Diary of Writing Italy’s Sorrow

Monte Sole, March 23 2003
I woke up early and decided to climb to the summit of Monte Sole before breakfast. It’s not a huge climb and I easily found a path. The summit was very wooded and I could easily see how the Partisans of the Stella Rossa and the other men of the mountains would have chosen to hide there and also why the Germans would have struggled to clear it entirely. The undergrowth is really thick off the beaten track. It was also very quiet – until something rustled nearby making me jump out of my skin. I then saw a wild boar snuffle away just twenty yards from me. At the summit the views were amazing. The cemetery below was very visible, but so was the Setta Valley beyond. There was a plinth dedicated to the Stella Rossa. On it someone had daubed ‘Vie Lupo’ with a spray can. Presumably ‘Long Live Lupo’ – the leader of the Stella Rossa, who had been killed in the massacre.

After breakfast Roddy and I decided to try and find Gianni Rossi. Gianni was the 2nd in command of the Stella Rossa – Lupo’s No. 2. Cornelia had told us that she was sure he was still alive and had told us to ask for him in the bar at Gardelletta, where both she and Gianni had lived as children. She was fairly sure he still did. Off we set and sure enough found the bar. We had a coffee but they told us Gianni was no longer living in the village. ‘He lives in Vado,’ the old lady told us. ‘Ask at the bar there.’ So we drove to Vado, further along the Setta Valley and the scene of a number of attacks by the Stella Rossa back in 1944. Vado was a small town and had several bars. I also noticed ‘Via M. Musolesi’ (Lupo’s real name) and even ‘Via G. Rossi.’ We called in at one bar. Yes, they knew of him, but he didn’t live in Vado any more. ‘There’s a bar about a kilometre out of town. Go there. They’ll know where he is.’ On we went again and this time struck gold. ‘You’ve just missed him,’ the barman told us, but then, with a small amount of persuasion, told us his address, which was a flat only a few yards down the road. I felt quite nervous as we knocked on his door. A small, old man with a square face and not much hair answered the door. He looked a bit caught off guard but did agree to talk to us. ‘Come back this afternoon,’ he told us. Elated, we went back to the bar next door. ‘What’s his favourite drink?’ Roddy asked the barman. ‘If you want to get him something, buy him cigarettes,’ came the reply.

Armed with 200 Italian cigarettes, we knocked on Gianni’s door once more at 2 o’clock. The cigarettes went down a treat and we were ushered into his living room. His stories were amazing. One was about grappling with a traitor in a mountain cave. The man was on top of him, a dagger getting closer and closer to Gianni’s head until it pierced his forehead. At that moment, Lupo managed to pull the man off and between them, they disarmed him. ‘What did you do to him after that?’ I asked. ‘Took him outside,’ Gianni said, then he pretended to fire a shot with his hand. At one point I asked him how he had felt about opening fire on his fellow countrymen. He shrugged and said, ‘They had their dance and we had ours.’

Roddy was pretty exhausted after that, but we still had an appointment to go and see Francesco Pirini in Gardelletta. Francesco had witnessed nine members of his family being shot, but rather like Cornelia, was incredibly magnanimous about it. He told us about a film crew who had wanted to come and interview him. They had found a German officer who had taken part in the massacres on Monte Sole and had asked Francesco whether he would meet this man – called Meyer. ‘I said of course,’ Francesco told us. He even said he would happily shake his hand. We were both absolutely gobsmacked.

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