War, prison, and liberation 1943 – 1945

During WWII, Enrico father Gino was active with the Italian resistance movement, building radios for the partisans. Unfortunately, he was arrested, imprisoned, and ended up in the concentration camp in Bolzano to Dachau. This is the story of how his technical knowledge avoided him, the otherwise fatal final leg of the trip, how the German commander of the camp wanted him to build a radio to receive Radio London illegally, and how he was finally liberated by the arrival of the American tanks in Bolzano.

The following is the English translation of few chapters of Enrico father auto-biography. Enrico prepared it for his grandchildren who do not speak or understand Italian.

War

August 13, 1943 Ferrovie Nord Milan Train

On August 13, 1943, there is a destructive night bombing of Milan. The public services do not work there are no tram or trains. We walk from via Abano to the Lambrate station, where an army truck performs a public service going around the whole town to take us to the Bovisa train station for Varese. In Varese, we take a train north to Cocquio Trevisago; then we walk up to Caldana to the room of an aunt of Marisa.

September 8, 1943 – armistice between Italians and the Anglo-Americans

We heard the news as we descend the staircase to Caldana. All were shouting, “The war is over,” but instead, it continues for us. The next day the Germans start to round up Italian soldiers. For a couple of days, we do not go to Milan, and then with a pass, we venture by train to Milan and then to our home. Everything is apparently okay.

Orestes has returned from Africa; Egidio is back from Russia. On the last day of the year, we go to the Grigna: I, Mariuccia, Oreste, Egidio, and a girl who does not know which one to choose. She will eventually go in the bunk with Egidio, but it will be an encounter without obligation.

Marisa is very annoyed by her pregnancy. To return to Lecco, we rent a cart pulled by a mule led by a boy. The mule stops at all the taverns. Marisa vomits in her cap on the crowded train with almost no lighting, which she throws out of the window.

July 26, 1944 – 7 am Enrico sister Anna is born at the Clinic “Regina Elena.”

Arrest November 8, 1944 – San Vittore Prison, Milan.

San Vittore prison, Milan

From the San Vittore prison, after 15 days, an intense exchange of clandestine correspondence between Marisa and me begins through illegal channels. Unfortunately, all the Marisa mail went lost or stolen at my exit from the concentration camp[1]The Bolzano concentration camp, where Gino was transferred after San Vittore.. Marisa kept all the letters that I wrote to her and that she received. Anyway, she preserved the essential things and the letters from the camp placed in the archives. I have changed cells this morning: from cell 105 on the third floor, they moved me to cell five on the ground floor. I do not know why, and it would be useless to ask.

You cannot talk to the guards, called “SUPERIOR.” Here, however, you hear more noises of the prison, and even the sounds are life. I hear the gate slamming each time a “superior” or a “dustman” enters or leaves the spoke. You can listen to the talk in the hallway while dustmen are cleaning the floor. They are common criminals and live better in the other spokes[2]The San Vittore prison is built like a wheel, with six spokes connected to a central rotunda, a round building., several in one cell in most places. Only we, the fifth spoke politicians, are isolated, each of us in his cell alone.

I have been in jail for fifteen days since I was arrested. The Italian Gestapo [3]The Geheime Staatspolizei (can be translated into secret police), commonly abbreviated as the Gestapo, was the secret police of the Third Reich. policemen were in plain clothes and did not introduce themselves; they just pressed a gun to my back and asked me:

“Do you have weapons?”

Here we are – I thought to myself – I have been pondering this could happen.

San Vittore Prison – pubblico dominio

Without saying anything, they load the two Marisio brothers4 and me into two cars and take us to San Vittore “al numer Dü” [4]”at number two” – in Milanese dialect., as they say in Milan because it is in Filangeri square at number two. So, I know the routine of entry: registration of the name in a large register, withdrawal of watch and money. We are left with ties and shoelaces; the Germans do not care if we kill ourselves. Then we went along the first spoke, open the Rotonda’s gate, and then spoke of the fifth. On a ladder, we get to the second floor, and near the bottom of the railing, the guard opens the massive door of cell 105. He makes me go in and closes the door behind me. The cell is all for me alone. It is rectangular, two meters wide, and about four meters long. There is a large glass window with iron bars in front of the door, obscured by the wolf’s mouth [5]“mouth of the wolf” is the way the jail windows are built closed towards the exterior with only an opening to the sky, like a wolf crying in the night..

The decor is bare-bones: the right corner of a shelf of rock supports the earthenware pitcher of water and soup bowl. On the ground, under the shelf, is a large glazed earthenware vessel within “IL BUGLIOLO” (“THE BUCKET” [6]Bucket used in prisons as a latrine. ).

The massive wooden door reinforced with iron plates has a small opening from which the guard can see the interior. The lighting at night is a strong light bulb. A wooden table with a measly jump seat is attached to the left wall serves as a bed. It is the “plank,” and you can lower it just after five in the evening, and you have to get it up at seven in the morning.

There is one blanket for the cold night. A tube runs from floor to ceiling; it would have served to heat in the good times when there was coal available. Now I warm myself up by walking back and forth endlessly along with the four-meter cell. In early November, thankfully, it is not yet freezing outside. When they caught me, I was wearing a heavy coat.

I think that I left Marisa with Anna, she was born three months before: I try to guess who the spy was because the Gestapo was looking for me in the store. The tip-off came from via Mozart. A month before, Marisio Gino asked me to do a radio transmitter pack for the partisans, and, of course, he did not say which group was expecting it. I constructed it in the laboratory in the basement of his store in Via Pacini.

A man indicated to me by Marisio accompanied me to via Mozart, [7]via Mozart, a cross street of via Senate, in the center of Milan, near Piazza San Babila. at number 5, an empty apartment, probably belonging to displaced people. The companion introduced me to a young man of about 25-27 years, “Gino,” the third Gino of this story. On a table, there was a suitcase containing an American transceiver and a book. The third Gino was the radio operator. We talked about what I had to do in the unit that I had almost finished.

The next day, a Wednesday, I did not go to Marisio because I expected the switchboard of the district, a man blinded during the war, to tell me when and how I could go to Vigevano – or Abbiategrasso – to withdraw a certificate of exemption from the military service with the Graziani Army.

On Thursday morning, at 8 am, going to Marisio within the store, and toward the store’s back to go into the basement, I feel a gun in my back and the phrase “Do you have weapons?”.

We put out the bucket from the lower one – Fondo Paolo Monti CC BY-SA 4.0

I begin my life in prison:

I wake up at six with the low lighting of the lamp that illuminates the cell. A ladle of dirty hot water called “coffee” is poured into the aluminum mess tin. First, wash without soap, and pour the water into the bucket, in which we must make even the ​​bodily needs. Twist-up the plank and begin to walk. Around 10 o’clock, two windows next to the door open. We put out the bucket from the lower one, and the “sciacquini” drain it into a large metal container. The jug is filled with water from the upper to be used to drink, wash, and clean the bucket. At noon a soup is given, with a 150-gram breadstick, which serves the whole day.

In the morning, we go outdoors “all’aria – to the air.” They open the cells, and in groups of eight, with two meters between each other, they lead us in the yard; the enclosure is divided into triangular wedges by walls two meters high. A supervisor should oversee that no one speaks, walks, or smokes on a raised balcony in the center.

Surveillance is done inside the prison by Italian prison guards, whom you have to call “SUPERIORE.” I must admit that all the guards with whom I came in contact in San Vittore proved to be good people, intimidated by the Germans and especially by the SS [8]SS (Schutz Staffen, paramilitary Nazi formation, at the end of the war at the Nuremberg trial, it would have been defined as a criminal organization). Corporal FRANZ, who circulated continuously in the spoke of politicians armed with a whip, of which he made ​​much use, especially if someone smoked, or spoke during the all’aria time or by tapping the heating tube trying to communicate with others using the alphabet of the prisoners. They also worry about possible revenge by any of the CLN [9]CLN: National Liberation Committee, the organization that brought together all the formations of the partisans..

The two Marisio are in nearby cells: Gino is in the one next to mine, and when we go to all’aria, we exchange a few words, and we agree we will try to remove all responsibility from his brother when they question us. He does not withstand the hardships, and also, someone needs to go out and run the radio shop to support their families.

I had not been working for two months at the Bacchini Company because of my undocumented military status, so I did not take home any salary. Marisa was not working because she had the baby to nurse. They would have to survive with Marisa’s mother’s pay, who worked a bit as a worker in a hosiery factory. There were no reserves because six months before Marisa’s bag containing her last paycheck and the little gold we had was stolen.

Commemorative plaque of the Hotel Regina – Fcarbonara CC BY-SA 3.0

I spoke at length with Marisio because they took us to shower in the basement of the prison. How delightful it is to hear the hot water flowing on your cold body. It’s the only nice thing about the jail. In a cloud of steam, one guard closes his eyes and ears while the other is at the door to save them and us from unwanted visits by Franz and his whip.

After eight days, they carry Gino Marisio, and I handcuffed to the HOTEL REGINA[10]From 13 September 1943 until the liberation of Milan, and until April 30, 1945, the date of the arrival of Allied troops, the Hotel Regina was home of the command of the SS and the Gestapo … Continue reading, headquarters of the Gestapo.

Milan – Hotel Regina in 1943

I’m interrogated by a German SS sergeant, who does not know one word of Italian. An Italian typist that takes report acts as an interpreter. I understand that, fortunately, they do not know about the radio I was building in the laboratory. They ask me why I went in via Mozart and what I saw. I declare that I had the task of repairing a power supply and that I had already gone once for assignment of Marisio to Montorfano to control a transmitter that he had sold to the Decima MAS.

I thought that also, in this case, everything was regular. The German immediately wanted to know all the details of my trip. Then I learned that the Germans had seized the radio to the Decima MAS because they could not trust leaving the means of radio communication at a great distance in the hands of their allies.

The Decima Mas during the raking in Via Rasella in Rome

I also stated that I understood an illegal transmitter in the suitcase in via Mozart and that the book would serve as a code. I said I intended to warn them, but on Wednesday, I was not well, and the next morning I was arrested.

They make me sign the report, written in German, without even rereading it. Still handcuffed, they take us back to San Vittore. Going through Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, the Italian policeman shows us the wreckage of houses affected by a recent bombing and says:

“It’s your fault because the planes your radio guided them.”

It’s a hefty charge!

It has been fifteen days, and I do not know anything about Marisa. One morning I am taken in a courtyard, and a young blond German in SS uniform takes the classic photographs of the prisoner, front and side with the numbered tag around my neck. What can serve this photo if I have a beard of 15 days? In the afternoon, a prisoner barber cuts my beard.

The next day my cell is changed. I go down to the ground floor, in cell 5, close to the roundabout. I do not have the company of Marisio anymore.

With the excuse that I had forgotten some news about the transmitter of the Decima MAS[11]Decima MAS: The X ª MAS Flotilla, also known as Decima MAS, X-MAS, 10th Flotilla MAS, or the “Tenth” was a special unit of the Italian Royal Navy, whose name is linked to many war … Continue reading, I ask the guard to undergo interrogation again; I realized that this subject interested them very much. I try to convince them of my good faith. It will not do any good, though, because They will not question me again.

Two days later, at six o’clock in the evening, the guard on duty opens the peephole in the door and shouts:

“Visit”

I reply that I did not request any medical examination.

“The doctor wants to see you.”

He opens the cell, the gate of the round, and makes me enter the infirmary. A man in a white coat sitting at a table whisper to me:

“Your wife is well; your daughter is fine.”

Finally!

I do not know through which channel the long-awaited contact took place. The man in white sits me down, gives me a cigarette, then the whole package. He then asks me:

“Why are you here?”.

I get suspicious right away, fearing a trap. I think he is a provocateur who wants to get from me some admission. Therefore, I answer vaguely, not varying my story from what I said in the interrogation. I’m disappointed, and I think the information about my family is not correct.

They accompany me to jail, and during the night and the next day, I still think of the interview, always convinced that I am the victim of a devious attempt by the Gestapo.

Milano – San Vittore

November 28, 1944

The following evening, at the same time, the same guard calls me again to go to visit the doctor. As I enter the infirmary, the same man in white gives me a letter from Marisa.

The doubt disappears, the news is real, and the man in white is, for me, a benefactor. He gives me pieces of paper and a pencil to write the cell’s answer to be delivered to the guard before he changes his turn.

I cannot express with words today the feelings that I feel that night because distorted by memory. However, I clearly stated them in the letter that I wrote and that Marisa preserved and read whenever I want.

I keep all the other 28 letters that Marisa received from me, and I will refer to them to quote dates, events, and moods. Some others were lost in the arduous journey from Bolzano to Milan amidst the obstacles of censorship, a dysfunctional official mail, and illegal channels’ difficulties. Only a few passed through the camp administration; all the others surfaced and arrived in Milan through the most varied of ways.

The evening visit to the infirmary becomes a habit. The man in the white coat greets me kindly every evening, informs himself of my health, gives me tobacco, letters from Marisa, some small parcels with food from home. All these benefits, I later learned, came from the organization of the CNL – the National Liberation Committee, organized clandestinely by the political parties.

The church of the convent where the morning meeting took place

The arrangement was as follows: Marisa went early in the morning, immediately after the end of the curfew, to the church of the …. convent[12]Unfortunately, I do not have the information of what the convent, Marisa took her to the grave. and knelt beside the nun…[13]Enrico does not even have the name of the nun who met Marisa, but the nun who physically and with great personal danger brought the tickets into San Vittore was Sister Enrichetta Alfieri. They exchanged information and letters. The nun served in the female prison, and a male nurse in the infirmary delivered the mail.

The man in white was a political prisoner not in solitary confinement, who was admitted to the infirmary. In those days, he was in charge of links with politicians who spoke of insulation. Later I saw him; it was the lawyer De Micheli, perhaps of the Socialist Party[14]we should make sure, I’m not sure.. Sister…[15]Sister Enrichetta Alfieri (Borgo Vercelli, February 23, 1891, Milan, November 23, 1951) entered at twenty years old the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida Thouret. During the last war, the Germans … Continue reading was later decorated with a gold medal.

On 7 December, St. Ambrose[16]St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan., many prisoners are freed, among them the man in a white coat and Marisio’s brother. I’m happy for the Marisio brother. However, I know now that I should go to Bolzano and prepare for such a journey. I cannot stay here in prison. It’salso hazardous because of both the Germans and the Fascists[17]as in Piazzale Loreto, and the Giuriati stadium. often taken prisoners and shot them in retaliation—the assignment of the shootings always given to various kinds of fascists police. The fear of Marisa for my stay in prison were in fact, these mass shootings.

On 8 December at seven o’clock, a guard half opens the cell door and locks it with a metal bar, the tug of war. The small opening aimed towards the roundabout, where the priest celebrates Mass. It is the day of the Virgin Mary,[18]Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception. and they make me attend the ceremony for the first time. With its centrality and what has happened, the rotunda is the most vivid memory besides the cells.

From San Vittore to Bolzano – The failed escape.

After the Mass, I am sent out with my bag and locked in a cell in the first spoke. I find Gino Marisio, Gino the radio operator, with another person, I think is called Montagna, and ten other prisoners. We are leaving for the camp. Gino RT (I never knew his real name) whispers to us to be cautious in speaking because five of the ten strangers are fascists. I have to send my nice coat home and cannot deliver it because it is the registration office holiday. I can provide it to the head nurse CIMONE; I know he is one of us. On a torn piece of paper, I write a few words of greeting to Marisa, and I put it in a coat pocket.

ATM autobus

At five in the evening, we are loaded into an articulated bus with a tramway company trailer. About a hundred and thirty men from the prison in Genoa were brought up to Pavia with trucks. An S.S. soldier is the guard next to the bus driver, connecting to the trailer with a rubber boot. The trailer’s door opens with compressed air command, and at guard, there is an old German sailor, who surely must be going in license to Germany. A car carrying four S.S. follows us.

Motorway to Brescia: between us, we decide to escape stunning the sailor throwing our bags on him, then push the door, and throw us down on the road. The S.S. car has tinted lights for dimming; therefore, it will be challenging to identify fugitives. Not having enough seating, we stand in front of the door, just opposite the sailor, with the bag at my feet, ready to throw it on him. In the meantime, however, two prisoners from Genoa cut the bellows between the tractor and the trailer, and after Brescia, taking advantage of a slowing, they drop on the road and jump into the side ditch.

The escort following saw shadows moving, honks the horn, and stops the bus. S.S. Master Sergeant does a little investigation yelling in German, sees the hole in the bellows, and, since I’m the one closest to him, gives me four kicks in the shins, perhaps thinking that I was going to get away from the hole in the bellows. The sailor replied in German, and from the tone of his voice, I understand that he defends me and says that I was close to him, and therefore far from the bellows. He is convinced and leaves me in peace but advises through the interpreter that they will shoot ten men for each fugitive in the case of other joints. It makes me move near to the front door on the tractor.

We continue our journey going via Verona, and at six in the morning, we stop in the Adige Valley. Some people want to get off, two at a time, for short corporal needs, guarded by an armed escort. Finding myself near the front door, I am displaced by those who want to get off. The sergeant gets angry with me, and always shouting, gives me two slaps in the face.

The concentration camp in Bolzano.

Map of the concentration camp hand-drawn by Gino

At seven o’clock we are at the Bolzano Concentration Transit camp, in Gries. It was a transit camp for prisoners headed for Mauthausen, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Ravensbrück, and Auschwitz. The transit camp hosted about 11,000 prisoners from middle and northern Italy in its ten months of activity. Although the camp’s population consisted mostly of political opponents, Jewish and gypsy deportees also passed through its barracks.

First task hair cut to zero and shower. Then they put us in a dormitory called “G block” with bunk beds on three floors covered with a big bag filled with wood chips for mattresses and a single blanket. Our group takes possession of four seats altogether. We stand in solidarity, linked by events and shared interests. We must help each other to deal with the problematic situation and survive.

They give us a red triangle with the serial number stamped, with the categories marked by the color of the triangle:

  • RED POLITICAL
  • YELLOW JEWS
  • BLACK COMMON CRIMINALS
  • GREEN WORKERS
The barracks of the concentration camp

We go out in the yard to inspect the camp, taking turns to avoid the theft of our personal belongings.

In front of the block, I suddenly encounter Benisi. He was my assistant in the laboratory of Bacchini in ’39 when I was completing the design of a transceiver apparatus intended for the native troops in Italian East Africa. A pedal generator-powered it, and the power to operate it while lying on a deck chair needed considerable strength in the legs.

Benisi had a muscular physique, was good at pedaling with considerable resistance, and the foreman Ferri assigned him to me. He was also brilliant and willing to learn, and since I’ve never been jealous of preserving my knowledge, we were an exceptional pair. Keep in mind that I was only 21 years old, and he was younger than me by a few years.

Later he was conscripted in Russia with the Italian Expeditionary Corps of General Masses. Since they were few and well-equipped, even with furs, they returned to Italy in good condition. He worked with me again because he had a license and told me that he entered the SIM, the Military Intelligence Service. Arrested in September, he is now located here at the camp for a few months as a permanent worker in the carpentry department. He had never done carpentry before.

Bolzano concentration camp 1945 – Blocks G, H, I, M, infirmary, kitchens, services, SS canteen, and view of the cell block – Luca Lorenzi. Public Domain

GIM tells me that I have come at the right moment, and I can stay and work in the camp as an electrician, for maintenance and repair of radios in the Germans’ homes. He introduces me to Marshal König, who commands the team, praising my technical skills. He asks me to make him a radio receiver in a suitcase in a month, working with a battery from a motorbike and using what I can find in the warehouse, in exchange he promises to keep me and fixed in the camp.

I accept, of course, although it is an impossible task, given the limited resources. What matters, of course, is to remove the nightmare of the departure for Germany. We do not know what is happening in the camps of Dachau, Mauthausen-Auschwitz across the border, where trains are leaving from Bolzano, taking every fortnight a load of prisoners.

An old soldier of the Wehrmacht [19]The Wehrmacht  (Defence Force) – from German: wehren, to defend and Macht, power, force, cognate to English might) was the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted … Continue reading with a long gun accompanies me to the warehouse, outside the camp. I cannot escape because the whole valley of the Adige is full of German soldiers.

What we did not know was going on in Dachau.

The warehouse is full of radios, the result of robberies from the houses of Jews, brought here and stockpiled before being sent to Germany. I select an Irradio device, very showy because the large dial with the name of the radio station folds. They lead me then into the cabin of the electricians. There are five, including Riva the chief, a prisoner of Sesto San Giovanni, the oldest of all of us.

The food is scarce: a spoon of water and a meal at noon and one in the evening, and a couple of ounces of bread a day soaked with cold water often frozen.

In the camp, they sell chestnuts and apples, typical local products. The little money I had in my pocket at the time of my arrest was delivered to Marisa with my watch, as was required by the prison’s Italian regulation. Gino 3 gives me and Marisio 1.000 liras each, which he had received in jail by the organization “GIUSTIZIA E LIBERTÀ[20]Giustizia e Liberta: Justice and Freedom was a liberal-socialist political movement founded in Paris in August 1929 by a group of anti-fascist exiles, from whom emerged as a leader Carlo Rosselli. … Continue reading” with instructions to share them with us. Our hunger, however, is excellent, and also the fresh air stimulates the appetite. Semolina, along with apples, gives little substance, even if it fills your stomach.

Marisio and I find ways to fix it. Against the wall of the kitchen of the Germans, the cooks throw the bones of meat full of great marrow. I steal a lot of them, and we put them in a can of petrol, and in the laboratory, we boil them on an electric stove. It is a good broth, with big eyes of fat, fragrant and tasty. We drink it to satiety. At night we wake up with  terrible diarrhea, which, however, lasted a couple of days.

They hired Marisio as an electrician, so we are temporarily sheltered from the danger of Germany.

The Deported departing to Dachau.

After three or four days, an extraordinary summons of the assembly in the afternoon. They report the serial numbers of those leaving by train the next day[21]Gino does not remember how many were called.. Crammed into a single block with their personal belongings, they must return the camp’s clothing. Many who have worn their shoes and have supplied with a pair of wooden clogs have to replace them and go barefoot. The German administration of the camp gives apparel only to those who are fixed workers. The prisoners who remain make available what they can, maybe what they could have taken with them from the origin’s prisons or what they received from home.

The inmates of the warehouses and the permanent workers are almost all politicians inserted into the clandestine organization. Despite being under the supervision of an SS sergeant, they can give something to those leaving, stealing material from the Germans. Many, however, remain without shoes or woolen clothes, very precious with the looming winter. It happens mostly to Jews and partisans rounded up in the mountains. They cut off all communication of the Jews with their family, and many times the whole family was arrested, from the children and infants to the 82 years old older women.

The partisans are considered very dangerous by the Germans; they cannot circulate in the camp, except in a small space in front of their block, surrounded by barbed wire three meters high. They are also not considered by the political prisoners, probably because they are mostly young people rounded up after the 8 September Armistice[22]after the armistice on the 8th September 1943, many young Italian soldiers of the regular army fled to the mountains and joined the partisans not so much for a political conviction, but to avoid … Continue reading.

The morning after, the long line of those leaving is taken to the station, escorted by SS guards. Loaded onto sealed cattle cars, they will be taken to Dachau after a trip under conditions often horrifically described.

Among those leaving, there is also a Venetian on our team. The inmates have discovered that he is a spy to the Germans, and they know that the inmates know: therefore, he is a worthless spy, and agree to put him on the transfer list. Inmates do the work of employees in the German command office and contact the SS hierarchy. The Gestapo compiles the transfer lists in Verona. Still, local control may alert them on some particular individual who’s to retain or sent to Germany for safety reasons.

I am still without news of Marisa; I continuously write, both what is officially permitted and through illegal channels. On the morning of 22 December, Mezzetti and I lay the wires to connect a large speaker on the kitchen roof to the building’s microphone control. I see a big urban bus of the D line of Milan in the space where vehicles stop. It has just unloaded sixty detainees from San Vittore prison. The transport always occurs at night to escape the strafing Allied aviation. I approach the driver of the ATM[23]ATM: Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, the company that still manages public transportation in Milan, and ask him to bring me a ticket to Milan. I write quickly on a form that I have in my pockets; the driver quickly pockets the ticket. A girl approaches, and she also tries to deliver a letter. At that moment, however, Marshal…[24]Gino cannot remember the name of the Marshal involved. arrives, takes the note, and slaps her. He overlooked my ticket; the driver will carry it to Marisa on Christmas afternoon, giving her immense joy. It will be the first news after I depart from prison. I never knew the man’s name nor that of the many others who helped us and remained anonymous.

The A to F camp blocks

I receive a parcel with food from Marisa; it will be the first of a long series.

They transfer me to Block A, that of the permanent workers, to the camp. It represents the dream of all inmates. It’s a huge change: in the interior of the block, there are the sinks, there are latrines instead of the dirty barrels with a plank used at times by over 250 people. No more stink and the possibility to wash in a place sheltered from the weather. Almost the entire political elite of the camp are here.

Marisio remains in Block G and takes my place in the middle of the triple bunk. While I prepare my bag, he lies down and feels a hard object in his back. He opens the big bag, and there is an ear of corn amid the wood chips. I slept there for over a month without realizing it! The next day we roast it and eat it by dividing it among us. It is proof that hunger is not lacking, and my back is not delicate.

The work for the construction of the radio for Marshal König continues very slowly because I am busy working to repair the non-commissioned SS radios. The most challenging job, especially the most politically sensitive, is modifying the marshals’ receivers. Since the beginning of the war in Italy, it was illegal to listen to foreign stations. There was also a requirement for factories not to install the coils for shortwave[25]The shortwaves radio transmissions propagate at a great distance and were used by the Allies to send bulletins of war in German and Italian. reception or to render them ineffective. The devices chosen and stolen by the Germans are among the most recent; therefore, you cannot get the short radio-waves on which it is easier to listen to transmissions from the British, American, and Russian. Even to not feel traitors, those from the Swedish and the Swiss, and a few other neutral countries give the news in German.

Few SS NCOs know any language other than German; they do not deign to learn the conquered peoples’ language, considered inferior, garbage in a Europe led by the chosen people. I do modify their equipment to learn the truth about the war and know how to act. They feel the end of the war is now approaching, and the time for them to account for their misdeeds is coming.

The fake liberation

On the morning of April 29,[26]April 29, 1945. The war in Italy was over on April 25, with the surrender of the Germans to the partisans and the Allies, but the whole Adige valley was full of the German army, that under the … Continue reading the liberation of the internees began. Otto gave me a card printed clandestinely in the camp’s printing shop headed “CNL – Committee of National Liberation.” It shows that I am an ex-political internee.

We all (about 20) crowded against the gate; I cannot go out on the first day. There are no SS guards, there is no more appeal, and there is no more corporal HANS to count us as sheep.

In the afternoon, the rumor is out that many armed fascist Republicans threaten the freed by telling them, “Now you’ll have to deal with us.”

Two Jews, cooks of the SS canteen, leave. They are threatened, too, and come back and warn Marshal … He leaves and obtains a fascist musket, slams them on the stern, and tells everyone to go.

Finally, at six in the evening, we are in front of the exit gate, holding our release documents written in German. It is necessary to exit into Bolzano and in the area still under German control.

We were exiting from the camp, free when the storekeeper Marshal asked ten men to unload several mattresses. We leave the bag with our clothes: the truck takes us to the SS to download the mattresses. Then they take us to the barracks of the SS Here we carry to the basement heavy ammunition boxes of a machine gun. The SS commanders do not want to give up because the Wehrmacht signed the armistice.

At midnight they release us, closing the door of the barracks behind us. I am free, but I do not know where to go. It is dangerous to go around at night in Bolzano, where there are SS patrols. I also need to get my bag, with woolen clothes and boots. I go to the camp and ask to stay for the night. I think few people voluntarily return to camp!

In the morning, I look for my bag, but I cannot find it. As agreed, I set out to the Falck establishment, bent almost at a right angle, because during the transportation of the boxes on the steep stairs, I strained my back. I present the CNL badge, and I stay in the dormitory and cafeteria of the workers. I meet Marisio, Otto, Bosi, Giordano and many others. Gino 3 left yesterday on a bus for Switzerland, as had others. Had I been out yesterday, I would have gone too.

Otto wants to attack the Germans and takes three or four guns. I tell him he is crazy because the German soldiers here will be 50,000 and are also in retreat. He does not listen to us, and they shoot at isolated soldiers, wounding two. The SS intervene, taking sixteen ex-detainees who they put against a wall and mow down them with the machine gun. Minafra, who was in the group, is spared because he helped to save a wounded soldier. Otto, who organized the attack, did not expose himself: he threw the stone but hid his hand. The next day an allied plane flies over the city, launching leaflets urging the ex-inmates to stay calm because the Germans have to regroup in the area of Bolzano to surrender and hand over their weapons, as required by the truce.

Marisio started walking towards the Mendola pass to return to Milan. I cannot walk and also the weather has changed, it’s raining and snowing, and without boots and woolen clothes, I cannot go to the mountains.

American tanks in Bolzano

On May 5th[27]May 5, 1945 – The armistice between the Allies and the Germans who did end the war in Italy was signed on 25 April 1945., at five in the afternoon, I am in the dorm Falck. From the window that faces the street, I see the tanks enter the city with the American flag. I’m free! And this is true freedom!

Behind the tanks, there are two small red buses, escorted by armed partisans. They come from Milan to take the Falck and Pirelli establishments workers arrested for strikes in March ’44[28]Gino is not quite sure about the date of the strikes, but from Internet searches, by Enrico, it should be in March 1943. The Internet did not yet exist when Gino wrote his book.. Three days later, on May 8, I leave on one of the buses to Milan at seven in the evening, and they bring me to Piazzale Loreto.

Tram in Milan at the end of the war.

I take the tram and go home, hug Marisa and Anna begins to cry, perhaps afraid that the man she doesn’t know wants to hurt her mother.

—————

A final note from Enrico: my father Gino always told me that when he took the tram, he had no money to pay for it, but he showed the badge of the CNL to the conductor, who was then traveling on all trams along with the driver. He did travel for free.


References

References
1 The Bolzano concentration camp, where Gino was transferred after San Vittore.
2 The San Vittore prison is built like a wheel, with six spokes connected to a central rotunda, a round building.
3 The Geheime Staatspolizei (can be translated into secret police), commonly abbreviated as the Gestapo, was the secret police of the Third Reich.
4 ”at number two” – in Milanese dialect.
5 “mouth of the wolf” is the way the jail windows are built closed towards the exterior with only an opening to the sky, like a wolf crying in the night.
6 Bucket used in prisons as a latrine.
7 via Mozart, a cross street of via Senate, in the center of Milan, near Piazza San Babila.
8 SS (Schutz Staffen, paramilitary Nazi formation, at the end of the war at the Nuremberg trial, it would have been defined as a criminal organization).
9 CLN: National Liberation Committee, the organization that brought together all the formations of the partisans.
10 From 13 September 1943 until the liberation of Milan, and until April 30, 1945, the date of the arrival of Allied troops, the Hotel Regina was home of the command of the SS and the Gestapo headquarters in Milan. It was headed by Captain Theodore Saewecke, a colleague of Colonel Rauff, the inventor of the death truck, head of the inter- super command of ” police and security service,” the so-called Sipo – SD, which included Piedmont, Liguria, and Lombardy. Saewecke and Rauff used the so-called butcher Gradsack, and there ‘ worked ‘ bloodthirsty Otto Koch, NCO Gestapo, and Franz Staltmayer, known as ” the beast “, armed with a whip and wolf. dog A hotel that was transformed, like many others, in the center of kidnapping, interrogation, and torture for partisans, Jews, and even simple anti-fascist suspects. Towards the end of 1944, very close relations started with the command of Muti SS Queen of the hotel. In the Albergo Regina was imprisoned, among others, Ferruccio Parri, and an assault for his release, which resolved unsuccessfully, was tempted by some partisans led by Edgardo Sogno, which were, however, captured by the SS.
On 29 April 1945, the American tanks come into Milan. The SS were still entrenched at the Hotel Regina, intending to surrender only if guaranteed by the presence of allied troops. The official version of the Resistance will be that, having control of the city and in order to avoid further bloodshed and destruction to the building, the General Command of the CVL ordered not to attack the hotel that was only surrounded by the partisans.
11 Decima MAS: The X ª MAS Flotilla, also known as Decima MAS, X-MAS, 10th Flotilla MAS, or the “Tenth” was a special unit of the Italian Royal Navy, whose name is linked to many war exploits of assault, raid or insidious war. With the armistice of 8 September 1943, the X MAS Flotilla, under the command of Junio ​​Valerio Borghese, was largely blocked in La Spezia where it reorganized as an independent body, then joined the National Republican Navy, under the command of the fascist government of Mussolini’s Republic of Salò.
12 Unfortunately, I do not have the information of what the convent, Marisa took her to the grave.
13 Enrico does not even have the name of the nun who met Marisa, but the nun who physically and with great personal danger brought the tickets into San Vittore was Sister Enrichetta Alfieri.
14 we should make sure, I’m not sure.
15 Sister Enrichetta Alfieri (Borgo Vercelli, February 23, 1891, Milan, November 23, 1951) entered at twenty years old the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida Thouret. During the last war, the Germans took possession of the San Vittore prison where Sister Enrichetta was superior. The SS settled there their headquarters: it was the time of the roundups and deportations of Jews and others persecuted in German extermination camps. San Vittore was the point of collection and sorting. Sister Enrichetta, supported by the other sisters in the community, did her best as she could to relieve a lot of tragic suffering. She also served as a liaison between the prisoners and their families, but still free in danger of being taken. Accused of espionage, was arrested and interned in the basement of San Vittore. Tried and sentenced to be shot, she was pardoned thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Schuster and interned in a structure that housed people with mental health problems. Sister Enrichetta Alfieri was decorated with a gold medal for civil valor, and she was also beatified by the Catholic Church.
16 St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan.
17 as in Piazzale Loreto, and the Giuriati stadium.
18 Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception.
19 The Wehrmacht  (Defence Force) – from German: wehren, to defend and Macht, power, force, cognate to English might) was the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy), and the Luftwaffe (air force).
20 Giustizia e Liberta: Justice and Freedom was a liberal-socialist political movement founded in Paris in August 1929 by a group of anti-fascist exiles, from whom emerged as a leader Carlo Rosselli. The movement had varied political tendencies as the origin of its components, but it had the common desire to organize active and effective opposition to fascism, in contrast to the attitude of the old anti-fascist parties, deemed weak and defeatist.
21 Gino does not remember how many were called.
22 after the armistice on the 8th September 1943, many young Italian soldiers of the regular army fled to the mountains and joined the partisans not so much for a political conviction, but to avoid being conscripted into the army of the Republic of Salò, that the Fascist Mussolini was rebuilding.
23 ATM: Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, the company that still manages public transportation in Milan
24 Gino cannot remember the name of the Marshal involved.
25 The shortwaves radio transmissions propagate at a great distance and were used by the Allies to send bulletins of war in German and Italian.
26 April 29, 1945. The war in Italy was over on April 25, with the surrender of the Germans to the partisans and the Allies, but the whole Adige valley was full of the German army, that under the armistice agreements had to concentrate in the Bolzano valley to return to Germany through the Brenner Pass.
27 May 5, 1945 – The armistice between the Allies and the Germans who did end the war in Italy was signed on 25 April 1945.
28 Gino is not quite sure about the date of the strikes, but from Internet searches, by Enrico, it should be in March 1943. The Internet did not yet exist when Gino wrote his book.