THE OCCUPATION OF TORRICELLA
(Rounding-Up of Men)
by Joseph Cionni (Peppinucio Cionna) (chis di Bindet)
17 June 2003: We are at a family reunion in Seacrest Beach, Florida, near Panama City. Today, it is raining pleasantly and gently; it is really a relief from the oppressing heat of the past two days. The coast here is referred to as the emerald coast, because of the emerald color of the waters close to the beach; the sand is white. I can truly say that this is one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen; or even the most beautiful.
For several months now, I have been thinking of writing about the day in which the Germans occupied Torricella: October 19, 1943.
Prior to that time, an occasional soldier would venture into town and simply look around from his motorcycle. Then two or three soldiers would venture in looking around from their vehicle.
Retrospectively, I believe this tactic was one to assess the local population and logistics.
On that October morning, the weather was a typical autumn day: brightly sunny and comfortably warm, without humidity (later in my life, I would refer to that kind of day as a “Torricella day”).
I was standing at the corner of Corso Umberto and Via Bellini, where today there is a bar with outdoor tables and chairs; with me were Nicola D’Orazio and Antonio Fedele; (Antonio was nicknamed il biondo, because of his reddish-blond hair; Nicola was simply called D’Orazio, rather than by his first name). The conversation was typically casual: girls, food, weather, etc. Looking toward the park (la pineta), we noticed a German truck, soon followed by another, a third, a fourth and more, slowly making their way down the Corso. When the first truck passed us, proceeding toward the church of San Rocco, we saw that the back of the truck was occupied by two rows of German soldiers in full combat gear (wearing helmets, hands on their rifles or automatic weapons) and facing each other.
When the lead truck stopped, it waited for the other trucks to stop. Now the vehicles were stopping at about the distance of one half block from one another. The soldiers seemed to be waiting for a command. What was happening? We wondered. This was when il biondo said: I don’t like it, let us get out of here; running we started onto Via Bellini; D’Orazio and I toward my house and il biondo went to the right toward the open fields. By now we were hearing shots being fired and women screaming. We reached our house and mother and grandmother told us to hide behind the huge wine barrels on the ground floor. The news was that the Germans were taking men prisoners and using them to dig trenches north of our town; those who did not cooperate would be shot. In fact, Donato Porreca was killed in the soccer field while he was trying to flee. My uncle, Nicola Palizzi, and D’Orazio’s father were taken prisoners, together with several other men who were sitting in my uncle’s shoemaker shop. The entire tactical operation was completed in about one hour. From then on, the Germans established their command in Torricella.
Many more soldiers came with their supplies, armored vehicles, mobile cannons and tanks (I counted at least six “tiger tanks” parked in narrow streets to avoid being seen from the air). The soldiers first occupied public buildings, then they began evicting people from their homes. The occupation was in full force.
The Germans stayed in Torricella until May 1944, making the town their defensive stronghold for the winter.
While prisoner, my uncle was wounded in one foot during an air raid by the British; he was able to walk back to town, with a great deal of difficulty, but recovered, thus surviving the ordeal.
In the late 1990’s, during a visit to Torricella, D’Orazio and I were standing at the corner of il Corso and Via Bellini, discussing the financial markets. Out of the bar came il biondo, who, after a few casual remarks, said: “you guys remember fifty plus years ago in October?” We became speechless. Just think that more than fifty years had passed since we were standing at the same corner, just the three of us, when the Germans arrived. We thanked God for our good fortune. Il biondo related that, as he was running through the fields away from town, a German soldier took several shots at him and finally the soldier tripped over a barbed wire and fell; when he got up, il biondo was out of range and safe.