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Billericay World War 2 Italian heroine

by rayleighlibrary

Contributed by 
rayleighlibrary
People in story: 
Arpalice Giselda Yarrow (nee Moretto)
Location of story: 
Massanzago, Padova - Italy
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6410099
Contributed on: 
26 October 2005

Giselda Moretto

(told by her son John Yarrow)

My mother recently died at Basildon Hospital and I have only just found out that she was an unsung Italian heroine, who saved American and British servicemen.

Giselda was born in November 1922, one of five sisters, in a village called Massanzago near Venice in Northern Italy, into a middle-class family. Her father was a respected businessman and industrialist at the time and had good connections. The whole family hated the way that Italy was turning to Fascism, and after 1940, Nazism, when Mussolini collaborated with Hitler. During this period, the early part of the war, some of her friends had joined the partisans, but being frightened and unsure at the time she did not join the organisation. One day in a lane near her house she came across one of their best friends murdered by the Nazis for being involved with the partisans; her tongue had been cut out.

Her parents at that time had quite a large estate with several acres of land where they lived; there were barns and cubby holes, etc. where people could be hidden. Immediate friends knew them to be a family sympathetic to the British cause to rid Europe of Nazism. When British, American, Polish etc airmen crashed down or parachuted down in the vicinity they used to be hidden in their house, but mainly on the land in the barns and cubby holes, several at a time. After securing their place of safety they had to be fed; each morning she did the rounds on her bicycle, with her basket filled up with food (hidden of course from the Germans) to all the secret locations. Many times she ran the gauntlet of Nazi roadblocks.

After several months the Germans became suspicious and eventually she was arrested by the S.S. With nothing proven and her father knowing people in high places she was let off after a good bribe was paid. She continued doing her dangerous work moving people fleeing from the Germans and feeding them. She was arrested for acting suspiciously, this time by the Fascist police, and for a second time she was released due to her father’s position. Bear in mind that at this time you couldn’t trust anybody, even Italians.

Towards the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy, just before they capitulated, Hitler and Mussolini were at a rally in a town called Padova (Padua) in Northern Italy. Everyone in the crowd was giving the Nazi salute and cheering — except of course for my mother who was shouting her disgust (I think it was more like obscenities) for Hitler and Mussolini. She was suddenly surrounded by SS or Gestapo officers and taken away. At this time she was with two of her sisters who pleaded that she had learning difficulties and was not responsible for her actions. I think her father intervened on her behalf again, but was warned that she would be sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp if she did not behave herself. By this time she was in her early twenties.

Near the end of the war she met my father, Bernard, who was in the British army pushing up from Southern Italy. They met in Padova and a relationship started. After the war she came to England, married Bernard, and I was born in 1947. My sister came along in 1953. Next year (2006) would have been my parents Diamond (60th) Wedding Anniversary.

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Message 1 - Billericay World War 2 Italian heroine

Posted on: 26 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear rayleighlibrary

Could you please contact Mr Yarrow and tell him that I read the story of his mother, Giselda, with great interest. However, it contains several errors regarding events in Italy during WW2.

1. Mr Yarrow says that "Her father was a respected businessman and industrialist at the time and had good connections. The whole family hated the way that Italy was turning to Fascism, and after 1940, Nazism, when Mussolini collaborated with Hitler. During this period, the early part of the war, some of her friends had joined the partisans ..."

It would have been extremely hard to find any industrialist in the 1930s in Italy who wasn't either in the Fascist party or who didn't have good political connections. By 1938, Starace, the party secretary, had made himself a laughing-stock with genuine fascists by making party membership compulsory for all civil servants and just about everyone else. There was no Nazism in Italy in 1940 nor were there any partisans. The Partisan movement only began after the fall of Mussolini in July 1943, with the very first groups forming in September.

2. "One day in a lane near her house she came across one of their best friends murdered by the Nazis for being involved with the partisans; her tongue had been cut out." This incident could only have happened in 1944 or early 1945.

3. "When British, American, Polish etc airmen crashed down or parachuted down in the vicinity they used to be hidden in their house ... Many times she ran the gauntlet of Nazi roadblocks".

I do not know of any Allied airmen being hidden in this way prior to September 1943, moreover there were no Nazi roadblocks in Italy until the country was occupied by the Germans, again after September 1943.

4. "After several months the Germans became suspicious and eventually she was arrested by the S.S. With nothing proven and her father knowing people in high places she was let off after a good bribe was paid"

I do not know of a single case of the SS accepting bribes, they were absolutely loyal to their evil cause. But in any event, the SS manned roadblocks and fought partisans, they did not arrest Italian civilians in this way. Nominally Mussolini was in charge and all arrests were made by Republican Fascist Militia, not German troops.

5. You also say "Bear in mind that at this time you couldn't trust anybody, even Italians." But this wasn't the case, nearly everyone was strongly anti-fascist by 1943, and during the brutal German occupation you could trust nearly all Italians - indeed, you were warned who you couldn't trust.

6. "Towards the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy, just before they capitulated, Hitler and Mussolini were at a rally in a town called Padova (Padua) in Northern Italy."

Hitler last visited Italy in May 1938. He did not set foot in Italy during the war, other than meeting Mussolini briefly at the Brenner Pass. The only public appearance of Mussolini, after his return to power, was held in Milan at the Lyric Theatre on 16 December 1944. Only Republican Fascists were allowed access.

7. "I think her father intervened on her behalf again, but was warned that she would be sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp if she did not behave herself."

Bergen-Belsen and all German concentration camps were never mentioned by name, and no-one was ever threatened with being sent to a particular camp. If you were sent to a concentration camp, you were simply rounded up and disappeared. In any event, Belsen, before the last chaotic days, was a transit camp for over-spill train loads. Prior to 1943 it was a PoW camp for Russian army prisoners, it didn't become a regular concentration camp until March 1944.

For background information, you may be interested to read my own story here A1993403

Two useful books are:

"The Brutal Friendship - Mussolini, Hitler and the fall of Italian Fascism" by F.W. Deakin.
and
"War in Italy 1943-1945 - A Brutal Story" by Richard Lamb

Kind regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 2 - Billericay World War 2 Italian heroine

Posted on: 17 January 2006 by rayleighlibrary

Peter,
Thank you for your comments about this story.
Mr Yarrow would like to speak to you about these. If you are willing to do so could you contact us at Basildon Library on 01268-288533 so that we can pass his phone number on to you.
Please ask for Viv Weston or Wendy Holt.
Thank you
Viv Weston
Service Development Officer

 

Message 3 - Billericay World War 2 Italian heroine

Posted on: 17 January 2006 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ms Weston

I would prefer that Mr Yarrow contact me by email: petergyATyahoo.com (replacing AT with @, of course).

I look forward to hearing from him.

Kind regards,

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 4 - Billericay World War 2 Italian heroine

Posted on: 18 January 2006 by rayleighlibrary

Dear Peter,
ok - will arrange
Viv Weston

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