Pavia, November 2, 2005
We didn’t bother driving all the way to Rome last night as it was dark and wet but this morning I completely miscalculated how long it would take us to get to Rome, where we due to interview General di Castiglione. Halfway there, I got a text message from James Walker with the name and number of someone near Frosinone, whose mother had been raped by the Moroccans. I’m really keen to investigate claims of abuse by Allied troops, and the rampage of the French native troops after the breakthrough along the Gustav and Caesar Lines is particularly notorious. For obvious reasons, few of the victims have ever talked about this, although one Italian historian in Frosinone has done a considerable amount of work on the topic. I had almost given hope of ever speaking to any of these victims, James’s text arrived out of the blue. Julia immediately rang the number and got a farmer’s wife. Her husband, (the victim’s son), was out, she told us, but would probably be back soon after lunch. Could we call back then? This posed us with a conundrum. If we waited for him to come back before we headed south to the Frosinone area, it might be too late to see her today. And we had a flight that night to Milan. On the other hand, if we did go all that way, it might be a wasted journey. Adding to the complications was the fact that we still hadn’t reached Rome and we had no idea how long that interview would last. I thought about it for a short while then told Julia that I thought we should make sure we left the General by 1 o’clock and that we should then head to Amaseno, near Frosinone, (where the lady lived), on the off-chance of being able to speak to her that afternoon.
It was all rather frustrating, especially as the General was very interesting and we could have talked to him for hours and hours. Still, I felt that speaking to this lady was a priority and so at one, as planned, we headed south to Amaseno. When we were got there, we rang the farmer’s wife once more. No, her husband was still not back, but since we were now in Amaseno, she thought it would probably be all right if we came on up to the farm. The next problem was finding the place, which was high on Monte Rotondo. We asked a number of people for directions, which always prompted lots of teeth sucking and assurances that we would never be able to find it. Nonetheless, after a long and winding climb into the mountains we eventually reached our destination: a high, isolated mountain farmstead. Dogs barked as pulled into the yard and a small middle-aged lady met us and ushered us into her kitchen. There, on a bench in the corner, sat Pasua Pisa. Her stockings were wrinkled around her legs and although her weather-beaten face was remarkably unlined, her rheumy eyes and faltering voice belied her age. Hers was a terrible story of a lost child and father and her brutal rape by a Moroccan goum. She repeated the more terrible events over and over. Eventually, as we were about to leave the son turned up – except he was only her adopted son: after her ordeal, she had been unable to sleep with her husband ever again and so had found Bruno at an orphanage in Rome instead of trying for another child of her own. The Italian Government is very happy to still bring German soldiers to trial for war crimes, but the hundreds of Italians who were raped and beaten and murdered by the Moroccan goumiers – while their officers stood and watched – have had no such justice.
After being given a glass of cold, fresh buffalo milk, we headed back to Rome once more, this time to catch a flight to Milan. It was a bad journey – dark and with much traffic – and I was relieved to ditch the car and get on the plane. By the time we reached Milan, it was raining again. We were heading to Pavia, where Julia’s brother, Guy, and sister-in-law, Giovanna, live and where we were to stay for the next two nights. The rain soon gave way to thick mist. I felt knackered and still slightly drained from the experience of talking to Pasua Pisa and was very glad to finally reach Guy and Giovanna’s flat.