The core problems
The production of the documentary “What We Went Through. Memories of Monte Sole” was in the first place aimed at providing a concrete education tool that expresses the complexity and the multiplicity of the memories through the words of the protagonists of the events on Monte Sole. It is also the main result of a historical research undertaken in 2005 and still going on.
Our research follows the historical debate that has been going on for more than 10 years, about the relation between Resistance and civil population, about the dynamics of the Nazi-Fascist crimes in Italy, about the elaboration of the different, and more often, conflicting, memories connected to the massacre. This debate profoundly reflects the roots of the Italian post-war national identity and the “founding memory of the Republic of Italy”.
We think that it is necessary to open an extensive discussion on these topics, also relating to the Massacre of Monte Sole, the memory of which has influenced the politics of remembrance in Italy after World War II.
Public memory and individual memories
We think it’s important to profoundly inquire the relationship between the construction of an official memory carried out through celebrations, monumentalization, and the public discourse on the one hand, and the multiple individuals or collective memories of the survivors and the victims’ families on the other hand.
These survivors are the carriers of memory, among them extremely diverse ones, who are elaborated and re-elaborated also in relation to particular historical events or incidents of their personal history. As it also emerges from the interviews shown in the video, often the memories conflict with each other, up to the point that they present the same fact in a completely different way. So at the end of our study, the research was not so much a credible historical reconstruction of the events, attributing the truth to one or the other presentation, but more bringing to light the different interpretations of the various protagonists and their distortions in their own memory.
As Portelli says: “There is not only one “official” or “ideological” memory on the one hand, and an authentic and pure memory on the other hand (once the first is deconstructed, we can deal with the truth of the second one), but a multiplicity of memories mediated on an ideological, cultural and narrative level.”
The analysis of this multiplicity of memories, of the relations that existed between them, and of the tense (and sometimes ideological) dialogue that developed between them in the course of the years: the study of all these elements can prepare us for a complete and composite view on the history of World War II and the following 60 years on a local and national level.
The relation between Partisan groups and civil population
In the center of the debate on diverse memories is the topic of the relation between Partisan groups and civil population. In the case of Monte Sole, the post-war re/construction of this relation was characterized by a strong idealization that has seen the total identification of the population of Monte Sole and the members of the Partisans, where the entire community would have, ethically-politically conscious, adopted the values of the partisans, and enthusiastically supported the Stella Rossa Brigade on all levels (physically, logistically, ideologically). Concerning the commemoration of the Resistenza, and in particular the relation between partisan groups and civil population, Paggi writes: “The actions of an active minority are extended to the whole society with the intention of working on what is defined as the “nationalization” of the victims of Nazi-fascism. This is a strategy of re-legitimating of the nation-state through the construction of tradition and an ethical-political legend, that idealizes the facts of a more prosaic reality.” The construction of this “resistance myth” needed a new founding of the collective identity that wanted to find its roots in a great democratic and antifascist battle, shared and supported by the whole Italian people, also to forget the mass support for Fascism and the collective responsibility for the Racial laws and the war crimes. The idyllic image of Resistenza as a war of the entire people has represented also a great ceremonial of self-absolution of the Italians. We believe that today, it is essential to deconstruct the “antifascist paradigm” to restore a much more complex historical truth, made by diverse attitudes and where the relationship between population and partisans is continuously renegotiated and is not generalized anymore. This is what Pezzino and Battini define as the discrepancy between the “fighting” Resistenza and the Resistenza as a “political myth”. Often, as it also emerges in the interviews in the documentary, the survivors of Monte Sole don’t recognize themselves in the “Resistenza paradigm”, but they see themselves as innocent victims of a history in which they were not primary actors. In the reconstruction of the events and in the compilation of the testimonies, the massacre is not put in a broader context that could partly explain the mechanisms of violence to themselves: the Germans are perceived much like a natural calamity, almost without human responsibility, while sometimes the simple presence of the partisans is seen as cause for the massacre itself. Thus, the partisans become a scapegoat for the tragedy, just because they possessed the characteristics that predetermined the individuals to take sides: They are minorities, they are inside and outside of the community, they commit acts of war, though they are not officially legitimate.
The necessity to make someone very close to you responsible for what happened can be explained through the need to make sense of a horrible situation and to find logical concatenations that are able to explain the fact itself. (for example warfare of the partisans and “natural” reprisals of the German army.
On the other hand, the partisans are accused of some survivors of not having adequately defended the population after putting them to risk with their actions. Despite their knowledge of the huge gap in the forces of the Stella Rossa and the Nazi army, the complaint of not having done everything possible to protect the civilians, i.e., not having sacrificed themselves for them, remains among the few survivors (who, in the massacre of Monte Sole, are mostly partisans and adult men who hid themselves in the bushes).
The official commemoration and the construction of the Monument of Marzabotto
In the reconstruction of the responsibility for the massacre revised in the years, on the part of the victims’ families, has played an important role in the question of the official public memory.
The official commemorations have always turned into a heroic celebration of the fighters of the Stella Rossa. The historiography and the publications that were written about the massacre immediately after the war have focused on the great role of the partisan brigades and on its heroic resistance against the German attacks. It tells the motivation for the awarding of the Gold Medal for the military courage in 1946: “[…] Marzabotto prefers iron, fire and destruction over ceding to an oppressor. For 14 months they endured the arrogance of the Teutonic hordes, who couldn’t defeat the dignity of their sons that were lying on the hills of Monte Venere and Monte Sole, kept there by the love and instigation of the elders, women and children. The ruthless massacres on the unarmed young people, prosperous brides, weak parents, couldn’t defeat them, and the 1830 dead rest in the mountains while in the valley it will forever be a reminder for future generations of how much love for the fatherland can do”.
To understand the birth and the development of an anti-partisan memory, different factors must be put in context: The sometimes problematic relation between partisans and civil population, the trauma provoked by the massacre that brings even only potential tensions to explode, and the question of memory and official celebrations, that during the years raised the resentment of the victims’ families.
What shines through the accounts of some survivors is the feeling that their suffering is being instrumentalized: While they present themselves as “innocent” victims, outside of any historic-political dynamism, the public discourse nationalizes their suffering and makes them “martyrs of liberty” (cf. Gold Medal for Marzabotto mentioned above). Some families in different ways try to avoid this nationalization and develop an anti-partisan memory. In our interpretation, this memory seems to be a reaction to the construction of the myth of the heroic partisan: the subject of this resentment was not so much the battle of the partisans and how it was seen by the local community during the war, but the “Partisan Hero” and the “Antifascist Resistenza” as they were successfully mythologized.
The same kind of tension between the institutional politics of remembrance and the individual memory can be found in the case of the construction of the Monument of Marzabotto, completed in 1960. The massacre happened at 115 locations, scattered throughout a large, mountainous area, part of the municipalities of Marzabotto, Monzuno e Grizzana. The story of the burial of the victims took a strange course: shortly after the massacre, they were quickly buried in mass graves. In a second attempt, they were set to rest in various small cemeteries of the area, before they were finally all buried together in the Monument at the end of the 1950s. The Monument of Marzabotto, like other military monuments of World War II, is part of the Ministry of Defense and is run by the General Commissariat for the Honor of the Victims of War. Our research on how the construction of the Monument was perceived by the victims’ families like an expropriation of the corpses of their loved ones and an illegal relocation of the place of memory, from the small cemeteries in the mountains around the area of Monte Sole, to a monumental construction in the center of one of the villages of the massacre, that accommodates the dead of World War I as well as the dead, military as well as civilians, of World War II. This is an emblematic case of the friction between individual memories and public memory, between the need to remember and deal with the bereavement privately, and the necessity to “nationalize” the victims of the massacre, turning their memory into public property.
The "Cupboard of Shame" and the trial
In the last four years, the survivors and the victims’ families have seen a new momentum of individual and collective re-elaboration of memory: The start of the inquiry and the opening of the trial for the massacre of Monte Sole that took place from January 2006 until January 2007 at the Military Tribunal of La Spezia. The reason why, only after 62 years, it is possible to conduct this trial, can be found in the case of what has been called the “Cupboard of Shame”. This expression sums up the story of 695 files of judicial inquests, Italian and allied – conducted between 1944 and 1950 relating to the Nazi-fascist atrocities and war crimes committed in Italy between September 8th, 1943, and April 25th, 1945 – illegally archived in 1960 by the military Attorney General Enrico Santacroce at the Military Public Attorney’s office in Rome and brought to light in 1994. After that, the files of dozens of cases were continuously opened, among them: Civitella Val di Chiana, Sant’Anna di Stazzema, Bardine-S.Terenzo. Concerning Monte Sole, in 2002 the inquiries were started that led to the opening of the trial in February 2006.
The story of the “Cupboard of Shame” and of the trial represent, for the victims’ families, but also for the institutions in the area, a different way of collectively remembering those tragic events: this is a public collective rite that goes beyond the usual dynamics of the commemorations. The performance of this “rite” allows the families and the survivors not only to tell their own story but to do it in a place, a tribunal, where it is valued, legitimized and considered as an essential source for the achievement of justice. It also allows them to listen to the stories of the others and their own combined in a clear and detailed historical exhibition, maybe for the first time.
The need to exactly reconstruct the events in their complexity from a judicial point of view presents the reconstruction of the events without rhetoric. The contribution of all those who can or want to say something is necessary. Many survivors and families of the victims, even those who always stayed out of the public discourse, felt in this case the need to testify, to give their own contribution and to participate in this great collective rite, conducted at a symbolic and official site, though with different levels of expectations and, in some cases, with reluctance and inner resistance.
In this context, the institutions, which have always been the voice of the official memory, were activated to mobilize all the testimonies and help them also logistically in participating in the debate and in meeting with their lawyers. This allowed also those testimonies who, during the years, have developed and consolidated a distance to the institutions and to the question of public memory, to re-establish contacts in the name of a common and somehow shared goal: the reconstruction of what had happened at Monte Sole, the determining and clarification of the responsibilities of the soldiers concerning those events, and the condemnation of the accused with consequent redress towards the victims and their families.
The video documentary “What we went through”. Memories of Monte Sole
by Marzia Gigli and Maria Chiara Patuelli
“What We Went Through”. Memories of Monte Sole contains six life stories of survivors and partisans, chosen from those collected during our research. These stories were compiled, based on the core themes connected to the problems that we encountered in the research. These core themes prove to be central for the educational goal of the documentary, as well as for the desired historiographic debate on the “poetics and politics of memory”. To understand and contextualize the memories of the protagonists, we felt it was necessary not to put the focus only on the telling of the atrocities, but on the stories of their whole lives, where the massacre acts as a dividing line between a before and after, and an indispensable element of the narration. We wanted that the protagonists were women and men with their personal and unique stories, not only important as a source of historical reconstruction, but in the first place as carriers of individual memories, elaborated and re-elaborated during the years, from their social, cultural and political contexts and from the events that marked their lives.
The documentary starts with a chapter dedicated to the telling of the childhood of the protagonists, referring to their family, their daily life and the description of the world that they were part of. The following chapter connects the individual story with the historical-political context of those years and with the Fascist system.
This first part is necessary to understand, regarding each of the protagonists, what could have been their relation to this context, the level of political consciousness, and the worldview: how all this has contributed to determining, not only their choices in life but also the elaboration of the memory of the atrocities. The portrayal of their lives before this traumatic event is marked by a clear break such as the massacre itself. On its part, the description of the dynamics concerning the atrocities is affected by the particular worldview, dependent on the context in which one has grown up. The following chapters are dedicated to the narration of the personal stories of the massacre, to the interpretations of this event and to the problems that we have outlined here (cf. above relation between partisans and civil population, commemorations, the monument, the trial). The documentary continues with the words that the protagonists devote to the relationship with their memory, to the necessities and difficulties of the story. Here emerges the intimate dimension of remembrance: the dreams, the suppression, the inexpressibility of the horror, the relation between the memory, the daily life and the burden of the present, give an account of the whole dramatic and complex dimension of these private memories and their unrelenting uniqueness. They let us put the focus on these people not only as protagonists in a historical event, but as individual human beings, bearer of a private tragedy in which they have lost, in a single moment, their community, house, and family.
The final part wants to outline the values attributed by the protagonists to the transmission of the memory and refers to the topics of pardon, justice, peace, and war. The personal reflections of the protagonists on these matters relate to their will of giving sense to their experience and rooting it in the present.
An oral historical research on such a dramatic event comes with many, also emotional, difficulties. It’s not easy to maintain a critical distance during an interview: the perceptive detachment and the objectivity are severely tested. The pain of the interview-partner runs the risk of causing the interviewer to lose sight of the objectives of the research. As says Antonius Robben, “the critical distance between the two people collapses completely, we lose every dimension of the scientific undertaking. Overwhelmed with emotion, we don’t need any other explanation because we feel like all questions have been answered. What else to ask? What’s left to say? What more do we want to know? What else is there to know?”
For us, already starting from a strong intellectual and emotional relationship with Monte Sole, getting to know these people and listening to their stories has evoked, on the one hand, a conflict with the “scientific undertaking” that we were attempting. On the other hand, it has allowed us to enter more profoundly in this entanglement of human passion, history, intersected memories, sufferings, and nostalgia. All this urges us to continue, despite the emotional difficulties, the research and the study with the consciousness of the necessity of exposing what these people have never said in all those years.
We think that it is important to listen to different voices, even when they are inconvenient and disagree with the official public memory. Not for a renewed public use of memory and history, but to contribute to the construction of a picture, composed of different memories, where one doesn’t dominate the others.
As Pezzino says: “Everyone of those memories has roots, has reasons, has arguments that are listened to and studied; these arguments are not shared, because the historian always has to maintain a distance, but nonetheless they are listened to, and above all, brought to light”
Here you can find bibliographical information that we find useful to profoundly study the story of Monte Sole.
A recent historical research (Pezzino, Baldissara 2009) finally showed the complexity of the story of Monte Sole 65 years after what happened. The book is put at the beginning of this bibliography and it is the milestone for who wants to learn about those tragic events in 1944. Given the complexity of this history, it is not possible to have a complete and extensive picture of the How, and even less of the Why of these atrocities. These texts present different interpretations of what had happened. Every one of these books adds another piece to a critical understanding of the events of Monte Sole.
Massacres of Monte Sole: the historiography and the memoirs
LUCA BALDISSARA, PAOLO PEZZINO (edited by)
Il massacro. Strage di civili a Monte Sole, Il Mulino, 2009
SCUOLA DI PACE DI MONTE SOLE (edited by Marzia Gigli, Maria Chiara Patuelli and Comunicattive)
Quello che abbiamo passato. Memorie di Monte Sole (documentary), Bologna, 2007
Stragi naziste in Italia, Universale Donzelli
Le querce di Monte Sole. Vita e morte delle comunità martiri fra Setta e Reno. 1898-1944, Il Mulino, 1986
La stella Rossa a Monte Sole, Ponte Nuovo editrice Bologna, 1989
Marzabotto e dintorni 1944, Bologna, 1996
Marzabotto parla, Marsilio Editore, 1955
Diario del perdono e della rabbia, Bologna 2006
La staffetta, Edizioni oltre i portici, 2007
Il ragazzo di Monte Sole. 14 volte orfano, 2009