FAREWELL TO MY FATHER, HERO OF KEFALONIA MASSACRE…

Last night my father passed away. He was one of the few survivors of Kefalonia slaughter in 1943. A terrible event happened during the Second World War. Thousands of young Italian soldiers were killed by nazis on the Greek island. My dad Battista survived to massacre and he dedicated his life to tell and remember those terrible facts. I want to make memory of my father posting an abstract from my little book “My father in the hell of Kefalonia – A survivor memory, an unpunished massacre and the State conspiracy of silence”.

***

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 9.000 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, lieutenants 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

***

MY FATHER IN THE HELL OF KEFALONIA:

WATCH THE TV DOCUMENTARY PRODUCED BY RAIUNO (ITALIAN TELEVISION CHANNEL)

My father received this decoration from Inter-Allied Peace organization.

My father received this decoration from Inter-Allied Peace organization.

22 responses to “FAREWELL TO MY FATHER, HERO OF KEFALONIA MASSACRE…

  1. My condolences to you and your family Roberto. Thank you for sharing this important story of your father’s life throughout the years, a story that must be remembered. He was a remarkable and heroic person. You are fortunate to have such a father, and he was fortunate to have you as his son.

  2. Deepest sympathies to you and your family, Roberto. Your father was a brave and heroic man to live through Kefalonia and to tell the story. The story must be kept alive so that this can NEVER happen again. Thank you for sharing it on the web. Words cannot express the tragedy of losing your father, but his memory and story will live on in everyone you touch with this post.

  3. Mes pensées vous accompagnent Roberto. Une vraie histoire. Une histoire qui marque, qui suit l’homme….Mon père a été déporté , il est parmi nous mais combien de fois je l’ai entendu parler, raconter les tragédies qui se passaient…le sifflements des bombes, et…des pages à écrire…..Ils ont été forts dans ces temps…et pourquoi….ces temps….que l’on ne demande pas….
    Partage avec vous Roberto!

  4. *Bonjour Roberto,* *Merci de votre message.* *Beau témoignage! Très émouvant.* *Toutes mes pensées vous accompagnent.*

    *Gisèle*

  5. I am sorry to hear about your father Roberto. It is difficult to watch our parents grow old and die. I am pleased he has written about his dreadful experience in the war. It is diffucult to believe people can be so cruel to each other. Unfortunately it is still happening in many parts of the world. Parts of Africa and Syria seem to be particularly awful right now. Why is it still happening?

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss — and for what he had to go through. That’s a chapter of the world I didn’t know — thanks for keeping the memory for us.

  7. I just came across your blog as I am preparing to go to Greece next year and want to visit Kefalonia where my father was one of the survivors. I wonder if they knew each other? I wanted to send you a story that was done on my father by the Greek newspaper here in New York but was not sure how to attach a file. His name was Ercole Zaretti and he was also one of the few survivors of the ship that was bombed. A Greek fisherman picked him up. My Dad died of cancer in 2006 but had seen the memorial in Italy to the soldiers and attended the dedication as they always spent May to October in Italy. I wonder if you Dad and my Dad knew each other?

    • Thank you so much Grace for your moving document! My dad passed away last june and I don’t if he knew your father. They belogend to different regiment/bataillon and company, but the few survivors – as your father and mine – were put together in “Kazerma Mussolini” and maybe they met there… I hope people can read this post and give some answers. I’m in contact with the Italian Association of the Survivors Families. We are launching in the Italian schools an initiative about Cephalonia massacre with the aim to remember our fathers and all the deads.

  8. Here’s the article:
    National Herald (Greek Newspaper) Tuesday, May 29, 2001

    The Greeks Saved my Life in 1943
    By Lefteris Pissalidis

    New York. He talks about the Greeks, as the Memorial Day approaches, and his eyes tear from emotion as he remembers the 11,000 comrades who were lost in three days, executed by the Nazis who literally eliminated the historical Italian Division Aqui in Cephalonia, the Division which was defeated by the Greek army in Albania, and then when the historic Albanian epic was written in golden letters.

    This is not about the famous book of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” being done as a motion picture which will be shown in screens all over the world in a few days. The very real chilling life story of a “commoner,” the Italian soldier Ercole Zaretti from Parma, who survived the September 14, 1943 massacre and talked to the “National Herald” about it.

    “I was born in 1917 in Fontanellato, Parma and when I became 18 years old, they called my class into the armed services,” Mr. Zaretti said. The first war he was called to fight was in the French Theater where his battalion proceeded to the interior of France and went as far as Niece. A little while later, his Division, the historical Aqui, was called to fight in Albanian Theater in the middle of winter, from December 1940 until the spring of 1941, when the front collapsed and the Greeks retreated. “I want you to know” Mr. Zaretti said with a most disarming manner, “if the Germans did not come to help us at that time, we would still be in the hills of Albania.”

    The war in Albania was very difficult because the Italian army was not prepared for this type of war. “We were told that we would walk through it and that we would take Greece in one night. No one had prepared us for the unbearable cold, continuous rain and the guerrilla warfare. It was like the war in Vietnam but in the snow,” added Mr. Zaretti.

    When the front collapsed, the Aqui Division and the 17th Infantry Regiment-First Battalion-Second Company in which Mr. Zaretti belonged were given new orders and were transferred to the Island of Corfu. But the “First Company” had been transferred to Zakintho he said. “From Zakintho they sent us to Cephalonia because they were afraid of the possible landing of allied forces because Cephalonia had a very well protected natural harbor.” “But to tell you the truth, we and the Greeks had a wonderful time for a year or so,” revealed Ercole Zaretti. “Life with the Greeks was very good; most of us were friends; we prepared extra food for the neighborhood children; I was the cook and I was continuously hearing, “I’m hungry, I’m hungry” and my commander was telling me to cook more spaghetti to distribute to the hungry children,” he said.

    But when Mussolini fell, “Badolio,” the temporary Italian Government with King Victor Emanuel issued an order to continue fighting on the side of German Nazis, telling us that the war was continuing in the same manner and nothing had changed. “But in a few days, the temporary Italian government left the country together with Victor Emanuel, and abandoned us in God’s mercy. From one side, the Germans had stolen all our supplies, our airplanes, our transport vehicles and from the other side the allies, the British, had promised that if we fought against the Germans, they would help us. But at the end, no one helped us,” said Mr. Zaretti. “And you know why they did that?” added Mr. Zaretti, “because the British were taking immense pleasure seeing the Italians and Germans fight each other….”

    It was then that the massacre started: 11,000 Italian soldiers were executed with only a few saved because Greeks helped them. From the officers, no one survived; everyone was executed. “Very few survived because when they were machine-gunned, they fell under dead bodies and stayed there hidden until nightfall when the Greek villagers came to see if there was anyone alive and helped save their life. He escaped the massacre of September 14, 1943 hidden in a cemetery. He was hidden in a cemetery near Argostoli for three days until the battle subsided. Those left were then sent to the guerrilla fighters in Patras and Athens to process them towards the front,” he added.

    The History of the Massacre

    Mr. Zarretti’s story is indeed chilling. He fought in France and after the Albania Theater, he was transferred to Cephalonia. He escaped the massacre of September 14, 1943 hidden in a cemetery and while he was being transferred to Athens in a transport ship, the ship was hit by a torpedo or mine taking to its grave 300 sould.

    “In Cephalonia I survived because I was very lucky and because the Greeks saved my life, when after a battle, which lasted 4/5 days and in which the Germans won after they had leveled off everything with their murderous ‘stukas’ at some point they stopped their military operations against us because Mussolini was captured in Italy,” he said. The Germans though put in prison “Kazerma Mussolini” in Argostoli, near the harbor those they did not execute. There the Greeks helped feeding them by throwing bread and other foods through the prison fences in order for them to survive. But many of the Italian soldiers died from contaminated well water.

    From there the Germans put them in a coal transport ship to send them to Athens, but the ship was hit by a torpedo or mine. “I was lucky because I was on deck while this happened. All others who were in the hulls were either killed or drowned,” Mr. Zaretti said. He held on to a piece of wood and was rescued when Greek fishermen picked him up.

    “They asked me, are you Italian? If you are Italian, you are okay, and thus they saved me. A woman in Patras took off her trousers and gave them to me because I was frozen from the cold. If the Greeks had not picked us up, we would not be alive now. I owe them my life, really,” he said with emotion.

    After that he was sent to Patras where he was handed over to the Germans because the Nazis killed the Greeks who provided refuge to the Italian soldiers. From there he went to a concentration camp in Elefsina for 6/7 months, where he was working as a shoemaker for the Vermacht.

    After many months, when the British started to enter Athens and at the suggestion of a Greek friend, he escaped and went to Tatoi with the Greek guerrillas of ELLAS. He stayed with them for four months working as a cook. “They treated me very well as they were treating their own,” he said. From there he left one night and went back to Athens when the British picked him up. They told him that they will sent him “either to Brindisi or Bari because there were American and British military teams operating in Sicily. Instead they sent him to a new concentration camp in Alexandria, Egypt as a war criminal because when he appeared in front of the British, he was wearing the double pointed hat of the guerrilla army and they considered him a collaborator with the communistic ELLAS. “This hat was the one that caused all the problems thereafter because the British thought of me as collaborator with the communists and they sent me to Alexandria concentration camp, from where I was freed in 1946,” he said.

    From there they started to send back to Italy prisoners of war as soon as the war ended. I was forced to wait another year until I came back home,” Mr. Zaretti said with emotion. “Imagine, I was enlisted in the army in 1938 and I was released in 1947, after ten whole years, as many years as Odysseus suffered after the Trojan War in order to find Ithaca,” he said.

    “It was a horrible and dirty war and I blame King Victor Emanuel III more than Mussolini. That’s what we were saying with the guerrillas in the mountains and we were singing ‘rascal Mussolini go away with the king.’ And I was thinking where shall I go and fight now and for whom, for the King of Greece?” he said.

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