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Gianni Giuricin: Memories from lager.

Il Dio Brot6

Protagonista: Gianni Giuricin
Autore:

We invite you to read this testimony about the imprisonment in a Nazi lager, told in the book “Il dio brot” (The god bread)  by Gianni Giuricin, author of several publications and writing on this subject, partly autobiographical partly stories of his family members strained by the dictatorships of the “Short century”. His tales strike for the clear narration and for the attitude to be as faithful as possible to the feelings and the thoughts of the time, without any posthumous revisitation with the risk to spoil the directness. And, like a punch in the stomach, hits the cruelty of a timeless existence, of young men to whom life reserved a harsh test, marking them forever….

WITNESSES FROM THE LAGERS.

Thus I became acquainted with the three-storey or layered wooden beds, typical of every mass of prisoners and inmates. Here we had the first privilege of a compulsory photograph, from the front and in profile, with the assignment of a personal, listed in the personal data form. A copy of the photograph was given to the new “stars”, with the double aluminium identification plate, provided of a chain to hang it on the neck, in case of necessity to be recognized, both dead or alive.
From that moment I became Mr 4136 and on my plate the number was 110277.
Two days later, they took us out of the barracks to gather the officers in the centre of a square, facing a tribune decorated on the sides with two fixed machine guns, microphones and megaphones, the troops on both sides. All in line, “Aligned and covered”. We were many thousands Italian, of every sort of weapons and specialties.
After having waited a couple of hours (it’s the same everywhere), while their radio equipment was being tested, some German officers went on the tribune and with a senior officer of the bersaglieri, complete with his feathered hat. His speech, really repetitive in some parts, was referring to the last Italian events underlined with blaming words for the betrayal of Badoglio and the king, but it ended with an urgent appeal to resuming fighting on the Germany side leaving that inactive condition.
Everybody sensed the dangerous situation we are going to face because of the snap, more sudden than usual ( many officers of the cavalry and artillery had spurs) whenever the King’s name was said, a normal practice in the Italian army at those times. The snap to attention had to take place when the name of the King or of the Duce were pronounced. But in our circumstance, in the Lager of Luchenwalde the word Duce passed over silence of heels. There was no concerted agreement on this practice, therefore a powerful snap thundered in the square when the speaker named the King.
This dangerous opposite display didn’t cease even when the two German soldiers assigned to the machine guns noisily moved the specific loading trolley, making a loud metal noise amplified by the radio system.
It was worth it to have quit arms and ceased to fight to witness this excellent demonstration of such a unanimous silent discipline that, regardless of the monarchist or republican ideals of the moment, it was not very suitable for the Italian’s not overly military disposition. Some bursts of machine gun fire towards the Italian aligned in the square would have not caused surprise: it would have been ordinary administration.
Nothing of this happened, even if those thousands of concordant Italian, would have tested someone’s patience. In the next few days everybody had his concerns: where we would be sent, the worries about what we needed in that situation and what we lacked, our families situation, for many of us the war was at home.
Generals weren’t anymore in a high position in the military hierarchy: in our barrack someone was busy washing the last socks he’s got. Wooden castles like ours, sack of shavings and wood chips, mattress and pillow, with some softness in the very first days and then a real wooden board.
Soldiers came often to visit me: comments on the slop, on the scarce bread, where we would be sent…..After very few days we were informed by an interpreter that the officers, except the generals, would have been transferred somewhere else. At seven o’clock in the morning of the following day they took us out of the barracks to move forward in a row, along the internal division fence.my soldiers, the non-commissioned officers, the Sergeant major Usai, the orderly Paganelli came out on the other side of that barbed wire. Fences could not be climbed.
We shook hands in the gates of the wire. Soldiers who had been in the war or had lost a parent were crying.
During the transfer journey there was a stop, in the daytime, along the platform of a Polish city station, where the German soldiers had arranged for the distribution of the turnips broth, the famous slop.
Controlled by armed sentinels, as in every stop of the convoy, we had the chance to stretch our legs after that long first part of our transfer.
The bundle of tracks next to ours was crossed on the top by a metal bridge that allowed the inhabitants to pass from side to side of the railway and there was a station in the city center.
It occurred to me to see some of my wretched mates bending over to pick up something from the ground. As soon as I got near I realized that some Polish civilians, both men and women, crossing the bridge, dropped some bread and fruit. But by now even the sentinels had noticed it and they started shouting threateningly against the Polish citizens. So that action to our benefit was crushed, but some young people, despite the risk, still dropped something and rushed in the crowd crossing the bridge.
The distribution of the slop took place at the edge of the station, at the end of a long, very leafy bush, where we were disposed, one by one, in a long row.
Before reaching the widening where the vegetable broth was distributed, a hand coming out from the bush offered a couple of cigarettes to each of us, without being seen and recognized to avoid the danger of the German soldiers’ reaction.
After the last endless stop in the open countryside, on 28th September we arrived at our destination: we were in Przemysl, west to Leopoli (Lviv).
The soldiers took us in delivery and accompanied us for some kilometres, on a road difficult to walk and we were prodded by the repeated “Schnell!!” screamed as a German soldier can scream, until the entrance of the renowned fortress, that  took its name from the city of Przemysl; it would have become our Stammlager 347 of Neribka, a place, like Pikulica, for isolating the inmates, formerly officers of the army, who have finished to fight.
The city of Przemysl, placed on the Krakow and Lviv railway, is in Polish Galicia. Few kilometres far away stands the renowned Fortress which takes the name from the city of Przemysl.
In the camp it is rumored that the Austrian commander Valentino Petchnich, was even born in Trieste and that he can speak Italian, but the real lagerfuhrer is the SS Captain Reyner, head of security in the two camps of Neribka and Pikulica, where are locked up Italian prisoners of war.
During World War I, under the Austrian sovereignty, the Fortress had been a strategic centre of entrenched camps. During 1914 and 1915 the Fortress had the task to stop the passage of the Russian army in the Carpathians.
Besides the cold, is the hunger the main torment of the prisoners and it is felt very soon.
The writer and other mates looked for and collected the scarce wild grass that grew spontaneously on the sandy soil of the wide courtyard of the Fortress to eat it without any seasoning, after having boiled it in a enamelled  basin, sometimes with a country mouse trapped through a blanket, as it was popping up from one of the holes checked by the hungry Italian prisoners.
In Przemysl begins the real inmate life, characterized by an horrible condition of an endless hunger, by the lack of everything a human being needs, wearing the same clothes day and night and by the continuous uncertainty of what could happen next.
The missing of freedom, being prisoner in a field limited by high barbed wire, watched day and night by soldiers on duty at the machine gun placed on the high watchtowers, sleeping on a layer of hard shavings, the lack of linen, the gathering once a day in the courtyard for hours and hours spent in counting the presences, exposed to the freezing wind, to the rain and later also to the snow, with just a blanket on the shoulders, the lack of news from home for a long time..all these were the normal events in the life of the inmates in the concentration camps of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
If we think about the turnaround we were accused of, as we had been the main characters of the Italian politics,we could not exclude that our detention could have been more tragic, with over 40.000 victims out of a total of 600.000 deported.
It could be ventured to argue that the rough conditions would not have been extremely brutal, except the never ending hunger, night and day, impossible to understand for those who have not tried it. The torture of every single day, apparently even longer than 24 hours, the endless nights  was connected to the mad desire to eat, with a brutal hunger always present, with the insignificant piece of bread that disappeared in an authentic moment or sometimes with a piece of potato that was as precious as gold. It was impossible not to give away the few objects with some value, a chain, a ring, a watch…that were exchanged with some bread, something to eat taken from us by the German soldiers. Even from this point of view, everywhere it’s the same.

Gianni Giuricin

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