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WW2 Page 3 Italy

Milan in Focus


A German propaganda leaflet written in Milanese dialect - the language preferred by the indigenous inhabitants of the city - it warned of the bombings. Alessandro Carrera was not called up as he worked for the Electricity Board which was considered vital to keep supplies running.
Tragically Irma, Mimmo and his sisters' mother was killed during one of the air raids. Her children were staying with their grandmother on Lake Orta and their father was at work. he came home on his bicycle to find the apartment block in ruins ......


mother Identity card photo 4.10.1941
annamim Anna and Mimmo
Group3 The last family photograph with mother
in Milan 1942

Durante la seconda guerra mondiale molti hanno veramente sofferto la fame. La carne la si mangiava una volta alla settimana e alle volte per poterla assaggiare la si chiedeva ai parenti in campagna, che ti davano una piccola gallina da ingrassare per Natale o Pasqua. Chi aveva la fortuna di avere la farina faceva la polenta che accompagnava qualsiasi cibo. Il caffè era un surrogato, un insieme di semi che producevano una brodaglia, oppure si preparava con le bucce delle arance fatte abbrustolire sulla stufa e poi macinate. Lo zucchero non mancava, ma quello che veniva distribuito era quasi nero, con questo si produceva una specie di dolce unendolo con il grano o il grano turco. La minestra era molto brodosa e preparata con le verdure che si potevano trovare nei prati selvatici o coltivati. I genitori in bicicletta andavano a prendere quello che trovavano dai contadini.

During the War in Italy rationing was not imposed as in the UK but the population really sufferd from hunger. Meat was eaten once a week if the family were lucky and that included anything they could lay their hands on, rabbits, horses and sometimes even roast wild cat! Usually a very large bowl full of pasta was put in the middle of the table with any sauce that could be rustled together. Every one tucked in - father eating the largest share with the children second. Mother left with perhaps licking out the bowl in the kitchen. If you had some flour, polenta was made which accompanied the meal as a filler. If you were lucky enough to own a bicycle you cycled out into the country to see if you could get some vegetables from the peasants and if you were even luckier to have relatives living in the country they could often fatten up a chicken for you for Christmas. Coffee was made from grated dried orange skins roasted on the fire and although sugar was available it was coarse and black. There were long queues for bread and other produce. Soup was made from dandelion leaves and any wild herbs gathered from the roadside.

Remembering the Alpini

Remembering the Alpini

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini
In the early 60's I worked in Milan for the nephew of Pier Paolo Pasolini and his wfe the niece of Luchino Visconti di Modrone. It was a wonderful experience and although the children's nanny I was treated as a member of the family. Grand supper parties were held most weeks in the house for up to 20 people from the media, political and arts worlds. The conversations around the table were fascinating and always in English as different nationalities were present. It gave me an insight to a whole new world! The three children were unique in Milan as all had bright carrot red curly hair, a genetic trait in the Pasolini family. The Countess came from the Italian nobility so the household was always known as the Viscontis rather than the Pasolinis. Most weekends were spent at extremely large country houses ( One I remember had 72 bedrooms) with the adults partcipitaing in hunting/fishing and other country pursuits.
I used to stay at home with the children and had long conversations with the Housekeeper and her husband. They told me about the War. How they were instructed to remove every single painting and all the family silver and porcelain and hide them in the cellars and pretend the house was uninhabited. The Germans came and pillaged and looted all the grand houses. This particular house had a 'secret cellar' with a kitchen, toilet and various rooms. The trap door was under a carpet beneath the large wooden table in the kitchen. The couple used to hide down there for weeks on end when the Germans took over the house and never saw daylight. They could hear them in the rooms above stomping around in their big boots, laughing eating and drinking. They lived in fear of being found out......
Luchino often came to visit us at these houses and we stayed for a whole month at his palace in Rome. There I met an elderly English widow who told me she had lived in Italy for 60 years. She gave me some advice 'My dear - never be a widow in a foreign land'......
When I met Mimmo he had been working for Carlo Erba as a chemist before his Military Service and when we married moved to Pierrel - both Visconti di Madrone Companies.


Born in Bologna in 1922, the year that Fascism came to power, Pasolini spent his early years in various small towns of Northern Italy as the family followed the father, an infantry officer with fascist leanings, in his military postings. Pasolini's sympathies, however, would always remain with his mother, a schoolteacher who cultivated a love of poetry and who transmitted this devotion to her son. In the mid-1930s the family returned to Bologna where Pasolini finished his schooling and enrolled in the University. During this time he also spent long periods in his mother's native Northern region of Casarsa, falling in love with its peasant culture and beginning to write poetry in its distinctive dialect. At Bologna University he majored in literature but also studied art history with the renowned art-historian Roberto Longhi, an experience that would later profoundly influence the visual style of his earlier films. At the end of the war, which had claimed the life of his younger brother, Pasolini and his mother settled at Casarsa where he worked as a schoolteacher while also being active in cultural-literary circles and becoming secretary of the local branch of the PCI (the Italian Communist Party). In 1949, however, he was accused of homosexual activity with students and immediately suspended from his teaching and expelled from the Party. Profoundly disillusioned, he moved to Rome with his mother and settled in one of the borgate or shanty-towns at the margins of the city. Here, while eking out a living from a variety of odd jobs, he became fascinated with the sub-proletarian and petty-criminal life going on around him, and began to write about it. However, Ragazzi di vita, his first full-length novel dealing with the world of the borgate, published in 1955, saw him officially charged with offences to public decency. He was eventually exonerated, in part due to the strong support of many of the leading intellectuals and writers, but this would be only the first of many times that Pasolini and his “scandalous” work would be subjected to official censure and harassment. In fact, from this point until his brutal murder in 1975, Pasolini would continue to play the role of Italy's most notorious intellectual provocateur (intellettuale scomodo), with his books, films and ideas consistently generating controversy and with Pasolini himself often ending up in court. On the positive side, however, his graphic depiction of the Roman underworld brought an increasing number of offers of scriptwriting from established Italian directors like Mauro Bolognini and Federico Fellini so that Pasolini's move to cinema became almost a foregone conclusion.
During World War II Pasolini's brother was executed by Communist partisans, who supported Tito. Pasolini joined the Communist Party as a young man - in his works he often explored ideological problems, but his relationship with Communism was questioning - like later the attitude towards him by his party members. However, Pasolini regarded himself as a Communist to the end of his life. His father, who had been captured as a prisoner of war in Kenya in 1942, eventually drank himself to death in 1958. From 1943 to 1949 Pasolini worked as a teacher in almost total obscurity. His first great love was a young country boy, whom the taught to write poems. After a scandal, he was forced to abandon his work.

Janice with her three red headed charges

Janice with her three red headed charges
I was twenty, not even - eighteen,
nineteen... and I had been alive for a century,
a whole lifetime
consumed by the pain of the fact
that I would never be able to give my love
if not to my hand, or to the grass of ditches
or maybe to the earth of an unguarded tomb...
Twenty and, with its human history and its cycle
of poetry, a life had ended.
(from 'A Desperate Vitality', trans. by Pasquale Verdecchio)

Red Head by Pasolini

Count Don Luchino Visconti di Modrone was born in Milan in 1906, into one of the most important aristocratic families in Italy. His father, the Duke of Modrone, was a man of many extravagant houses, a lover of the queen of Italy; Visconti's mother was a member of a hugely wealthy family in the pharmacy and cosmetics business. By the early years of the second world war, with both parents dead and an older brother killed at El Alamein, Visconti was probably the wealthiest man ever who elected to become a film and stage director. It is not the nicest face one ever saw on a film director: as cruel as a hawk, as supercilious as an aristocrat who does not expect to be understood, it glared out through the cigarette smoke of an 120-a-day habit.
At the close of war, Visconti was one of several directors on a documentary about the fall of Italy, Giorni di Gloria . Three years later, he made La Terra Trema and secured an international reputation. Originally, the plan was to do a three-part film, on fishermen, farmers and miners, but the fishing picture ran two hours and 40 minutes, and was finished only when Visconti paid for it himself. It was on location in Sicily on that film that he began a love affair with the assistant director, Franco Zeffirelli, who also noted how much of a dictator Visconti was, and how he hired real fishermen but then asked them to do very melodramatic things
Luchino Visconti di Madrone was a lifelong Communist. He was a champion horse trainer and breeder, whose mount Sanzio won the prestigious Milan Gold Cup in 1932. He was a homosexual when that kind of lifestyle had to be absolutely hidden, and had affairs not only with Franco Zefferelli but also the star of his "Ludwig," Helmut Berger.
But above all, he was a filmmaker, a man who contributed one of the three key Neorealist films, "La Terra Trema," then went on to examine the passing of the aristocracy in "Senso," "Rocco and his Brothers" and "The Leopard." A late trilogy, "The Damned," "Death in Venice" and "Ludwig," detailed his fascination with the German infiltration of Italy during World War II, something he despised.
His father was a notorious bisexual and philanderer, but his mother pushed Visconti to become whatever he wanted to be -- but to do it well.
About family, he knew a lot. He was the fourth of seven children, and his parents encouraged the individual personalities of each child. When they divorced in the early 1920s (a rare event then), it was a traumatic split in which young Luchino chose to live with his mother, on whom he had a fixation that would extend to his films.
Visconti, who kept a box at the famous Milan opera house La Scala, was a revolutionary theatrical and opera director as well, making Maria Callas into a major star.

Interior of the Milan house

Interior of the Milan house
The Hunting Lodge


An account from an English woman who had been in hiding in caves on the outskirts of Rome

"We began to get nervously excited . We listened to the English and American radio and we heard how quickly the Allies were advancing towards Rome. Cannons were firing near us all the time - it was heavenly. I never knew it was possible to love the sound of cannons, but for us it was music. I have never longed to see the Union Jack so much in my life - to see an English face - but more than all to feel safe again. We were so used to being chased about everywhere like criminals that we had forgotten what it was like to hold our heads up and look somebody in the face again. The whole of Rome had come out into the street. We were alive and we had won!"

End of War tourist poster

End of War tourist poster