Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts

12 November 2022

Piero Terracina - death camp survivor

Roman lived to be 91 after being freed from Auschwitz

After initial reluctance, Terracini told his harrowing story many times over
After initial reluctance, Terracini told
his harrowing story many times over
Piero Terracina, the man thought to be the longest survivor among the Jews rounded up for deportation in Rome after Nazi occupation during World War Two, was born on this day in 1928 in the Italian capital.

Terracina was taken to the notorious Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where almost one million Jewish prisoners were killed, but was spared death and eventually liberated in 1945.

After a long and difficult recovery he returned to Rome and lived to be 91.

For the last almost 30 years of his life, so long as his health allowed, he devoted himself to maintaining awareness of the Holocaust in the hope that such horrors would never be repeated.

Terracina enjoyed a relatively uneventful early childhood. Although many of Rome’s Jews still lived in the area of Rione Sant’Angelo to which they had been originally confined by papal decree in the 16th century, the Jewish community in the early part of the 20th century enjoyed the same status as any other Italians in the city.

Piero was the youngest of four children born to Giovanni Terracina and Lidia Ascoli. His father was a fabric merchant.

Things began to change in the autumn of 1938 when Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship introduced laws to enforce racial discrimination and segregation in Italian society, aimed mainly at the Jewish population of mainland Italy and the native Africans in the Italian colonies.

The entrance to the preserved Auschwitz complex,  where Terracina accompanied many visitors
The entrance to the preserved Auschwitz complex, 
where Terracina accompanied many visitors
Mussolini had originally been comfortable with Jews being part of Italy. Indeed, one of his mistresses - a propaganda advisor to his Fascist party - was from a middle class Jewish family. But his attitude changed as he became more influenced by Nazi ideology in Germany.

Terracina’s family had their assets seized. Piero was expelled from his mainstream Italian school and had to continue his education in a school for Jews only. The family’s circumstances were much reduced, but they were able to live in a restricted way.

However, that all changed in 1943. By then, Mussolini had been overthrown by the Fascist Grand Council, placed under house arrest but then rescued by German paratroops and given a safe haven in northern Italy. Rome and the rest of central and northern Italy was occupied by Nazi troops.

The Germans began to round up Jews as they had in the rest of occupied Europe. When Nazi squads entered the Roman ghetto in October 1943, Terracina and his family managed to escape, avoiding the fate of more than 1,000 of their neighbours.

They went into hiding but in April of the following year their whereabouts were revealed to the Germans by an informer and Piero and his family - his parents, a sister and two brothers, an uncle and his grandfather - were all arrested.

Terracina, already in his 80s, surrounded by teachers and students on a school visit
Terracina, already in his 80s, surrounded by
teachers and students on a school visit
Imprisoned initially in Rome, they were moved to a prison camp near Modena but after a few days were crowded into railway wagons and taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex in Poland. Piero was spared the gas chambers only because he was considered strong enough physically to be given labouring jobs; the rest of his family died within hours of their arrival.

Despite his weight dropping to just 38 kilos (just under six stones), Piero survived and escaped in January 1945. With the area under attack from the advancing Russian army, he and his fellow captives were moved from the Auschwitz camp and were being marched towards another location when the approach of a Russian platoon caused their Nazi guards to flee.

In the face of biting cold, Terracina and his comrades returned to the Auschwitz complex, now abandoned, to shelter until they were found by the Russians.  Recovery was long and painful, involving stays in a hospital in Lviv, in the west of Ukraine, and in a sanatorium by the Black Sea. After a year, he returned to Rome.

For the next three and a half decades, Terracina quietly rebuilt his life, completing his education and developing a career in management. He was reluctant to speak about what had happened to him but was eventually persuaded of the importance of telling his story.

Thereafter, he devoted himself to keeping alive the dreadful memory of the hell he and millions of others had endured, speaking to politicians, historians, journalists, members of sports teams and in particular students, whom he often accompanied on trips to Auschwitz. The older he became, the more powerful was his presence on these trips.

Terracina died in Rome in December 2019. His funeral included a procession from the Tempio Maggiore, Rome’s main synagogue, which overlooks the Tiber near the Isola Tiberina, to the Campo Verano memorial cemetery.

The imposing Tempio Maggiore, 
Rome's main synagogue
Travel tip:

Rome’s Jewish quarter is beautiful but, given its close proximity to some of the city’s major tourist attractions, often overlooked by visitors. Situated in the Sant’Angelo Rione, east of Campo de’ Fiori and southwest of Piazza Venezia, the former ghetto occupies an area adjoining the Tiber river, next to the bend where the water flows either side of the Isola Tiberina. The centrepiece is the Tempio Maggiore, completed in 1904 and built in an eclectic style with influences of Assyrian-Babylonian, Egyptian and Greco-Roman architecture. There are Roman ruins including the Portico d'Ottavia and Teatro Marcello. The streets nearby are packed with restaurants, many serving traditional Jewish cuisine.

The Isola Tiberina in Romeis said to be the smallest inhabited island in the world
The Isola Tiberina in Rome is said to be the
smallest inhabited island in the world
Travel Tip

The Isola Tiberina, situated in the bend in the Tiber that wraps around the Trastevere district, to which it is connected by the Ponte Cestio, is said to be the smallest inhabited island in the world. A footbridge, the Ponte Fabrico, allows access from the other bank of the river.  The island was once the location of an ancient temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, and in modern times the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, founded in the 16th century. The 10th century Basilica of St. Bartholomew is also located on the island, which is just 270m (890ft) long and 67m (220ft) wide. During the Nazi occupation, Jews hid in the wards of the hospital after the head of the institution deterred SS officers from searching it by putting out the story that he was struggling to contain an outbreak of a deadly and contagious disease.

Also on this day:

1892: The birth of World War One flying ace Giulio Lega

1905: The Giro di Lombardia cycle race is contested for the first time

1920: The Treaty of Rapallo is signed

1948: The death of composer Umberto Giordano

2011: Silvio Berlusconi resigns as prime minister


9 October 2022

Stefanina Moro – partisan

Amazing courage of a young girl who protected her compatriots

Stefanina was a courier who helped groups of partisans to communicate
Stefanina was a courier who helped
groups of partisans to communicate
Brave teenager Stefanina Moro, who served as a partisan during World War II, died on this day in 1944 in Asti as a result of injuries inflicted upon her by Nazis, who caught her and tortured her for information.

Stefanina, who was born in Genoa in 1927, is thought to have been between 16 and 17 years old when she died of her wounds in a hospital in Asti.

After growing up in the Quezzi district in Genoa, Stefanina became a partisan and later served as una staffetta - a courier - responsible for maintaining communications between groups of partisans to help the Italian resistance movement during the war of Italian liberation.

Sadly, in 1944, Stefanina was captured by Nazis and taken to the Casa del Fascio - the local Fascist party headquarters - in Cornigliano, about seven kilometres (4 miles) west of Genoa, to be interrogated. Stefanina was then moved to the Casa dello Studente in Corso Gastaldi, a former university building that was being occupied by the Nazis and had been turned into a prison.

Prisoners were routinely tortured there under the command of an SS officer, Friedrich Engel, who would come to be known as the ‘Executioner of Genoa’ or the ‘Butcher of Genoa.’ To try to make Stefanina reveal the names of her fellow partisans, the Nazis tortured her for several days, but their attempts were unsuccessful and she would not speak and never gave anyone away.

SS commander Friedrich Engel ordered the torture of partisans
SS commander Friedrich Engel
ordered the torture of partisans
After her ordeal, she was taken to a hospital in Asti in the Piedmont region, where she died on 9 October as a result of her wounds. It is believed she had not yet reached her 17th birthday.

Stefanina’s name is inscribed on a memorial to all those from the Quezzi district of Genoa, who had died while opposing the Nazi occupation of the city. The dedication on the memorial reads: ‘Non caddero invano ma per la libertà. Il comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Liguria agli eroici caduti del rione di Quezzi. (They did not fall in vain but for freedom. The National Liberation Committee of Liguria to the heroic fallen of the Quezzi district.)

The city of Genoa also named a street in Stefanina’s honour. In Via Stefanina Moro, there is a plaque that says: Via Stefanina Moro – Caduta per la libertà – 1927 – 9/10/1944.

In April 2020 on the 75th anniversary of Italy’s liberation, Sandra Zampa, under secretary at the Ministry of Health in the Giuseppe Conte administration, gave an address honouring the women of the Italian resistance, naming Stefanina Moro alongside other women partisans, such as Nilde Iotti and Irma Bandiera.

Friedrich Engel, under whose command Stefanina’s torture took place, was convicted in absentia of 246 murders by an Italian military court in 1999, for his role in the 1944 executions of Italian prisoners.

A street in the Genoa district of Quezzi,  where Stefania was born, carries her name
A street in the Genoa district of Quezzi, 
where Stefania was born, carries her name
He was then brought before a court in Hamburg in 2002 and tried and convicted on 59 counts of murder. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but because he was by then 95 years old, he was given a stay of that ruling and was able to leave court a free man.

In 2004, Germany’s highest court, the Bundesgerichtshof, overturned the previous ruling on the grounds that, despite acknowledging that Engel ordered the executions, the case of criminal murder had not been proven. The court would not permit a new trial because of Engel’s age and state of health.

Engel died at the age of 97 in February 2006 in Hamburg, more than 60 years after he ordered the torture that led to the death of Stefanina Moro.

The Doge's Palace in Genoa is one of the city's many splendid 16th century palaces
The Doge's Palace in Genoa is one of the city's
many splendid 16th century palaces
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Stefanina Moro was born and brought up, is the capital city of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there, many of which have been restored to their original splendour.  The Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares.

The Ascensore di Quezzi climbs 249 feet to link two parts of the hillside district
The Ascensore di Quezzi climbs 249 feet
to link two parts of the hillside district
Travel tip:

The street named after Stefanina, Via Stefanina Moro, is in the Quezzi district of Genoa, where the heroic girl was born. Quezzi, a residential area with many high rise buildings, sits high above the port. Built on a hillside, it has many steep streets. Since 2015, residents and visitors have been able to use the Ascensore di Quezzi - the Quezzi Lift - a kind of cross between a conventional lift and a cable car, which links the lower part of the district at Via Pinetti with the upper part at Via Fontanarossa, 76 metres (249 feet) above, in exactly 100 seconds. The 131m (430ft) journey is in two sections, one with a gradient of 44%, the other with a gradient of 30%. The lift’s single car, which carries a maximum of 25 passengers, tilts at the moment the gradient changes so that its floor remains level.

Also on this day:

1221: The birth of historian Salimbene di Adam

1469: The death of Renaissance painter Fra’ Filippo Lippi

1562: The birth of anatomist and physician Gabriele Falloppio

1841: The birth of Paris art café owner Agostina Segatori

1963: The Vajont Dam Disaster


28 September 2019

Filippo Illuminato - partisan

Teenager who gave his life for his city

The young partisan Filippo Illuminato, killed at the age of 13
The young partisan Filippo Illuminato,
killed at the age of 13
The partisan fighter Filippo Illuminato died on this day in 1943 in Naples.

He was among more than 300 Italians killed in an uprising known as the Quattro giornate di Napoli - the Four Days of Naples - which successfully liberated the city from occupying Nazi forces ahead of the arrival of the first Allied forces in the city on 1 October.

Illuminato’s memory has been marked in a number of ways in the southern Italian city, honoured because he was only 13 years old when he was killed by German gunfire in a street battle in the famous Piazza Trieste e Trento, just a few steps from the Royal Palace. His last act had been to blow up a German armoured car.

Born into a poor family, Illuminato was working as an apprentice mechanic when he decided to join the uprising, which was sparked by a brutal crackdown imposed by the Nazis in response to the Italian government’s decision to surrender to the Allies, confirmed in the signing of the Armistice of Cassabile on 3 September on the island of Sicily.

The German forces, which had numbered 20,000, had responded to the news by banning all assemblies and introducing a curfew. Thousands of Italian soldiers and citizens were rounded up and deported, bound for labour camps in the north of the country.

Citizens who remained in the city were warned that any insurrection would be punished by execution and the destruction of the homes of each individual offender. The wounding or killing of any German soldier would be avenged with the deaths of 100 Neapolitans.  Word spread that the Germans had been instructed to "reduce Naples to cinders and mud" before they retreated from the Allied invasion.

Neapolitans welcome the arrival of Allied troops in the city following the four-day uprising
Neapolitans welcome the arrival of Allied troops in the city
following the four-day uprising
After a number of sporadic incidents, a more consolidated rebellion began on 26 September, when around 500 citizens, their stock of weapons and ammunition bolstered by a raid on a German munitions store in the Vomero quarter a few days earlier, attacked German soldiers who had rounded up 8,000 Neapolitans for deportation.  A number of further insurgencies occurred in other parts of the city later in the day, including the capture of a German weapons depot in Castel Sant’Elmo.

Illuminato had by this stage taken up arms with other members of his family and friends. The German forces knew they had a full-scale insurrection on their hands and street battles broke out as the resistance fighters were sought out.  It was during one such battle that Illuminato was killed - but only after an act of personal bravery that would posthumously be recognised by the awarding of the Gold Medal of Military Valour, Italy's highest award for gallantry.

Fighting with a group of partisans in the heart of the city, he became separated as other men sought cover from a German patrol. Yet he courageously advanced on a German armoured car that was moving from Piazza Trieste e Trento into Via Toledo, which was then known as Via Roma.

The main post office in Naples was destroyed by the German occupiers before they withdrew
The main post office in Naples was destroyed by the
German occupiers before they withdrew
Illuminato destroyed one vehicle with a grenade and continued to advance despite the German patrol opening fire, managing to throw another grenade before he fell under a hail of bullets.

Over the following two days, the Germans began to withdraw, aware that the advancing Allied forces were only a few kilometres away to the south. By the time American and British soldiers arrived, no Nazis remained in the city.

Although there were three times as many deaths among partisans and civilians as there were among the German forces, the uprising was hailed as a victory because it played a part in the decision of the Nazi command not to mount a defence of Naples against the invading Allies, and thwarted Hitler’s instructions to his army to leave the city in ruins in their wake.

Nazi troops did torch the State Archives of Naples, which destroyed many historical documents, and blew up the main post office, but quit without bringing about the wholesale destruction Hitler had wanted.

Illuminato became a symbol of the Four Days. His memory is preserved in the city in a number of ways, including a street name - the Via Filippo Illuminato in the Fuorigrotta district - and a high school in the Mugnano district.

The Piazza Trieste e Trento, where Filippo Illuminato was gunned down in 1943, as it looks today
The Piazza Trieste e Trento, where Filippo Illuminato was
gunned down in 1943, as it looks today
Travel tip:

The Piazza Trieste e Trento is a much smaller space than the vast Piazza del Plebiscito it adjoins, but is nonetheless an important square at the convergence of the Via Toledo, Via Chiaia and the Via San Carlo. Around its perimeter can be found the Teatro San Carlo, a wing of the Royal Palace, the Palazzo Zapata, the Galleria Umberto I and the Caffè Gambrinus.  The square acquired its current name in 1919 in celebration of the Italian victory in the First World War.

The Via Toledo in Naples - known as Via Roma until 1980 - is one of the main commercial streets in the centre of the city
The Via Toledo in Naples - known as Via Roma until 1980 - is
one of the main commercial streets in the centre of the city
Travel tip:

Via Toledo is a busy street in Naples, linking Piazza Dante with Piazza Trieste e Trento. One of the most important shopping streets in the city, it is almost 1.2 km (0.75 miles) long. Created by Spanish viceroy Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Marquis of Villafranca in 1536, it was designed by Ferdinando Manlio, an Italian architect.  It was called Via Roma between 1870 to 1980 to celebrate the Italian unification.  The Metro station Toledo, which can also be found on the street, is one of the city’s more unlikely must-see places. One of a number of so-called ‘art stations’ on the line linking Piazza Garibaldi and Piscinola, Toledo is famous for its breathtaking escalator descent through a vast mosaic by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca known as the Crater de Luz – the crater of light – which creates the impression of daylight streaming into a volcanic crater.


31 March 2018

Franco Bonvicini – comic book artist

Comic artist became famous for satirising the Nazis

Bonvi's Sturmtruppen was a hit in countries beyond Italy as well as at home
Bonvi's Sturmtruppen was a hit in countries
beyond Italy as well as at home
Franco Bonvicini, who signed his comic strips Bonvi, was born on this day in 1941 in either Parma or Modena in Emilia-Romagna.

The correct birthplace is unknown. According to the artist, his mother registered him in both places to obtain double the usual amount of food stamps for rations.

After a brief spell working in advertising, Bonvi made his debut in the comic strip world for the Rome newspaper Paese Sera with his creation Sturmtruppen in 1968.

This series satirising the German army was a big hit and was published in various periodicals over the years. It was also translated for publication in other countries.

Although left-wing and a pacifist, Bonvi was fascinated by war and built up immense knowledge about Nazi Germany’s uniforms, weapons and equipment, which he depicted faithfully in his illustrations. The cartoons satirised military life and the Nazis themselves, providing him with an endless source of comic and surreal situations.

Bonvi's characters first appeared in 1968 in the Paese Sera newspaper
Bonvi's characters first appeared in
1968 in the Paese Sera newspaper
Bonvi also created the character Nick Carter, a comic detective, who later featured in a play, two films and a number of television cartoons.

In the 1980s, Bonvi became a member of Bologna City Council and founded a publishing house and monthly magazine in the city.

He was killed in 1995 in Bologna when he was struck by a car while crossing a road on his way to the television studios. He was due to appear on a show hosted by DJ and TV personality Red Ronnie and it was believed he intended to appeal for financial assistance for a friend, a Bolognese cartoonist, who was unable to work because he was dying of cancer.

A plate of Parma's famous prosciutto
A plate of Parma's famous prosciutto
Travel tip:

Franco Bonvicini could have been born in either Parma or Modena, cities that are about 60 km apart in Emilia-Romagna. Parma is famous for producing Prosciutto di Parma, a type of cured ham, and Parmigiano Reggiano, a hard cheese. Modena for Cotechino Modena, a type of sausage, and aceto balsamico di Modena, a high quality balsamic vinegar made from grape must.

Bologna's best food shops can be found in the Quadrilatero
Bologna's best food shops can be found in the Quadrilatero
Travel tip:

Bologna, where Franco Bonvicini lived in later life, is known by Italians as La Grassa, the fat one, because of its rich culinary traditions. It is the home of the world’s most famous pasta dish, tagliatelle Bolognese, long strips of pasta served with a rich meat sauce. The best traditional food shops in the city can be found in the area known as the Quadrilatero, which is bordered by Piazza Maggiore, Via Rizzoli, Via Castiglione and Via Farini.

More reading:

How Benito Jacovitti became Italy's favourite cartoonist

Hugo Pratt, the Rimini-born creator of comic book character Corto Maltese

How comic actor Sergio Tòfano invented comic cartoon favourite Signor Bonaventura

Also on this day:

1425: The birth of Bianca Maria Visconti, the Milanese Duchess who led her army into battle

1675: The birth of intellectual leader Pope Benedict XIV