Tag Archives: World War II

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Women Key to Italian Resistance in WWII

On April 25, 2015, Italy marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the country from Nazi domination. This year much of the focus is on the 200,000 partisans who helped bring about the country’s liberation.

staffettedellaliberta

Over one quarter of the participants in the Italian Resistance during World War II were women (55,000), many acting as couriers (staffette).

In 1943, the Resistance strengthened in Italy as many Italian men chose to join the Partisans rather than capitulate to the German policy requiring the Italian military to be incorporated into the German army or be rounded up and sent as laborers in Eastern Europe.

Women also joined the Partisans but their involvement in the Resistance was truly a voluntary one since they did not face these same consequences if they chose not to participate in the war effort.

staffetta_portaordini

The first female partisans were couriers and spies. They were known as Staffette, a word for relay or courier.  Initially they brought, along with assistance in the form of food and clothing, news from home and information on enemy movements. Shortly, this spontaneous work became organized, and every detachment created its own couriers, which specialized in shuttling between the city centers and the command of the partisan units. They relayed messages to and from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Operational Groups (OGS).

la_bicicletta_nella_resiste

Frequently, these women had to cross German lines to accomplish their missions. Each time, they ran the risk of discovery, which they knew could result in torture or death.  Their work was delicate, difficult, and almost always dangerous.

Even when they didn’t cross the lines during combat under enemy fire, they had to pass through the steep slopes of mountain on paths off main roads with dangerous, cumbersome material, covering kilometers on bicycle or truck, often on foot, in the rain or snow. Even traveling by train or car, the couriers passed long hours, often forced to pass a night in a station or in an open field, facing the dangers of bombardments or a German ambush.

MOGLIE

After a tactical operation, the retreating partisans were not always able to take those seriously wounded with them. If there were men too wounded to hide, the couriers remained to watch them, to give them the necessary treatment and to seek medical help. After a battle women partisans were frequently left in the occupied country in order to learn the enemy movements and to get the information to the partisan command.

During the transfer marches the women were the advance expedition. When the partisan unit arrived near a town, the courier was the first to enter in order to find out if there were enemy forces and how many there were, and if it was possible for the partisan column to continue on.

UnknownIn addition to taking part in partisan activity, women also volunteered to work in the Women’s Groups for Defense and for the Assistance of the Freedom Fighters (gruppi di difesa della donna e per l’assistenza ai combattenti della libertà) or GDD. The GDD collected food, money and clothing. If these women were discovered supporting the Partisans in even these ways, they would be arrested and sometimes tortured or killed. The women in the GDD also played a key role in motivating other women into public activism and recruiting them to participate in various Resistance functions.

The key to the success of women in the Resistance was their collective, almost anonymous character. These were not superhuman beings, but members of the community, belonging to all levels of society. The Resistance of women was born, not from the will of a few, but from the spontaneous initiative of the many.

After the war, 200,000 Italians were registered formally as active members of the Resistance, of which official records show 55,000 were women. More were never identified as part of the fight against fascism and the Nazis.

Ada Gobetti

A recent translation of Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance, by Ada Gobetti is a story of heroism, political courage and humanity. It was originally published in Italy in 1956.

Ada Prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

The diary/memoir covers the resistance to the Nazis when they entry Turin on September 10, 1943 to the liberation of the city on April 28,1945.

Ada Prospero Gobetti recorded the events on an almost daily basis, a dangerous undertaking. She jotted down her entries in a cryptic English that only she could understand; at the war’s end she deciphered the jottings for publication. The act of keeping an anti-fascist diary during the Nazi occupation carried an automatic death penalty.

Her involvement in the resistance movement goes back to 1922. Ada’s husband, the anti-Fascist activist Piero Gobetti, founded the anti Mussolini/fascist pamphlet Rivoluzione Liberale. Gobetti was arrested and beaten to death by Fascist gangs at age 24.

Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero
Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero

Ada, who found time to translate Sir Francis Bacon and Alexander Pope while tending to her teenage son Paolo,vowed to continue his work, as did Paolo. Her pride in her son and at the same time her fears that he will be captured are central themes in this story.

This book reads like a thriller, it provides first-hand knowledge of how the partisans in Piedmont fought and who joined the struggle against the Nazis and the Fascists.

Ada prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

Ada ran a network of safe houses in Turin for anti-Fascists in need of refuge. Among these was the sister of the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, Anna Maria Levi. She and Paolo smuggled weapons and explosives into the Susa valley, adjacent to the French border, over mule paths and dense forests.

“4 September. It had gotten dark by now and soon we left with the new Tommy gun and what was necessary for derailing the train. We did not know exactly at what hour it would pass, but by now it was certain that no more civilian trains would pass by before dawn. We had to make the preparations quickly in order not to miss the strike.” — Ada Gobetti

Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti
Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti

Irma Bandiera

Irma Bandiera was the treasured daughter of a wealthy family from Bologna. She became a partisan fighter in the VII Brigade Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (GAP) Gianni Garibaldi of Bologna. As was common with those who fought for the resistance she took a battle name: Mimma.

Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister
Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister

Captured with encrypted documents by the Fascists working with the German SS, after transporting weapons to her brigade near Castel Maggiore, she was tortured, blinded and then shot, having refused to give up the names of her comrades. On August 14, 1944, her body was left lying on the road near her home for a whole day as a warning to others who sought to join the resistance.

In her honor, a formation of partisans operating at Bologna was named First Brigade Garibaldi “Irma Bandiera”. She was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor (Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare).

After The War

After April 1945, Italian women began to participate in the politics of their country in unprecedented number. Fifty percent of the women elected to the postwar Parliament had a partisan background. The gains Italian women earned through their courageous work with the resistance resulted in them acquiring a seat at the table of Italian politics that they retain today.

Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
More Information

Find videos here, here, here and here

And articles here and here

An evocative photo montage

Amazon.com for  Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance by Ada Gobetti

Italian Food Rules – No Pizza for Lunch

Mangiare la pizza prima delle nove mi fa tristeza,” asserts my friend Teresa, echoing Italians everywhere – “To eat pizza before 9pm makes me sad.”

The Italian Food Rule: No pizza for lunch.

In the U.S. pizza is eaten at any time of the day – even cold for breakfast in dorm rooms on every college campus. Italians refuse to eat food served any which way, at any time of day or night.

The reasoning behind this Food Rule is exact: Pizza is to be eaten at a pizzeria at night because: 1) pizza must be made to order (no frozen pizza); 2) pizza must be eaten immediately after it comes out of the pizza oven (no take out); 3) pizza must be made by an expert – not a generic cook – a pizzaiolo (preferably born in Naples), who 4) is using a wood-burning pizza oven.

The pizzaiolo slides a pizza into the wood-burning oven
The pizzaiolo slides a pizza into the wood-burning oven

A wood-burning pizza oven takes a long time to get to the proper temperature (485º C or 905º F), so it will not produce the perfect pizza before 8:30 or 9 in the evening and it is usually considered a waste of time and energy (as well as a violation of the Food Rule) to fire it up for lunch. Pizzerias stay open until midnight or later, so a pizzaiolo gets in a full shift of work from prep at 7pm to clean up at 1am.

Another reason for the Food Rule is that pizza, unlike pasta, is considered a social food – a food for lovers and friends, not family. Pasta is associated with home and Mom’s cooking. Traditionally, Italians were expected home for lunch for Mom’s pasta. After Mom started working outside the home, the pasta meal moved to dinner – everyone was still expected to have their feet under her table at 7pm and pasta was served more times than not.

Pizza is a for lovers and friends
Pizza is for lovers and friends

Since the perfect pizza can’t be made at home (no kitchen oven reaches 485º C and most of the private wood-burning pizza ovens built in Italy are installed on the request of foreigners who want a “true Italian experience” at their vacation villa or Tuscan farm house), it becomes a social event. Pizzerias provide an upbeat, carefree, casual environment (no worries about getting tomato sauce on Mom’s favorite tablecloth). If there is a wood-burning pizza oven, it is usually on display, as is the pizzaiolo, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Americans are frequently disappointed with the pizza they eat in Italy. Of course, this is mainly because they ignore the Italian Food Rule: No pizza for lunch. But it is also because they expect Italian pizza to be like the pizza in Chicago, heaped high with everything. Perhaps generic pizza is more of an American fast food than a traditional part of Italian cuisine. Whereas, Italians have eaten pasta since the 12th century, pizza is relatively new on the scene.

History of Italian Pizza & How it Was Introduced to the World

Some say pizza was created in Italy in the late 19th century because of the tale of the queen and the pizza. But the pizzeria that served the queen tells this story:

Queen Margherita - famous because of a pizza
Queen Margherita - famous because of a pizza

“In 1780, the pizzeria Pietro e basta così (which means “Peter and that’s enough”) started its activity in Salita S.Anna di Palazzo near P.zza del Plebiscito. Its pizza, already extremely favored by the Neapolitans, soon became famous and appreciated in the whole city.

For this reason a century later, in 1889, the pizzaiolo of that pizzeria, now called Pizzeria Brandi, Raffaele Esposito, was invited at Court along with his wife Maria Giovanna Brandi. He baked three different pizzas for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Queen’s favorite was a pizza evoking the colors of the Italian flag – green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). This combination was named Pizza Margherita in her honor.”

Just over 150 years ago, Italy was a land of city states – Florentines did not eat what Romans ate and Venetians did not eat like the Sicilians. Pizza was strictly a food of Naples. But as World War One loomed, Italians from Naples emigrated to the U.S. In 1905, the first Italian pizzeria opened in New York and the fad spread much faster in the states and the rest of the world than it did in Italy.

Only with World War II did pizza become a dish made throughout Italy, this time sought by American soldiers as they made their way from Sicily through Naples to Milan and Venice. The pizza craze was also spread in Italy by the migration of southerners looking for jobs in the north after the war and was made trendy by the popular croonings of Italian-Americans Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie … that’s amore.” (Turn up the sound on Pizzeria Da Michele’s website.)

Pizza Margherita was named for a queen
Pizza Margherita was named for a queen

Rules for Making Perfect Pizza

The uneven nature of pizza quality throughout Italy, of course, led to new Food Rules. Purists, like the famous pizzeria Da Michele in Naples consider there to be only two true pizzas – the Marinara and the Margherita and that is all they serve. The Marinara has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and usually basil. The Margherita, is simply tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil. In Florence, Enzo, the pizzaiolo at Osteria Cafe Italiano serves three – Marinara, Margherita and Napoli (with capers and anchovies).

Due to the large number of pizzerias in Naples, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) was founded in 1984 to certify the pizzerias using the proper ancient artisan traditions of authentic pizza. They have illuminated signs outside of pizzerias that follow their methods so Neapolitans know where to go for pizza verace.

A thin layer of perfect sauce is all that is needed
A thin layer of perfect sauce is all that is needed

The association set out very specific rules that must be followed to create an authentic Neapolitan pizza, including using ‘00’ flour (highly refined Italian flour), San Marzano tomatoes (grown in volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius – less acidic and slightly sweeter than other tomatoes), and Mozzarella di Bufala or Fior-di-Latte (fresh mozzarella made with milk from either water buffalo or cows).

The dough must be hand-kneaded by the  pizzaiolo and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means, the pizza must not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter or be more than a third of a centimeter thick at the center. The sauce is spooned on and spread with the back of the spoon into a thin layer. Other ingredients are not piled on, but are scattered in a haphazard way. The pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven at 900°F for no more than 60 to 90 seconds.

Eccola! The perfect Margherita pizza – the crust is thin, dry and golden at the center; the edge is thicker, breadier and slightly scorched; the sauce is bubbling, but does not pool in the center; the cheese is melted and strings out as the slice is lifted (though some claim another Food Rule – pizza is to be eaten with a knife and fork); the two or three green leaves of basil are whole and only slightly cooked; and finally, a swirl of fresh extra virgin olive oil is added as an accent before the pizzaiolo releases it to the table.

Pizza Marinara - garlic and sauce, but no cheese
Pizza Marinara - garlic and sauce, but no cheese

Other Italian Food Rules for Pizza:

One pizza per person.

Drink beer or acqua frizzante with pizza

Leftover pizza is left, not taken home.

Do not ask for grated Parmesan for pizza.

Hot chili pepper (peperoncino) in oil or as powdered flakes is an accepted condiment.

Pizza may be eaten by the slice, usually while standing, at lunch.

It is sad to eat pizza alone.

Can you think of other Italian Pizza Food Rules?

Flying pizza dough
Flying pizza dough

Short List of Great Pizzerias:

Best pizza in Naples:

Pizzeria Da Michele

Pizzeria Brandi (formerly Pietro e basta cosi)

Best pizza in Florence:

Pizzeria Osteria Café Italiano

Munaciello

Best pizza in Rome:

bir & fud

Pizzeria Da Remo

What are your favorite pizzerias in Italy?


Dove Vai? – Travel To Italian World War II Sites with Anne Saunders

One of the joys of living in Italy is not only the chance to visit places where Renaissance artists, poets, dukes and popes wandered the same hallways and alleys, but to visit locations where no less dramatic, but much more recent history took place.

To Americans under 60 years of age World War II in Europe is often a vague set of facts found in a history book – a short chapter or two. Italy, like Normandy, provides a full semester’s course on the sociological background, politics, alliances, military strategies, and both tragic and victorious outcomes, especially from 1942 to 1945 – the Italian Campaign.

American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno
American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno

TuscanTraveler.com has a special interest in the American Cemeteries, located at Anzio/Nettuno and Florence. So it is a pleasure to find that Anne Saunders, an American researcher, has compiled a guide to almost every location in Italy where one can undertake a full study of the history of World War II and the Italian Campaign.

Front Cover
Front Cover

A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy describes and provides directions to over one hundred World War II museums, monuments, cemeteries and battlefields. The tours, with complete directions, travel times, maps and other helpful hints, focus on a particular city or region, following the Allied and German armies as they battled from southern to northern Italy.

American soldiers in battle Lucca (November 1944)
American soldiers in battle outside of Lucca (November 1944)

It might be more accurate to call this book “A Short History and Travel Guide of the Italian Campaign” because in this small volume (100 pages) Anne provides concise descriptions of the years leading up to Italy’s alliance with Germany, the Allied landing in Africa and Sicily, and the subsequent important battles and strategic decisions that led to the German surrender. Sections recounting the history lead into to description of the pertinent museums, cemeteries (American, Commonwealth, German, Polish, French and others), memorials and monuments.

Gothic Line near Lucca
Gothic Line near Lucca

I learned that the Gothic Line was built by forced labor and that I want to go immediately to see the dramatic mountainside German Military Cemetery at Traversa where more than 30,000 German soldiers are buried. My only quibble with Anne’s book is that she fails to describe the beautiful flower gardens in which the Commonwealth soldiers are buried – not on the outside of the plots, but actually around each tombstone, as if they lie in an English country garden forever.

Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio
Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio

Anne, a true researcher, provides an exhaustive bibliography and even a list of films about the Italian Campaign.  She also provides hotel and transportation suggestions. Archival WWII photos illustrate the guidebook. For more information regarding the Italian campaign, read about WWII Italy and/or visit Anne’s complete and informative online page of news and links.

Anne Saunders has a BA from Wellesley College, MA from Columbia University, and PhD from the University of South Carolina. She taught for over twenty years at the College of Charleston, where she is now a research associate. A lifelong fan of Italy, she spent four summers there doing research for the guidebook. I would like to know more about how she got the inspiration to undertake the years of travel and study that resulted in this informative and very helpful guide.

Connect to Anne’s Amazon Author Page. To view the book’s table of contents and selected pages, click on its Amazon web page. Visit where to buy for a list of stores and web vendors in the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, and elsewhere.