All Italian partisans are communists

Werner Mork: Meeting with partisans in Italy 1944

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This entry is from Werner Mork (* 1921) from Kronach, June 2006:

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At the beginning of the German retreat in Italy, I was on duty as a truck driver with the task of transporting Ari ammunition, which sometimes did not reach the specified destination because the positions had already been abandoned. So my co-driver and I were often quite aimlessly on the road and that in the already confused withdrawal movements at night because it was not possible to drive during the day because of the constant air raids. One day we came across a street that we thought we had to drive so as not to lose a lot of time in a nightly disaster or even to end up in the greatest danger. At the point where this road branched off, German soldiers stood at a barrier, who told us that it was not allowed to continue driving. The reason is that this road leads through an outspoken partisan area and can only be used in convoy, no longer with a single vehicle. That meant for us that we had to wait until enough other vehicles had gathered to be allowed to continue. Only no other vehicles came. Precious time passed and the protective night passed. The soldiers at the barrier said I would have to take a different route now, but I didn't want that because we would get back into the great river, which would not suit us. I explained to my comrades that I now wanted to drive this road on my own, it couldn't be that bad with the partisans. There was a lot of going back and forth, but then they let us pass after we had explicitly stated again that we would use this road at our own risk. They even wrote down the truck's WH number, just in case.

Now we rolled over the closed road with our rickety SPA under cover of darkness, on which we were completely alone. The peace and quiet and the undisturbed driving were a real pleasure for us. We thought we noticed something every now and then and also noticed that there was a certain unrest on the mountain ranges away from the road, but we didn't believe that this was of particular importance. We drove into the morning very happy and relaxed, then saw a larger property off the road and said it would be good to make our intended quarters there until the coming evening.

When we arrived at the farm, we had the impression that it was as deserted as most of the farms where the residents are not present during the day. But then some female figures appeared. I got into conversation with them, explained what we would like, kindly asked them to allow us to stay on their farm for a day and to be allowed to park the truck in a safe place. For this and for a washing facility and some milk and bread for food, we offered them payment in lire.

We noticed that there was a noticeable shyness and reluctance towards us, but we were not surprised, especially at this time. And we didn't come as friends or invited guests, we were very uninvited guests who wanted to invite themselves. But we kindly asked, albeit as uninvited guests, to grant us hospitality for this one day. We wanted to pay for everything, we had no other intentions, no dark thoughts, we just wanted to get some sleep and like to eat something, if it was possible. The women with whom we had spoken in a friendly and friendly manner took confidence in us, they were ready to give us hospitality.

Among the women on this very large property was a pretty, black-haired young girl who eyed me intensely and whose gaze I could not avoid. I soon found out that her name was Maria. I could not have suspected that Maria would save my life. It sparked between us at lightning speed, despite the fact that she was an Italian and I was a German soldier, who at that time was no longer seen as a friend but as an enemy. We were not surprised that the women seemed very reserved overall, but what made me a little puzzled was a certain fearfulness that I couldn't explain to myself. We behaved so decently that they didn't have to worry about us. The reason for this should become clear to me very quickly. We had just moved into the truck when suddenly an elderly man was standing in front of us who was armed with a carbine. And behind him were two or three other armed men. When we saw these men, we were no longer happy, we both had the uneasy feeling that we had fallen into a trap of the partisans. And we believed women were some kind of decoy. They had greeted us warmly, but only with the intention of then defenselessly handing us over to the partisans.

It was an extremely tense situation in which we did not know how to proceed. We couldn't defend ourselves because our carbines were still in the truck. It would also have been pointless because we would have died immediately, we were hopelessly inferior, one way or another. We stood across from each other in the yard, and nothing more happened than that I tried to get into conversation with the men with my wheel breaking. After some hesitation, it succeeded and my attempt was even received positively. That was the result of the fact that I at least tried to converse in Italian and did not act like a typical German (for them), but like someone who tries hard and is willing to adapt to them. I now described our and my own situation to the older man, who could be recognized as the boss. I gave the reason for our presence and tried to explain that we only want a roof over us for a day, that we would disappear again in the evening as if nothing special had happened. And then suddenly there was a question and answer game between us, which then led to a lengthy conversation in which the men were still holding their weapons in their hands, also in a very unambiguous way.

During the conversation we learned that we were in the yard of the manager of an Italian nobleman who owns his large estate only a few kilometers away, but is currently not present because he fled from the Germans as he was not a fascist , not even in Mussolini's time. Now we also learned that we were really in the custody of partisans who had come out of their mountain hiding place and wanted to look around the courtyard again during the day, when they came across us, the two Germans. So the women weren't bad decoys, as I had first suspected. The older man now posed as the "leader" of a partisan group that was active in this area, against fascists and also against Germans. The Germans were no longer so important because they were fleeing and because the English would be there in the next few days.

But instead of taking us into captivity or even killing us, there was a real conversation between us, in which I expressed my opinion about war, fascism, National Socialism, about the nature of a democracy, and also described my life so far, so well that was possible with my language skills. This led to a real discussion in which the padrone revealed himself to be a staunch communist. I then told him that as a boy I had known many communists and social democrats. That I myself was a member of the Socialist Workers' Youth and that I do not demonize communists, like all socialists, and do not hate them because I have come to know and respect them as human beings. It was a very strange situation here in this place, where German soldiers and Italian partisans were engaged in a lively discussion, as if there was no war in the immediate vicinity of us. But not only that, we now drank wine together, which was served by the daughter of the leader, Maria, as I could now hear. Something else happened, actually unusual in Italy, that Maria listened to our conversation with interest for a while, again looking at me very intensely, which immediately embarrassed me, especially when she gave me a very warm smile. In my case, however, it was also the case that I could no longer take my eyes off her and cursed this shitty war inside me, which would separate us again in the evening, without which we could have come closer. When we had drunk ourselves over wine, the partisans present and we two soldiers, it also happened that we were invited by the Padrone as his guests to lunch together. Linked to this was the wish that we should continue to talk to each other. He said that he had never had the opportunity to speak to German soldiers, who for him were all and all only fascists, in some cases certainly even worse than their own fascists. Now he got a completely different impression of German soldiers, even if it was only these two with whom he could talk now. Maria beamed at me and indicated that she, too, would be very happy if we would have lunch with them now. We really had no objection to that, even if my brave Swabian was still quite afraid that things might go badly for us. Although I was not absolutely convinced of the opposite, I believed that I knew the Italians so well that they would respect and honor the hospitality offered on the farm.

But then a new situation came up to us. A few armed men had now appeared and the sight of them made us feel very uncomfortable. We noticed a violent argument between the padrone and the new men, and I heard that they were asking the padrone to arrest the two Germans and have them carried away. I got a lot of jitters and believed that we would still have to worry about it. But then we saw a very proud padrone, who posed and told the other men clearly that these two German soldiers were his guests, that hospitality at his court is still something sacred and is observed, even at this time . As long as the two Germans are on his farm, they are under his protection. They were indeed among the enemies of the Italian people, but in the spirit of hospitality there would be no enmity and no murder on their land! So literally, and it was very clear!

We had lunch with the whole family, and in the further course of the day we two German compatriots sat together with many Italians in a group and made international understanding. Incredible but really true, like what happened next. In the course of our discussion about the war and the post-war period, I also mentioned where I am at home in Germany. And my greatest wish is to survive the war so well that I can live safe and sound again in my homeland, so that one day I can visit Italy, which I love so much, as a civilian. In peace and quiet and, if possible, to visit the lovable people in Italy, whom I would have come to know and appreciate during this time, which is unfortunately marked by the madness of war. Thereupon the padrone said that I should rather stay with them! The city of Bremen is already broken anyway, as he heard from English radio broadcasts and there would be no good, secure future anymore. He would vouch for my safety, nothing would happen to me. Since I could speak Italian quite well, he said, I could also live quite well in Italy. If the English come in a few days, then the padrone would hide me for a while to prevent imprisonment and then, yes, then one would look further. But all because his daughter, the pretty Maria, would be very happy if I stayed here, and he said that Maria had asked him not to let my hair down, she wanted nothing to happen to me and her father has to see to it that nothing happens. Papa said that Maria must have fallen completely in love with me. I was also carried away by this pretty Italian woman. So it happened, in the middle of the partisan area, the unbelievable that I could stay there without being harmed and that I could have become a family member. I just had to make it clear to the padrone and also to dear Maria that this cannot be possible because I am already married and my wife and home cannot be abandoned. There was a long and sad palaver, but Maria also had to accept that and come to terms with a farewell that was very painful.

It was now towards the evening and the partisans who were still present wanted to persuade me that I should simply leave the truck with its load, or at least unload the ammunition, in order to prevent the Germans from using this ammunition could. But I made it clear to them that this was completely impossible, because we would not get any further without a vehicle and we should not lose the load that it is really a kind of life insurance for both of us, because otherwise we are considered deserted, that immediately could be shot dead.

All of this happened just a few days before the Allied invasion of the French coast, in the middle of a partisan area in Italy in 1944. And on the evening of this strange day the great miracle happened that we were under the protection of these partisans and were well secured with ours Trucks could drive further north, with a great gratitude in our hearts to these so wonderful people. They had shown true humanity to those who were their enemies. I would have liked to visit these lovely people after the war, but unfortunately my documents, i.e. the road map, got lost so that I had nothing more to use. I noted the location on the map so that I could find it again - unfortunately it didn't work out and I couldn't find the exact area. The partisans accompanied us to a point where they could not go any further, and then the padrone came to me again to say goodbye and to wish that we would still experience peace. We drove on without "escort" and came to the place where there were again German guards who amazed us and could hardly believe that a single truck had driven all alone through the middle of the partisan area, which had not happened to it. It was so incredible for our comrades that we first had to identify ourselves very thoroughly and were also critically examined.

I still think of these people today who had my life in their hands but did not take it from me. They did not make use of the possibility of doing as partisans what was (unfortunately) otherwise done, namely to eliminate the enemy. I can only hope that the men and women, especially dear Maria, did not fall victim to the Italian fascists or even the Germans.