• Michele Montagano,
    Campobasso, ItalyMORE...

    My name is Michele Montagano. I was born on October 27, 1921, in Casacalenda, Italy. My father was an elementary school teacher there and we used to live in a small town. I studied in Casacalenda and then I went to Campobasso High School. I finished my high school almost the same day that Mussolini declared war. I graduated high school in 1940. On September 14, 1940, I travelled to Rome to study law. In 1941, I was called back by the state to enlist as a soldier. Thus I joined the army on Feb 1, 1941. I took an official army course and became a sergeant. I was sent to Cephalonia and Corfu in Greece with the Acqui Division of the Italian Army. It is the same division that Hitler destroyed in 1943 in the Cephalonia Massacre. I returned from Greece soon, as I had to take another course to increase my rank in the army. I was promoted from sergeant to a lieutenant in Italy.

    In September 1942, I was sent to North Italy in Gorizia. I was one of the GAF, who were a group of soldiers fighting against the Tito Partisans. This group of soldiers resembled Alpini soldiers, as they used to wear similar hats. It was a tough situation as it wasn't only the army against us, but there were people without uniform all around the mountains and valleys who were fighting us. In the daytime, they were smiling and saying hello to us, but at night they were our enemies. Tito's Partisans did not have uniforms, so you never knew who they are, which made it very difficult. Besides that, temperatures were freezing that winter, which I'll remember for a long time.

    In September 1943, the state ordered us to immediately return from Yugoslavia. We had orders to bring with us all the people that we could on our way back to Italy: teachers, civilians, farmers, etc. Thus we had to take every one we found on the road. Thus we had quite a sizeable crowd of civilians and soldiers heading back to Italy. On the other hand, the German Nazis were still in the city of Cremasco, Italy. It was easy for the Germans to arrest all these people and put them on the train to Germany. Italy just became the enemy of Germany and they didn't know that all these people were from Yugoslavia. Therefore the Nazis caught us on September 11, 1943, exactly two days after we returned from Yugoslavia. They put us in the train wagons and the German soldiers then asked us, ''Where do you want to go?'' They further asked, ''Do you want to fight for Germany or you want to fight with Allied Troops?'' There was a German soldier who was asking these questions to each one of us as they were putting us on the train.

    But everyone provided the same response: ''We don't fight against the United States and England because our King said now our enemy is only Germany!'' Just a few freshmen accepted to fight against the Allies, but the vast majority refused to fight against their country and they willingly chose going to the prison camp. Therefore the train took us to the German camp, but we were given a choice. The point is that this was the first and the only time that Nazis asked their prisoners to choose whether they want to fight with the Germans or with the Allied troops. They never gave a choice to any of their Polish, English or any other prisoners before, and had directly sent them to the camps. The worst thing was that the Germans treated us like animals. We had been punished in a really bad way. There were about 50 or 60 passengers in each train car, which was closed and we remained inside without fresh air for nine days. We also remained in the train wagons without food and water. The German soldiers used to stop the train at five o'clock in the morning each day, in the freezing weather, and would give us two minutes each to attend to our personal needs outside.

    We were then taken to various places, including Chesnokova, on October 1, 1943; Ternopil, Ukraine, on November 2, 1943; and to Ciche, Poland, on December 27, 1943. They were really angry with us and they gave us very little food, about one piece of bread to each of us per day! It was very cold in December and January but we had to stand outside, either during the day or during the night, so that the Nazis could count us. We couldn't sleep well. We had been severely suffering from cold, hunger and lack of sleep.

    The Italians still fighting for Germany had a newspaper they put out. And German soldiers would give it to us occasionally hoping that some of us might think about joining the German Army after all. They hoped we'd become like some other Italians and would fight against the Allies. From the newspaper, I came to know that my father was also a German prisoner in a nearby camp. So I asked the German officer if I could see my father, and he said yes! It was the first time I heard a Nazi saying ''yes'' to anything. I later found out why he said yes.

    In my father's camp there were a lot of high ranked officials such as lieutenants, a captain and a colonel and a few generals. A few of them had died because of the cold weather and from starvation. The people who were left accepted the offer to fight with Germany against Italy, including my father. That's why they took me to see my father, because when I returned to my camp I could tell my fellow prisoners about the situation in my father's camp. I could tell them that if we didn't agree to fight against our country, we would die here!

    It was a beautiful reunion with my father. Everyone in the camp got emotional and happy when I kissed and hugged my father. A few minutes later, my father told me that he was going to join the Mussolini party and fight with the Germans. Though I respected the decision of my father, which was made very much out of necessity, I felt like I was going do what I had set out to do, and not join the Germans. Therefore we were father and son by nature, but enemies by politics!

    They let me stay with my father for 20 days. But I didn't change my mind in these 20 days. However, my father did change his mind once and told me that he would not join the Mussolini party, as I would be left alone here. But I told him that, ''No, you have to join the party as your other sons are waiting for you back in Italy.'' I told him that it could be the only way he could be freed from this prison. After 20 days, my father was set free and taken back to Italy. I was taken back to my prisoners' camp. Before leaving, I told my father, ''I swear on the flag of Garibaldi to have my faith in the Italian republic and Italian King.'' I further said, ''Now, I swear I will never give even one of my fingers to Hitler.''

    When I went back to my camp, I told them the situation about my father's camp. Thus the prisoners in my camp divided into two groups. One group consisted of the people who accepted the offer to go against their country, and the second consisted of those people who didn't agree to fight against their country. I was among the second group. The people who agreed were also taken back to Italy. Other people, including me, who didn't agree, were taken to another prisoner camp. The other camp was close to Poland, and the rumor was that there was a strong Polish resistance growing. So we had a hope that we will be freed. They took us all completely naked. They used us like a shield because the Polish people knew that there were Italians who didn't accept to fight against the Allies.

    The Polish people tried to save us and to take us back from the Germans, but they couldn't stop our train. We were taken by railroad to another camp in Sandbostel, Germany. We arrived in Germany on March 24, 1944. In Sandbostel camp there were a lot of university teachers. They all used to have discussions about international law. I designed a regular discussion panel, similar to university courses, in the camp. There were discussions with the professors, and it was like taking courses at an Italian university. I was 21 years old and I used to listen to the professors with intense concentration. However, some kind of sickness broke out and the Nazis stopped coming inside the camp. They used to bring food and water on a rolling cart and just leave it by the door. At that time, we suddenly felt free, as we didn't see the faces of Nazis for a long time.

    An agreement between Mussolini and Hitler took place, which required that all the army officials and soldiers would be considered as civilians. They should also go to work like civilians. But all the officials said, ''No, we are officials and we would not do the concentration camp work.'' They refused to work and give up their uniforms. They took us from the Sandbostel camp to another camp where there was no more military people. For the next five days we refused to work as civilians. In this camp there were 214 soldiers and Italian army officials who refused to work. The German soldiers then divided these 214 officials into groups of ten. For every ten people, they picked one person. In this manner, they picked a total of 21 of us. And then one of the German prison guards said, ''You're never going to see these friends of yours, as we are going to shoot them.'' At this moment, 44 of other officials, including me, came out of the camp and said, ''If you will kill our friends, you have to kill us, too, because we will never work for you. As we are officials and the international law says that you cannot make official soldiers do civilian work.'' The Nazis then took us instead of the 21 they picked earlier, and took us outside to be shot. Most of the soldiers had pictures of their wives and kids and they started looking at them and praying. We waited for six hours to be shot, but nothing happened. Later we heard that it was decided on the government level to leave us alive to avoid conflict with the Italians who were loyal to Germany. Anyway, we were transferred again to a new prison, where they had all kinds of people. The guards were mostly Russian and Polish, and those people were animals. They used to kick the prisoners all day long to let them die with broken heads and bones. This camp was called Unterluss, where our destiny was basically death for everyone who ended up there!

    We stayed there for 40 days, and six of our fellow soldiers died. One of them died by getting shot in the head and the other five died because of the beatings. We stayed only 40 days and then the Allied troops appeared. Just like that, in a day, the Allies took over everything and we were free. We exploded with happiness when we heard on the radio that our war was officially over. That was in the beginning of May 1945. At the same time, I was worried about my father.

    Right before the Americans came, we asked the Germans to give us some bread before leaving, as they made us starve. They said, ''If you want bread, you have to sing for us, because you are Italians and you are good singers.'' We started to sing and after that they left us all the bread they had. The Americans facilitated provisions of the most basic things we needed, as we were not only starved, but naked, too. The Americans also took us to the hospital, and we stayed in a hospital in Celle for like 15 to 20 days. We were then taken back to another camp where approximately 14,000 Italians were waiting for the train to take them back to Italy. However, the Vatican assisted by sending hundreds of trucks to pick up the Italians from Germany. I was on one of these trucks.

    When the truck passed through the Garda Lake in Italy, I saw the blue sky, the blue water and suddenly my heart felt joy and I knew I was home! I came back to Italy on September 1, 1945. I rushed to see if my father was alive and I was really happy to see him at our home in Maurizio. However, I found a catastrophic situation in Italy because my mother and father had three more children who had no food. These three kids were my cousins. My mother adopted them after the death of their parents. I only stayed for a few months with my parents and my little cousins.

    Then I decided to leave for north Italy to search for a job. I found work in Milan at Shell Petroleum, but I was really depressed because of the horrific thoughts about the German camps. However, I fell in love with a woman in Milan and forgot about all the misery and pain of the concentration camps. Later, Shell sold the company to an Italian company and I lost my job. I came back to my family again in Maurizio, and started to study. I graduated and then started working again at a bank in Campobasso. I then fell in love with a young lady in Casacalenda and we got married. We rented a house in Campobasso. We had two kids, a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, my wife died and left us all aggrieved seven years ago. I live with my nephew now, who takes care of me. My daughter also lives with us and my son lives close to us. We get together four to five times a week and we have dinner together. The only sadness in my life is that my wife left me so soon.

  • Luigi Bertolini,
    Udine, ItalyMORE...

    I was born on March 28, 1927, a few months after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean. I spent most of my childhood in Northeastern Italy, in a small village just 20km from Udine. My parents worked on a farm. I attended a school where all the farm children went. It was never interesting to me. From an early age, my interest was in engineering, but I could only attend a technical school once the war ended.

    I must say, I didn't care for the war. I didn't support either side, despite being Italian. I was interested in aviation. I was fascinated by how precise everything had to be in order to operate a machine as complex as an airplane.

    There were a lot of air battles around Udine between Americans and Germans, Italians and Americans, between factions of the Italian army. After September 8, 1943, Udine went under German administration and we were bombed a lot, mainly by the Americans. I always got excited when a plane was shot down, so I could go explore it. I would rush over to the site of the crash and tried to recover whatever parts I could. I would take them home where I had a small workshop, where I dismantled and reassembled all the parts I found.

    Italian partisans carried out some attacks in my village in 1944. They came to our house one night. I was frightened and didn't know how to deal with them. They were suspicious of the German presence in the village. But the Germans stationed there were mostly engineering and construction staff, and worked on building runways in the surrounding areas. You see, this location is a convenient distance from Munich, Slovenia and Monaco. They wanted to search the house. My father got into an argument with them because he didn't want guns in the house. They searched and didn't find much - my father once had a rifle, he was a hunter, but it was confiscated by the Germans after they'd come through the village.

    I found work as a mechanic in a nearby village. Two Germans ran the shop. One specialized in engines and the other was a general smith. Three others worked for them. They were very kind to me, and very keen to teach me. I helped German soldiers repair their trucks and tanks. I also worked on the airfield. I am still thankful to them for setting the foundation for my future career. I was interested in the work, not the politics. The Germans were here and we had to live with it. Many people understood that fighting them wasn't worth it. But of course, many people also resisted. My brother worked with partisans and I was unaware. He had a radio transmitter in the attic of our home and no one knew.

    In the spring of 1944, Todt, a German organization, began working on a project nearby. This organization basically existed to coordinate large engineering projects around Europe at that time. Of course, that late in the war, most of the projects were now dedicated to defending Germany. There were plenty of trucks and tanks, all kinds of necessary machinery, but there weren't enough people to work on them. So they asked the locals. People came from all around - some from Padua, from Treviso, Pordenone, Frioli, Udine. There were so many they had to build barracks to host the workers that arrived. Even my brother worked for the Germans for four or five months. I remember some locals were displeased because their horses and cars were confiscated for transporting dirt and cement to build runways.

    Some runways were already functioning in full, in Gemona and Risano, some other villages around Udine. Usually German planes took off in the evening to bomb around Bologna, in Central Italy. They would return, having to land at night or early in the morning, when it was extremely difficult to see the runway. There were many incidents when bombers crashed after missing the runway. Lots of German pilots died that way.
    By autumn of 1944, the Americans attacked so often and intensely that German troops began to withdraw. Construction stopped. They just left everything behind - empty runways, abandoned mines, construction sites.

    One night, American planes bombed our area. I stood on the roof to watch it. One of the trains on the railway exploded. I think it was carrying tanks or some sort of heavy machinery. This was fun for me, because of the explosion and the fireworks, the flare from the blast. That's what it was for me at the time, a kind of entertainment and excitement. I had no idea what war really was, I didn't understand the scale of what was happening. I never thought the Wehrmacht occupying our village was a bad thing. I was always fascinated by their technology, and I didn't mind working with them for the sake of playing and studying these machines.

    After the war ended, in a year I joined the army and went into aviation mechanics. I passed the tests with flying colors. After that, I attended a mechanical design school. Not only because of my interest, but because times weren't easy for my father's farm. We needed machines to farm more efficiently. I wanted to learn how to design them.
    I almost emigrated to the United States because I couldn't find work. There was a committee working and interviewing people who wanted to work in America. They asked me what my profession was. I told them I was a mechanic. I was asked to show them my hands. I hadn't worked for several weeks and my hands were clean. They thought I was lying and I didn't get to go.

    I worked hard all my life on things I truly love. I am proud of my family, my faith - I'm a Catholic - and last but not least, I am proud of my craft.

  • Rosilda Cravero ,
    Bra, ItalyMORE...

    My father moved to Argentina in 1915, during the First World War, but he decided to return and enlist. He became a hero, because the army was fleeing after a defeat and forgot a cannon on the field. During the night, my father went back alone to retrieve the cannon with a cart. He was shot between the ribs. This gave him asthma. And when the Germans came to our door during the Second World War, my father went downstairs and they took him. We thought we would never see him again. The Germans thought he was a partisan, then they determined that because of his asthma he could never be an active partisan - though he might be someone who aided the partisans.

    From 1943 to 1945, we were basically between a rock and a hard place. We feared the Germans would lose the war. The partisans had become stronger.

    Two young partisans, who were friends of mine, were discovered by Germans and displayed in the square, hung from meat hooks, left to rot in the open air. By then, it had become a common opinion that the Germans were now an enemy. And the partisans were just as out of control. They started stealing food and robbing people. They were an armed political party, which you couldn't fight back against.

    When the war ended on April 25, on Liberation Day, I was headed to work. I met a man who was a fascist and he asked me why I was going to work. He told me not to go to work. "Today is a special day," he said. "Nothing is going to happen." There were a lot of people gathered in the town square. The partisans were able to come out of hiding. They gathered twenty people they suspected of being fascists and put them in trucks and took them to the woods and shot them. I knew a girl that owned a hotel. The Germans had occupied it during the war. The partisans decided she was a spy, though she only owned the hotel, and they killed her. After killing those fascist men, the partisans displayed their wives in the square with shaved heads. But this ended when it began to storm and everyone scattered. Eventually, with the war over, the curfews ended and there were parties in the stables.

    During the first election following the war, I worked as a telephone operator. I aided old people with voting from their homes. The election was basically between the Republic and the Monarchy. I was for the Monarchy but they lost.

    I met my husband in 1947. He had escaped from his military headquarters after the war, and stole civilian clothes from a window. When I asked what he wanted to do for our honeymoon, he said he wanted to go to Venice so he could return the clothes that saved his life. So we did that.

    After that, I worked in a government office for nine years. Then I worked for a shoemaker. My husband died in 1961. Everyone that came back from Russia seemed to die young.

  • Nicola Struzzi,
    Rome, ItalyMORE...

    I was born in San Lorenzo on February 11, 1923. My father used to work in a public transport company in Rome. I had two brothers and one of them went to volunteer for the Italian navy, when I was very young. I started studying at the age of 6, but at 9 I stopped going to school because of I was discriminated by the kids from more affluent families. I started working at the age of 12 as an assistant in a metal store, where they used to deliver drain covers. They provided me a manual trolley on which I started delivering drain covers. Once I was taking the trolley and a heavy metal cover caused a misbalance as it moved down and the trolley moved up and as a result of which I was flying in the air holding the handle of the trolley. The people walking around helped me to get back to the ground.

    When I turned 17, I started working for a transportation company like my father.

    In 1940, I was working as a ticket collector for a local tram. During that time, I could easily spot the difference in the society as it was divided up on two levels. One level belonged to the upper class consisting of white collar people and the other was the working class. The white collar used to go to the events where Mussolini was directly addressing the people. One time I was on a tram, which was driven by a very old driver who was quite slow and there was a big queue of people waiting at the bus stop. One of the people waiting at the stop was dressed in a fascist uniform in whole regalia - with all the symbols and everything, the other people were Italian civilians. Accidentally, I closed the door when this person was entering the bus and his hat got smashed by the door. This guy called the concerned authorities and also wrote to my boss, which generated a lot of problems.

    In 1942, I was called by the state to join as a soldier but there wasn't much work so I signed up as a parachutist in Rome. I attended a few months of parachute training in L'Aquila. From there, we were moved by a train to Sciacca where an aircraft was ready to take us to the war zone in Tunisia. However, our aircraft came under attack when we were just about to reach Tunisia. We were lucky that our aircraft survived as all the other planes caught fire and got destroyed. After crash-landing in Tunisia, we were moved close to a place called Sfax, with the Italian army. We had been resisting the continuous bombing for 13 days but eventually we surrendered. We were captured by the Allied soldiers when all the Italian armed forces surrendered. There were about 35,000 Italian and German soldiers in a queue who were all divided into different groups to be taken to the American, British and French prisoner camps. All the Italian soldiers were hoping to be moved into the American camp. Unfortunately, I was moved with the French who were little upset with the Italians at that time. They painted a red square on the backs of Italian people to identify us in the French camp. Before getting to the camp, all the captured Italian soldiers from my group including myself had to walk for about a thousand of kilometers from Tunisia to Algeria. Later, some of us were transported to a camp in Casablanca. During the imprisonment in Casablanca, I was selected to work at a pork producing farm near Algerian border. I knew nothing about the nature of work at the farm, but I watched a documentary on pork production and I knew a few kinds of pork. It helped me in correctly guessing the different kinds of pork at that farm, which helped me in getting selected for work.

    However, I escaped from Casablanca trying to find a camp managed by the Americans. I succeeded in finding an American camp, but they already had too many people so they moved me back to the French camp. I again managed to escape from the French camp in an ambulance with 3 other POWs and reached the Casablanca Hospital. From there, I went to another American camp located near the Casablanca airport from where many American soldiers were flying to Italy. I also tried to escape from this American camp with the help of Italian personnel, who were collaborating with the American soldiers. I managed to hide in a plane that was scheduled for taking air mail to Italy and I waited for so long inside, but it didn't fly. Therefore, I came out of the plane but I got caught by the American soldiers and they moved me to another POW camp again. I was tortured at this camp with electric shock. Later, I was again moved to the French camp in Casablanca. I got another chance to escape from this French camp and go to the American camp. The first thing I did after reaching the American camp was to take a shower. It was very nice as we could have four meals a day and take showers any time of the day. Comparing to any other camp that one was a vacation. This camp was so good for all the Italians and nobody wanted to leave it. There was a swimming pool and we could also play baseball but staying there was quite risky for me because there were already too many people and they were trying to get rid of the extra people. My fears came true and I was again moved from the American camp to a French one located near the Casablanca port. However, this time I was dressed as an American POW as I borrowed the uniform from my last camp. All I remember is that I have been always escaping from one camp to another during the war. Anyway, there was an American freighter, Isonzo, loading at the port and I tried to flee again by hiding under a chair on the ship. I believed that I was alone but there were 24 other Italians escaping from the French camp. There were American soldiers as well as Italian workers on the ship and one of the Italian workers helped us avoid the search. I was still worried as one Italian prisoner told me that he had tried escaping on the ship before, but the authorities at Nador port sent him back to Casablanca. However, the person who helped us to hide on the ship also helped us to get to a safe place after landing. We found a man travelling to Rome, who demanded a huge fare from us and we assured him that after reaching Rome our families would pay him. Therefore, he took us to Rome. When I arrived in Rome, I found a newspaper with my photograph on it that had a caption "Missing person from war." I was absolutely astonished to see it, as it meant that my family didn't give up the hope and was looking for me.

    After the war, I started working with the ATAC public transportation company in Rome and later got married. I was financially stable and we were able to buy a beach house where we used to spend most of the time in summer. I have two sons and three grandchildren.

  • Agostino Floretti,
    Udine, ItalyMORE...

    My name is Floretti Agostino. I was born on August 21, 1920. I joined the army on February 15, 1940. I was sent to Cividale del Fiouli, which is a small city 20km outside of Udine, to the east. That was where I put on the uniform for the first time, as a soldier.

    On February 25, I was sent to Albania. I left from Bari by ship and disembarked in Durres, we were sent to Puke, which is a small mountain village. We began weapons training, mountain training to become familiar with the terrain. On October 28, 1940, we went to war with Greece.

    We arrested a Greek soldier at the border, he was the only survivor of a group. I was charged with escorting the POW. Eight of us at his back with rifles. I got the feeling he was trying to escape, so I threw a grenade at his shoulder. It still had the pin in it, I was trying to scare him, but the terrain was rocky and the pin got knocked out and it went off. I don't want to tell everything, because it's quite harsh, an ugly image I still remember. We no longer had a prisoner.

    A few days after that incident, it started snowing. When we reached a river, it wasn't possible to cross it, so we had to build a bridge. Before that, there were some fights, but nothing substantial until we reached the mountains and the Greeks returned with stronger attacks, and encircled us. We had to withdraw then. On the way back to Albania, we suffered. We were angry and thirsty, freezing. Fortunately there were relatively few deaths on our end. After we crossed back over the border, we received food and shelter and our situation improved. We started to dig trenches, but the Greek counterattack was very strong so we had to withdraw again and again. We quickly became dispirited. January 8, 1941, I was wounded in the leg by a mortar shell. It went through my leg, just missing any bone or major blood vessels.

    When I heard more shooting, I moved in the opposite direction, trying to escape. I found an hole where there were two soldiers relaying data to direct fire on the Greeks. They told me the route to reach a Red Cross truck nearby. I was lucky when I reached the road because a truck was passing right at that moment and I was picked up. But just before we reached the field hospital, two English planes bombed the area and shot at the tent. Two Italian doctors died, as well as four people in the tent. We left the area immediately and drove two more hours to a bigger hospital. After fourteen days in the hospital, a German transport plane arrived with reinforcements and loaded up the wounded and flew us back to Italy. I was put up in another hospital, in the south, and it was nice to sleep in a real bed with sheets. And food - they gave me a sandwich with Mortadella, which was really fantastic. After thirty-five days, I was sent home for two weeks leave, to recuperate. And after that, I returned to my battalion and we were sent to Yugoslavia.

    We reformed the Julia Division, to commit to Russia. But after Greece, the division had been nearly destroyed. We had to started over.

    I was sent to Tricesimo where we were being reorganized. I became a driver for the Cividale Battalion. In August 1942, we loaded trucks and equipment onto trains, and when everything was ready, we departed for Izium, Ukraine. From there we traveled to the Don River. I was in charge of driving the truck which was loaded with the hospital supplies for another battalion, the Gemona Battalion. I was lucky there, because I didn't have to march - this journey was about 280km, so those marching took ten days to reach the destination.

    We reached Saprina, where there was a command center, and unloaded the hospital supplies. We were immediately attacked by two Russian fighter planes, but a German Messerschmitt plane counterattacked and destroyed them.

    I was stationed in a small area, 10km from the river. I was surprised to see how the other alpine soldiers created their refuges. To escape from the winter cold, they'd dig big holes in the ground and sleep there. It was more comfortable that way.

    In the following months, until the real beginning of the Russian winter, it was okay. We mostly spent time digging the holes we stayed in. The bunkers. We had the principal bunker where we ate, slept, cooked and washed. And there were windows so we could see the river. Machine guns set up in case the Russians came. Had everything continued as it was, without confrontations, we were sure we could survive there for five years, easily. We were confident there.

    On December 4, 1942, we got the order to move west, because the Russians had broken through the defensive line and destroyed three allied divisions. They were strong. They had over a thousand tanks, and half as many heavy artillery guns. They had waited for the rivers to freeze over so that they could cross with tanks.

    The Julia Division was tasked with repairing the front line, to stop any advances. But the tanks were already 300km within the German-Italian controlled area. We were mountain troops, and the Germans had moved us to the river. We were unprepared, untrained for that terrain. We had no tanks, just trucks and riflemen. Our equipment was leftover from the First World War. They were unstoppable. Our artillery just bounced off. We could sometimes disable their capability to move, but never their capability to shoot. The division was almost immediately destroyed once the fighting started.
    Eventually we received the order to withdraw, but we had to march because we had no real transport. The German troops were motorized, and they withdrew first, leaving us to act as a buffer, protecting them.

    From the day they ordered us to leave the bunkers until the end of the withdraw, we walked 870km. We only slept in the open air, despite the freezing temperatures. We were only able to eat what we could find around us. Everyone was thinking, "I hope god will send me a bullet, because I can't stand this anymore." Those who could not walk anymore, we laid them on the field, and when the Russian tanks arrived, they were crushed. These were terrible days. Soldiers were going crazy. People died continuously. The road back was littered with frozen bodies. I never talk about the events I lived, because it's still strange to me that it happened, it's something incredible.

    When I heard the war was ending, it was on the radio. I was in the local police at the time, for the last two years of the war, that's what I did. The street was full of people happy about the end of the war.
    In 1945, the Germans left Italy. It's a miracle I am still alive.

  • Rinaldo Budin,
    Treviso, ItalyMORE...

    My name is Rinaldo Budin. I was born in Pola, Croatia, to a family of shipmakers. At that time, Croatia was part of Italy. I had two brothers and one sister. My sister died when she was young.
    I enlisted in the army in 1940, working in radio transmission, a year before the war. Lots of people were enthusiastic about it, lots supported Il Duce, Mussolini, fascism. I wasn't excited about the war. I didn't care for it. The army didn't give a particular explanation for the invasion of Greece, but we knew why - Mussolini gave a speech in Rome, and I saw this as a consequence of fascism - we invaded for ideology.

    I left Italy on January 4, 1941 from Brindisi, and we went by boat to Albania. When we got to Greece, I felt like a tourist because Italy had already occupied much of the area. In June, I had to go to the hospital because a donkey went into a river and I tried to rescue it, because it was carrying supplies. I was injured by the animal when it stomped on my foot. From there, I was in and out of the hospital, after making friends with a doctor, who managed to keep me out of a lot of fighting.

    It was during summer. It was a nice time. I got to know the locals, and my relationship with them was okay, and there were times we met with Greek soldiers. One soldier I met was a pilot that had been bombing Italians, so I even met my enemy and the relationship was friendly. The locals used to call us "chickens" because we had a feather on our hats.

    When I was in Athens, because I was recovering, I used to hang out with the locals. I got to know some youths. I spent some time with them, talking about history I learned in school, about ancient Greece. I was learning to speak Greek. When I was twenty years old, everything was easier to learn. Within a couple of months, I could communicate easily.

    The truth is, I didn't experience much of the war. I didn't make many friends in the military, and I didn't stay in touch with those I had met. While my company in the army went to Samos, near Turkey, I kept getting leave to recover from my injury. In March 1942, I returned to Italy for further hospitalization, before being sent back to Pola in July of the same year.

    I realized in 1943 that Italy was losing, and the USA and England were very powerful. I was hopeful that this part of Croatia I was from would remain part of Italy. However, this didn't happen. I wasn't pessimistic about the future, and I had a brother living in Germany, and another brother fighting with the English in the south of Italy. There were options. The military deemed me unfit for duty that year. However, on paper, it appears as though I remained in the war until the end.

    I was married December 26, 1942. I started working as a banker in March the following year. After the war, I went with my family to the mountains - I had the option to go to Trieste to work for a branch of the same bank. I chose to find a house here and settle down.