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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bruno Buozzi: Nazi victim who "gave his life for liberty"

"They gave their life for liberty."
The name of a Hungarian Jew, Gabor Adler, alias
Captain John Armstrong, alias Gabriele Bianchi,
was added only in 2007 after his identity--previously
he was known only as "an English spy"--was confirmed.
One of the late tragedies of World War II in Italy was the Germans' assassination of Italian prisoners as the Germans fled north from advancing Allied forces.

One of the most famous of these martyrs, and so they are considered, is Bruno Buozzi, whose name graces streets, piazzas, schools, sports fields and cooperatives throughout Italy.

Buozzi, a trade unionist held prisoner in the infamous SS torture house on via Tasso (now Museo Storico della Liberazione - "Historical Museum of the Liberation"), was killed on June 4, 1944, along with 13 other men, most of them partisans of the "Matteotti Brigade" (Brigate Matteotti), less than 10 miles from the northern gate of Rome.

You can see a small monument to these men on via Cassia, km 14.2, now at the intersection of via Giulio Galli.  We went in search of the monument last year, and found it in a small plot, with cars and scooters whizzing by.  At one time, we had read, there was a grove of trees with the name of a victim on each of 14 trees.  We think we found the grove, but it is barred with fences and gates, and no names are visible.

Why is this particular assassination so memorable?  In part it is because of Buozzi's legacy as a giant among trade union organizers and politicians in the inter-war period; Italy lost an important leader with his death.  Another is for the odd series of events that led to his - and the others' - death.

The monument is tucked beneath some shrubbery on the
very busy via Cassia. The monument is just
above the right tail light of the grey car. 
Buozzi, born near Ferrara, and a machinist in Milan and Turin, was a worker-organizer, and organize he did.  He kept unions together, built them to great stature, negotiated for and among them, and also served as a leading politician in Rome.  Resisting Mussolini's attempts to draw him into the Fascist Party, he ended up in exile in Paris, where he ultimately was captured by the Germans.  He continued his leadership of the unions and the socialist parties while in exile and even in the brief period between the fall of Mussolini and the occupation of Rome by the Germans in 1943.  He was fighting at Porta San Paolo in the brief resistance to the German invasion of Rome in September 1943, and then went underground again.

Even the circumstances of Buozzi's capture in Rome and assassination are murky and make for the stuff of mystery.  It's possible he was betrayed by a young man (not yet old enough to shave, according to the stories) who worked in the Resistance but also for the Germans.

The large memorial/tomb of Buozzi in Rome's Campo Veranno (another
reason we need to return to this most memorable cemetery in Rome).
Photo by Luciano Tronati (Feb. 2016)
There were two trucks loaded with prisoners that were to leave the via Tasso prison heading north on June 3, 1944.  One broke down; the men in it were saved.  Buozzi made the decision to go in what turned out to be the functioning truck.  There is a question of why the men ended up dead.  Some evidence points to the Germans wanting to make room for loot.   Then there is the question of who gave the orders to shoot the men in this second truck.  The judicial finger was pointed at SS Erich Priebke, deputy commander of the SS headquarters in via Tasso.  Priebke actually obtained a conviction for libel against the publisher and the historian author of a 1994 article in which he was implicated as the one who ordered the killings.  He was awarded 20 million lire (about $10,000) in damages in 2001, an award overturned in 2005.  Priebke's appeal was dismissed just 7 years ago, in 2010, over 60 years after the event.  Bill wrote about Priebke in 2010, when, having been given a life sentence for his World War II crimes (for which he never repented), he was released from house arrest in Rome--to protests.  He died in 2013, at age 100, in Rome.

The gate blocking the grove, and behind the trees the type of housing now
dominating the area.
The shallow graves of the 14 murdered men were found shortly after their assassination when "peasants" led the Allies to the sites of the graves, not far from via Cassia.  It's hard to imagine "peasants" in this area now, which is basically a suburb of Rome with middle-class housing.  We walked quite a few of the streets in the area, hoping--in vain it turned out--to find more evidence of the massacre.

A room in the via Tasso Historical Museum of the Liberation is dedicated to the murder victims of June 4, 1944.  The via Tasso museum is #3 on RST's Top 40.  It's even easier to visit today, with more didactic materials in English.

A monument at Porta San Paolo to the more than
400 people who died trying to prevent the Germans
from entering the city in September, 1943.  Buozzi
was among the fighters who survived.

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