GASTONE SGARGI & CARLO VENTURI FOUGHT AS PARTISANS WITH THE STELLA ROSSA BRIGADE IN THE MONTE SOLE MASSIF SOUTH OF BOLOGNA
What were you doing on 8 September 43 and how old were you?
18. I was 18.
CV: and I was 17.
And what were you doing?
I was a builder’s labourer.
CV: I was working in a factory in Casalecchio di Re. On the 8th of September, I was living in the area of Fondanza [?] . Since the army sent everyone home on 8 September They thought the war was over since the King and Badoglio had sued for peace with the British. So the soldiers fled to their homes, and we went into the barracks to take the weapons. So I, for example, began my first night of freedom with weapons taken from Italians. Because they had fled.
Was this organised? Was there already a group of people who. . .?
Yes, there was a group of anti-Fascists who were already prepared. Because before the 8th of September, there was the 25th July. So the fascists who were in prison got out then and began to get organised.
So, therefore, you were always anti-Fascist?
CV: No. not me.
I was; you see, it’s a family thing. My uncle and a cousin of this cousin emigrated to France. They were part of the â€œSoccorso Rosso [Red aid]. In 1935, they participated in the war in Spain with the Soccorso Rosso. In my village of Molinelle, there was a profoundly socialist tradition. We had some of the pioneers of socialism: Massarenti, Andrea Costa; and therefore, all my family were socialists. We were all against fascism. [brief history of the fall and rebirth of Fascism follows.] They tried to reconstruct the Italian army with Graziani at the helm. The fascist party was divided into two; there was a party [incomprehensible] and the army. They sent us postcards telling us to present ourselves for this army led by the Republic. So we chose the route of resistance.
Were these barracks guarded?
No, the soldiers had fled. On the 8th September, when the King and Badoglio fled, the barracks were emptied. The soldiers fled to their homes. Then the anti-fascists took the arms, not to fight with the Germans, but against them.
Did you find it easy to get organised?
How did you do it?
He was already organised to go up to the mountains, but I wasn’t. I went up on my own. He too, Hector too.
Hector: No, some organisation came through the workplace. I was working at a furnace. Fascism was disliked generally. We talked amongst ourselves, young people together and . . . we knew there were certain organised groups. There were groups, brigades.
In general, the organisers were the old anti-fascists who had been in prison. When there was this collapse, many were released. They constituted the first nucleus of this resistance. They had the experience of 10 -15 years in gaol; they were anti-fascists from the time of Mussolini’s rule, generally hailing from the socialist party. The roots were already there. From my grandparents. Around here, we were contacted by Luciano Romagnoli who was secretary of the Confederazione del Lavoro. They were working with the youth who were on the run. They didn’t know where to go. They were under German occupation; how were they to flee? Either they had to hide, or fight, or join up with the army of the Repubblica of Salo’ and fight with the Germans.
CV: For example, where I lived, in the provinces, emissaries from the Repubblica di Salo’ came to young men’s houses at 4 or 4.30 in the morning, and tried to persuade them with force to sign as voluntaries for the Repubblica di Salo’. In my town, there were 14 or 15 young men out of whom 6 or 7 were taken one night. After this, one had to make a choice, and two of us chose. . .
Indeed. That was the choice: either to go into the army whose aim was to reconstruct the republic of Salo’, or to choose another path.
CV: to young men, they gave 50 Lire per day, which meant they earned 2 or 3 times what a builder would earn. Even if they were mentally deficient, or in any way not capable of doing the job. All they had to do was present themselves, and they were given a uniform and food, both of which they took and went straight home. This was at first meeting. Then, afterwards, they had to leave home, participate in rastrellamenti etc.
Carlo wasn’t organised [into resistance] was he? He did it on his own account.
Yes, and, furthermore, I could even have stayed at home because before joining the army, they gave you a health check. My class was called up in my time, but I was rejected on account of a weak chest. Anyway, I made the decision to fight.
[to CV] Was your family anti-fascist?
CV: No, no. We were neither anti- nor pro-fascist. My father was a farm worker. He didn’t want to get involved. I had no particular leanings; I just wanted to be consistent with my decisions which I took on my own initiative. We were ordered to go and search for weapons.
Hector: Me too; my family were neither for nor against fascism. I myself was against fascism because I saw some acts of aggression, and this brought about a sort-of instinctive reaction.
CV: like me. I joined the partisans because I was submitted to beatings by the black shirts. The first time the fascists arrested me. . .they arrested me despite the fact that I wasn’t doing anything. I had already taken up arms, but they didn’t know about this as I kept them hidden in the attic. One morning, I was on my way to work in Bologna. Near here, a fascist had been killed. . .There was a road block; the fascists were stopping everyone. They got on the tram and asked for our documents. I didn’t have mine, but they saw my pocket bulging because I had a panino in it and accused me of having a hand-grenade. They ordered me off. Me and two Roman men. They took us to prison, but let me out after 2 or 3 hours. From that time, I said, I’ve got to make them pay [the fascist lads] – they were only 17 or 18 – my age, more or less. So I went and said I’d fight with the lads at Lermo [?] L’Ermo [?] (this was the first partisan group at Casalecchio), but when I went to find them again, I couldn’t since they were living in hiding. So, one fine morning, I took myself off to find the Stella Rossa.
This was in 44?
CV: No, 43. These were the three crystal-clear choices that a young man had to make: either to go with the fascists, the Germans or to choose to fight with the Partisan. Or else, to go into hiding. We couldn’t go with the Germans; my father fought them in the Great War, and my grandfather. The Germans were occupying us. They were the aggressors, the ones in power, assassins. Then. . . gentlemen. . .you were in England, if you will excuse me, we love our country so much, we want to live here and we want to live here in freedom. This is why I condemn Tony Blair. And you can tell him.
Did you think the Allies were going to win, or did you see it as a civil war?
There were both elements. Perhaps historically, it is not accurate to say that there was a civil war. We were convinced that, sooner or later, Nazism would be defeated. You have to bear in mind that, against the Nazis, there was England, Russia, America. There was a large coalition and we saw this coalition as a point of reference for our future. If we had been fighting this war alone, we would have lost it against the Germans 100 times, but it was of very great significance that we were fighting with all the other countries who were rebelling against Nazism. There was, therefore, this vision. I repeat that the choice was clear. When the Fascist government sent us our call-up cards, to say that we were obliged to present ourselves to join the army. . . you know what it means to be a deserter? It meant an instant death penalty. So we had to have the courage to face our choice. I was hidden at Bologna before finding the path of the Stella Rossa. Then, when I found the path, I took up arms. But there was the death penalty, so . . . Furthermore, we were under German occupation. You can imagine what that was like. You have been to Marzabotto. That was what they were like. What could a young man do?
Hector: In war, there are normally prisoners, but in this war, there were no prisoners. Either you survived or you died, because people were executed.
Did they happen all around Bologna, these executions?
They were all around. Suffice it to say that if one of their men was killed, 10 of ours were.
In the army, there was a semblance of legality. In Bologna, they constituted a court. But the legal staff were all theirs, so there was not much point in trying to defend yourself if you were a deserter. . . you were a deserter, so you were already dead. So they took them to a [stadium] and shot them there. In general, the Italian fascists did this.
Hector [?] or CV [?]: At the beginning, the 2nd WW was a war of conquest for Italian and German fascists. Then, as the war progressed, things were turned on their heads. It changed from a war of conquest to a war of liberation, for us and for the other occupied countries. I remember when Yugoslavia was being attacked from both sides. Then, the radio announced that the Italian bersaglieri [rifelemen] encountered the German forces. Then, the Yugoslav people liberated themselves alone, under Tito.
When did you join the Stella Rossa, and what did your family think?
They did not know that I was going there. They only learned 3 or 4 days later. They knew I was deserting. In May, I went up, and they went to look for my father and said â€œif your son does not show up, you will come to the same end as him. So my father had to flee. He was an anti-fascist too, so he understood. He had to stay in hiding for the rest of the war.
CV [?] Whereas my case was different. Because I had taken the arms that time, the Fascists wanted to know what had happened to them. At Casalecchio, there was a barracks of the Fascist militia. Not the army, the private Fascist militia. They called me to the barracks to ask what had happened to the weapons. Among these fascists, there was one who lived on the same staircase as me. Just think. These guys said, â€œIf we find the weapons, we will send you all to Poland. We said, â€œwe haven’t got them. I had them in the attic. So that Fascist who lived above me . . . they were above his head! I managed to convince them, however. But from that moment, I felt endangered . We were moving the weapons from place to place, but still. . . So that is when I decided to join the Stella Rossa. But I didn’t know anything about the Stella Rossa.
When are we now?
[Still CV or whoever it was above] May 44. When I decided to go, I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my parents. I went up towards Sasso Marconi, and when I got there, I headed for Vado. I didn’t even know that area. I had only heard rumours. When I got to Vado, I didn’t know where to go. It was night time by then. I went towards a house and found 3 or 4 lads sitting on the ground by the road. They had another guy with them. â€œWhat are you doing here? they asked. I said, â€œI was looking for you. â€œAnd who are we? Then I panicked, thinking they might be Fascists in disguise. They then let me stay in the house for the night . One slept in the same bed as me, and the other two with the other guy whom they had found. So there were four in all. Then, the next day, they took me to their chiefs, who then were above Vado, at Cambialcade’ [?] In May, the headquarters were at Cambialcade’. When we were up at headquarters, they said to the guy they had found, â€œdig there, because we have to make a trench. So he tried to scarper, so they killed him. They gave me a different reception. They wanted to know my story, but they didn’t believe me. Because we, in the Stella Rossa, were targeted by spies. So they kept me in a cave for 3 or 4 days. I was looked after by 2 English air force guys who were there were with us. They told me to have faith, that once the information had reached headquarters. . . In fact, after 3 or 4 days, the information arrived, and I went to Lupo. He gave me his hand, because I had made the right decision, and from then began. . .
GS: Bear in mind another fact: The name Gastone Sgargi came from [?] If they’d had my name, they would have been able to search for my parents and relations. So they destroyed all our documents. Identity cards. . . Then they gave us a nom de guerre.
How did you two join the Stella Rossa?
Hector: With me, it was different. I went into the 62nd Garibaldi Brigade. This was dispersed; after the death of our commander, we had a section on Monte Done [?], a section in Villa di Ghiano, a part in Lama di Reno. We had contact with each other, but those of us who were at Villa di Ghiano . . .when the Stella Rossa came to occupy that area, they found us. So Lupo summoned us. . .he wanted to know if we’d got our weapons from the Stella Rossa and such like. So we went to meet him at the brigade headquarters, where there were 15 or 16 English or Americans – escaped prisoners. Lupo said that we could stay [carry on what they were doing], but we had to link up with the Stella Rossa.
GS: So you were absorbed by the Stella Rossa, weren’t you?
Hector: There had been contacts, but they had been lost. So they let us off the van/truck and we continued alone. At a certain point of the night, a frightful fog descended, so we stopped where we were. In the morning, [?] had the bright idea of firing 2 shots. They surrounded us, and do you know who came to meet us? That Indian prisoner with the beard who prayed all day.
GS: So you came up when we were at Monte di Vignola [?]
Were Lupo and Gianni Rossi well known by now?
Yes. They he [sic] was famous. I have to let you know that when we got up there . . .they must have had some information since they gave us no problems. They gave us roles straight away. They armed us and I chose a Sten gun. We were divided into companies of 50 – 60 and then teams of 10 or 12 in order to have flexibility and mobility. We were guerrillas, not an army.
Were you fearful of Lupo and Gianni Rossi, or did you respect them.
Hector: No, No, quite the reverse. They came from outside, but I, who am from near Vado, I knew most of them from before. For example, Guido Musolesi was one of the 2 butchers of Vado. I was a child [tape turns] . . . . .Between the charisma of Lupo, of this commander, this calm, tranquil man and Gianni, who was the vice-commander, who was one of us. He was good at his job too, but it was Lupo who. . .Out of 100 partisans, 100 would have voted for Lupo, whereas for Gianni . . .Torbi was another man who had a lot of influence. And Grisalidi had lots of influence on the Lupo. He was an old miner and Communist. He had the function of â€œCommissario Politico i.e. he had to prepare the young men for life after the war. He was responsible for contact with people Bologna, with the priesthood.
You were very young men. It was an exciting and frightening period. Did you have a confidant?
No. The most important thing for us was when CUMER (il Comando Unico dell’Emilia Romagna) in which were assembled all the elements of the Committee for National Liberation – Communists, Socialists, Christian Democrats – said to Lupo – perhaps on the basis of the experience of the Spanish Civil War – said he had to accept that there would be a Commissario Politico who would work alongside Lupo to reconstruct society after Fascism. He was our political confidant. He spoke to us about the international situation; for example we learned through him of Stalingrad, and this gave us hope. We larned of the English advances. . . . they gave us faith that Italy could survive as a republic, with her own constitution. All we hoped for were peace, freedom and work.
How often did you see him?
Always. He stayed with us. He worked alongside the military commander. We would spend a certain time every day discussing how Italy would be after the war.
CV or Hector: then there were also some programmes we listened to on the radio. Radio London. They were made especially for Italy and they broadcast certain information. However, we had to listen in hiding. If we had been discovered, we would have been beaten, tortured, deported. We often sought out a place at night where we could go to listen to Radio London. This was a service broadcast for us by the English. The arms drops were made using signals given on Radio London.
How old were these people?
Grisalidi was about 50. You know who they were? They had generally been imprisoned by the Fascists and had got out of gaol on 25th July and 8 September. I’d like to make a point now: When we got home again, how many of us chose our paths? For example, I became a union leader (because there were no unions). He became a union leader. How many unions were there that came from within the Resistance? We were an embryonic ruling class. To substitute all the decrepit Fascist, Nazi organisation. [There follows an exchange about political players between the 3 of them, with you 2 talking in the foreground, which I cannot follow]. Just think of the responsibilities we were assuming. We had no schooling to speak of, and yet I was head of a union which had 10,000 members. I was only 23 at the time.
Is this Jock still alive?
I don’t know.
What were your noms de guerre?
Hector: I was called Grandi.
CV: I was called Ming. He was the bad guy in a comic strip called L’Avventuroso.
I was called Bologna. Bulagna in dialect.
[to the restaurant] During this period, were you hungry?
Yes, very. When we were undergoing rastrellamenti, we had to remain in deep hiding for 2 or 3 days. Then we had nothing to eat. When we moved houses, you see, we moved all our supplies too: flour and eggs to make dough etc.
[CV or Hector] I’d like to re-iterate something that I am sure you know already: this partisan war could not have happened without the help of the peasant farmers. They stole food for us. We ate little and badly, but this is to be expected, since everyone in Italy ate little and badly. But they provided the channels for our supplies to get to us – at a huge risk to themselves, tragically. During the rastrellamenti, the Germans used to burn the peasants’ houses in retaliation for them providing shelter. When they’d burnt them all, we learnt to build huts for ourselves. But these let the water in.
Did these peasant farmers ever say to you: â€œthis is too dangerous. . .
Yes. There were some like that too. But do you know what? They’d rather the partisans than the fascists and the Germans. Also, you have to remember, the contadini were all from the same areas as the Stella Rossa at the beginning (then we arrived from the cities). The Stella Rossa were often sons of the contadini.
Did you ever meet any contadini who didn’t want to help you?
No, personally, never. [General nodding]. Because you see, in addition to waging war against the Nazis and the fascists, they were also waging war against their old masters. They were all â€œmezzadri [working under a system where ½ the crop was given over to the landowners ] . When the landowners came at the end of the year to do the accounts, the contadini were always in debt to the landowners. So they saw the partisans as liberators also from their masters. You can’t have any idea of how people lived in those parts 50 years ago. Misery. No schools, nothing. No education. So the situation was tragic and the contadini felt the need for emancipation. Then, when they came into contact with us. . .
There was a price on your head. This would have been a massive sum for the contadini. Were you never afraid?
There was never a single episode which led us to believe probably occasionally, a contadino’s son who betrayed us, but there were spies everywhere, and we simply cannot say that the contadini betrayed us. No. Not in general.
Obviously, the Partisans were a large group made up of different types of people: were there episodes when certain Partisans killed civilians? There is documented evidence that this did happen.
No. Fascists, not civilians. [i.e. civilian fascists.] There were, of course, evil people among the partisans. Let’s look at the great tragedy of this war. If I were to give you a word of advice it is this: war destroys human life and civilisations. But it is human conscience that destroys wars. How tragic is it to find an 18-year-old who derives pleasure from killing someone? We should be talking of life, of culture, of well-being and instead, we are killing eachother. There were occasions when sons of partisans – and others – betrayed us, but these fall into the category of reprisals. For example, there is the case of Sugano. He was my commander. He couldn’t forgive the killing of his father, his mother and his brother. He was forced to flee and join the Partisans. What was the first thing that he thought about? Vendetta. You have to kill someone else in order to survive. That is war.
The people who suffer most are the normal people.
Yes, of course. I don’t know many episodes [of civilian betrayal or acts against the partisans] because my standpoint is a humanist one. I don’t deny that there were some blood-thirsty people. After all, among us, there were people who had escaped from prison. How were we to know where people came from. Everyone was fleeing from the Germans and fascists, and their refuge was the Stella Rossa. Or another Partisan brigade.
Can you remember your first action?
[CV or Ettore] My first action was on the 28th of May 1944. At Monte Sole. This was the first major rastrellamento conducted by the Germans. There were a few local petty fascists involved, but it was led by the Germans. When I went up from my househave you been up to Monte Sole? Have you seen where the Pudella [?] is? I was there when the rastrellamento started. They didn’t come up from the Vado side, they came up from Marzabotto. I went out to fight them. I was terrified. My legs were shaking.
I was also terrified another time. Because when I crossed the bridge, I joined the brigade at Modena. Armando was the commander. At Monte Fiorino. There, they sent us to Lisano in Belvedere, and from there they sent us to the Front, together with the Americans. They made us serve for a fortnight on the Front line, and then we had a fortnight’s rest. That night, we were inside a house, 150 metres away, there was another house occupied by Germans. One night they attacked us. That was really frightening. More than at Monte Sole. That time, [I’m not sure if he is referring to the same time, or if he has moved on] at 4 o’clock, the Germans surrounded the house. I was positioned with an American. We heard the first shots without knowing where they were coming from. That reminded me of the time when we attacked the Germans and they were gripped by panic. I felt the same feeling. And I still bear the scars.
This first action, on 28th May. . .how were you armed? How were you dressed?
Dressed normally. In an English military shirt and normal trousers. Only because I didn’t have anything else to wear. You have to remember that if they found us in English uniform, they would kill us. In fact, when the S. Africans found me injured and dying, near the Gothic Line, the first thing they asked me was how come I was dressed as I was.
What sort of training did you have to use the Sten guns?
They were guerrilla guns. They were very simple. Their range was only 25 to 30 metres. They were extremely light, because we were always moving. The heaviest things were your iron [Sipper?] bombs. They weighed 1 or 1 ½ kilos each and we carried 15 at a time in our packs.
I would like to say that literature depicts me as a hero a courageous man. I was not. I was always scared when I fought.
Were you perhaps more scared because you had more time to think about it?
Most of the battles we fought in the Stella Rossa were battles of ambush. We couldn’t have regular arms, so it was a war of constant movement. For example, I often went to Puta [?] , a pass leading into Tuscany. Along this tortuous and old road, the Germans sent their supplies to the Front. We went there from Monte Sole by night. During the day, we were stationary, then the following night we let rip a barrage of bombs on the first or second lorry that passed. We hollered, and the Germans were taken by surprise. Then they started to return fire. They shot flares too. So, I was rather a guerrilla than a regular soldier.
My biggest battle was on the 29th of September. I was injured. We had no escape. We were totally surrounded.
Where were you?
Our base was Caprara. We were above Caprara. In Monte Abelle I was officially the head of the team, but in reality, it was Carlo [?] He was an extraordinary commander. The Germans came up. It was a bitter battle. It lasted 5 or 6 hours and I was injured.
Could you see the houses burning in the valley?
[CV] No, I couldn’t
I only saw them in the evening, when I came back injured, but I was half-dead. There was a partisan who had taken a bullet in the lung. As I walked past him, I could see his lung moving as he breathed. I saw some dead, but, you know, I was being held up by other men: I was injured all over, and bleeding. The doctor said â€œthere nothing I can do for Gastone. I have no medicine. You try to cross the front. At Caprara, there was an old patriarchal family of 14 people. Only one boy of 13 or 14 survived because he fled with us. They exterminated them all. When they arrived, drunkdruggedscreaming and firing volleys of machine-gun fire it was Hell. How can you kill defenceless women and children? They should have come up to find us. That way, at least we could have defended ourselves. Win or lose.
What do you think had happened to Lupo?
I remember that they said that Lupo was dead.
He certainly wasn’t killed by Gianni, was he?
[end of tape]
[CV] It is difficult to sort out the story. There are different stories. They say that he was in a house called Ca’ Dotto. That they were taken by surprise by the rastrellamento. When they tried to flee, they were shot down. I remember seeing Gianni straight after the rastrellamento (he, too, was injured), he told me that Lupo was dead. Then, there were rumours. But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say what happened, I can only surmise. If I had known anything, I would have said.
After all of this, what happened to you?
I went for a few days to Monte Sallaro, then those who were with me – there were 4 of us – we swore an oath that we would either all go home, or none of us would. We tried to reach a place called Bursanella, where there was a doctor, because I had a fever. Then, afterwardsI was convinced that I had an infection from all the shot in me [interruption from waitress] We had the great fortune that above us, at 5 or 6 or 7 Kms’ distance, there were the S. Africans on the Gothic Line at Grissana. So, we arrived close to the Gothic Line, and my 3 companions said â€œyou can’t walk, let us go and see what’s up. Because we could hear that there was some gun fire above us. They were firing from the Gothic Line into the area where we were positioned. Either the English or the Americans were right there. At a certain point, they took them [the 3] and wouldn’t let them go, fearing that they might be spies. So I was left with a man from Cremona, who had an injured leg. One, two, three days passed with no food. This temperature. So, I went up and found a company of S. Africans amongst whom there was a colonel who came back 12 years later and remembered that there was this partisan.They took us to hospital, and they saved me. So, luck played its part as well.
And after hospital, you went to â€œbe an Englishman, let’s say? What happened?
Nothing. I came out of hospital. The Italian Government of National Liberty (i.e. the one that was already installed in Rome which the Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats shared) had issued a â€œbando [command? Ruling?]. Bando no. 8, it was, which invited young men to enlist up to 3 months after the cessation of hostilities with Germany. So the political commissioners called us and said [loses his thread]. There was a partisan in Bologna, Grisalidi, who had a letter from Togliatti. And a letter from Nenni addressed to us partisans, saying that it was down to us to liberate the country. We thank the English and the Americans, but Italy is ours. So, we were invited to volunteer for the army. There were in the region of 200 of us, and I remember that, in the end, only about 20 didn’t volunteer. We were sent to Rome, where we [lit made a swift run on the English arms ?] then to the front at the Senio [?river] at Alfonsine, and from there, we ended up at Venice. Except that, at Venice, I was lucky enough that the war had finished. My birthday is on 25th April, so it is a double celebration for me.
I don’t really like the English, and I will tell you why. Once, dressed as an Englishman, I was walking from Cesano to Rome (20-25 Kms). I shaved only once a week, so I was not shaven. They were all perfectly presented. There was an English [?] With 3 corporals or majors. They said to me, â€œYour beard is too long . I said â€œ I can do what I like. Tomorrow, I am going to the front, and I might die. But they insisted. So, I sent them to Hell. When we arrived somewhere, they had the habit of checking out the latrines where we were expected to crap. You know what they had in those times? They had a colonial mentality. I am pleased that I was in the infantry and in the vanguard. Whereas they were behind with the tanks and guns. But those poor men from Bangladesh and India, who shivered and trembled and prayed from fear all the time
With the Cremona, what did you do if you didn’t fight? Day to day?
We worked with the English weapons, which we hadn’t come across before. Then we had two small armoured cars with linked wheels, 2 mortars – one huge one and one smaller – and one anti-tank Fiat [Piat?] . That was my speciality. The problem with them was that you had to shoot from a range of 25 metres. It’s lucky I never found a German tank.
Did you want to fight at the front. Did the Cremona want to see action?
Yes, of course. We volunteered. The famous Bando no. 8 was formulated by the Government for National Unity to motivate young Italians. We couldn’t leave it to the Americans and the English to liberate Italy from the Germans. Italy was ours. We had signed up for up to 3 months after cessation of hostilities with Germany. We were destined to go to Austria or Germany or wherever the English 8th Army sent us, if the war hadn’t finished on 25th April 45. We were part of the 8th Army.
And Carlo, where were you at the end of the war?
CV: I was at Pescia, near Monte ? In Tuscany. [very indistinct]. I went to the front with the Americans, because Armando, the commander of the Modena [group of Partisans]] said that that way we would be the first to get to Bologna. But he got it wrong. The Polish got there first. Except that, before starting the advance, the Americans disarmed us and took us back down to Pescia.
So they disarmed you in order to claim all the glory?
GS: I’m not so sure. The English disarmed the Stella Rossa, too. Then we were re-armed. We joined the regular army, after all.
Did you have any contact with your family while you were with the Stella Rossa?
No, no. Everything was destroyed. To avoid reprisals.
And when were you reunited? Straight away?
No, no. I was in the army and I could only go home when I had permission. The war finished in April 45 and I returned in the Autumn. Towards Winter. There was no means of communication, no post. So, you might stop someone on the road and ask him if he was going anywhere near your house, and if he could find a family called Sgargi.
Your parents must have been very worried.
We had no news of them, and they had no news of us.
CV: I was with someone called Bioio [?] – that was his nom de guerre – After the battle of the Semio [?] at the border [sic], we were given 4 or 5 days’ leave. Since I had worked in Romagna , I took advantage of our position and stopped a lorry and asked them to take me to see some friends at Sant’Agata. Bioio wanted to come too.. There was a convoy of Polish and Italian soldiers travelling towards Bologna. He asked them to do him a favour: â€œ Please, I have a mother who lives on her own in Bologna. I’ll give you her address. If you get there before us, could you tell her that I am still alive? It so happened that, 2 days later, we were at the front of the front line; perhaps the only tank there. It took a huge hit and he died. His mother had learnt that he was alive, and then never saw him again.
Do you remember when you first saw your families again?
Don’t make me cry. You can find it in my book.
It must have been so hard. At least, as a soldier, you could still get letters from home. But you heard nothing for 2 years. Did you often think about your families?
Not often; we were worried, but we had other things to think about. We were constantly on the move. The Stella Rossa was the most frequently attacked brigade of the partisans.
Despite your tragedies and problems, did you manage the odd laugh?
Yes, of course. We were eighteen, 20.What do you expect?
I even liberated two Germans. We were cutting the German communication lines. Then, we waited for the Germans to inspect the damage. There were 3 or 4 of us. Two Germans arrived with horse cart. They were quite old people, and they had hand grenades and guns in their hands. We jumped on them, took their arms and their horse and cart and let them go. Out of compassion, because they were too old. They were scared. They didn’t try to fight back: when they realised that they were close to their deaths, they got out photographs of their homeland. Everyone – Germans and Fascists – behaved like this. In the face of death, everyone is like this. Even the brave ones.
CV or Ettore: we are talking only about Germans. I don’t know why we don’t also talk about the Fascists. They didn’t come up. They were scared.
GS: Remember, you who are young, that war destroys human conscience.
CV or Ettore: [very indistinct. It must be CV because he refers at length to an event described in his book. So I will leave it .]
What has happened to you since?
I would like to tell you about an old red [sic: Communist?] film called â€œThe Ballad of the soldier I won’t tell it because it is a long story, but there is this man who dies at the age of 19, and the final caption reads: â€œHe could have lived, he could have loved, but he only had time to be a soldier. It makes me cry.
I always worked in my life: union leader, head of the cooperative movement, I was an employee of the Communist Party for a couple of years, I was secretary of the ANPI (Italian Society for the Partisans). My old passion was sport, in particular boxing, so when I retired, they asked me to take over this association [not explained] which has over 4,000 members.
Can we contribute to the ANPI? Is it still going?
Yes. Most are old, but we started an organisation for young people. For example, this morning, I went around stringing up flags to commemorate tomorrow’s anniversary, the 25th of April. There were young people with us; people who were never partisans.
CV: I worked for 15 years at the consumers’ cooperative. But I didn’t like being an employee, so I opened a shop. For another 15 years. Then I opened a supermarket. He knows, because he sold me his fruit and veg. [aside from GS: he became a capitalist] This was in Casalecchio. Then I opened one in Sardinia. Then, I’d had enough.
GS: I am very proud of this: through my association, we have begun to adopt children. We have adopted 5 from Peru; we are about to adopt 5 from Madagascar, I am in contact with Dottor Strada, who is helping me to adopt from Baghdad.
Do you still dream about the war?
Not me. For me, events pass. But if you had not come to Bologna today, I would have gone to the cemetery at Pianoro. Nello Comastri is buried there. He was a young boy, and he would have been 50 today. My shoes were worn out from walking day and night. My feet were bleeding and bandaged with rags. He was too young to fight, he was put on guard. On that day, he saw me, and said â€œhow can you walk with shoes like that? His were formidable, with shiny nails.He took them off and gave them to me. He died 30 years ago. I am going to put a flower on his grave.
Did it bother you to see all that blood? Did it make you sick?
No, not sick. It was horrendous.
CV: My companion, who was killed when the Germans got usafter Liberation, we went back to the woods to bury him. He had been left there. His body was full of worms. To see his body like that
GS: You get used to it, day in, day out.
Ettore: You don’t think about life in the same way.
GS: I knew people in the Stella Rossa who had remarkable physical courage. When volunteers were sought for action, their hands went straight up. Not mine, but theirs, yes. Incredible. For them, life was as nothing. I did what I did out of conscience. Out of necessity.
When you learnt about the massacre in the cemetery, did you lose faith in humanity?
We knew that only the Nazi Fascists could have done this, not humanity. I have always hated the Germans. Still do. But we must not pass this on to our children.
[turn over tape]
Does forgiveness exist?
Not for me. For those who perpetrated Marzabotto, I am satisfied with the sentences that have been set. There are universal laws, and they are equally valid for those who were at Marzabotto.
You know we have a contact in the German press who has found one of the men responsible?
There is also an Italian journalist who lives in Germany and who has done research in Germany to trace these men.
Anyway, they have found one of the men, and they are going to try him, I am not sure of the details.
There are some laws, Carlo, international and national. These laws must be respected. They have not been drafted by chance, they are the result of a culture of lawfulness. They should be punished. I am against the death penalty, but they must be punished.
Even if 50 years have passed, they still need to be punished?
Yes. Because that was not a war, it was a massacre. A vendetta against the population.
You said that the SS were drugged, drunk?
Yes, yes, drunk and drugged. You ought to ask them, but how else would young men like myself have been reduced to a state in which they were prepared to kill children? They were human beings too. They were drugged by the ideology that they were superior human beings. Then there was wine, spirits.
The SS at Monte Sole came from the front in Russia, didn’t they? They were dehumanised there.
Yes. War destroys human conscience.
CV: their doctrine was this: if they came across someone who was part of partisan’s family, whatever age they were, whether they were 1 or 80, they had to be eliminated.