Anne's Blog

In Emilia-Romagna, a Suprising Link to Marzabotto

Date: July 14, 2019 - categories: , , , , - 12 Comments

Memorable adventures can even start with just an espresso in a small-town bar. Pino and I had stopped at the only cafe in Rioveggio, a wink of a town in the Bolognesi Appenini.

The Bologna area Appenines

Enroute home to Umbria from a family graduation in Parma,  we were on our way to nearby Marzabotto to stop and pay tribute to the hundreds of innocent civilians massacred near the end of  World War II in that village and in many surrounding mountain villages.

From Sept 29th to October 5th, 1944 Nazi troops had massacred nearly eight hundred people in isolated mountain villages of the area:  retaliation for the partisan group Stella Rossa’s aggressive resistance to the German occupation and their Italian Fascist allies.

At the cafe’ of Rioveggio, locals enjoyed morning espressso or cold drinks, tempting pastries, too.

The pastry chef even let me watch for a minute as she created the delectable sweets:

In the cafe’, I asked about medieval villages in the area to visit. I looked, too, for older people as I had wanted to hear from them any accounts of the World War II events which had lacerated this mountainous area of the region of Emilia Romagna.

A middle-aged woman sipping a cappuccino told me that none of her ancestors had been involved in the atrocities, grazie a Dio, but family acquaintances, yes.

As Pino and I were about to leave, a smiling dark-haired woman came up to me – introducing herself as Michela –  and said she’d noticed I was interested in seeing historic spots and knowing more about the Marzabotto story.

She invited me to come with her, her husband and son to their home in a nearby village as they knew I’d find it interesting.

I’d actually included Michela’s husband Carlo in his blue shirt in a photo I’d taken in the bar (their son, Livio, right behind his papa’) just minutes before:  

I left Pino chatting with bikers from Bologna as they sipped their espresso outside the cafe’ and hopped into the car with Michela, Carlo and Livio, to their now-abandoned village, Polverara:

Carlo’s ancestors still own houses in the now-abandoned village (population today: 1).  They often come here from Bologna (where Carlo is a law professor at the University and Michela is a high school French professoressa).  

Their house is the cream-colored one on the right with car parked in front:

Near their house is the former village church dedicated to San Rocco, now de-consecrated and closed up.  But they have the key and Michela opened it for me:

Michela shows me how to use the confessional:

When we left the church, Michela took me up the lane to see a farm house Carlo’s family still owns, closed up and needing restoration.   She told me earnestly,”Anna, because you are interested in the history of the Marzabotto events, you must see this house.”

“Calisto and his family lived here,” Michela told me as she pointed at the towering stone farmhouse, “working as share-croppers for Carlo’s ancestors.”

She then told me Calisto Migliori’s heart-rending story (and has also sent me a written account), one of the most tragic of the Marzabotto area victims.

The Nazis were encircling the area at the end of September, 1944. Calisto’s wife and parents urged him to escape and hide, knowing that the Nazis were seeking to eliminate any male in this area called “the Gothic line,” that defensive line behind which the retreating Germans were confronting the liberating Allied forces.

They all felt that the elderly, women and children would not be considered a threat – and therefore ignored by the enemy.  The oldest of Calisto’s seven children, ten-year-old Armando begged to go with his father but in the early light of day, his mother could not find his shoes and so Calisto left on his own.

His elderly parents, wife and seven children are among the massacre victims commemorated in the Sacrario  of Marzabotto.  Pino and I would be heading there next.

Carlo and Michela had prefaced my own visit with a poignant introduction. I was grateful.

Just before arriving at Marzabotto and only a few kilometers from Polverara, the windy road leads up to Monte Sole where La Scuola della Pace or “School of Peace” was founded in 2002.

A poignant monument to the massacre victims is across the road……

…..and a map on the monument indicates each village of the Bolognese Appennine range ravaged by the German and Italian Fascists – and the number of victims executed in each village:

We’d conclude our day at the Sacrario (“Memorial”) in Marzabotto where many – but not all – of the victims are buried.  The pastoral serenity surrounding us as we headed down from Monte Sole belied the horrors of the past:

The Sacrario is the heart of Marzabotto, a quiet modern town.

The names of the martiri dell’eccidio (“martyrs of the slaughter”) – and portraits of many  – create a solemn entryway:

Designs of small cherubs replace the photos of many of the small children and infants (who had never been photographed):

Inside, a volunteer local guide (one of fifty, he told us), answered our questions and shared the story of the Marzabotto massacre:

Now and then, other visitors joined us – and dialogues about the futility of war formed a common link:

Laurel wreaths at the altar honored the martiri….

…..and hundreds of the victims were buried in the Sacrario in rooms off the main hallway:

I looked everywhere for those seven Migliori children, their mother and their grandparents but never found that surname inside – and the only Migliori photos at the entrance were not of Calisto’s family:

It’s not known where many of the Marzabotto massacre victims were buried.

But they must be remembered – as they are in the epigraph by Salvatore Quasimodo, Nobel Prize for Literature (1959):

"This is a memory of blood, 
of fire, of martyrdom,
of the most vile extermination of a people...
...terrible and just is their glory....

Their death covers an immense space,
in it are men of every land
and they do not forget Marzabotto,
its fierce age
of contemporary barbarism"


Read about the Sacrario of Bologna
Read about the World War II "martyrs" of Gubbio
Click here to read more about the Marzabotto massacre

12 Comments

  • Glee Murray says:

    Grazie for this moving story and haunting photographs. Once, in Bologna, I visited a museum dedicated to the WWII resistance; maybe the old men were Stella Rossa veterans. After reading your post, I now have a better context for what the Bologna museum was all about.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Glee, thanks so very much for your appreciated and thoughtful note…imagine, then, you saw the Sacrario in Bologna (note on this blog on that) – also most moving).

    Lest we forget…

  • Frank says:

    What a terribly sad story. Thanks, Annie.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Frank, yes, a tragedy – and such a violent past for those bucolic hills

  • david fleming says:

    Very moving piece and accompanying photos; the Italian spirit and preservation of history never ceases to amaze…

  • Linda Pittner says:

    Anne,
    Your stories and pictures are amazing. It’s hard to imagine the terrible things that happened in such a beautiful place. We must never forget !

  • Emilie Nahon says:

    Love that one, Anne! How inspiring you and your point of view are ?

  • Emilie Nahon says:

    Love that one, Anne! How inspiring you and your point of view are ?

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Emilie, thanks so much for your comment -glad you appreciated the note.
    Looking forward to seeing you soon here!

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Linda, such true words: we must NEVER forget!

  • Mary Cappiello says:

    Thank you, Annie, for this history lesson. I had read about the German soldiers and their targeted murders Pietrasanta when they knew defeat was near. But I hadn’t thought it through about it happening all over Italy. Heartbreaking for so many.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Mary, thanks for your note and yes…..che tragedy

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