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Friday, December 9, 2016

It Only Takes One Generation to Forget

He was stripped naked, forced to kneel in the snow as a dull sword was given to a 16-year-old villager, a sort of baptism into soldierhood, though there were plenty of guns available for the job. It took the boy several blows of the sword to accomplish the task. The victim: an Italian soldier taken prisoner in the mountains of Greece during World War II, a young man who now lives in my psyche and haunts my dreams.

This true account was taken from the diary of New Zealander, Tom Barnes, whose daughter-in-law turned those pages into a book called The Sabotage Diaries. He and his men, part of a team that was parachuted into Greece, witnessed the account but were not able to stop it. For several reasons, this book is more than just an interesting read. The narrative of that one unfortunate Italian captive, is but a few lines in the tale and yet, I cannot let it go. I see those family members of mine who were players on that field. My father-in-law, Tomas was a young andarte (partisan-guerilla) among those the British allies came to help. My mother-in-law, Chevi, was a young woman who suffered the consequences of the war and was one who carried the munitions for the soldiers as Barnes was aghast to learn--women in Greece were the pack mules.

But it's the words of my father, Carl Fagioli, that ring in my ears. An Italian-American, born of immigrant parents, he suffered throughout his life from bouts of anxiety that in later life he attributed to his time in World War II. His mother, a widow and he an only son could have deferred the deployment but they didn't know. She was a barely-literate immigrant trying to make a living in the Bronx. When dad was sent to the front, he was grateful it was in Asia, for now the relatives back in the old country were deemed enemies and he wasn't sure how he'd be able to survive if he had to fight against them. Was that young prisoner in the Greek mountains a relative? A friend of one whom dad would visit in Italy forty years later? Would the family members of that young soldier have ascendants who'd come as tourists after a few generations to swim on the Greek shores? It only takes one generation to forget the atrocities of the past. . . That's why it's so easy to repeat them.

My father-in-law, Tomas had told a few war stories in his time and of course these colored my reading of Barnes' book. Another quick mention of a seemingly insignificant character in The Sabotage Diaries was a young twenty-year-old woman who the Greek guerrillas deemed a poutana (whore) for collaborating with the Italians. The Greek rebels that the allies came to help were actually split into two factions, leftists and right-wingers. It would be the only time they'd work together and even before the world war had ended, they would battle for control of Greece until the people were left in destitute tatters with broken hearts, broken homes and widespread starvation.

But the memory of one particular story from Tomas, had me reading about that so-called-whore with a heavy heart. There were groups of fighters vying for favor with General Zervas, the perceived leader of the Greek guerrillas. And bringing her to the general appeared to be a move to please him. Was that poor woman a traitor or a pawn? Someone who had jilted the amorous advances of one of the local boys-turned-guerrilla? A starving villager who'd succumbed to an Italian soldier's charity? An unlucky woman drawing water from a village well when the guerrillas passed by? Eventually she was taken away and shot.

This is my father-in-law's story:

Cousin Theodore was an andarte fighting against the Germans with the leftists. Tomas joined him with the thought that it would be better at least to have family within the ranks of whichever group he followed.
They were sent on a very dangerous mission in which they would be stealing horses from a German encampment. Horses were the favored mode of transportation on the difficult-to-travel mountainside. So Tomas with Cousin Theodore and a few other men, snuck into the German camp in the wee hours of the morning under cover of darkness. They successfully pilfered several horses, though the cries of the animals alerted the Germans who then lobbed hand grenades at the rebels. Tomas suffered shrapnel wounds in the back of his thigh, the pieces of metal becoming a permanent fixture in his leg. The men, triumphant in their success, brought the horses to their leader, General Zervas. As it turned out, the general had acquired a girlfriend from one of the local villages and the primary goal for their risky horse-stealing-mission had been so that Zervas could give his girlfriend a horse as a gift. For that, the band of men had risked their lives.


Hungry Children photo by Costas Balafas



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4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing. Harrowing.

    Jim

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    Replies
    1. This may be of interest, too: http://www.corfuhistory.eu/?p=13605

      Jim

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    2. Jim, This looks interesting but is there an English version? My Greek reading is very elementary.

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