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A Bedford Resident's Memories of Occupied Italy

by Civic Centre, Bedford

Contributed by 
Civic Centre, Bedford
People in story: 
Teresa Thomason (Galliussi)
Location of story: 
Udine Italy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 June 2004

Teresa visits the village up in the mountains where she had sheltered along with her Partisan friends some of whom were shot in front of the church. This memorial was errected in their memory.

In the summer of 1943 the Facist regime ended and Mussolini was toppled. On the radio we heard General Badoglio's surrender. Living just 100kms from the Austrian border meant that German soldiers were soon on our doorstep.

The next my Mother and I saw from the barracks opposite our house a column of Italian soldiers being marched towards the station. They had an armed German guard in front and behind them. Even now after so many years, I am amazed at the feeling of hate that welled up in me at that moment towards those guards and I launched forth screaming at them. My Mother forced me back, sensing the danger we were in. I followed them and saw those poor boys being put in the cattle train. Some threw their documents out hoping someone would send them to their loved ones and tell them of their fate, but at the time I did not understand what they wanted and did nothing except run home in tears.

Later my brother told me that the officer commanding the barracks had shot himself rather than surrender to the enemy. As it happened, my brother, in the Alpine Troops, was out of the barracks when the Germans entered the town, so he went home. My Mother hid his uniform, as this was sacred. In the evening, my uncle put my brother's rifle under his long coat and with me by his side went to the canal where he threw it in. We were not going to hand it in as the Germans later ordered.

With the Germans all around us my brothers and my fiance decided to escape to the mountains where we thought we would be safe.

I dressed up as a peasant woman, which was ridiculous, as the previous day I had my hair dyed red and my hands manicured. In the train taking us away there were young men dressed as priests- which I'm sure they were not and all sorts of others.

We finally arrived at Fontanafredda and were taken by a friend to a little shack in the countryside in the middle of endless fields. We stayed there for about 3 days and nights sleeping rough on the earth and eating what we had brought from home. We decided that this isolated shack was unsafe and discussed the situation with a friend who lived in the nearby village, Mezzomonte (Sacile). She thought we would be safer in the mountains but as it turned out we were not.

A farmer allowed us to sleep on the floor of his house. Without blankets and with only our own clothes, we had nothing else- fortunately it was summer! Often my three men had to run away and hide. I still dressed as a peasant (and by this time looking like one!) stayed behind.

The women of the village stationed themselves from spots from which they could watch the road to the village and warned the villagers by making shrill sounds of birds. We were always on the look out and apprehensive.

At night the Germans would floodlight the mountains so as to see any movements of the partisans. One night my brothers had to plunge into the water resevoir to avoid been seen and caught.

One day I was asked to go down to the railway station to see the movements of the hostile troops. Since I had never handled a donkey in my life, a woman from the village drove the donkey and cart, but at the station I was left alone supposedly to spy on the Germans. In those days I was speaking German but notwithstanding how adequate it may have been, it was an impossibility to learn about the German plans.

I tried hard to get away from the crowd but the wretched donkey would not budge, I tried my hardest but it would not move. Eventually my companion returned and we went back to the village, crestfallen and weary. I had had several heart stopping and frightening moments.

My fiance was not a soldier at all, but a professor of music, and was a musician at one of the best opera houses in Italy, and had just received his conductor's baton. He joined the Osoppo Division of the Partisan movement, mainly composed of the Alpine troops.

There was another Partisan column made up of Communists and led by a Slav called Mirko, who I later learned had caused a lot of grief to say the least, taking food from the farms or the villagers.

In the good moments we would all meet and have a laugh. My Mother came up from the town one day and begged us to go home because she thought we would be safe in the town now that the Germans had settled down. My fiance, however decided to remain with the Partisans mainly because he was of Jewish parentage. We left them with a heavy heart.

My fiance, I know was later wounded, taken prisoner and disappeared forever. We also heard that 16 of our friends were shot in front of the church at the square of Mezzomonte.

This year, 60 years later, I went back there and felt somewhat guilty for still being alive and not to have shared their fate.

Teresa Thomason (Galliussi)
[address removed by moderators]
30th May 2004

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