Showing posts with label Second World War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Second World War. Show all posts

4 June 2024

Dino Grandi - politician

Fascist who ultimately turned against Mussolini

Dino Grandi was a member of the Fascist Grand Council
Dino Grandi was a member
of the Fascist Grand Council
The Fascist politician Dino Grandi was born on this day in 1895 in Mordano, a small town near Imola in Emilia-Romagna.

Although Grandi was an active member of Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts and a staunch advocate of using violence to suppress opponents of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, he ultimately became central to the Italian dictator’s downfall.

During his time as the Italian Ambassador in London, Grandi tried to forge a pact between Italy and Britain that would have prevented Italy entering World War Two.  Under pressure from the German leader Adolf Hitler, Mussolini removed him from the post of ambassador and appointed him Minister of Justice.

Grandi had also opposed the antisemitic Italian racial laws of 1938. He enjoyed a good relationship with the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, who gave him the title Count of Mordano.

His increasing criticism of Italy’s war effort saw him dropped from his position in Mussolini's cabinet in February 1943 but he remained chairman of the Fascist Grand Council. In this role, he colluded with others, such as Giuseppe Bottai and Mussolini’s own son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, to remove Mussolini as leader.

They could see Italy’s war was being lost, with the country suffering more and more following the Allied invasion of Sicily. Grandi and other members of the Fascist Grand Council met on July 24, 1943. When Mussolini said that the Germans were thinking of pulling out of the south, effectively abandoning the country to the enemy, Grandi stood up and subjected the self-proclaimed Il Duce to a blistering verbal attack. 

Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London, where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London,
where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
He proposed a motion to the Grand Council asking Victor Emmanuel III to resume his full constitutional authority. When the motion was put to a vote, at 2am on 25 July, it was carried by 19 votes to eight.

This effectively stood down Mussolini from office, although it took his arrest later in the day, after he had been to see the King as if it was business as usual, to enforce his removal. 

Grandi, a law graduate from the University of Bologna who hailed from a wealthy background in Mordano, had met Mussolini for the first time in 1914. Like Mussolini, he had initially been attracted to the political left, but swung in behind the future leader’s nationalist brand of socialism. He joined the Blackshirts - the Fascist party’s paramilitary wing - at the age of 25.

After the March on Rome in October 1922, after which the Fascists took power in Italy, Grandi became part of Mussolini’s government, first as the undersecretary of the interior, then as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later as  Italy's ambassador to the United Kingdom, a position he held from 1932 to 1939. 

He maintained his links with the most radical and violent groups in the party. He surrounded himself with members of the Blackshirts, whom he used as bodyguards.

Despite his role in the fall of the Fascist government, Grandi found himself unwanted by the new regime under interim prime minister Pietro Badoglio and left Italy under a false name, taking his family first to Spain and then Portugal.  In 1944 he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in the Italian Social Republic, where Mussolini, having been freed from house arrest by German paratroopers, had been installed by Hitler as the head of a puppet Nazi state. 

After seven years in exile, when life at times was hard for his family because of a lack of income, Grandi’s luck changed in the 1950s. He held representative positions for the Italian car maker Fiat and worked as a consultant to the American authorities, often serving as an intermediary in political and industrial operations between Italy and the United States. 

He then moved to Brazil, becoming the owner of an agricultural estate, before returning to Italy in the 1960s. He had a farm in the countryside of Modena before moving to Bologna. He died in Bologna in 1988 shortly before his 93rd birthday, three years after the publication of his political autobiography Il mio paese.

He is buried in the monumental cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna.

Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di San Cassiano, in the city centre
Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di
San Cassiano, in the city centre 
Travel tip:

The city of Imola, like Mordano, is today part of the greater metropolitan area of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. It has a well-preserved castle, the Rocca Sforzesca, which is nowadays the home of an internationally respected piano academy and the Cinema d’Este, which shows films in July and August. Imola also has a duomo, dedicated to San Cassiano. Erected from 1187 to 1271, it was repeatedly restored in the following centuries, until a large renovation was held in 1765–1781. The façade dates to 1850.The city is best known today for its motor racing circuit, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, which hosts the Formula One Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and formerly hosted the San Marino Grand Prix, on behalf of the nearby independent republic.

The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's
Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
Travel tip:

Bologna, where Grandi died, is one of Italy's oldest cities, dating back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick. The Certosa di Bologna, where Grandi is buried, is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery.

Also on this day:

1463: The death of historian and archaeologist Flavio Biondo

1604: The birth of Claudia de’ Medici, Archduchess of Tyrol

1966: The birth of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli

1970: The birth of Olympic skiing champion Deborah Compagnoni


21 June 2023

Alessandro Cavriani - naval captain

Heroic officer who sacrificed his own life

The destroyer Ugolino Vivaldi was detailed to help rescue the Italian king, Vittorio Emanuele III
The destroyer Ugolino Vivaldi was detailed to help
rescue the Italian king, Vittorio Emanuele III
Naval captain Alessandro Cavriani, who posthumously received Italy’s highest military honour after sacrificing his own life to prevent his ailing ship falling into enemy hands, was born on this day in 1911 in the city of Mantua in Lombardy.

Cavriani, who had risen to the rank of corvette captain in the Italian Royal Navy during World War Two, was lieutenant commander of the destroyer Ugolino Vivaldi as Italy prepared to sign the 1943 Armistice with the Allies.

The Vivaldi and her sister ship, the Antonio da Noli, were ordered on September 8 to set sail from Genoa to Civitavecchia, the large port north of Rome, where the following morning they were to pick up King Vittorio Emanuele III, his head of government, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, and about 50 others, and take them to La Maddalena in Sardinia, to prevent their being captured by the advancing German army.

That mission was aborted after the king, informed that the Germans had already captured the road from Rome to Civitavecchia, instead fled in the opposite direction, to Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

The Vivaldi was struck by a missile launched from a German Dornier DO17 bomber
The Vivaldi was struck by a missile launched
from a German Dornier DO17 bomber
The Vivaldi and Da Noli were instead sent to join the rest of the Italian fleet at La Maddalena and attack German craft engaged in moving German troops from Sardinia to Corsica.  There, they came under fire from coastal batteries on the Corsican coast.

The Da Noli struck a mine and sank. The Vivaldi, badly damaged, managed to limp away but unable to generate anywhere near its normal speed of 32 knots, it was an easy target for German bombers and was further damaged by a guided missile.

It was not long before the ship’s engines failed completely, at which point the order came for her to be abandoned and scuttled, rather than risk the vessel, which was well equipped with guns and torpedo tubes and could carry more than 100 mines, being seized by the enemy.

As the crew evacuated, Cavriani was one of the last to leave, ensuring all the procedures to scuttle the boat had been enacted, before himself swimming to the relative safety of a life raft. On looking back towards the Vivaldi, he became concerned that the destroyer was still afloat.

Alessandro Cavriani, who sacrificed his own life
Alessandro Cavriani, who
sacrificed his own life
With no regard for their own safety, Cavriani and another crew member, petty officer Virginio Fasan, dived back into the water and swam back to their ship, their aim to open more waterways within the Vivaldi to speed up its sinking. 

After they had achieved that and the Vivaldi began to go down rapidly, he and Fasan appeared on the bridge and saluted the Italian flag, soon disappearing beneath the waters, close to the island of Asinara, off the northern coast of Sardinia. In all, the crew of the Vivaldi had 58 dead and 240 survivors, picked up in the water by German or Allied flying boats.

Cavriani, who had learned his maritime skills at the naval academy in Livorno, had previously been decorated with the Bronze Medal for Military Valour following his success in the battles of Punta Stilo and Capo Teulada. 

Two years after his death he and Fasan were awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour, Italy’s highest military honour.

Livorno's beautiful seafront promenade, the elegant Terrazza Mascagni, is one of the city's attractions
Livorno's beautiful seafront promenade, the elegant
Terrazza Mascagni, is one of the city's attractions
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000.  Built during the Renaissance with Medici money as an “ideal town”, it became an important free port, and until the middle of the 19th century was one of the most multicultural cities in Italy thanks to an influx of residents from all round the world who arrived on foreign trading ships. Although it is a large commercial port today with much related industry, and also suffered extensive damage as a prime target for Allied bombing raids in the Second World War, it retains many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - and an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria rusticana, who was born in Livorno.

Cala Sabina is one of Asinara's beaches, notable  for their white sand and clear waters
Cala Sabina is one of Asinara's beaches, notable 
for their white sand and clear waters
Travel tip:

Situated just off the northwestern tip of Sardinia, the small island of Asinara has been virtually uninhabited since the maximum security prison to which it was host for 25 years was closed in 1997. The census of population in 2001 listed just one resident. Part of the national parks system of Italy, the island is mountainous in geography with steep, rocky coasts. It was recently converted to a wildlife and marine preserve and is home to a population of wild Albino donkeys from which the island may take its name.  Asinara can be reached by boat with summer crossings from Stintino and Porto Torres on Sardinia, with some operators offering a day-long excursion stopping at several of the island’s beaches, notable for white sand and clear water. There is a hostel and restaurant in a former prison guards' barracks at Cala d'Oliva.

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of architect Pier Luigi Nervi

1919: The birth of architect Paolo Soleri

1963: Giovanni Battista Montini elected Pope Paul VI


29 December 2022

The Battle of San Mauro

Defeat that ended Sicily’s separatist ambitions  

Concetto Gallo, who was captured during the fight
Concetto Gallo, who was
captured during the fight
Soldiers from the Italian army, bolstered by Carabinieri officers, decisively defeated the paramilitaries of the clandestine Volunteer Army for the Independence of Sicily at what became known as the Battle of San Mauro on this day in 1945.

The confrontation, which took place in the hills above the city of Caltagirone in southeast Sicily, concluded with the arrest of Concetto Gallo, commander of the paramilitary group, and the effective end of the movement for Sicilian independence that grew during the Allied military occupation of the island in World War Two.

The Volunteer Army (EVIS) had formed in February 1945 as a clandestine paramilitary wing of the Movimento per l'Indipendenza della Sicilia (MIS), a political party launched in 1943 with the aim of achieving independence for the island.

The party brought together individuals from across the political spectrum in Sicily under the leadership of Andrea Finocchiaro Aprile, including the revolutionary socialist Antonio Canepa, the social-democrat Giovanni Guarino Amella, local aristocratic land owners and even Mafia figures, such as the powerful Calogero Vizzini.

Canepa was a key figure in EVIS, which he modelled along the lines of the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, led by the future president of communist Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, a partisan army that fought against the occupying AXIS forces in World War Two.

The battle took place in the hills around the city of Caltagirone in southeastern Sicily
The battle took place in the hills around the
city of Caltagirone in southeastern Sicily
However, he was killed in June 1945 during a firefight with Carabinieri soldiers near Catania, after which EVIS never developed into the force he had hoped it would become.

Command passed briefly to Attilio Castrogiovanni, an MIS leader, and after his arrest to Gallo. 

Vizzini had some success when he recruited Rosario Avila, a bandit involved in brigandry around the town of Niscemi, south of Caltagirone, to organise guerilla attacks on Carabinieri patrols. The involvement of another brigand, Salvatore Giuliano, had a major impact, such that the mainland government sent hundreds of reinforcements to the island in an effort to suppress his activity.

There was cross-party opposition to Sicilian independence in Italy's postwar government in Rome, which perhaps explains why the fighters of EVIS were ultimately overwhelmed by the numbers deployed against them.

When Gallo’s group of between 50 and 60 militants clashed with Carabinieri at San Mauro, they found they were also up against a battalion of the internal security division of the Italian Army as well, effectively outnumbering them ten to one.

The firefight was mercifully short-lived, with minimal casualties. Gallo and other separatist leaders were captured and taken into custody.

EVIS effectively disbanded early in 1946, but their struggle had not been in vain. MIS won four seats in the 1946 Italian elections and in May of that year, King Umberto II issued the Statute of Sicily, which made the island an autonomous region within the Italian State.

The ceramic steps of the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte attract many visitors to Caltagirone
The ceramic steps of the Staircase of Santa Maria
del Monte attract many visitors to Caltagirone
Travel tip:

The city of Caltagirone in southeastern Sicily falls within the metropolitan area of Catania, which lies some 70km (43 miles) to the northeast. It is well known as a centre for the production of pottery, particularly maiolica and terracotta. The city’s main attraction for visitors is the 142-step monumental Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte, built from 1608 in the oldest part of the town. Each step is decorated with different hand-decorated ceramics and once a year in July, to commemorate the day of the city's patron saint, James, the staircase is illuminated with candles of different colours. 

The sprawling city of Catania sits in the shadow of Mount Etna, Italy's most active volcano
The sprawling city of Catania sits in the shadow
of Mount Etna, Italy's most active volcano
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. Twice destroyed by earthquakes, in 1169 and 1693, it can be compared in some respects with Naples, which sits in the shadow of Vesuvius, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe.  Eruptions of Etna are commonplace.  As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.  It is also notable for many fine examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade.

Also on this day:

1720: Venice’s historic Caffè Florian opens its doors for the first time

1847: The birth of sculptor Gaetano Russo

1891: The birth of WW1 flying ace Luigi Olivari

1941: The birth of mathematician Tullio Levi-Civita

1966: The birth of footballer Stefano Eranio


17 December 2022

Remains of exiled monarch returned to Italy

Repatriation of Vittorio Emanuele III sparked anger

Vittorio Emanuele III's original funeral, which took place in Alexandria, Egypt in 1947
Vittorio Emanuele III's original funeral, which
took place in Alexandria, Egypt in 1947
The remains of Italy’s wartime king, Vittorio Emanuele III, were returned to Italian soil on this day in 2017, 70 years after his death in exile in Egypt.

His body had been buried in St. Catherine’s Catholic Cathedral in Alexandria since 1947, when he died at the age of 78, a year and a half after abdicating in favour of his son, Umberto II.

His remains were flown to Italy by military aircraft for reburial at his family’s mausoleum at the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, a church in the province of Cuneo, Piedmont. At the same time, the body of his wife, Queen Elena, who had died in France in 1952, was flown to Italy from Montpelier, so that they could be buried side by side.

Vittorio Emanuele’s coffin, draped in a flag bearing the coat of arms of the Savoy family, was taken from the plane at Cuneo’s small Levaldigi airport and escorted to the Sanctuary solely by local officials, including the prefect vicar, the local village mayor and the president of Cuneo’s Chamber of Commerce. Only a handful of people were allowed in the church for the interment ceremony. 

Vittorio Emanuele III, pictured with Mussolini (left) and Hitler in Rome in 1938, was a flawed figure to many Italians
Vittorio Emanuele III, pictured with Mussolini (left) and Hitler
in Rome in 1938, was a flawed figure to many Italians 
For all that it was a low-key affair, the repatriation made headlines, and much of the reaction in Italy was critical.

Vittorio Emanuele enjoyed popularity at times during his 46-year reign, enjoying the nickname Re soldato - the soldier king - after Italy’s victory in World War One, and Sciaboletta - little sabre - because his diminutive size - he was only five feet tall - required the sword of his military uniform to be shortened.

But his reputation was fatally damaged by the decisions he took during the time of Benito Mussolini’s Fascists.

When Mussolini's Blackshirts marched on Rome in 1922, he not only refused the government request to declare martial law, he then handed power to Mussolini, inviting him to be prime minister.

Many refused to forgive him for signing Mussolini’s 1938 racial laws that harshly discriminated against Jews.

He did order Mussolini’s arrest in 1943 when it became obvious that Italy’s war was going to end in defeat. But he attracted more criticism for taking 40 days to agree an armistice with the Allies, which gave the Germans time to entrench themselves in northern Italy and even to free Mussolini from his house arrest in the mountains of Abruzzo.

Vittorio Emanuele as a baby with his mother, Queen Margherita
Vittorio Emanuele as a baby with
his mother, Queen Margherita
Vittorio Emanuele then fled Rome, which was seen as an act of cowardice. His decision to hand power to his son in 1946, shortly before the referendum in which Italians would vote to become a republic, was a desperate attempt to save the monarchy.

It was not enough to persuade Italian voters, however. Following the referendum result, all male members of the monarchy and their descendants were ordered to leave the country in a ban that remained in place until 2002.

The decision to bury the late monarch in relative obscurity attracted criticism from members of his family. Italy’s first two Savoy kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, and its first queen, Margherita, were all buried at the Pantheon in Rome. 

Emanuele Filberto, Vittorio Emanuele III and Elena’s great-grandson, was quoted as saying that while he was pleased with the return of his ancestors to Italy, he believed that all members of the House of Savoy deserved to be in the Pantheon.  

But this was strongly opposed by historians, on the grounds that the circular former Roman temple was traditionally a place where Italians of high esteem were laid to rest.

It also provoked an angry response from Rome’s Jewish community. Like other Italians of Jewish heritage, they could never forgive the king’s co-operation with Mussolini. But they were also sensitive to the proximity of the Pantheon to the city’s former ghetto, which saw more than 1,000 residents rounded up and sent to their death in concentration camps in 1943.

The ex-monarch's tomb at the Sanctuary of Vicoforte
The ex-monarch's tomb at
the Sanctuary of Vicoforte
Travel tip:

The city of Cuneo, which developed at the confluence of the Stura and Gesso rivers, is set out in a grid system with a large, elegant central square, Piazza Galimberti, one of the largest squares in Italy, after Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples. Surrounded by neo-classical buildings, it has a large statue of Giuseppe Barbaroux, the author of the Albertine Statute that formed the constitution of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1848. The square is named after Duccio Galimberti, one of the heroes of the Italian resistance in the Second World War.   Cuneo had been acquired by the Duchy of Savoy in 1382 and remained an important stronghold of the Savoy state for many centuries.

The Pantheon in Rome, built in AD 118, contains the remains of many notable Italians
The Pantheon in Rome, built in AD 118, contains
the remains of many notable Italians

Travel tip

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome is considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century. In addition to Vittorio Emanuele II, his son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita, the Pantheon contains the tombs of the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the architect Baldassare Peruzzi and the composer Arcangelo Corelli.

Also on this day:

546: Rome falls to the Ostrogoths

1538: Pope Paul III excommunicates Henry VIII of England

1749: The birth of composer Domenico Cimarosa

1859: The birth of painter Ettore Tito

1894: The birth of WW1 pilot Leopoldo Eleuteri

1981: Red Brigades seize NATO boss Dozier


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


28 October 2022

The March on Rome

The insurrection that put Fascists in power

Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare
Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
The March on Rome that resulted in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist party taking control of the Italian government took place on this day 100 years ago in 1922.

A mob comprising thousands of members of Mussolini’s Blackshirt militia and other party supporters converged on the city, intent on seizing power. At the same time, other Blackshirt groups were capturing strategic locations throughout Italy.

Italy’s Liberal prime minister, Luigi Facta, wanted to deploy the army to put down the insurrection and hastened to the Palazzo del Quirinale to see the king, Victor Emmanuel III, and ask him to sign a decree of martial law so that he could put Rome in a state of siege.

At first, the monarch was prepared to grant his request, but after giving it more thought he changed his mind, much to Facta’s consternation. 

Instead, the Blackshirt mob, headed by four Mussolini henchmen - Italo Balbo, Cesare Maria De Vecchi, Michele Bianchi and Emilio De Bono - were allowed to enter Rome unchallenged. By the  following day, what had been effectively a bloodless coup d’état was completed when Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form a government and at the age of 39 become what was then Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Victor Emmanuel III handed power to Mussolini
Victor Emmanuel III handed
power to Mussolini  
Quite why the king decided to side with a man with a history of building power through violence and intimidation was not entirely clear. Cynics believed he did it purely out of self-interest, reasoning that the Fascist leader’s rise was irresistible and fearing that his cousin, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, a known Fascist sympathiser, would be handed the throne if he did not acquiesce.

In fact, he had probably over-estimated the strength of Mussolini’s insurgents, who numbered nowhere near the 50,000 that the Fascist hierarchy had hoped to assemble, possibly as few as 10,000, many of whom were rural workers armed with little more than pitchforks.

A slightly more noble explanation is that Victor Emmanuel feared that Italy was on the verge of civil war and saw handing power to Mussolini as an expedient way to avert it.

Certainly, over the preceding two or three years, there had been considerable discontent over wages and prices among Italian workers, with waves of strikes taking place. The Italian Socialist Party had made gains in local elections and in 1919 - the year that Mussolini formed his Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, which would evolve into the National Fascist Party - had their most successful result in a general election, winning 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Dissatisfied with the reluctance of the Rome government to act against the workers, many landowners and business bosses increasingly turned to Mussolini’s fledgling Blackshirt militias to quell industrial action, supported by establishment figures worried by the rise of the socialists.

In August 1922, the Fascists took it upon themselves to suppress a general strike, claiming they were the party of law and order as opposed to an ineffectual official government. They did so by violent means, torching buildings they believed to be used by socialists. 

Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia en route to Rome in 1922
Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia
en route to Rome in 1922
Street fighting broke out in Milan to which the Fascists responded by destroying the printing presses of the left-wing newspaper Avanti! and storming the local government headquarters, expelling the elected socialist administration.

All the time, the government in Rome sat back and watched, which emboldened Mussolini, by now supported and sponsored by business owners and most on the political right, to make his grab for absolute power.

Within a little over two years of the king’s capitulation, Mussolini had turned his premiership into a dictatorship, after which Italy had to endure two decades of brutality and suppression that ended only when the occupying forces of Nazi Germany had been defeated by the Allies.

After the war, Victor Emmanuel III was sent into exile along with all members of the Italian Royal Family, his siding with Mussolini never forgiven as Italians voted to become a republic.

Yet 100 years after his rise to power, the self-proclaimed Duce still has sympathisers in the country and reminders of his regime are not difficult to find in many parts of Italy, such as the obelisk inscribed with the words Mussolini Dux that still stands near the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The giant fashion house Fendi has its headquarters in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, an imposing six-story marble structure in the Mussolini-built EUR district of the capital, on which is engraved a phrase from a speech made by the dictator announcing his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Indeed, with somewhat chilling timing, the anniversary of Mussolini’s ascent to power has coincided with the installing as prime minister of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, herself a former member of both the Italian Social Movement, founded in 1946 by Mussolini supporters, and the post-fascist National Alliance.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official residence of popes, kings and presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official
residence of popes, kings and presidents
Travel tips:

The Palazzo del Quirinale, which until 1946 was the official residence of Italy’s reigning monarch, was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence. It also served as the offices of the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the
most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
Travel tip:

The EUR complex, to the south of the centre of Rome, was originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair - the Esposizione Universale Roma - which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  Mussolini’s modern city within a city was designed by a team of prominent architects, headed by Marcello Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci. The designs combined classical Roman elements with Italian Rationalism in a simplified neoclassicism that came to be known as Fascist architecture.  The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which has become known as the “square colosseum”, is regarded as the building which is the most symbolic of EUR. Designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it draws inspiration from the Colosseum with its rows of arches, while its square shape and stark whiteness are reminiscent of metaphysical art.

Also on this day:

312: The Battle of the Ponte Milvio

1639: The death of composer Stefano Landi

1963: The birth of singer-songwriter Eros Ramazzotti

1973: The death of comic actor and illustrator Sergio Tòfano


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


6 October 2022

The October Martyrs of Lanciano

Heroic group of partisans earned Gold Medal for Valour

A statue in the town of Lanciano honours partisan leader Trentino La Barba
A statue in the town of Lanciano honours
partisan leader Trentino La Barba
The town of Lanciano in Abruzzo today and every October 6 remembers the 23 citizens killed by German troops on this day in 1943 after one of the most celebrated revolts of World War Two against the occupying Nazi forces.

The group became known as the Martiri ottobrini di Lanciano - the October Martyrs of Lanciano. Their deeds were recognised by the postwar Italian government with the award - to all the citizens of the town - of the Gold Medal for Military Valour, and there are a number of monuments in the town that commemorate the event and the participants.

As well as 11 partisan resistance fighters, another 12 Lancianese who fought alongside them were killed by the Germans. The leader of the partigiani group, a 28-year-old former soldier named Trentino La Barba, was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Valour in his own right. Three others were honoured with Silver Medals.

Lanciano - 22km (14 miles) southeast of the city of Chieti and about 30km (19 miles) from the coastal resort of Pescara - had the misfortune to be one of the key municipalities close to the Gustav Line, one of the major defensive lines established by the Germans to counter the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula.

As such, it was in the line of fire for many months, over which time around 500 civilians were killed in the bombardments that regularly took place.  The citizens of Lanciano also found themselves often deprived of food and supplies that instead went to the German military.

The Torri Montanare were an important strategic capture by the partisans
The Torri Montanare were an important
strategic capture by the partisans
The uprising of October 6 followed the torture and killing of La Barba in the centre of Lanciano in full view of local people.

One of the founder members of the Gran Sasso resistance group, La Barba - emboldened by news that Allied troops had landed at Termoli, just 72km (45 miles) away from Lanciano - had stolen weapons from a Carabinieri barracks on October 4, hid them in a cave at nearby Pozzo Bagnaro, just outside the town, and the following night launched an attack on a German column.

His guerrilla group entered the town at Porta San Biagio, a gate in the ancient walls, setting fire to some German vans, but German reinforcements arrived and La Barba was captured. He was interrogated and tortured, then taken to the centre of the town, where he was shot and his body hung from a tree, which the Germans hoped would deter the local population from further insurgence.

Instead, as the remainder of La Barba’s group fought on and occupied a number of strategic points, including the Torri Montanare in the ancient walls, many local people joined the fight.  A number of partisans died in a battle near Porta Santa Chiara, but the rest of the brigade was able to move into the historic centre.

The Piazza del Plebiscito, where Lanciano's liberation was celebrated
The Piazza del Plebiscito, where
Lanciano's liberation was celebrated
Ultimately, as fighting continued, 11 partigiani and 12 other citizens were killed, as well as 47 German soldiers. Shops and arcades on Corso Trento and Trieste, at the commercial heart of the town, were burned down in acts carried out by the Nazis in reprisal. The clashes halted after Monsignor Tesauri, the local bishop, organised a summit at which the Germans accused the town’s mayor of inciting the uprising, but eventually an agreement was reached.

In any case, the German divisions were soon occupied with fighting Allied troops, who were approaching ever closer to the Gustav Line. Lanciano found itself bombarded repeatedly, with many historic buildings damaged or destroyed.

It was finally liberated on December 3, when sections of the 8th Indian Division and the 78th English Division, part of the British 8th Army fighting the important Battle of the Sangro River, arrived at the convent of Sant'Antonio di Padova. 

The Indian troops, accompanied by some local Italian officials who had come out of hiding on their arrival, marched triumphantly along Corso Trento and Trieste to Piazza Plebiscito, the town’s main square.

The active participation of Lanciano’s citizens in the Italian Resistance was recognised in 1952, when Lanciano was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour by President Luigi Einaudi. 

In the 1970s, a commemorative monument was created at Piazzale VI Ottobre at the beginning of Via Ferro di Cavallo, in memory of the martyrs, while in 2016 a statue by the sculptor Nicola Antonelli was erected in Largo dell'Appello, depicting Trentino La Barba.

The Diocletian Bridge and bell tower of the Basilica
The Diocletian Bridge and
bell tower of the Basilica
Travel tip:

Situated about 10km (6.2 miles) from the port of Ortona on the Adriatic coast, Lanciano sits on a group of hills rising to about 265 metres (869 feet) above sea level. Formerly the Roman city of Anxanum, Lanciano has another claim to historical fame as the site of what is recognised as the first Eucharistic Miracle of the Catholic Church, which took place in the eighth century, when a monk having doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist - also known as Holy Communion - found when he said the words of consecration at Mass that the bread and wine changed into flesh and blood.  Lanciano today has a number of churches, including the 17th century Basilica Santa Maria del Ponte, named after the adjoining Ponte Diocleziano - the Diocletian Bridge - a Roman relic from the late third century.  Panoramic views can be had from the two Torri Montanare, which used to form an important part of the town’s mediaeval defensive walls.

Part of Ortona's Castello Aragonese, the coastal town's dominant historic feature
Part of Ortona's Castello Aragonese, the coastal
town's dominant historic feature
Travel tip:

Nearby Ortona, which can be found about 22km (14 miles) south of Pescara along the Adriatic coast and about 26km (16 miles) east of the provincial capital Chieti, is dominated by a huge 15th century Aragonese castle, a legacy of another major battle when Ortona came under heavy attack by the Venetian navy in 1447. The castle has been renovated and visitors can reach it by walking along the Passegiatta Orientale, which looks out over the coastline. Ortona’s Cathedral of Saint Thomas contains remains of Saint Thomas the Apostle, which were brought to Ortona by sea in the 13th century more than 1,200 years after his death in India.  Ortona was also badly damaged in World War Two, the port being the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Allies’ Italian Campaign a short time after Lanciano was liberated. Ortona has a museum dedicated to the December 1943 battle.

Also on this day:

1888: The birth of wartime nurse Saint Maria Bertilla Boscardin

1935: The birth of wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino

1943: The birth of football coach Ottavio Bianchi