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The Italian Odessa File


Davejb
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I,d like to relate a story from an old man I know. He,s Italian and I,ve known him for about ten years, I have a cuppa with him down at a local cafe every few weeks, About three years ago I took my KM dagger down to the cafe to show a few of my mates. Lee, the old Italian boy, was sitting with us as the cafe is owned by his daughter and son in law, after a while I asked him if he saw anything in Italy during the war that was interesting , He was a young boy at the time and he,s in his late 80s now. We got talking about the German Occupation in Italy and he said that there were a lot of Italians, especially the kids who hated the Germans and would tease them , pull faces, make gestures behind their back and so on, To them it was a game, but there were some troops who would take it to heart and retaliate, sometimes pretty forcefully and he received one such action against him, He was pulling faces at a group of soldiers and one of them threw a grenade at the bunch of kids where Lee was. Everyone scattered but Lee was caught by shrapnel , and he showed me the scars on his arm and left leg. He went on to say that at wars end there was so much militaria around you could just pick it up off the streets, and his cousin still has a Kar 98 in their farmhouse to this day. Then he told me about how he found out about Mussolini,s death and how the German troops began to leave the areas they had more or less taken over. He lived on the outskirts of a well known town but I cant remember which, but it contained a large number of SS and Gestapo and their main HQ was a large Mayors municipal building. Naturally as kids they went on the scrounge for anything they could find, but mainly food, cigarettes etc. This mayors building had been left literally in a terrible state, and there were bits of files and documents all over the place, mainly because the troops had left when they heard that Italian Partisans had entered the town. In a room behind a hanging curtain he and another kid found allsorts and a half empty safe, he pulled out a large ledger type book and took it home with him and showed his mother, It was to be used to sell to Allied troops for food or chocolate. His mother took the book from him and told him he was never to speak about it. Many years later after his mother and father had died, he and his brothers were sorting out papers in the house and he found this large ledger, It was only then that he read what was inside. He explained to me that their were about a hundred photos of SS and Gestapo men . On one page there was the full name and rank with photo and on the opposite page, the mans new Identity with a passport photo and his destination.The whole book contained information like this. When he came to England in the 60s he brought the book with him and started a nursery where he grew veg and fruit. A few years before I met him he had contacted a Military Historian, told him about this book and a interview was arranged between him and a reporter. When the reporter saw what was in the book, he told Lee never to show it to anyone as it was too dangerous and he should put it in a safety box in a bank. which he did and its still there. I have asked Lee to let me see the book as its doubtful that any of these people are still alive now, but he,s still worried about any of their relations, which i suppose could be revealing for them. He is in too minds whether he should destroy the book of sell it at an auction or give it to the Israelis as I suggested, Im sure that the Weisendahl organisation would be pretty interested as well, I am now in a quandry, do I really want to see it and find out if there are German SS or Gestapo members or their families living a normal life here or abroad, or is my curiosity going to lead me where angels fear to tread, Its a document of immense historical worth and I know it exists because I have spoken with both his adult daughters and he wont even let them see it, and they have known about it since they were young. On one hand I would love to get my hands on it, on the other is it worth the possible trouble it could bring not only to families that may not know about what their relations did but to Lee as well as the owner of it. He,s still debating whether he should let anyone see it, To be honest I think he,s scared even now at his age and the film The Oddessa File did,nt do anything to encourage him either. I think it will stay in a bank security box until he dies, and only then will one of his children sell it for a pretty sum of money

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Dave,the German occupation troops have done all sort of deeds but ONLY after a certain date and when they were replaced by units that were less...ehm..."Italians friendly"!I could tell you at least a hundred stories about German soldiers helping out civlians and even sharing their food with them,or younger German soldiers saving many lives warning the inhabitants of many hamlets that they had to leave to avoid death by retaliation!On the other hand I know of a guy who stole some cigarettes to a German soldiers and got a good spanking in return but when his town was liberated by the NZ troops and he tried to stole a few sweets from the glovebox of a lorry a HUGE NZ driver took his pistol and run after him and nothing could have stopped that man,his look was full of hatred and the young lad only managed to escape after a chase that had ben going on for a couple of hours when he finally climbed a drainpipe and luckily the NZ soldier thought twice before shooting after pointing his gun at him...my friend lived under German occupation here o the Ligurian Coast (he's 88 and he lives a mere 7 miles from where I live!) from the first to the last day but he did swear that he 'd never seen such a look on the face of a man..it was the look of death!Accidentally this elderly,soft-speaking gentleman was to become one of Italy's older collectors since he started collecting things not only when they were plentyful immediately after the War but even "pilfering" them here and there from German depots,much to his father dismay when he found his son's "caches",he was very worried about his son and friends playing with fire like but there was nothing he could have done about that,he had lost his wife to a cancer,had a railway station to care about and couldn't keep this "Dennis the Menace" at bay...he's one of the very few weapons collectors in Italy entitled to own full auto weapons,too boot!
That said,and to be perfectly honest, I don't believe a single word this guy has told.I'd love to know more about him and I wouldn't be surprised that he had to leave Italy for some reason.
I don't want to sound harsh or desrespoectful towards this gentleman but I'm always wary of older people saying that the Germans were all like the guys of the SD..many were even worse but even my mom,who had been twice on the wrong end of several German MGs and who goes ballistic any time she hears the words "partisans","Hitlers" and,to a certain extent "Mussolini" has never talked with hatred about the Germans,and so the inhabitants of many villages on the Gustav Line  whose friends and relatives had been slaughtered by "the other Germans"..as incredible as it may sound that's 100% true,they still sorta "hate" the ones who comitted the retaliations but many have fond memories of German soldiers helping them out in daily chores or sharing their food with them!Often it was cattle "seized" from the very people they shared it with but they never left the civilians without food!
Next time you meet your friend casually ask him where he lived during the War,who was his father and what he used to do during the War,that could answer a few questions!
Oh...my late father escaped twice from the train to Dachau,his sister-in-law was from Lodz and his father was on the "Black book" of the Fascist Secret Police and only managed to save his life thanks to...........a WH Major who warned him that he was on the list of the next "shooting party training schedule"!!
Cheers
Many

Edited by Manu Della Valle
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The Italian History going from July 25th 1943 to the last months of 1945 is a very delicate subject!Many tings happened here and only the proverbial tip of the iceberg is known outside the Italian borders,even to "reputable" historians!
I've been talking to old people,vets (on both sides) and everyone else I could from all walks of life for decades and I still don't have a clue!
Talking to an Italian in his late 70s/90s about "La Guerra" could be very interesting BUT you have to be lucky enough to meet someone who isn't either biased or who talks out of hatred or nostalgia!
Remember what Old Winnie used to say "Before the War there were 45 millions Fascists...now there are 45 millions anti-fascists...so far these 90 millions Italians aren't accounted for!"
Cheers
Manu

Edited by Manu Della Valle
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