A Via Crucis for our Time

The very graphic post by Debra Kolkka on the Massacre at Sant’Anna di Stazzema (see https://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/the-massacre-at-santanna-di-stazzema/) made me realise that there were several other “ecidii”, as the word gets translated into Italian, in Lucca province, the majority of which took place in the horrific final months of WWII when Italy was torn apart by civil war with the Nazis and Repubblichini (or adherents to Mussolini’s republic of Salò) on one side and the partisans and the allied forces on the other.

A student in one of my classes reminded me of the massacre at Vinca as her own grandmother, then a 7 year old at the time, told her what she’d experienced. The men had managed to get out of Vinca, which is up the valley from Monzone and thought that women and children would be untouched. Instead, her grandmother was one of the lucky ones who managed to save their lives by hiding in a cave without food or water for three days.This is the memorial to the mass murder in the local graveyard:


 Vinca is a marble quarriers’ village with also a substantial agricultural life. On the morning of 24th August 1944, and for the following four days, German soldiers from the 16 SS Panzergrenadiere-Division “Reichsfuhrer SS” under the command of Major Walter Reder, with the help of fascists belonging to the “black brigades”, murdered all those inhabitants of Vinca they managed to capture, and burnt the village. The total number of victims was 143.

The same Walter Reder and his boys had, just a few days previously at Bergiola near Carrara, killed 43 women, 14 children and 15 teenagers as a reprisal for the partisans killing a German officer.

Other massacres in our part of the world include the ones at Pioppetti near Montemagno, Fivizzano, Forno, Barine and Valla. I have yet to visit those places and pay my respects to the victims

What happened to Walter Reder? Was he accused of war crimes against humanity?  Reder was captured by the American in Bavaria shortly after the end of the war and extradited to Italy in 1948. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1951 but was released in 1980. In 1984 Reder, in all “fairness”, did send a written apology to the survivors of all those villages he’d terrorised. However, in 1986 he declared in an Austrian newspaper “I don’t need to justify myself” (!!!!). Reder died in Vienna in 1991. If there is such a place as hell may he burn in it!

To return to the biggest war crime committed here – that of Sant’Anna di Stazzema where the commander was gruppenfuhrer Max Simon and where 560 persons including 130 children, were murdered: I first visited the memorial to the victims in 2006.

There is a Via Crucis of much power leading up to the moving monument through a woodland path.

This is the actual memorial dominating a vast panorama stretching down to the Tirrenian sea.

Since 2007 a peace organ has been installed in the church of the village which saw so much inhumanity and a series of concerts is arranged every year. I hope one day to go there and hear the instrument which is built by Lucca’s best organ builder, Ghilardi, and is inspired by the German organs of Arp Schnitger.

Truly, it may be said that where war sows division, destruction and hatred, music spreads unity, reconstruction and love.

What will reunite the people in the ongoing holocaust of the Middle East I wonder?


Carrara = Marble

Lunigiana is superlative castle-land. Wedged between two once warring powers, the republic of Genoa and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and infested by brigands, this region’s nobles found refuge in building fortresses and citadels. Yesterday we decided to visit one of the best of them: the castle at Fosdinovo.

Our journey took us through the greater part of that coastal area, the Versilia where we stopped for a break at Carrara. Derived from the ancient Sanskrit word for stone, Kar, Carrara has been the centre of Italy’s marble industry for centuries. Even the pavement cobbles are marble, splendid but a risk when it’s raining as they are so slippery, and the town is surrounded by yards full of the heavy white stuff ready for transhipment abroad, perhaps to adorn a Russian magnate’s villa or a Sheik’s palace.

We took a walk into the old part of the town which is surprisingly attractive. At the start of the picturesque Via Santa Maria we spotted Repetti’s house. In case you didn’t know, Emanuele Repetti was a nineteenth century Historian and Naturalist. In 1833 he published his Dizionario geografico fisico storico Della Toscana, which is a key source for anyone who attempts a guide book today, being a fascinating gazetteer of places of interest in the region. The same rare mediaeval house provides lodging for the great poet and literary founder of the renaissance, Petrarch.

The Piazza del Duomo discloses a magnificent cathedral, now shining marble-white after recent cleaning. The building was closed but its exterior was ornate enough, with a gorgeous rose window crowning a façade built in the Luccan Romanesque style and some fine carvings.

In the same square is the statue called “Il Gigante” and sculpted by Bandinelli (the same one who did the giant called “Il Biancone” in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence). Here too is the house Michelangelo stayed in while he was looking for suitable marble blocks in the nearby mountains to fashion into his eternal masterpieces. (For further information about the artist and a walk I took among the quarries he frequented see my post at http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/taking-the-michaelangelo/).

High up on another building in this square is this charming statue depicting Modesty. Was this a warning against the area becoming a red light district I wonder?

09112014 152 - Copia

Still in the square we spotted this strange spike high up on the corner of a residential building.

 09112014 144 - Copia

There is a saying in these parts: “it’s like being hung on Negroni’s spike”, referring to the original use of this item which was to append sentences issued to refractory citizens for crimes they might have committed, from bankruptcy to murder. Fortunately, we did not notice any bits of paper stuck on this spike so presume that Carrara’s citizens, at least for today, were fully law-abiding and no-one’s name was open to shame on Negroni’s (the owner of the house) spike.

There is plenty more to see at Carrara including the Marble museum and, of course, the marble quarries themselves, but we wanted to press on to Fosdinovo castle. We shall certainly be back, however, for Carrara is quicker to get to than at first thought. Despite the fact that one either has to battle one’s way via circuitous mountain roads through the Apuans to get to this proud little city or motorway round the southern end of the range via Lucca, the journey takes less than two hours from Bagni di Lucca.