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  • When I visit my granpa or when he stays at the farm for a week or so, we often find ourselves talking about war.

    My grandfather was born is 1924. This year, on April 23rd, he turned 89. He was 15 when WWII broke out in Italy. When he turned 18 he was drafted: voluntary recruits weren't enough to fight a war.

    The family where he grew up in, was very numerous. They have lived on many different farms, as they moved every time the job was done. They were provided with housing in exchange of their work and they received a small salary every month or so. His family was of very modest origins and they didn’t own any land; they just worked as hired hand employees. Like the great majority of the workers who didn’t own any land they were left-oriented in their political inclinations, while landlords generally supported the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, in charge since 1922.

    Many people were drafted around 1942 and the options weren’t many: joining the army even if one did not support the military regime or being a deserter. The SS rounding-up operations were very frequent at the time and if they found a deserter, death was certain.

    My grandpa and many of his friends were not fascists and they knew they were very firm in their convinctions: they did not want to back the dictatorship. Some of them were caught and executed; others were sent to concentration camps in Germany and only few lucky ones came back. Many people joined the Partisan groups that were starting to organize the Resistence movements, mainly in the north of Italy. Deserters escaped and lived in so many different places to make losing tracks of themselves. My grandpa lived in ditches, woods, barns, cattle sheds and in the courtyards of those people who offered a job, a hay bale to sleep on and some comfort. This lasted for 3 years of his life, in the cold and hot weather.

    Those years weren't easy and when grandpa talks about them he sometimes smiles thinking about how his friends and him made fool of the German guards who were going all over the places to find the deserters; then as usual, he stops talking, he shakes his head, expressing incredulity recalling what has happened for real and the broken lives that such descruction and hate left behind. And as usual, he almost cries.

    These brave men are the only link to a period which changed the lives of those who were living back then and ours forever; once these people will be gone, an entire part of our history will be gone with them.

    Today is Liberation day, the 25th of April, and the least I can do, is being a witness. This is the way to remember and give honor to those who died.

    I am always very willing to listen to the stories about those 3 years of my granpa's life, being careful about not making questions. I hardly choke back tears when he talks, but I try to be strong. I want this to be a moment of liberation for granpa and not a time for sadness, because I know he has already suffered enough and has had nightmares about the Nazis chasing him almost every night since then.

    These talks with my grandpa instilled in me the desire to share a world that is forgotten. Since then I have been spending time listening and interviewing Veterans who fought during WWWII, because their views were different compared to the ones of my granpa, but I have always respected them anyway. They fought in the Italian Army and described the desertic areas of Egypt and the hot days in Greece; they recalled the freezing cold of the Russian campaign where many fellow citizens lost their lives. I felt blessed to be there with them, when they opened up and shared fears and tears about the moments in which they had the sensation they could not make it, as well as when they shared joys and smiles, describing the arrival of the American Liberation forces on our soil.

    Many of these Veterans have died but their lives will be part of me forever. They gave me much; more than I was possibly able to give them. Their stories have been inspiration, courage and freedom to me. I feel blessed for the gift I have received.

    My grandpa, the deserter, is a common hero of our century. Someone who sticked to his ideas without fear. Together with the many who had the courage not to bow their heads, he contributed to make Italy a free land. Again.

    This picture was given to me by my granpa, few years ago. It was taken by a professional photographer on october 10th, 1942, he was 18 years old
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