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World War 2 Historical Sites in Italy, Part 2: Italian Resistance

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This is the conclusion to our two-part series about World War 2 historical sites in Italy. In the previous post, we discussed the route that the Allied Forces took as they made their way from Sicily, up to Rome and northern Italy, and finally to the Gothic Line. Today, we’ll be talking about the other important faction in Italy at the time, which was the Italian Resistance who opposed the occupying German forces and the Italian puppet regime of the Social Republic at the time.

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-fighterAs mentioned in the previous post, World War II in Italy is often remembered by referring to the various phases of its development, which are “Il Ventennio”, the 20 years in which the Fascist Party was in power; “La Liberazione,” the arrival of the Allied troops and the liberation of Rome near the end of the war; and “La Repubblica di Salo,” the puppet government that was put in place by Germany after Mussolini was ousted. The last one is of particular significance for those up North past Emilia-Romagna. And then of course, there’s “La Resistenza,” the communist partisan guerrilla movement that fought Nazi fascism throughout the war.

Nowadays, almost all Italians in their 30s or so have most likely spent their childhoods listening to their grandmother’s or grandfather’s wartime stories, which would include anecdotes of their battles with hunger, poverty, and harrowing tales of surviving the frontlines. If you happen to speak Italian, it wouldn’t be too hard to find an elder who will be willing to share these same tales with you. Take care, however, as it may still be a sensitive topic for some.

It should be noted that when attempting to begin a conversation about this topic, it is best to remember that not all Italians joined the Resistance. Following the Liberation, Fascism was disbanded and outlawed and most of the old “Gerarchi” (Hierarchs) either went to jail, fled, or simply kept a low profile. However, some of those who managed to stay in the country still cling to the old Fascist beliefs, and it is not uncommon to still find busts, memorabilia, or tributes dedicated to Benito Mussolini, or “Il Duce,” so just don’t be surprised if you do encounter them, and just consider them as historical landmarks.

For now, those who wish to know more about the lives of those who did join the Resistance may want to check out the sites and locations listed below.

Museo Storico della Liberazione (Historical Liberation Museum), Rome

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-Museo Storico della Liberazione

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. It only reopens past noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 3.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. It is closed on holidays and in August. Admission is free of charge.

The Museo Storico della Liberazione in Rome is the most important and comprehensive museum that deals with the topic of the Nazi-Fascist occupation of Rome and its constant battles with and its repression of the local Resistance movement.

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-graffitiThe building in which the museum is currently housed was formerly the headquarters of the German occupation forces when the Nazis were in power in Italy, and it was also here that they maintained a prison where Jews and political opponents were incarcerated and tortured. Later on, after being abandoned by the retreating German-Italian troops, it was stormed by the populace and reclaimed before it was finally donated to the municipality in 1950 by its owner, the Countess Josepha Ruspoli in Savorgnan di Brazzà) with the intention of establishing a museum. In 1957, after seven years of restoration and renovation, it was opened to the public. Most of the structure remained intact and great care was taken not to damage or alter the cell blocks, whose walls still show the graffiti that prisoners made during the time they were incarcerated. It serves as a reminder of the cruelties that many have suffered at the hands of the Nazi forces.

On the first floor of the museum can be found a well-furnished library with newspapers that date back to the days of World War 2, along with treatises and other historical excerpts that illustrate how the occupation was promoted both by the regime’s propaganda experts as well as the clandestine press of the time.

The second floor features the actual prison cells proper, numbered Cell 1 to 5. This continues up to the third floor where Cells 11 to 15 are located. All of the cells have been meticulously restored and contain various items such as photos and mementos, but highlighted are the graffiti made by the prisoners. These writings on the walls are usually messages, simple calendars, parting words, or other direct testimonies of life inside the prison, often before execution. Meanwhile, there is also a separate section at the third floor that is dedicated to the Nazi persecution of Jews in Rome. It contains donated paintings and sculptures that follow this theme, newspaper clippings, as well as race propaganda posters and articles from the era, and other salvaged objects from soldiers and prisoners alike.

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Turin Resistance Museum

Opening Hours: Every day except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is EUR 5.

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-propagandaHoused in an 18th century complex, the Turin Resistance Museum was opened in 2003 and shares the premises with the the Piedmont Institute for History of the Italian Resistance and the National Film Archives of the Italian Resistance. Here can also be found the Primo Levi International Study Center which is a society that is dedicated to introducing people to the Italian Jewish chemist, writer, novelist, and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi who was a witness to the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The main highlight of the museum is its permanent display entitled “Turin 1938 – 1948: From the Racial Laws to the Constitution.” This multimedia exhibit illustrates the citizens’ day-to-day lives during World War 2, the German occupation, air raids, the Italian Resistance, up until the return to democracy.

On holidays like Remembrance Day, Liberation Day, and other major national celebration days the Museum organizes special initiatives and events such as temporary exhibitions, film screenings, conferences, performances, and various educational activities that are aimed towards promoting the value of historic sites.

Other Places of Interest

The Partisan House, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-propaganda-posterThe Partisan House is an old villa near the hamlet of Castellina in Bologna that was originally built in the 19th century and is surrounded by swampland. It served as a safe house and base of operations for the Emilian resistance movement which was very active during the last phase of the war, and thanks to its secluded location, it was possible to deploy passage for small guerrilla bands, but was easily defended against even small armies who were severely hampered by the terrain as they traveled with their heavy equipment and artillery.

These were all important factors at the time because the region was being crossed by the famous “Gothic Line” which was the last line of defense of the Italian Social Republic (the puppet government that the Nazis established in Northern Italy after the fall of Mussolini and the subsequent Allied occupation of the South and Center). The Germans were almost in full retreat then, and perhaps in desperation or frustration, the suppression methods towards any type of resistance from the locals were particularly harsh. In fact, it can be said that of all the regions in Italy that were affected by the war, Emilia suffered the most number of partisan killings in the country, along with Lombardia.

After the war, in 1950, the swamp was drained and unfortunately, in doing do, also destroyed the original Partisan House whose foundation was weak. However, volunteer ex-partisan groups decided to simply rebuild it just as it was to serve as a memento of the struggle for freedom and democracy in the area. The surrounding area was then transformed into a protected oasis as vegetation was replanted and wildlife was introduced. Hiking trails were also created, and nowadays, visitors can also enjoy the park as they visit this historical landmark.

Abbazia della Benedicta (Benedicta’s Abbey), Lombardia

world-war-2-italy-historical-sites-resistance-benedicta-abbey

Situated near the hamlet of Capanne di Marcarolo, right at the border with Liguria, the Abbey was an ancient medieval structure that doubled as the summer residence of a minor noble family, the Spinolas, in the 11th century. After being abandoned by its prior occupants, it was then settled by Benedictine monks.

In World War 2, Capanne di Marcarolo became a logistical center for the region’s resistance fighters, which then allowed them to increase their activities against the occupying German forces. However, as a result, the retaliation by the Germans also increased in intensity, and in April 1944, the Nazi military was able to pinpoint the location of their command center and the abbey was raided. Members of the guerilla movement who were at the abbey at the time were dispersed, and while some were able to sneak away and make their escape, many others died defending the premises. Meanwhile, a total of 147 people were also rounded up within the Abbey’s grounds and executed that same day, while more were taken prisoner before also being shot a month later at another location. Ultimately, 400 were captured and deported to concentration camps. As the Germans took their leave from the abbey, and as they retreated from the advancing Allied forces who have managed to finally breach the Gothic Line, they also destroyed the remains of the abbey itself by blowing it up.

Italien, Rom, erschossene ItalienerMany decades later, a seven-year restoration project was implemented from 2002 to 2009 and the entire place has been restored by the municipality of Bosio, and the Associazione Memoria della Benedicta (Memorial of the Benedicta Martyrs) was founded.

Benedicta’s Abbey can be visited free of charge, and the Associazione in town can organize guided tours as well as provide additional historical information. They also sell memorabilia, and visitors can also visit the Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park which was established around the abbey when it was restored. At the heart of the park is a shrine to the Martyrs of Benedicta.

Whether you’re a student, a history buff, or a war veteran yourself, visiting the places discussed in this series will offer you a unique perspective of the war as it happened in Italy. As you walk about Italy’s beautiful cities and lush fields during your trip, be sure to take a moment to remember all of those who have fought for our freedom and made it possible for all of us to enjoy these quiet moments.

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World War 2 Historical Sites in Italy, Part 1: Allied Forces

 

 

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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