Wu Ming Foundation deconstruct the myth of an Italian resistance to foreign Nazi occupation that was entirely white and nationalist, showing it instead to have involved thousands of migrants from all corners of the globe fighting Italy's homegrown fascism to create a better world for everyone.
The original article (in Italian) by Wu Ming Foundation can be found here. Translation by libcom.org.
A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, the ANPI Brescia1 Twitter account highlighted the umpteenth attempt to reduce the Italian Resistance to fascism to a movement that was patriotic, white and nationalist.
Once again, we had to read sentences like this:
To those who compare #migrants to #partisans and sing #BellaCiao I point out that the REAL partisans (not the #lefty posers from #ANPI) were fighting to defend their own country!!! And they were fighting against a foreign invader! And they didn’t run away!!!”
Correctly, ANPI Brescia replied:
The partisans fought against the fascists, Italian and foreign, for the liberation of Italy from the dictatorship, and the migrants of that time, that is, the people forced to leave their country (for example, from the war), came together within their ranks. And they didn’t run away.”
Headstone in the International Partisan Cemetary in Pozzo, the Marche. The final words of the poem read: "The dead know it, the living will not forget it, rivers of blood divided peoples who today the sacrifice of the greatest comrades unites."
To help demolish this myth, we began to compile a few examples of how much the Resistance was, in fact, multiethnic, creole, internationalist and migrant. The thread spread quickly and many people added information and family testimony about the participation of ‘foreign partisans’ in ‘our’ brigades.
We thought it could be useful to put together in one post the main references accessible online of the over 50 nationalities represented in the Italian Resistance, and to the Italians who stood side by side with partisans of other nations. So the next time someone pulls out the usual ‘populist’ nonsense, you can cite this post to nip it in the bud.
The most numerous, well-known and studied examples are those of partisans from the Soviet Union: in the first book written on the topic, Mauro Galleni obtained from military registers the figure of 4981 combatants and 425 dead, that today is considered to be an underestimate. Four of them were honoured with the gold medal of military valour: Danijl Avdeev, Pore Musolishvili (who in reality was called Mosulishvili – thank you to Anna Roberti for the tip in the comments section), Nicolaj Bujanov e Fëdor Poletaev.
Soviet stamp depicting Russian partisan Fëdor Poletaev.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, additional studies further investigated the participation in the Italian Resistance of Ukrainians (such as Bujanov), Georgians (like Musolishvili), Azerbaijanis (like Mehdi Huseynzade – active in the area of Trieste – and Nuri Aliyev – who married the Bolognese partisan Gina Negrini) as well as Armenians (like Babasian Armenak), Latvians (like Vasilij Corimiachi), Kazakhs (like Vago Ieblegan), Belarusians (like Ignatij Selvanovič) and Dagestanis (like Imir Sakhaio).
The so-called ‘mongols’ were also Soviets that united with the partisan brigades – for example, the ‘Apuan Hunters’, in Versilia (Tuscany). In a few cases they were made up of prisoners interned by the Germans in Italy and in others of deserters from the 162nd ‘Turkistan’ Division of the Wehrmacht, formed of Azerbaijani soldiers and from Russian/Central Asia. A few of them, when they returned to the USSR after the war, were punished for being enrolled in a Nazi army, disregarding their subsequent ‘partisan rehabilitation’, as Catia Giaconi recounts – the daughter of a Pisan partisan and an Azerbaijani imprisoned in Siberia – in her novel Buriazia.
From another nation which is a nation no longer: Yugoslavia. Their contribution to the Italian Resistance is well known, but the first really complete study was Andrea Martocchia’s book, Yugoslav Partisans in the Italian Resistance (Odradek, 2011). The volume is topped off with a website containing lots of supplementary information. Martocchia calculates that the number of Yugoslav partisans who died fighting in Italy – in battle or as a result of their anti-fascism – was 175. Among the many formations in which these partisans fought, the ISLAFRAN deserve a particular mention: a brigade made up of Italians, Slavs and French2 , that operated in The Langhe (Piedmont) and whose history has been reconstructed thanks to the work of Ezio Zubbini.
We have also found examples of partisans coming from the various nationalities that once constituted the Yugoslav federal republic: Croatians like Vinka Kitarovič, native of Sibenik; Slovenes like Rado Bordon, Bosnians like Etel Josef, Serbs like Mihailo Bjelakevic and Montenegrins like Milan Tomović. We lack a Macedonian, but trust we will find one soon.
Furthermore, it should be remembered that the first Italian partisan group – the ‘Garibaldi detachment’ on the Julian Prealps – was founded in March 1943 in support of a Slovene unit of the Yugoslav armed resistance that was in some way the ‘mould’ or example which inspired Italian rebels.
Sticking with nations that no longer exist on the map, the partisans of Czechoslovakia also fought in Italy with various studies dedicated to them and one book in particular. Their names – but sometimes not even those – appear among the victims of the Nazi-fascist massacres in Cercina (near Florence), Susa (near Turin) and Anzola d’Ossola (Piedmont). In Argenta (near Ferrara), there is a street named after Juraj Bašnár, a Slovak, who died in a skirmish with the German army in the Comacchio Valleys, while the Czech partisan Vladislav Hana participated in the Resistance in the province of Imperia (Liguria).
The substantial presence of Polish partisans in Italy is also well-documented: Hermann Wygoda, a Jewish engineer, forcibly recruited into the TODT3 , he became ‘commander Enrico’ of the 4th Brigade and then of the ‘Gin Bevilacqua’ division in the province of Savona (Liguria); Mieczyslaw Bogarki led the Mietek squad in Reggio Emilia; Borian Frejdrik was executed by firing squad in La Storta, just outside Rome, by Nazis escaping from the capital.
Gabor Adler, a Hungarian volunteer in the British Army and agent of the Special Operations Executive died in similar circumstances. Among the Hungarian partisans, there was Simone Teich Alasia, born in Budapest and graduated in medicine in Turin, organiser of the partisan hospital in Richiardi, not far from the city.
Another case noted by historians, but little remembered in the commonly accepted narrative, is that of deserters from the Wehrmacht, above all Germans, Austrians, Czechoslovakians and Dutch that united with the partisan brigades. Men like Rudolf Jacobs, who died in the assault on the barracks of the Black Brigades in Sarzana (Liguria), leading twelve partisans disguised as soldiers of the Reich. Or like the radio operator, Hans Schmidt, killed in Albinea (near Reggio Emilia), together with another four fellow soldiers, during an act of ‘betrayal’. Between Carnia (near Udine) and Austria, deserters of the German Army even made up an entire battalion, the ‘Free German Battalion’, integrated into the Carnia Garibaldi Brigade, with the political commissioner Gino Unfer “Vesuvio” – a German mother tongue Italian hailing from Paluzza, near Udine.
A young Austrian medical official, deserter from the Luftwaffe, contributed to nursing the wounded at the partisan infirmary in Bologna, on via Duca d’Aosta 77, and died together with his patients – among whom were a Dutch deserter and a Soviet partisan – when the place was discovered and attacked by fascists. On the memorial plaque that commemorates the massacre, the foreign national victims are described, with the illuminating oxymoron, ‘foreign patriots’.
Memorial plaque in Bologna commemorating, among others, the 'foreign patriots' captured by the Nazis.
Still in the Bologna area, Wilhelm Beckers, known as Willy, participated in the Resistance with the ‘Bolero’ Brigade, perhaps the most well-known of all the Dutch deserters thanks to his memoirs, written directly in Italian: Banden! Waffen Raus! (Edizioni Alfa, Bologna, 1965).
Caj Sorensen, Danish, was enlisted in the German navy after the Nazi invasion of Denmark. Sent to fight in the Mediterranean, he deserted, joined the partisans of the 7th Viganò division and participated later at the allied ‘Indelible’ mission on the mountains between Alessandria and Savona. After the war, he married a woman from Savona and returned with her to live in his home country.
Italian translation of 'Australian partisan: a true story of love and war'.
Another important chapter of the ‘internationalist resistance’ was that of the Allied Prisoners of War (POWs). Most escaped the prison camps after the fall of fascism and the armistice of September 8th 1943. Many were able to hide themselves thanks to the help of the population and made contact, after lengthy adventures, with their own armies. Others joined the partisans and fought for several months with the irregular battalions.
The by-now centenarian Bill Rudd, an Australian, on his website dedicated to the New Zealander and Australian soldiers that fought in Europe, affirms that 55 of them fought alongside the partisans. One of these, Ian Sproule, wrote a book dedicated to the ‘Australian partisans of the Biellese’ (in Piedmont) called Australian partisan: a true story of love and war, translated into Italian by the students of class 5B at the Liceo Scientifico ‘A. Moro’ in Rivarolo Canavese during the 2016-17 school year. The testimony of Malcolm R. Webster, another Australian, appeared instead in L’impegno, journal of the Institute for the History of the Resistance and Contemporary Society. Jack Lang, Frank Gardner, Bob Smith, Pat Moncur, Dave Russell – all from New Zealand – recounted their guerrilla experiences on the border between Italy and Yugoslavia in a long article in the NZ Herald and in the book by FN Millar, The Signor Kiwi Saga (1993).
Remaining within the Anglo-Saxon sphere, the story of Mary Cox is completely different: born in Florence to Scottish parents, a collaborator with the National Liberation Committee (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale, CLN), arrested by the fascist ‘Banda Carità’, tortured at Villa Triste and her dead body left in via di Capornia. A less definitive, though perhaps even more tragic, fate struck another female anti-fascist almost twenty years previously: Irish woman Violet Gibson, who on April 7th 1926 shot Mussolini in the face, succeeding only in wounding him lightly. Of all the assassination attempts against Big Chin, hers was without doubt the closest to success. She would die in a psychiatric institution in Northampton after thirty years of internment.
There are also many cases of British people – like George E. Evans – who took up arms alongside Italian partisans; or, otherwise, of Irish people like Samuel Boone Conley, who was captured together with the Cervi brothers and two South African POWs.
South Africans were also well-represented within the ranks of the Resistance, as the story of Mich Bryant and Desmond Ford, active in the Feltre area in Veneto, and more than ten other South Africans functioning as an autonomous auxiliary unit to the Brigata Italia Libera Campo Croce and killed in the massacre of Carpané San Nazario in the province of Vercelli. This episode also saw Miramat Shah, a soldier from the Indian Army and ‘allied partisan’, lose his life.
We also found information online about two other Indian partisans: one being Sad – a turbaned Sikh who joined Comandante Lupo’s ‘Red Star’ Brigade – while the other it seems was called Bakhtiar Rana, nom de guerre ‘Nobile’ (translation: ‘noble’ or possibly ‘aristocrat’), tortured and shot by firing squad in Ponte di Corva in the Province of Pordenone. Of him, the Pordenonese fascists wrote that his end was ‘to demonstrate to the unspeakable Mr Roosevelt that the rabble of inferior races sent by him into Europe … is destined to finish in this miserable manner’.
The Indian partisan, Sad (centre), of the ‘Red Star’ Brigade.
British prisoners of war, escaping from fascist camps, also fought in the Macerata area in Marche, and in particular in the ‘Mario’ Battalion on Monte San Vicino in Central Italy. ‘A very mixed bunch,’ Major General John Cowtan described them, finding himself in the company of Russians, Yugoslavs, Italians, Poles, Somalis and Ethiopians (as we have already covered here and here).
On Giap, we have renamed these partisans coming from the Italian colonies the ‘overseas liberators’, and although such cases were quite rare, we nonetheless can’t stop finding them: aside from the by now famous Italo-Somalian, Giorgio Marincola, there is indeed also Italo Caracul, an eleven-year-old Libyan boy – brought to Italy by troops from the ‘Sabrata’ regiment returning from the African campaign – who joined the Resistance in the Gandino area near Bergamo, and Brahame Segai, an Eritrean partisan from the 175th Garibaldi Sap Guglielmetti Brigade in Liguria. About him, unfortunately, we no nothing else, but we do know, however, of the case of Isahac Menghistu, an Engineering student at the University of Rome and the only Eritrean to experience imprisonment in fascist Italy, in 1936, first in Ustica and then in Ventotene, for ‘having expressed obstinately anti-Italian sentiments’, rejoicing at the decapitation of Lieutenant Tito Minniti during the 1935-36 Ethiopian war.
Italo Caracul, nicknamed ‘The Tripolitan’.
Born not far from the Italian Islands of the Aegean (now part of Greece) were Greek Cypriots Gregorio Kondaxis e Giorgio Vreteas, who fell during combat in Acquasanta Terme (Central Italy), together with English, Yugoslavs, Italians and an American partisan called Lawrence Parker.
Another Greek was the partisan, ‘Aristotle’, who died in Anzola d’Ossola (Piedmont) on August 6th 1944 while the ‘Greek Group’, made up of around thirty Greek ex-prisoners escaped from Rezzanello Castle and led by Sergeant Andrea Spanoyannis, had its base on the mountains by Piacenza, in Costalta di Pecorara.
Named on the memorial stone commemorating the Cornia massacre (Tuscany) is ‘Asbi – Albanian patriot’ while on the legal memorandum against General Wilhelm Schmalz – accused of said massacre – appears the name of the Albanian Harbi Dushmi (who becomes Ismail Harbi and Hasbi Ismaili in the Atlas of Nazi-fascist Massacres).
On the commemorative plaque above, the mysterious Paolo Monsatard is, in reality, the Frenchman Paul Henri Moscard.
If we had found a Chinese partisan from Tianjin, we would have had at least one from every territory occupied by Italy from Unification to the Second World War including France, given that the rebels from the aforementioned ISLAFRAN brigade were French, and there are many others who could also be mentioned: Paul Henri Moscard, nicknamed ‘il francesino’, deserted the German army and defended the partisan republic of Montefiorino, near Modena; Robert Hayden (or, rather, ‘Houdin’), died following wounds received during the thorough search of Monte Quoio on the Tuscan Apennines. Also part of the French Army was the Moroccan, Joseph Besonces, ex-prisoner of war turned partisan, who died in Nocera Umbra in April 1944.
Regarding Amkonop Fublapucs, we know only that he was Bulgarian, that his nom de guerre was ‘Tortori’ and that from 28 January 1945 he was part of the 117th SAP ‘Jori’ Brigade, operating in Val Polcevera near Genoa.
Dimitri Popescu, a Romanian nicknamed ‘Bucharest’, was vice-commander of a detachment in the ‘Pio’ Brigade of the Garibaldi ‘Mingo’ Division, that operated in the uplands between Genoa and Alessandria.
Manuel Serrano, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, escaped from Camp 59 in Servigliano (Central Italy) and joined the partisans (as did his fellow prisoners Robert Dickinson, an Englishman, and Joseph Maly, from Illinois – thanks to Matteo Petracci for the tip). After the war, Serrano settled in Rome and acted in fifteen-odd films (Sotto a chi tocca!, Totò in Colour, Johnny Hamlet, etc).
Carlos Collado Martinez, a Costa Rican medical graduate from the University of Bologna, nursed wounded partisans and, in the summer of 1944, made contact with the 63rd ‘Bolero’ Brigade. Captured by the Nazis, he was hanged and shot during the massacre of the Casalecchio di Reno overpass on the outskirts of Bologna.
From Latin America came also the partisan, ‘Zama’, active in Val Varaita in Piedmont and commander of the 15th Garibaldi ‘Saluzzo’ Brigade. Antonio Giolitti remembers him as Eduardo Zamacois, ‘of Ecuadorian citizenship’. Emanuele Artom writes in his diary that ‘he was born in Ecuador, came to study in Genoa, worked as a journalist in France, then in the Foreign Legion in Africa, then as a parachutist for England.’ Other sources – including two postwar trials – name him as Eduardo Zappata, born either in Guayaquil (Ecuador) or Colombia… Giovanni De Luna speaks about him extensively in Le Resistenza perfetta (‘The Perfect Resistance’), Feltrinelli, 2015.
But if you look in the archive of Piemontese partisans on the ISTORETO website, no combatants from Ecuador can be found. Eduardo Zamacois “Zama” proves instead to be Colombian, like José Delgado, of whom for the moment we no nothing (thanks to Lorenzo Teodonio for the tip on Commander Zama).
F. Abdon Miranda, nicknamed ‘Tinico’, Pervuvian, was shot by firing squad in Seborga (Liguria) on September 9th 1944. About him we know that he died together with two young Italian partisans, sisters Carmen and Gioconda Manassero, born in the same city – the port of Callao in Peru. Perhaps it was in the capacity of a domestic servant, or as a friend, that he followed the Manassero family in their return to Italy?
Even more mysterious is the figure of Nicolò Do Rosario, Portuguese from Cape Verde, partisan from April 20th 1945 who died only four days later during the liberation of Genoa.
Giuseppe Maiani, a Sanmarinese communist, was a courier of the 5th Garibaldi Brigade in Montefeltro (Marche, Central Italy). Two of his compatriots, Claudio Canti and Vittorio Ghiotti, are remembered on a commemorative plaque for the fifty foreign partisans who fell during the liberation of Genoa and declared honorary citizens of the city.
Emilio “Mirko” Levak, Kalderdash Romani partisan.
We conclude this foray by mentioning a few Italian partisans that put the idea of a white, Italian-speaking and nationalist resistance even further into crisis: for example, Alessandro Sinigaglia, son of David – Jewish Mantuan – or of African American Cynthia White, or otherwise the three Sinti killed in Ponte dei Marmi just outside Vicenza, or the Sinti battalion, ‘Lions of Breda Solini’, active on the lowlands between Reggio Emilia and Mantua, or even Emilio ‘Mirko’ Levak, a Kalderdash Romani who escaped from Birkenau and became a partisan like many other Romani and Sinti Italian nationals.
To the nations listed thus far, we can now add others thanks to the research carried out on foreign partisans in some Italian regions and provinces.
Foreign partisans in Emilia Romagna:
In total 1401, of which: 1284 Soviet, 70 Yugoslav, 49 Polish, 23 Czechoslovakians, 14 English, 122 Germans, 33 Austrian, 23 French, seven Dutch, two New Zealand, one Australian, eight Greek, two Luxembourgish, two Turkish, one Danish, two American, one Swiss, nine unspecified.
Foreign partisans in the province of Brescia (Lombardy):
44 Russian, seven Polish, seven German/Austrian, four Czechoslovakian, 15 Yugoslav, 28 English, four Belgian, six French, one Swiss, 42 South African, one Canadian, one American.
Foreign partisans in the province of Bergamo (Lombardy):
In the archives there are only 15 foreign-national partisans: five French, four Belgian, two Iranian, one German, one Polish, one Turk, one ‘Slav’. Many Soviet names are known that nonetheless do not appear in written sources.
Foreign partisans in the province of Forlì:
82 in all, of which: 44 Soviet, 15 Yugoslav, 11 Czechoslovakian, five Polish, two German, three Austrian, one French, one Belgian.
Foreign partisans in the province of Arezzo (Tuscany): 47 in total.
Plaque inside the Monument to foreign partisans in Civago, near Reggio Emilia.
This research, for how superficial and broad a spectrum it is, would be incomplete if – like in a chiasmus – the experiences of Italians who helped partisans of other nations in their battle against fascism and its allies were not cited.
The most noted example is that of the anti-fascist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, upon whom there is no need to linger considering the extremely vast documentation and journalism on the topic. But even before them, there was Carmine Iorio, a Mediterranean buffalo herdsman from Altavilla, near Salerno, shot by firing squad in 1928 under the shade of the Jalu palm trees, in Cyrenaica, for having passed into the ranks of the Libyan resistance to Italian occupation.
Then there is the mission in support of the Ethiopian Arbegnoch partisans in 1938 by Ilio Barontini, Anton Ukmar and Domenico Rolla, in addition to the medical help given to those same guerrillas by the medic Saverio Briglio, who already found himself in Ethiopia due to work (thanks to Matteo Petracci for having pointed this out to us: R. Pankhurst, “Un italiano a fianco dei patrioti etiopici”, in Materiali di Lavoro: Rivista di Studi Storici, 9/10, 1991/92, pp. 179-82).
During the Second World War, there were many ‘migrant partisans’ within Italian borders from one region to another. Around a hundred Sicilians fought in the North, Cremonese (Lombardy) fought in Val Susa (Piedmont), Bolognese in Veneto, Imolese (Emilia-Romagna) in Istria (on the border with Slovenia)… If, then, we go to look in the archives for the country of origin for many protagonists of the Resistance, we will discover thousands of migration stories, ‘of Italian descent’ and second generation. Just in Piedmont, 239 partisans turned out to be born in Argentina, 49 in Brazil, 18 in Egypt. In Liguria, four came from Ecuador, 12 from Chile, one from Cuba (the famous author, Italo Calvino).
After the Armistice of September 8th 1943, thousands of Italian soldiers entered the Yugoslav partisan brigades. The Garibaldi Division was active in Montenegro (and Bosnia), with a force of 16,000, in unity with the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia.
Pljevlja, Montenegro: monument commemorating the ‘Garibaldi Division’.
In Albania the ‘Gramsci Brigade’ was formed, under the command of Terzilio Cardinali, a baker from Valdarno near Florence. Perhaps it was no coincidence that this formation fought between Berat – the first capital of free Albania – and Gramsh, the town from which Antonio Gramsi’s family trace back their ancestry.
In Greece, the achievements of the Italian army unit that fought against the Nazis after September 8th are well-known. The 24th ‘Pinerolo’ Infantry Division, that had carried out brutality and massacres in Tessaglia, made an agreement following the Armistice with the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS). The division was disbanded into various brigades, but cooperation was difficult and after less than two months the Italian soldiers were disarmed and interned into camps at Grevenà, Neraida and Karpenison. Other Pinerolo soldiers deserted and formed the TIMO detachment (Truppe Italiane della Macedonia Orientale - Italian Troops of Western Macedonia) which continued to support the Greek Resistance. Others still entered into the formations of ELAS and EDES (National Republican Greek League). We know that 45 Italian partisans marched in Volos, Greece, on October 19th 1944, the day of the city’s liberation and we know the names of a few men from Alta Valtiberina who participated in guerrilla warfare against the Nazis on mainland Greece: Antonio Magrini from Citerna, Pietro Marconi and Leonello Ceccacci from Pietralunga, Giuseppe Brachelente from Umbertide, Natale Balducci, Amedeo Cardinali, Oneglio Giornelli and Paolo Guidi from Città di Castello, all near Perugia (to give an idea of this phenomenon: there were 122 people from Alta Valtiberina who were part of the Resistance outside of Italy and 3,180 from Emilia Romagna, as can be understood from the commemorative plaque reproduced above).
The infamous ‘red poster’ put up in France by the occupying Nazis after the arrest and execution, in February 1944, of 23 partisans. The ‘red poster’ depicted ten partisans and underlined, to make known their disdain, their origins from various countries (not to mention that some were ‘juifs’, Jews). There were five Italians in the group of arrested.
Less well-known than the Italian partisans that fought in the Balkans are those that participated in the French Resistance. The most significant units were those linked to the MOI (Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée - literal translation: ‘Immigrant Workforce’), an organisation of the French Communist Party, and the so-called ‘Manouchian group’ (Cesare Luccarini, Amedeo Usseglio, Spartaco Fontanot, Ines Tonsi…). There were important cells operating in Isère, Franche-Comté and Pays d’Arles.
Italian immigrants also joined partisan brigades to fight the Nazi occupation in Belgium. Anne Morelli, in her book, Gli emigrati italiani nella resistenza belga (Italian Emigrants in the Belgian Resistance) – published in French in 1983 and recently translated also into Italian – conducted a census of 200, of whom nineteen were women.
Considering the extensiveness of Italian immigration, similar cases certainly exist in many other European countries. It is a phenomenon which deserves to be studied and examined in depth with further research.
As a fair conclusion, it’s necessary in closing to remember all of the foreign partisans who fought Italian fascism abroad, in the colonies and occupied territories.
For several years, with the collective working on Resistance in Cyrenaica, we have been seeking to broaden the concept of the ‘Italian Resistance’ in exactly this sense. Because contributions to the fall of Mussolini’s regime were without doubt also made by Omar Al-Mukhtar, Lorenzo Taezaz, the African American pilot John Charles Robinson, voluntary instructor for the Ethiopian air force Manolis Glezos, Mehmet Shehu, the militants of TIGR, Janko Premrl and thousands of other men and women like them.
- 1ANPI: Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia (National Association of Italian Partisans), founded by participants of the Italian resistance against Italian Fascism.
- 2ISLAFRAN = I for ‘Italiani’, SLA for ‘SLAvi’ and FRAN for ‘FRANcesi’.
- 3TODT was a civil and military engineering company based in Nazi Germany, but which opened works elsewhere within the Nazi sphere of influence.