Italy’s Resistance Fighters

Richard Maddox

WEARING HIS fazzoletto rosso – the red neckerchief often associated with the Brigate Garibaldi (Garibaldi Brigade) resistance units – and an arm band in the Italian national colours, the anti-Fascist partisan is seen in an image captured by British Army Captain Alfred Reuben Tanner, an official photographer.

The Brigate Garibaldi units were mainly composed of individuals with Communist and left-wing ideals or sympathies, many of whom had fought in the Spanish Civil War against Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces which were supported by the German-equipped and manned Legion Condor.

An Italian anti-Fascist partisan in Florence on 14 August 1944 pausing during operations to clear snipers that were covering the evacuation of German forces from the city, which had begun three days before. Image by Captain A R Tanner. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference TR 2282. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124003.

An Italian anti-Fascist partisan in Florence on 14 August 1944 pausing during operations to clear snipers that were covering the evacuation of German forces from the city, which had begun three days before. Image by Captain A R Tanner. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference TR 2282. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124003.

As in other countries in Occupied Europe – and indeed in Germany itself – there were many resistance groups spanning the political spectrum from communists to monarchists, from factory workers to priests.

And again as in some counties (such as France where Résistance groups were hunted by conventional German forces and the Milice, who were French nationals), the local anti-fascist partisans were mirrored by Italians who supported the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Following the deposition of Mussolini in July 1943, the Allied invasion of Italy the subsequent establishment of the Social Republic by the German military occupation of northern and central Italy, King Victor Emmanuel III signed the Cassabile Armistice in September 1943.

This ended the military alliance with Germany and Italy’s part in the war against the Allies and Italy entered a bitter civil war as well as joining the Allied cause against Hitler’s Germany.

The newly formed Co-Belligerent forces worked with the Allies and anti-Fascist partisan groups against their countrymen in what was now called the National Republican Army of the Italian Socialist Republic, in much the same way as French Vichy forces and the Germans were opposed by Free French units wiorking alongside Allied military.

In both countries two wars were being fought, one against the German occupier and another – often more brutal – against fellow countrymen.

But unlike France where the enmities of eighty years ago – although still present – are covered with layers of time, those in Italy are nearer the surface.

The image of the partisan is still very powerful in the Italy of today.

A contemporary image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019. image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

A contemporary image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

In the city of Bologna – a place awarded the country’s Medaglia d’Oro per Valore Militare for its part in the Second World War – some 2052 individual partigiani are commemorated on a single memorial in the centre of the city.

The spot – called the Sacrario and located outside the Sala Borsa in the Piazza del Nettuno – is where starting on 9 July 1944, the bodies of resistants were exhibited as a warning to the general population.

After the city was liberated it became a place of rememberance as people placed flowers and photographs of those they had lost during Bologna’s war.

Images of some of those commemorated on the Sacario in Bologna glimpsed through the protective barriers erected to enable the memorial to be repaired. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

On 25 April this year, on the eve of the national Liberation Day, this and other memorials in Italy – often erected in the immediate post-war years – were vandalised with those on the political left and right blaming each other for these acts. (1)

Very close by in the Piazza del Nettuno is a memorial to the Bologna Centrale railway station terrorist attack which killed more than 80 and wounded almost 200 people when a bomb placed in a suitcase exploded at 10.25 on 2 August 1980.

The bombing was been attributed to the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari a fascist group. (2)

A number of its members were jailed for the attack although the NAR denied responsibitity.

In August 2019 it was proposed that a new enquiry be tasked with clarifying which group or groups had carried out the attack. (3)

Sources

(1) https://www.thelocal.it/20190426/memorials-to-italian-resistance-vandalized-on-liberation-day

(2) https://www.efe.com/efe/english/life/hundreds-mark-anniversary-of-train-station-bombing-in-italy-s-bologna/50000263-3709296

(3) https://www.thelocal.it/20190802/bologna-massacre-38-years-on-questions-remain

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