By ANTONIO MANZI
In the last World War Italy suffered most ruthless violence, not only with arms which can be justified during a conflict, but human violence which bit into the heart and soul of the people, destroying with meticulous scientific programming all that which had been built up laboriously, without any regard for the privacy of hearth (and home) and without any consideration of affection and sentiment.
Piero Calamandrei, who without doubt was the greatest and truest interpreter of the Resistance, described that dramatic period as follows: “Wherever in the world of civilised men the deepest feelings and greatest nobility of spirit are gathered, in domestic hearths where love and cradles are awaiting, in schools where young children sing, in churches where people pray, in convents where pain seeks comfort in God, in all memorial chapels, in all refuges, in all places of peace and goodness (kindness), the Nazi beasts leapt with instruments of extermination to shoot, torture, burn, massacre, leaving behind a trail of ashes and rubble.”
Abruzzo could not escape from this cruel and wicked destiny but rather was amongst the first to suffer tragically from the destructive effect of that fury, by means of raids, violence, rounding up of men, theft of animals and things and the destruction of homes. Entire towns were destroyed; fearful and defenseless citizens were massacred, these violations impressing desperation and dismay on the faces of the terrified people. Right in Abruzzo the German S.S. researched, experimented and carried out the cruelest of atrocities which later they used in all of Italy. In this horrible inhuman setting the seeds of revolt, the Resistance, flourished spontaneously. the Abruzzese people are simple and generous, not used to using violence, but by tradition loving, used to living in tranquility, in domestic peace, so when tragedy reached its dramatic peak of suffering and of pain, they rebelled in the hopes of saving their goods and their animals and of putting the brakes on those mad hordes; within the inevitable limits of fractionation and disarticulation, but with the positive contribution of the formation of a resisting conscience, that gradually conquered the entire population. Thus, in our land, the partisan movement arose and all the people went to war, involved and taking part in conserving daily life, in sustaining and helping those who took risks by fighting and by using any means to block the brutality and cruelty, offering to the partisan movement, within the entire arc of its expression, a notable and superb contribution, which greatly helped with the formation of that ideal conscience which gradually was expressed as a unit, and which gave such a huge tribute of valour and blood to the Fight for Freedom.
In Abruzzo 48 partisan groups arose spontaneously, operating over the whole territory. Since these groups were not linked to each other, all the thrusts towards revolution and indignation would have remained isolated and circumscribed due chiefly to motives of self interest, had it not been possible to consolidate those stimuli that provoked rage and rebellion, creating idealistic motives and co-ordinating them all into a well organised working unit, led by a personality with the capacity to aggregate and animate, to infuse faith and courage.
Partisans in Bologna on 21st April 1945
The Lawyer Ettore Troilo was an exemplary anti-fascist figure, who matured in the spirit of Democracy and Freedom in Milan, at the school of Filippo Turati, and later was a close collaborator of Giacomo Matteotti, a secure point of reference for the safeguard and preservation of the highest moral and human values. Already at the front line at the surrender of Rome that tragic September of 1943, he rushed to Abruzzo and by means of a courageous, direct, stubborn action, he organised the most prestigious partisan unit of the Central-South. The closest collaborators at Lawyer Troilo’s side were: Domenico Troilo, already stricken and sorely tried by Nazi brutality due to the killing of his mother, at the very young age of 21 he was one of the first to take up arms and carry out really daring guerrilla action which brought him great respect, he saw to the administration and his colleagues had so much faith in him that, due to his courage and his capabilities, he earned the position of vice-commandant of the “Maiella Brigade”; Vittorio Travaglini, intelligent leader and co-ordinator, untiring, tenacious fighter, suffused with unshakeable faith and youthful enthusiasm for shaping the organisation and making it an efficient working entity even though complex and difficult.
Surrounding these three men, each playing his own respective role, right here in our zone, straddled between the Sangro and the Aventino Rivers, where the bitterness of battle, of persecutions, killings and destruction had reached unheard of levels, where the enemy’s cruelty was expressed with episodes of collective madness, but where also the tenacious resistance of the people gave rise to moments of true exultation, set in scenery rich in natural beauty, with the backdrop of the Maiella that gave it its name, the glorious MAIELLA BRIGADE was born and developed. During the course of its development and its sacrifices, the men of the Brigade acquired an awareness of supreme values for which to carry on fighting and winning; within their hearts they gathered together all those stimuli and movements of rebellion within the Region which gave them the ideal motive along the course of a path lit up by sacrifices and victories.
The deed of constitution of the “Patriots of the Maiella Group” bears the date of 5th December 1943; there were 300 men, mostly peasants, very young students and workers, poorly dressed and without any equipment. After fighting in the Sangro-Aventino sector, freeing important locations in both valleys from German oppression, they were involved on 3rd February 1944 in the bloody but glorious battle of Pizzoferrato and then, crossing the spurs of the Maiella, always auxiliary to the 8th Army and tactically co-operating with the 2nd Polish Force, they reached Campo di Giove, Sulmona and L’Aquila whilst pursuing the enemy.
The vice-commandant Domenico Troilo driving his jeep
The “Maiella Brigade” which by now represents the force and spirit of the whole of Abruzzo, moves on from its own territory into the zone of Chienti and from Chienti to Esino, up to the Senio line, liberating Cingoli, San Severino, Apiro, Cupramontana, Arcevia, Caldarola, Montecarotto and Pesaro in the Marche. After a brief pause at Recanati, the “Band” transformed into a “Group” with 1,500 men and was employed in Romagna where it carried out the assault on Monte Castellaccio, Pietramore, Monte Ceparano, Biocca, Brisighella, Monte Mauro and Monte della Volpe. At dawn on the 21st April 1945, they were amongst the first of all the allied troops and the very first of any Italian formations, to enter Bologna, where they were met by displays of delirious affection. On the 1st of May 1945 several platoons, together with the “Seven Communes” Brigade (Brigata “Sette Comuni”), push on to liberate Asiago.
Twenty months of almost uninterrupted fighting with numerous acts of heroism, reached a conclusion at the solemn ceremony held at Brisighella on the 15th July 1945, where the Group disbanded and closed their glorious cycle in the presence of the highest authorities of the State, both Italian and Allied armed forces, political, administrative and religious representatives, other Partisan groups, and a huge crowd of exultant applauding citizens. The then President of the Council of Ministers, the Honourable Ferruccio Parri sent the following message:
“Patriots of the Maiella! After 20 months of glorious life winning the victory returns you to your families and to work. Your heroic participation in the War of Liberation has received solemn recognition in the eulogy given by the Commandants of the 2nd Corps of the Polish Army, the 5th British Corps and the Allied 8th Army, and by the fact that 11 silver medals, 33 bronze medals, and 154 Military Crosses for Valour have been awarded (to you). The blood of those from the “Maiella”, the 54 who died and the 142 who were wounded, which lies scattered on Italy’s lands that you traveled over whilst fighting, from Civitella to Asiago, is a wonderful testimony to your valour. Today, at the moment in which our Country, raised up from the abyss of shame and pain by the liberating action of its best sons, patiently awaits the judgment of the World, to enter the community of free peoples, I express to you the Nation’s gratitude and invites you to the fertile works of labour.”
The Patriot Group of the Maiella was the only Partisan formation, other than the Committee for National Liberation, to have been awarded the maximum honour by the State: the Gold Medal for Military Valour. The President of the Republic, Giuseppe Saragat, at the final manifestation of the 20 years anniversary of the Resistance at Milan on the 9th May 1965 numbered the acts of the Patriots of the Maiella amongst the most important facts of the National Fight for Liberation with the following significant words:
“… It is not my job to describe here the vast and complex facts of the history of a movement that witnessed as never before in all preceding epochs, all the people of Italy united by a common cement. The main stages are indicated by the four days of Naples, by the Roman Resistance which paid such a heavy price in victims (prisoners, deportees, people shot dead) and in preparing for the formation of a Democratic Government, by the action of the Patriot Group of the Maiella, by the battle for the Liberation of Florence, by the fight for the Padana Region.”
The volunteers from the Maiella, aware and proud of the notable contributions of sacrifices, of blood and of valour that they had offered to the “Italian Resistance” humbly returned to their activities as hardworking citizens, well aware of the inhuman efforts awaiting them, necessary for rebuilding the desolate destroyed zones of Abruzzo and for rebuilding family groups that had been violently scattered by the fury and ferocity of the Nazis. They set about these tasks with the same civil commitment and courage as had distinguished them in their fight for Liberty, Peace and respect for Human Dignity.
If historiographic analysis is correct, as Leo Valiani maintains, the Italian Resistance had diverse characteristics; a military presence with Italian fighting groups, Partisan fighters sustained by mobilization of the masses. It is also true that the “Brigata Maiella” in its exciting function joined both these qualities in a perfect synthesis which led to its interpreting and representing the highest and most important values of the Resistance Movement and the National Liberation (Movement). In the very moment that our thoughts relive this very important period of our history and as we pause to recall the sublime valour of this indomitable group of men who courageously fought for liberty, it would be as well to remember the moral and civil teachings that this experience represented, so that these memories can be stored and transmitted to the younger generations who should guard them jealously to become worthy of them, because the suffering and martyrdom, handed down by these memories, have ensured that we have a much freer life, full of dignity, we are able to be more noble-hearted after so many torments and persecutions, with the conviction that to forget is the strongest, most unpleasant index of decadence of a people. The generation that lived through the events that occurred between 1943 and 1945 is on its way out, therefore individual memories will die out. Will historical memory be sufficiently true and precise for that experience still to be a useful teaching? Certainly the worrying considerations of the late lamented author, Primo Levi, who spoke of the distortion of the History of the resistance, said:
“The further away we get from the events, the more the truth of convenience grows.”
Which alarms and concerns us, but at the same time we can be comforted by this convincing awareness of a young Sicilian High School student:
“The values of the Resistance remain as a symbol of a humanity that, at the price of any sacrifice, always continues to believe and to defend man’s Liberty and Dignity.”
So we wish to give unconditional trust to the young because, if they should wish, with the participation of political and social life, to go back over the path that the Partisans followed then, and use those teaching indicators of individual and collective activities and hopes, towards building a better future, they will flourish and they will surely find the common sense of civility and peace that was the programme and the flag of the Resistance and the Fight for Liberation.