|— VOICES FROM THE WAR — 1st February 2002 Nicoletta Di Luzio, Survivor of the Sant’Agata Tragedy
Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca
In December of 1943 some Torricellan families sought refuge in the hamlet of S. Giusta. After a few skirmishes with the Germans, the entire group abandoned S. Giusta and occupied some abandoned farmhouses in Sant’Agata, a hamlet of Gessopalena.
On the morning of January 21, 1944, the Germans grabbed them, crowded them together in a room and killed nearly everyone, 43 in all. A 16-year-old girl, Nicoletta Di Luzio, along with her 10-year-old brother, Antonio, survived. Nicoletta told her story to an English officer, Jesse B. Mayforth. Her story, along with those of other war survivors, were published in the 1999 book Voci dalla Guerra (Voices from the War), edited by Troilo of Bomba.
Di Luzio now lives in Rome. Two months ago she recounted to Pro Locis the events that occurred and what followed. It is the first time this survivor of Sant’Agata has spoken publicly about this tragedy, 58 years later.
Nicoletta Di Luzio:
I don’t remember having given this interview to an English Officer, but its content is true, the details are precise. Only, I had not seen those German soldiers in Torricella before, so I would not have known how to recognise them. We lived in the La Croce (The Cross) region of Torricella, near the Church of San Giacomo. My father had died some years before in Africa, or maybe in Abyssinia, I’m not certain which. There were five of us at home: Mummy, me, my sister Vincenzina and my brothers, Leonardo and Antonio. My grandmother, Giovannella, whose husband, a victim of the Great War, was buried at Redipuglia, lived in a house nearby. We led a normal life: we went to school and I remember my mother yelling at me in the mornings when I did not want to wake up because I liked sleeping.
In December of 1943, the Germans chased us out of our homes and destroyed them. My mother took us with a group of relatives and ten’s of other people into the countryside of S. Giusta where we found shelter and we were able to eat something. Grandmother Giovannella, however, stayed in the village, because her house had not collapsed. The Germans were present in increasing numbers at S. Giusta and were very annoying, so we crossed the trench and took shelter in the farmhouses of Sant’Agata, at Gessopalena. The English had already arrived in this village. We were all there together. Waiting. Every now and again somebody would kill a sheep so we could eat.
That morning of 21st January, the Germans were screaming and we were crying in terror. Mummy said, “Be good, be good”. When the hole appeared in the attic we fell through it, my brothers Antonio and Leonardo and I. One of our uncles was hanging by his jacket at the edge of the hole, his jacket slipped over his head, in flames. They killed him in that position. Leonardo was seven years old, he ran out of the stable and a German shot him in the back. Antonio stayed in the feeding-trough. After I had been wounded he called me, “Nicolé, are you alive?” I replied, “Yes, I’m alive.” I don’t know what they had used to burn my neck, but a pistol bullet had gone in at one shoulder and out the other. Antonio was wounded too, in one hand and in his arm.
We set off to get away from that place and we reached a farmhouse where some of the people evacuated from Torricella and Collezingaro lived. A lady called Nicoletta helped us immediately; she picked Antonio up, carrying him in her arms and took us to Gessopalena, where we had initial treatment in the Doctor’s surgery. Then the English soldiers transported us to Casoli and then later to the hospital at Vasto. To tell the truth, the hospital was so full up that they put us in a Church, Sant’Antonio, from where you can see the sea. We stayed there for six or seven months. I don’t remember exactly how long. The doctors were very skilful. I hardly ate anything and I caught pleurisy. I didn’t ask anything about my relatives, about my mother, about Torricella. I just stayed in bed with a cover over me, because I didn’t have any of my clothes any more. Then a lady brought me a dress and a pair of shoes. I was ill. I didn’t care about anything. I barely spoke. Then I began to say something. A few times I said “Lucky you, Mummy, to be dead. We are still here and suffering”. Antonio was still wearing the clothes he had had on at Sant’Agata. The doctors did not know to whom they should give us.
In the meanwhile, grandmother Giovannella was going round all the hospitals, writing to them all, and finally she traced us. We went to live with her in Torricella, because her house had not collapsed. Some time later Antonio went to Terni to an aunt and he went to school there and learned to be a joiner.
The next year I was 18 and I met Guido. He was seven years older than me and he had returned from England where he had been a prisoner (of war). He found work in Rome and we were married almost straight away. We came to live in Rome and my first daughter, Maria, was born in October 1948. Then we had Antonio and Gemma. After Sant’Agata I never slept again. I became extremely anxious.
From Rome we returned to Torricella three, four, five times each year. We stayed with my grandmother; then when the children were older, we rented a house. I always went back to Sant’Agata: every year with Guido and our children. For a very long time I could still find the bloodstains on the walls of the farmhouse. What did I feel? I don’t know. I felt like going there. I have never cried in front of the others. I don’t know if it has affected my children. I didn’t smile very often then. I was very anxious. I think that one lives with a fear inside that one cannot get rid of. Even today, if I have to face up to something new, I find it very difficult and retreat into myself.
At Sant’Agata the dead lay there unburied for twelve days. The wild animals played havoc with them. That is another suffering. I think about my brother Leonardo lying there ….
I have done everything to survive. I dedicated myself to my children. I never worked; I never felt well. Six or seven years ago I began to feel detached from those facts and to speak about them. My relatives have often asked me if I felt animosity or hatred towards the Germans. Nothing. Just indifference. I wonder whether these things can be of interest to anyone else. I have only told this to my nieces and nephews. One lives badly if filled with hate. I only hate violence. Yes, this is something I can say with certainty.