DANCES WITH LUIGI
di Paul Paolicelli (1942-2014)
– What do you mean? – I asked.
– When the war started, – he went on, – there were over six hundred people in this village. Then the Nazis came. When they left, one hundred and five were dead. The thirteen that you speak of were killed on the same day and in the same place. But it was not a bombardment.
Luigi and I exchanged glances. I was not aware of anyone in Pittsburgh ever discussing the effects of the war on this little place. Our older friend maintained his reserve, but was even more solemn as he recounted the horrors of his youth.
– The Nazis came into this village and stayed here for six months in the winter of 1943 to 1944 – he went on.
– The English were on the opposite mountain to the west in the town of Capracotta. On the first day the Nazis came they didn't come as Nazis.
Luigi and I asked questions at the same time, trying to clarify his meaning.
– The first Germans to reach the town came dressed like British soldiers. They spoke in English and asked for assistance. Did anyone know the language? Would they help maintain contact between the British and Americans?
– Thirteen men came forward. They had all been to Pittsburgh and spoke at least some English. The British soldiers rounded them up and marched them into the town square. You know the square by the fountain?
– A truck came by, backed up to the square. There were soldiers in the rear of the truck with a machine gun. They shot all thirteen of our men. Killed them all in just seconds. – The old man paused his narration, took a sip of beer, and added quietly, – It was then we knew they weren't who they said they were. The English would never do such a thing. We knew then the Germans had come.
P. Paolicelli, Dances with Luigi. A Grandson's Search His Italian Roots, St. Martin's Press, New York 2000, pp. 127-128.