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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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:
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