26 Apr

After reading the Italian book "Hotel Gestapo" by Antonio Quatela , I started looking around Milan for some of the places mentioned. By chance, I went to a meeting at a foreign bank in what used to be the Hotel Regina, it has now been converted into offices. Walking through the Parco Sempione, I noticed the commemorative plaque for the December 1943 at the Arena and started to research further. Then I found out about the stolpersteine, the memorial plaques embedded in the pavements outside the houses or places of work associated with deportees. I started photographing stolpersteine, then in January 2020 they added some more so i had to photograph those as well. It was also a way of getting to know parts of the city . I had never been to before. Every time, i looked further into the stories behind the stones something interesting came up. Looking at the tragic story of Ernesto Reinach, I discovered Oleoblitz- a brand which still exists today. There was also the story of the Reinach's last attempt to flee in an Isotta Fraschini limousine. People associate Milan with Alfa Romeo ( and rightly so) but the Isotta was Milan's equivalent of a Rolls Royce or Hispano Suiza. Mussolini had one too. Searching for the stolpersteine of Angelo Fiocchi, I found the wonderful model housing complex built in viale Lombardia in 1909. I had been using the Central Station for 15 years and realised it was repeatedly bombed by the partisans. I worked a couple of blocks away from via Fabio Filzi ( now a pretty nondescript commercial street) without knowing that there used to be a Pirelli factory there or that it was the location for some viscous gun battles and changed hands several times in April 1945. Ordinary places, suddenly became more interesting. The corner of corso Vercelli and piazzale Baracca, where Eugenio Curiel suffered his final agonising moments, the corner of corso 22 Marzo where Giovanni Pesce shot the"Beast of Taliedo". I was still finding new places when the COVID lockdown started. Honestly, I had to leave huge amounts out to finish this piece, because I wanted to publish it by the 25 April. Ok, I missed by day, but the last part of the article covers the whole week, so its still a 75th anniversary piece,

This year the Italians could not celebrate 25 April because they are all confined to their homes. Previously , I had always been somewhat ambiguous about 25th April. Why did they do that ? Wasn't actually the Americans who liberated Milan when their tank columns entered the city on 30th April ? What about the thousands of British, American, Canadian, Australian, South African, Indian and Brazilian  soldiers who had been slogging up the italian peninsula since June 1943 with great loss of life. ? But the more you look into it, the more you find out what the Milanese had ben suffering since 1943, and how many of them were just as much resistants as the French or anybody else. It all gets hugely complicated with various partisans of different political hues, struggling for post war supremacy. It is sometimes difficult to work out who was who. It also seems that some people get left out of the story as if the partisans were the only resisters. But 700,000 interned Italian soldiers refused to fight for either the Germans or the RSI, and instead were subjected to forced labour from which many never returned. Isn't that resistance too?. The other striking point is that although the Germans controlled Milan, there were not so many of them and in the end it was their Italian associates from the RSI who did most of their dirty work. As well as being occupied by the Germans, there was a civil war going on in Milan. Most of the shootings , the bombings and all of the inevitable reprisals were done by Italians against other Italians. It continues as a a "civil war of words" even today. So yes, the war ended on 8th May, but give the Milanese the credit for liberating their own city in the bitter street fighting that started on 25th April, while the Americans were still well outside the city. The other striking thing is how the guilty got away with it. Walter Rauff, the SS Chief of Milan was allowed to get away, finishing up in Chile and working for the Secret Police. Theodor Saevecke was belatedly tried in absentia by the Italians for his crimes in Milan, but still died a free man in Germany.

After eight weeks in lockdown, sincerely hoping  that the Milanese will get another liberation day soon and can start to enjoy their wonderful city again. Meanwhile, when the lockdown finishes , I have many more stolpersteine to photograph and many other hidden corners of the city to discover. Meanwhile, have a look at the article on this site.


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