The 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Rome. 4th June 1944 – 4th June 2019 by Giuliana Iotti Ricci
The 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Rome
4th June 1944- 4th June 2019
“Go thou to Rome-at once the Paradise, the grave, the city, and the wilderness”. P. B. Shelley, Adonais.
“It is deceptive country” these were the words used by Lt. Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks to explain one of the reasons why his Scottish Horses couldn’t liberate the Eternal city before the 4th of June. Shelley and Sir Brian Horrocks knew well the Urbis, caput mundi.
Rome, an exceptional diamond in the valley of river Tiber, according to the legends was founded nearly a thousand years before Christ by the descendants of Aeneas, son of Venus, who escaped from burning Troy and landed on the same Tyrrhenian coast, facing the Alban hills, some three millenniums before the Allied troops. Aeneas great- great- grandchildren, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were adopted by a “she-wolf” and the fratricide put Romulus on the throne as the first king of Rome. But according to Xenagora Rome was founded by a son of Circe, the sorceress, and Ulysses, one of the most famous seafarers.
A deceptive country, a deceptive foundation and a very long story. Today Rome has seen everything from triumphs to abuses, in her millennial stratigraphy we can find the footprints of every kind of human being, she is the kaleidoscope of history, but you must know her long stories if you attempt to conquer her. Etruscans, Latins, Christians, Barbarians, Pirates, Arabs, Muslims, Emperors, Popes, Kings, Garibaldis and Dictators tried to stamp their boots on her back. The last ones were the Nazi-Fascists but, just two days before the D-day, the Anglo-American Allied troops liberated the first capital of the menaced Europe. Was it a real liberation? or a real glory?
On the fourth of June 1944 General Mark Clark and General Alphonse Juin were the first to spend their first night in Rome, exercising an anachronistic IUS PRIMAE NOCTIS. General Clark challenged anyone who wanted to try to reach Rome first, who would have taken from him the “privilege” of witnessing such a historic moment. But was it a solid conquest?
A fortnight after the Liberation Sir Brian Horrocks wrote:” we looked back on the ‘First battle of Rome’ as a glorious if unsuccessful episode in our history: for captive Rome had undoubtedly captured her conquerors.”
Rome doesn’t want any masters, anymore, above all through imposition. But, since then, one man has been loving her of a sincere love: Harry Shindler MBE, a veteran of the British army, representative in Italy of the Italy Star Association. In 2002 he started a personal battle to erect a proper monument in Rome to record the sacrifice made to liberate the City. As he writes in his Roma ricorda I suoi liberatori the memorial had a long and troubled gestation but on 4th June 2006 he got it.
It is a bronze bas relief by the Italian sculptor Alessio Paternesi depicting an Italian woman kissing an Allied soldier amidst a crowd of cheering people. Mr. Shindler told The Times that he would “never forget the welcome we got when we entered Rome in June 1944. But memories fade. At least the memorial will be a reminder when we all have gone”. It is next to the giant Victor Emmanuel monument housing the Tomb of the Unknown soldier on piazza Venezia, the “holy of holies” and is facing east under the protection of Venus Genitrix templum, the one Julius Caesar devoted to his Genitrix Mother, a place in the Sun, indeed.
In war and in love sometimes we do things we don’t want to remember anymore. In 1999, soon after the loss of my parents’, I was “adopted” by the members of ISA –North of Scotland Branch. At first they sent Major William Mac Hardy to check the Gordon Highlanders’ Memorial they have in Lavinio-Anzio, where I live, but over the years, even though they were the ones who bombarded my father’s tent in the desert of El Alamein, a special bond has been growing between us . My father survived five years in the north African desert, but he didn’t utter a word about his traumas. His elder brother also survived but, returning from Austria with many more severe problems, he refuged himself in a limbo. His youngest brother is buried near Berlin, I was the first in the family to kneel at his grave: he will always be twenty.
Year after year, the veterans cautiously opened their “granddads’ Biscuit tins” to me so that I could be “vaccinated” to the horrors of war. They taught me “to sit down and sort it out”, in one word “parliamentarism”, they trained me ,“rain or shine”, to their “esprit de corps” to defy solitude and indifference that very same indifference that our Senator for life Liliana Segre read in the eyes of the people in Milan railway station while she was leaving for Auschwitz. As they spoke, they taught me how to survive in this global psychological war we are living in, today.
We must know, we must remember hiding, feigning, ignoring, mystifying, negating or denying are easy ways to escape the facts but it doesn’t help us.
This is the legacy I owe to Willie, Jack, Helen, Alex, Ian, Ron, Molly, Jim, Nancy, Aileen, Harry, Geoffrey, Betty, Bab, Stan, Walter, John…It’s only through our shared memories that we can save ourselves, the Human species. Even and above all when it’s painful to remember, dialogue is the only intelligent weapon to be used and sharing memories is the only vaccination against the banality of Evil, in Hannah Arendt’s words. We must not cut the red lifeline of memories, HISTORIA MAGISTRA VITAE.
Since that 4th June 2006 thanks to Harry and the ones who believed in the power of memory we have in Rome a memorial in honour of those who paid for the freedom we enjoy today; it is not a present or a relic of the past, it reminds us that freedom, peace and democracy are values that like a sacred fire we must keep alive, every day.
Last but not least, a very personal thanks to my parents who taught me to resist violence, physical and psychological, to choose and not be chosen, to respect if you want to be respected and live in Peace.
Lest we forget!
4th June 2019.
From The Anzio Beachhead
Giuliana Iotti Ricci
Honorary Life Member, North of Scotland Branch