and subjected to torture. Soon after being transferred to the German SS headquarters in Monza, where she was further tortured, she was released.

There has been speculation about why she was allowed to leave, ranging from a gestapo officer deciding to spare her after being struck by her bravery, to being allowed to leave so that she could be followed by SS officers and would lead them to Canali, who had managed to escape from prison.

It is said that she was offered the chance to flee to Switzerland but declined, preferring to remain in Italy to continue the work of the resistance.

However, the suspicion that she and Canali had betrayed their fellow resistance fighters while in captivity remained, even resulting in a death sentence being handed down by a “People’s Tribunal” , although their closest comrades in the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade ignored it, welcoming them back. Their leader appointed Canali to the rank of captain.

A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot  at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissa and her comrades
A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot
 at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissi and her comrades 
The day after the Mussolini execution, however, Tuissi was arrested in Baggio and held until May 9, during which time she was interrogated by Pietro Vergani, regional commander of the Garibaldi Brigades and a member of the Italian Communist Party. She was told that Canali had been executed.

Disillusioned and saddened by the death of her close colleague, she and Canali’s sister went to Milan to confront Vergani, demanding to know the circumstances of his death. Despite threats, Tuissi continued to ask questions and arranged to meet the editor of a daily newspaper in Milan.

She disappeared on April 23, 1945, her 22nd birthday. What happened to her has never been established but the suspicion is that her body was thrown into Lake Como at Cernobbio. This was backed up by the evidence of witnesses who saw two men and a girl arrive on a motorcycle at the lakeside in the town at around 9pm, heard shots and the sound of something hitting the water, then saw the motorcycle leave with the two men but no girl.

Four men were arrested, including Vergani and Dante Gorreri, the Communist Party secretary for Como, but all were released because of procedural irregularities.

The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
Travel tip:

Tuissi’s town of birth, Abbiategrosso, has a fine 14th century castle built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and a basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Nuova that was built to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo’s son, but its more recent claim to fame is as a prominent member of the Cittaslow movement, an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, which promotes a calm way of life and a spirit of neighbourliness. It has attracted many Milanese to buy property there to escapes the pressures associated with city life.

The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
Travel tip:

Cernobbio is known because of the presence of the Villa d’Este, the vast complex built as a 16th century summer residence for the Cardinal of Como, but it is only one of many fine villas fronting the water. The town once attracted large crowds hoping to catch a sight of movie star George Clooney, who had a house at nearby Laglio and would occasionally be spotted at a cafe in Cernobbio. Scenes from the movie Ocean’s 12, in which Clooney starred, were filmed locally. The place still has a neighborhood feel to it, especially on summer evenings and weekends when the main piazza is full of families and couples.