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Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

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Stories of the Italian Resistance

FLORENCE, Italy - Nazism and Fascism seem to be distant ideologies of the past.

In the United States, they are things American students merely read about in textbooks, but in Italy, remnants of these movements are not uncommon.

For instance, Santa Maria Novella, the bustling Florence train station, was completed in 1934, and its plan was inspired by Mussolini’s Fascist movement.

When the Nazis occupied Florence during World War II, Florentines were lucky to have been left the Ponte Vecchio when most of the other bridges connecting the north and south banks of the Arno River were destroyed.

This past week I had the opportunity to hear two members of the Italian Resistance Movement, or Resistenza italiana, the name given to all kinds of opposition to Nazi-Fascism in Italy, speak about their experiences.

The first to speak, a vibrant 81-year-old man, spoke so quickly he gave the translator few chances to communicate with the crowd.

And although he spoke of impressionable facts, dates and numbers, emphasizing them with his right hand the way only Italians can do, his more personal accounts were the most captivating.

“We were slaves,” he said, describing the living conditions under Fascism.    

He went on to talk about his older brother, who was an anti-Fascist and how he did not attend the required Fascist Public Manifestation. Later that night, a group of Fascists came to their home, beat his brother and forced him to drink large amounts of codfish oil, causing extreme vomiting.

At age 15, he too became an anti-Fascist because of what he witnessed that night.  

After joining the Resistenza, he took part in an operation that required the partisans to steal machinery from the local factory before the Germans took it for themselves.

He said they would break the machines down and put them into horse carts covering the machines with sheets. They would take the machines to farms and bury them so they would not only be hidden, but after the war they would still have means of production and jobs.   

One day the Germans uncovered this operation, and although he himself managed to escape, 152 of his peers were put into a cargo train car at Santa Maria Novella and sent to concentration camps. Only 22 returned.  

The other man, 84, spoke with the strained voice of someone who had smoked for most of his life.

He began by talking about his own father, an anti-Fascist, and almost every day he would come home from work having been beaten by Fascists. He was only a young boy at the time, so when he asked his mother why his father was injured, she simply said it was from the machines at work.

It was not until years later when his older brother finally revealed the truth.  

He joined the Resistenza when he was 18 and was made leader of his local group.

“I was not responsible,” was his explanation for why he was put in this position. “I was dangerous, and when I had my gun I was afraid of nothing.”

One operation he led required him and his team to  shoot down a train of German trucks passing over a bridge in his town. At night, four men from their team, two on either side of the bridge, waited for the Germans.

It was not until about midnight that they heard the rumbling of the trucks down the road.

They threw about 15 three-sided nails on the road and waited until they heard the popping of the tires and the shouts of the Germans. The partisans shot up onto the bridge at their unsuspecting enemies, killing most of them and making the rest turn back.

“The newspaper exaggerated it,” he said. “They said it was a ‘big battle.’ I wanted to write the paper to say it wasn’t true, but people told me to just let it go.”

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