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We Will Win... Pah!!!

Author: 
Perla CACCIAGUERRA
Text collected by Patrizia Gabrielli
Critical edition and notes Patrizia Gabrielli
Translation Ruth Emily Macpherson
Proofreading James Francis

Perla Cacciaguerra was born in Florence in 1926 and graduated from high school. The typed diary arrived at the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale of Pieve Santo Stefano on the 13th November 1997; the text was published in 2000 (P. Cacciaguerra, VINCEREMO... MAH!!! Diario di guerra 4 Ottobre 1943 – 4 Maggio 1945, Firenze, Ibiskos Editrice, 2000).

Thursday 15th June 1944

What a day we have had! I will remember it forever. I have waited until today to write about the most recent events because I was feeling too dejected and tired to concentrate.

I can’t tell you how we spend our days in a state of anxiety and indescribable torment and at night we jump out of bed at every gunshot that we hear, saying solemnly to ourselves “This is it”. Now we are at the end of everything: either we will die or we will finally be in peace! May God save us! Let me live! I am so young and I don’t want to die! Lots of people have left. Giovanni, our assistant farm manager, left us after five years of service, and, before leaving, cried like a baby for the pain of leaving the place where he had the most happy memories of his youth. Even the Germans in charge of propaganda have abandoned us with regret and nostalgia. They have been replaced by arrogant, nasty Germans who haven’t bothered us too much apart from a few frights.

Now even they are going and our old friend the Baron, the one who is still in good health, has come to live with us. He will try and lift us out of the predicament caused by the drunken soldiers. No-one has decided yet whether to stay or to go to Florence but for me, the idea of going to the city at a time like this terrifies me and I believe that I would die of shock if I had to go out onto the road at night with all the machine-gun fire and everything else going on in the street.

But what will be will be! In the last few days I have been too shaken up and low in morale and now I just want to be left in peace and not think about anything any more.

The others think for me. What can you expect, after being on edge for so long, all of a sudden you collapse completely; then you become apathetic and indifferent to everything. I am not even bothered about the aeroplanes any more and only spend my days wandering around the empty, desolate rooms of the house like a soul in pain, thinking and doing nothing. And the others also do the same. If life has to go on like this, I believe I will not have the strength to put up with it for long. We hope that these bad times will end and that the good times will finally return.

And here is the news.

In Italy the Allies have taken Aquila, Narni, Terni, Orvieto, Orbetello and lots of other nearby towns and villages1 The towns of Aquila, Narni and Terni were liberated on the 13th June 1944, Orvieto on the 14th and Orbetello on the 15th.; they have passed Lake Bolsena and are near Monte Amiata, which can be seen from where we are.

By now we can safely say that we will soon be in the heart of the action and it will not be fun. According to Radio London, the German resistance has weakened; the English think that the Germans intend to make a defensive line2 Here the author is referring to the Arno line [TN]. running across the peninsula from Livorno to Rimini and that Florence will without doubt be included in this line. I have no doubt that Florence will have a horrible time of it, given that the Allies have been brave enough to enter Rome, open city, with all their troops, whereas the Germans had respected it’s status; now they will not be so foolish and won't be tricked in Florence and they won’t abandon it so easily; at least that is my opinion.

Here we can already see the signs of war coming closer and I don't know what to do; I feel like death is constantly by my side and I am completely terrified.

Soldiers have already arrived several times asking for something to eat and drink and some wanted to commandeer our house in order to turn it into a command centre.

So far, thanks to Daddy and our friends from Amelia3 A small Umbrian town in the province of Terni., nobody has managed to take possession of the house and we are living peacefully on this side but I don't think it will last for long.

This evening two soldiers arrived and requested two of our rooms. They are nice and don't disturb us and what's good is that they stick to themselves... One of them, called Gherardo Otto, is an excellent pianist and he let us listen to some of his compositions which are really lovely. He was a pupil of the great N. and so we can deduce that he is not just any old amateur pianist4 In Italian: "pestanote".. We spent a pleasant hour with him. He is passionate about music and when he plays, we barely recognize him, as he is so enthusiastic about what he is doing.

He is not handsome, in fact he is ugly and short, he must be about forty, and has eyes worthy of a character from a Russian novel: deep, earnest and surrounded with bushy eyebrows. One could say that his eyes are almost magnetic and emanate a profound sadness. It must be extremely difficult for someone like him to be reduced to being a simple soldier and it shows.

Tuesday 27th June 1944

How strange life is! It was only about ten days ago that I stopped writing my usual news, and however, in this brief time lapse my life has been full of events, more than ever before during this long year spent in the countryside, in a state of fear and anxiety for the future.

I’m not sure, I can no longer remember how it started, but the fact is that one day I woke up and found an invasion of Germans in my house. There were as many as ten young men, of which some were paratroopers, others radio-operators, and two who arrived mysteriously, stayed two days without drawing attention to themselves (our house is big, it has more than 40 rooms) and left just as mysteriously. But this wasn’t the most interesting thing that happened. In short, to sum it up quickly, we made friends with three paratroopers called Heinz, Josef e Hartmut: 24, 20 and 23 years old. Full of life, nice, cheerful. We played “Omo nero”5 ‘Black Man’ is a card game., did forfeits (some fun and some not so pleasant), sang and conversed. In a few days, my German had notably improved. But certainly, as everybody knows, everything has to come to an end, and one fine day, while we were happily playing in the living room, a well-dressed and pompous-looking police official arrived at the door. After greeting us sternly he went upstairs to speak to Daddy in his rooms. The faces of the three comrades clouded over and with a feeble excuse they slipped away into the dining room, their usual residence.

We didn’t pay much attention to what had happened but a little later, while I was passing through the barely lit corridor, the three soldiers appeared in front of me all prepared and ready to leave. Naturally I asked: “Where are you going? Why are you leaving?” Heinz whispered under his breath: “We have to leave but we will come back, we will definitely come back”. After which they went silently down the great staircase and, climbing over the wall around the garden, they set off across the fields under a light and irritating rain. After lunch Daddy called us to his rooms to listen again to the piano teacher playing some classical pieces and up there we found the pompous police officer who was showing off, and puffing out his chest covered in baubles6 Ironic term that, by ‘baubles’ (“bubbole” in Italian), means “foolishness, little things of no importance”: the medals, flashes, badges and other symbols of his hierarchal Nazi power. like a cock turkey trying to attract a hen. My God how loathsome men like him are!

While I was listening to the music my thoughts kept returning to our three friends and I couldn’t imagine why they had run away and where in hell they were hidden. When all is said and done I was sorry that they had gone away so soon because they were nice and friendly.

But not everything finishes so simply.

Indeed just after I had got into bed I heard the sound of footsteps and someone quietly opening the downstairs door that is situated more or less underneath my bedroom; then some voices whispered incomprehensible words and soon after my cousin came up to announce that the three paratroopers had come back because the police officer had gone away.

The following day we resumed the pleasant conversations with the three comrades who briefly explained to us that they were not allowed to stay here; they explained to us that they had abandoned their battalion, and were only hoping to rest here for a short time. We tried to distract and amuse them as best we could and I think we have succeeded.

In the evening they sang and played some songs that were full of character and very melancholy.

They are truly very nice young men and one can see clearly that they are fed up with the war and wish only to go back to their own homes. They gave me some medals as a gift and Josef, who is Viennese, gave me his walking stick wishing me every good fortune.

Heinz, a big, handsome blonde youth, gave me a little medal and told me to remember him forever and to pray for him. He kissed me on the forehead and my heart beat faster.

All three of them have shown themselves to be kind and they have thanked us so much, for what we have done for them, but I'm not going to dwell on the subject for personal reasons.

At a certain point they left as they had come promising to come back again. In the interval of their absence Don Moretti caused me innumerable problems and also slandered my name and lied about me; he showed his true colours. A contemptible being and a terrible priest with gross and vulgar instincts. Mummy had a serious discussion with him and is now also having nothing to do with him. Thus we are finally in peace and we will no longer have this ever-meddlesome black cassock around us.

On the same evening as the departure of the three paratroopers we went to bed quite early not having anything better to do and around one o’clock in the morning we were awoken, by guess who? By none other than our three friends or rather by two who informed us briefly that they wanted to take Doctor Fabbri’s car, confiscated by the police, and go to go to the command centre in Arezzo to warn them that the Military Police were abusing their power and to put an end to all these shady goings-on. Just imagine the confusion that reigned in our house that night. Grandmother was crying and tearing her hair out, wailing that Daddy was ruined and was now as good as dead. Mummy was yelling at my cousin and I, blaming us for being too friendly with the three soldiers and she lashed out at my brother saying that it was all his fault that this was happening. In short, to put it simply, we didn’t get a wink of sleep the whole night, making up endless plans to sort out the whole business and to do it in such a way that we wouldn’t be blamed for the theft of the car.

In fact in the morning the three of them turned up again to give back the car and Grandmother and Daddy gave them quite a telling-off. Nevertheless Grandmother gave them something to eat and I had the opportunity to speak to Heinz, who was dying of fatigue given that he hadn’t been to sleep at all the night before. The Viennese one was missing and later on I found out that he was staying with one of the nearby farmers to rest.

I was sad to say goodbye to them, they promised me that they would come back as soon as possible. However that didn’t give me much confidence since soldiers always promise to come back when they leave and then you never see them again. Meanwhile, the military police have been here several times on one pretext or another, and they never leave us in peace.

I will always remember these days because so many things happened that I am not able to speak about but will remain permanently in my heart.

In the meantime, in our neighbourhood the Germans have been responsible for all sorts of abuse and plundering; they keep returning to the farmers’ houses and taking what they can find, whether it’s a ham, or cows, or geese or whatever else.

  • 1. The towns of Aquila, Narni and Terni were liberated on the 13th June 1944, Orvieto on the 14th and Orbetello on the 15th.
  • 2. Here the author is referring to the Arno line [TN].
  • 3. A small Umbrian town in the province of Terni.
  • 4. In Italian: "pestanote".
  • 5. ‘Black Man’ is a card game.
  • 6. Ironic term that, by ‘baubles’ (“bubbole” in Italian), means “foolishness, little things of no importance”: the medals, flashes, badges and other symbols of his hierarchal Nazi power.
Archive Number:
  • Numéro: XX004
  • Lieu: Archivio Diaristico Nazionale di Pieve Santo Stefano, Arezzo, Toscane
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