“THIS IS THE WAR…”: MY FATHER IN THE HELL OF KEFALONIA (SEPTEMBER 1943). REMEMBERING A TRAGEDY…

Kefalonia massacre happened exactly seventy years ago. My father Battista is a survivor of that terrible tragedy in which died about 9.000 Italian soldiers (September 1943) killed and exterminated by German Nazis.  I gathered his incredible story in a little book with the title : “Mio padre nell’inferno di Cefalonia” (English translation: My father in the hell of Kefalonia). Beneath you may read an  English abstract of the story. It’s a message for every people in the world. My father loves to repeat: “War is the worst thing in the world. Why are we so stupid to do it?” 

***mio-padre-nellinferno-di-cefalonia

MY FATHER IN THE HELL OF KEFALONIA

 A survivor memory, an unpunished massacre

and the State conspiracy of silence

BY ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI

***

My father Battista told me…  A nightmare. This is still for me, Kefalonia. I’m a survivor. I was in that hell from November 1942 to November 1944, along with other 11.600 Italians. After September 8, 1943 – as a result of our refusal to surrender to the German army – about 9-10.000 Italian soldiers were massacred. A terrible massacre, that still remains in my eyes and on my mind. There are so many images about those awful days of terror: stories of war and death, written in the blood of so many young people who pursued the dream of a better Italy. I was nineteen years old when I was assigned to the Divisione Acqui – at 33th Artillery, First group, Second battery – on the Greek-Albanian front, already controlled by German Army. The armistice proclaimed in Italy by general Badoglio (September 8, 1943) changes our destinies. Germans claim our surrender, but they do not offer enough guarantees about Italian troops repatriation. Italian officers called a consultation between the military departments: it’s an unprecedented event in the modern army history. We decide to refuse surrender and not to give our weapons to the germans. And after that, the Apocalypse…

An historical photo: Battista Alborghetti (first on the left) and five fellows in Cefalonia in 1943 before the massacre.

An historical photo: Battista Alborghetti (first on the left) and five fellows in Cefalonia in 1943 before the massacre.

In the early hours of the battle I see my three companions dying. They fall down close to me. Some minutes later, a splinter of a grenade explosion hits my left leg. The Acqui Division – poor in weapons – is destroyed. People who do not succumb in the fighting they become prey of the Wehrmacht. German soldiers rakes the island, inch by inch. I escaped from the capture in a couple of occasions; I hide myself between mules and I repaire inside water pipes in the undergrowth. They capture me on September 21.

About 300 Officers (captains, lieutenats and second lieutenants) were captured and transferred to the sadly known “Red House”, in San Teodoro. Against every principle of the international conventions, they were shot within 36 hours, four people at a time… The corpses, weighed down with rolls of barbed wire, they were then thrown into the sea, sprinkled with petrol and burned in bonfires, whose light illuminated the night, leaving a foul smell in the air.

My companions were loaded onto trucks and taken somewhere: I won’t see them anymore. My friend, the second lieutenant Giampietro Matteri – from Dongo (Como), twenty-two years old – is killed on September 24. The same destiny for another friend, the second lieutenant Pillepich, from Trieste: I still remember the terror in his eyes when, together with eleven companions, he was dragged from the group. Few minutes later we heard the shots of machine guns, followed by cries of pain, yells, invocations. And then other shots. The finishing strokes.

At the concentration camp we were treated worse than beasts. In the morning, Wehrmacht officers assembled us, offering – as they were saying – “the chance to return to Italy”. But I always said to myself: if they want to kill me, I prefer that they do it here. We now know: who accepted that proposals were shot. They were shipped on steamers, as easy targets for Stukas airplanes or for floating mines. It’s what that happened to my compatriot, Ferdinando Mangili. He climbed aboard of one of those ships that were full of soldiers who looked forward to reach home… But the ship was sunk off and the waves returned the corpses… The Germans forced me to bury the dead, all around the island. Chaplain father Luigi Ghilardini and I, we recomposed corpses or what was left of bodies mangled by bullets and then devoured by ravens and vultures…

One day the nazis picked up us suddenly and they brought us in the square of Lixouri, where they deployed 13 Greeks accused of being partisans. Those poor people were hunged under our eyes. It happened that one of them – because of a broken rope – fell to the ground. He was still alive. Nazis soldiers took him and hung him again… If at that moment I had been given a stab, I would release even a single drop of blood, so I was shocked.

In October 1944, nazis abandoned Kefalonia: they were moving to other fronts. We remained on the island for nearly a month, as forgotten people. We scanned the horizon, waiting for a ship. We wanted to end this terrible experience. Finally on November 13, the Garibaldi and Artigliere ships landed to Argostoli ‘s port. We embarked to Taranto, but to be back home I will have to wait till June 5, in 1945. The war stole me everything but the joy to be back home, as well as the inability to forget Kefalonia, the dead, the extermination, the ferocity.

No medal, no bonuses, even no official apology from the German State – apology always denied, but never officially requested by Italy – can never compensate what was removed to thousands of young people, to thousands of families. Inside me, in addition to horror, remains the strength to repeat that all this cannot longer occurs. Never again. Never again. Never again.

© Copyright Roberto Alborghetti

***

About Italian Division “Acqui” and Kefalonia Slaughter

http://www.associazioneacqui.it/

http://www.divisioneacqui.com/

http://www.mediterraneoass.com/

16 responses to ““THIS IS THE WAR…”: MY FATHER IN THE HELL OF KEFALONIA (SEPTEMBER 1943). REMEMBERING A TRAGEDY…

  1. Roberto, thank you for sharing this account of the atrocity experienced by your father. It needs to be heard and heard again as a critical alert, so that it never happens again, not even in lesser ways. Thank you again for this important post.

  2. The way these events have been handled by the German justice system is shameful. From what I read on the web, it looks like the case was dropped by a German state attorney in 2006 using some juristic sophistry that is absolutely inappropriate to what happened.
    The account of your father should be translated into German. Unfortunately, I don’t understand italian but it would be good to publish this in German.

    • Yes Andreas, the massacre didn’t finish in Kephalonia, but continued for decades… Due to politic reasons, Italian government never requested some official apologies… In these years we discovered incredible things which happened in ’50s and ’60s to keep the facts under the silence. Yes, German juries in the last years – despite German associations and organizations – rejected the idea to pursue some of the authors of the massacres… because Italian were considered as…trahitors! Incredible…

      • In the 50s and 60s there where still a lot of Nazis in the German political system. For example, one main secretary of Bundeskanzler Adenauer, Hans Globke, was a high Nazi (see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Globke). Many people in the German justice system of this time had a Nazi past. I am not astonished about such decisions from that time. A new generation and the events of 1968 had to come for things to change. But I am astonished about that decision of 2006. Any person with the least bit of empathy should see that this was wrong. I don’t know what exactly was behind it but I think historians and jounalists should look into both the events during the war and the way it has been handled by the political and legal system afterwards. That is why I think records like that of your father must be published not only in Italian but must also be translated into other languages like German and English.

      • Yes Andreas, all the facts about Kephalonia are incredible! I know that doctor Ulrich Mass, General Attorney in Dortmund, re-opened the case and he found new documents about the massacre. But the final sentence really was paradoxical, as well as the way Italian governments considered Kephalonia in ’50s and ’60. I only tell you that the very few officers who saved themselves from the massacre , they were put under investigation! Another scandal: all the documents about the facts were buried in a wall and they were found only at the end of ’90s during a building restoration in Rome! Yes, people and some Usa and Uk Universities requested me an English version of the book. It’s one of my wishes to have it! Thank you for your precious comments!

  3. Roberto I am speechless and so very moved by your father’s story. My father was in the war too but never ever wanted to talk about it. So I have no idea the horrors he saw in France and Germany.
    The painting is magnificent and a great tribute to this tragic chapter in human history. How wonderful you are to honor your father in this way.

    • Thank you so much Lanier for your moving words. Yes, the stories of our fathers! For my father too it was not so easy to tell those horrors. I think they feel the need to protect us… In these last years my father began to tell for a simple reason: to leave some memories about a tragedy which passed under the silence with the complicity of politicians… He was invited to talk to the students and he always raised a great attention. And I was very glad when he accepted to tell some stories in front of a voice recorder. We published the book not for a commercial reason. The book had a free distribution mainly in schools and public libraries. One of my wishes is to have an English edition, because there is a great interest, in USA and in UK, about Kephalonia facts. American and English Armies went to Kefalonia setting Italian survivors free. In fact, after Nazis escape, 1.000 Italian soldiers (my father included) were forgotten on the Greek Island for several months…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s