"FIGHTING PAISANO" ALFONSO FELICI, THE EXTRAORDINARY HISTORY OF A ANY MAN
Three Silver Medals to the Military Value, the Second Class Iron Cross, the French War Cross, the American Silver and Bronze Stars, Solemn Encomium of the Congress of the United States of America. This is not only the list of all the conferible honors during the Second World War, but all those conferred to a man, in addition an Italian, Alfonso Felici, class 1923.
September 14th 2002 in his native country, Villa S. Stefano (FR), his biography “Fighting Paisano, Alpines called me Balilla, the American soldiers Paisano” has been introduced. To the presentation were present, for the Association, Alessandro Campagna and I. The book is really fascinating and complete, it’s really amazing to ascertain the military history lived from Felici; passed through all the fronts of the Second World War. Even his personal knowledge has been important, in fact I have verified that he is a really helpful and simple person, in the truest sense of the term.
Surely if his history had been lived by an American soldier, it would be already object of a successful film; but since it deals with an Italian, still nothing. Synthesize his history into a few words is really impossible, then I will make a chronological account of the events, integrally bringing the more extraordinary experience, to my notice, lived from Felici, that makes us understand also his greatness:
Following I have integrally transcribed a passage of the biography that brings a worthy episode, alone, to be reported in a film.
A defeated Soldier returns home
I arrived on the Casilina after having left the Appia, the whole zone swarmed with germans means, and I was forced to hide myself every time I felt a noise of cars, I tried to cross fields and gardens always finding something to eat, like fruit and tomatoes. Suddenly, in Via Prenestina, I found an infantry platoon that was lying in wait on both sides of the street, they were well armed and ready to intervene. I got closer and asked to the lieutenant, who commanded the platoon, information on the situation. He answered that they were out of every contact and they were waiting orders that never arrived, then he asked me if I wanted to join them. I answered that I was a wounded of war and that the evening before I had been raked up from the road with other soldiers and ordered to fight doing everything in my power. Then he recommended me to return to “Celio” hospital even if on the road I would have taken many risks. The officer assured me that till then the germans weren’t seen.
I wandered till I reached a desert house and inside I found an infantry sergeant who was eating canned meat and tomatoes. He greeted me and said to stop there for the night because the situation was chaotic. He fled from “Macao” barracks before the germans occupied it and now he was missing. For that evening we slept in the abandoned house; to turn we did the guard; we scraped up civilian clothes and rubber sandals and we were prepared to flee to any eventuality. On the morning of 10th of September there was a comings and goings of italian soldiers who fled in all directions. The germans had overwhelmed every resistance and all Rome was under control.
Instead of going by my sister-in-law Angelina, in S. Lorenzo district, I preferred to return to Villa S. Stefano, by my mother. After six days, walking between fields and mountains to avoid to be taken prisoner by the germans, I finally succeeded in reaching my home.
After some days from my return, the germans arrived and fixed their command in San Marco, in the palace of Angelino Palombo; at the same time they commandeered five palaces of the Vigna to use them as hospital. They started to paint on the roofs the Red Cross symbol and internally they equipped the rooms with hospital wards.
The germans didn't disturb us at all, we had only to respect the curfew imposed by the Feldgendarmerie. I hated, despite everything, their presence in town because it reminded me their cruel ways during the retreat of Russia. They didn't stop with their trucks, and when we tried to climb up they struck us to the hands with the kick of their rifles.
Villa S. Stefano was invaded by the evacuees coming from Rome, Frosinone and other towns. The reason was that, here, the germans were organize the hospital and consequently, according to the conventions of Geneva in progress among the belligerent states, the country would’nt have been bombed.
During the day, to deceive the boredom, we gathered with some friends and spent the time sat on the parapets of the walls of Porta speaking of war and the germans, who stole the livestock to slaughter it under the Loggia. I remember that the pigs were skinned, that the germans threw the skins away and that all the peasants picked up and ate them. One day arrived from Rome the Battistini family composed by four daughters and two sons, the mother Armida and the father Umberto. Mister Umberto was an associate of Angelo Leoni, who had married a woman of Villa S. Stefano, Emilia “Frusina”, and together they managed a garage near Via Taranto in Rome.
My friend Vittorio Articoli and I began to frequent the youngest daughters of the Battistini, Silvana and Anna. I went with Anna, seventeen years old, a brunette with whom I took long walks on the river Amareno. I knew her mother and then her father Umberto, who promised me a job in his garage in Rome. I was madly in love with Anna! But soon, the allies began to bombard with their airplanes the road from Via Priverso to river Amareno, where the german convoy of restocking stirred toward the front. We saw the allied fighters fly low in the Amareno valley and strike with the tracer bullets the germans means that caught fire, but the allies never bombed the hospital respecting the convention of Geneva. Meanwhile arrived the first wounded german. Many of them died and were buried in our cemetery where it could be seen, together with the crosses of our darlings, the different black crosses with the swastica and the helmets.
Day after day the situation considerably changed, because suddenly the SS arrived, taking prisoner the men and bringing them to work on the fortifications that the germans were erecting on the front of Cassino. Many of my friends were captured. Remained at a distance, we decided to take refuge in the caverns and in the ravines of the mountain.
One day Anna came to see me in my refuge and I saw she was crying. I asked her what had happened and she told me that her father Umberto and his partner Angelo Leoni had been arrested by the germans in Rome. She told me that, while they were driving their van, they had been stopped at a roadblock by the germans who, after having frisk them, found weapons and munitions directed to a roman partisan group. They were arrested and transferred to the jail of Castelfranco Emilia, in the province of Modena, waiting for judgment. Naturally they would have been judged by the Court Martial and shot for betrayal.
Together with Mrs. Battistini and Mrs. Leoni we went to Rome to see clear on the situation. The first thing to do was talk with the person who informed the ladies about the arrest of their husbands. The person was Mario Muzi, a family friend, who answered us with evasive words, but I forced him to tell all the truth. On my insistence he fixed an appointment with a person who would have explained us everything. The day after the ladies and I were accompanied by Mario Muzi in an apartment in Lungotevere della Vittoria. There, a distinguished gentleman, doctor Ailati, received us and assured to the ladies that he would have referred to two great lawyers for the defense of their husbands in the german Court Martial, obviously without paying for the bill. In his discourse, doctor Ailati wasn’t very clear about the reason for which Mr. Battistini and Mr. Leoni had been persuaded to transport that dangerous load on their van. Doctor Ailati told us that someone had well paid them to transport that material, that them were unaware of the dangerous load and that they believed it dealt with black market commodities. I wasn’t convinced of that story and I asked him why they wanted to apply to two famous lawyers, even knowing that the ladies wouldn’t have been able to pay the bill. The answer was: “ We do that for humanitarian reasons!”
Then I realized and asked to doctor Ailati if, by chance, they were members of some clandestine group that fought for the germans. I hit the mark,
I told him that I hated the germans as well and I told him everything of my past as Alpine. Doctor Ailati became more convincing and answered: “I was an Alpine, too,
captain of the 5th”.
He trusted in me and confessed that he was the responsible person of the C.N.L. (National Corp of Liberation) and that I could rely on him. The defence of Battistini and Leoni was made by the lawyers Camelluti and Sotgiu and on our side we had a judge who was part of the german Court.
Unfortunately the things went from bad to worse and, after the Session, the german Court transeferred the case to the german Military Court in Bologna. It was the worst moment of my life. Two hopeless families, thirteen children afraid that their fathers would have been shot by a firing squad.
I remembered that at home, in Villa Santo Stefano, I had a german uniform that had been given me when I was in the german military hospital of Wien; furthermore I was in possession of the german 2nd class Iron Cross certificate, conferred me on the Russian front.
Went back home, I put in a rucksack the german uniform, hid the boots and I told to my mother that I had to go to Rome to bring groceries to sell to black market. I kissed Anna and said her that I would go to Rome to try to do something for the release of her father.
I didn’t know what I have would done, but my brain was in search of some idea to help those two poor devils. Arrived in Rome I rushed to doctor Ailati begging to get for me a fake permit of the Werhmacht to my name, as soldier who had to reach a Northern Italy hospital. I explained him that with such a permission, speaking german, decorated with the distinctive ribbon of the Iron Cross and suit with the Werhmacht uniform, I would have been able to enter and visit the prisoners in the jail of Castelfranco Emilia and to know more about the situation. He admired my courage and tried to dissuade me for the risk I ran. At the end, I won.
The case was submitted by the C.N.L. to the American Intelligence Service, and in a week was delivered me a release act for Battistini and Leoni carrying the forged signature of the judge of the german Court of War in Rome, Richter Von Krieg, in which was stated that the two prisoners had been declared innocent and therefore absolved from every accusation.
I would have had personally deliver this release act to the german commander of the jail of Castelfranco Emilia, who was responsible for the release of the prisoners. I had all the documents to face the journey, the identification plaques and the membershipbook to the Werhmacht, registered to sergeant Alekssis Paasikivi, of Finnish nationality, in order to cover my strange german accent. In fact a lot of Finnish, Croatian, Pole or Dutch were join up in the german army as collaborators.
The personnel of the American Intelligence Service knew how to forge to perfection documents and stamps of the Werhmacht. It was necessary only my courage to deliver them, seen the risk toward which I went. In two days, they gave me a pass for the german hospital of Riva del Garda, with all the stamps and the signature in order, printed in a clandestine typography. Doctor Ailati told me that, as soon as I arrived in Bologna, I would have had to contact a barman, named Oreste, at the “Industria” cafè, in Via Guglielmo Marconi, and to ask him about “Nemo”, another member of the C.N.L
The day after, worn the Werhmacht uniform with the “feldwebel” (master sergeant / staff sergeant) degrees, I caught the first train directed to Bologna. The train was full of german soldiers of every army and there were some authorized civilian. During the travel I avoided to talk and I answered only to the usual questions. I didn’t have any problem but I trembled a little when a soldier of the Feldgendarmerie asked me to show mine “ausweis” (pass) and, after a quick look, he asked me “krank?” (sick), and I responded him “ja” (yes). Everything had gone very smoothly.
I arrived to Bologna station in the early afternoon and a german officer asked me the permit, I showed it and he said me I could go to take the “marchverflegung” ( dried provisions). Seeing that I hesitated, he took me to the place where I received some bread, canned meat, margarine and cigarettes as well as a stamp on my document. I could scarcely believe my eyes!
Greeted the german officer, who took care to tell me that the train to Verona would have departed at six o’clock p.m. from the patform two, I went immediately to a toilet to wear civilian clothes and to put back in the rucksack the german uniform. After having found a cheap hotel, I went to the cafè to look for “Nemo”. I asked to the barman Oreste to look for him. He understood immediately and asked me to wait. Later “Nemo” arrived and he told me that doctor Ailati had informed him about everything. He brought me in a basement of the cafè to talk in safety, but then he preferred to go togheter in his bookstore in Via Guglielmo Marconi.
While we were speaking, he explained me that all the member of the C.N.L. had pseudonyms to avoid the identification and, therefore, even that of doctor Ailati wasn’t real (doctor Ailati was in fact the honorable Ivanoè Bonomi). In regard to the Battistini-Leoni case, he informed me that the jail of Castelfranco Emilia was controlled by some elements of the “M” battalion (Mussolini blak shirts battalion), armed to the theet. He added that only a little german command was settled inside and that, besides political prisoner, there were about forty deserters that didn’t wanted to enlist in the army of the Social Republic of Salò.
Afterwards I took care to leave the german uniform in the basement of the cafè because, the day after, I would had go out in uniform to go to the jail. It was dangerous to go out from the hotel since I had entered in civilian clothes. I had two telegrams with me that I made to send, with absolute urgency, from the german postal office three hours before, in way to have the necessary time. The telegrams were addressed one to the german director of the jail of Castelfranco Emilia, written in german language, and the other to the Prefect of Modena, who had the jurisdiction of the zone, compiled in Italian language.
Both the telegrams, signed by the forgery colonel “Truder”, german commander of the Emilia garrison, commanded to execute the release act of Battistini and Leoni and that the feldwebel Alekssis Paasikivi (me), was authorized to take them in custody.
I waited still another hour to let time to the telegrams to reach destination, afterwards I caught a taxi toward Castelfranco Emilia that leaved me in front of the jail. Once arrived I told the driver to wait up to my return and, taken the number of his license, I set out toward the entrance of the jail with self-assurance. Arrived to the guard, ignoring the soldiers of the “M” battalion, I walked towards a german marshal, saluting and delivering him the “ausweis”. Immediately, the marshall brought me by the commander of the garrison that I saluted with a powerful “Heil Hitler”.
After returning my salute, the commander read the release act, that I delivered him, and after a quick look to my decorations he told me: “Gut Soldaten” (good, soldier), and added that he, too, had participated in the Russian campaign on the Orel front. The interest of the commander on the Russian campaign reassured me and the fear to be recognized disappeared. Looking, then, at my Werhmacht membership-book he noticed that I was Finnish and told me: “Gut, Pinne” (good, Finnish).
I cannot describe my anxiety and my fear for what could happen. For me it was easier to fight in war than risk my life in that way. In war you face the enemy seeing him in front of you and you have more probabilities to save yourself, there, instead, I was in front of some uncertainties and I could be captured like a mouse. I decided to face all that could happen to me.
All proceeded well and this meant that the commander received the telegram. After some instant, the commander ordered to an italian officer of custody to release the two prisoners. I went out saluting the commander with “heil Hitler” and, following the officer of custody, I prepared myself to have o consignment the two prisoners. The tension became intense when I had in front of me the two men ready to leave. They recognized me, but with a “tyrannical” sign I ordered “Schnell, schnell!”. They understood that I was there to free them and for this reason they remained impassive, doing so they saved my life too, in fact, a little of euphoria or an embrace would have been enough and we were ended. Obviously, they didn’t know about mine risky plan that, up to that moment, seemd to have perfectly worked. In harry, we earned the exit and, passing by the german commander and his soldiers, I saluted them with a strong “Heil Hitler”. Once out of the jail we found the taxidriver that was still waiting for us. While we were approching to the taxi, I told my friends not to speak to me, because it could be dangerous.
Minutes never passed and I said to the driver to accelerate toward Bologna. I was still restless and I expected, at any moment, the germans to the heels. As soon as we arrived in Bologna I made to stop the taxi one hundred meters away from “Nemo’s” bookstore. I gave four thousand liras to the driver thanking him and I went by “Nemo”, who didn’t believe in his eyes. He told me that twenty-two young deserters of the Italian Social Republic, guarded in that jail, had been shot for high treason in the yard.
With a cheeky fortune, we reached Rome travelling by trucks and train. Immediately we arrived in Torpignattara by a trusted friend of Umberto Battistini, who hid us for five or six days. Meanwhile we advised doctor Ailati that came to see us and the most beautiful thing that he told me was: “ you are really a good brave alpine!”. He had helped me, in this mission, financially too and, without saying, he was proud of me.
I cannot wait to let Anna know that her father was freed, but we had to wait because the germans were lay in wait. One day we made arrive, to the hide-place of Torpignattara, a friend of ours, Armando Filippi, nephew of Leoni, nicknamed “nga, nga” because of his stutter. We entrusted Armando of going to Villa Santo Stefano to communicate the news of the liberation to the Battistini and Leoni and also to my mother. We implored him to tell only them about it and not to others. Armando, however, for the euphoria, confided the news to some relatives. For this irresponsibility, alla the town came to knowledge that I, dressed up as a german, had released Mr. Battistini and Mr. Leoni. Meanwhile, also the german command of Villa Santo Stefano knew about this daring liberation, and immediately began the researches from the GESTAPO (Nazi Secret Police).
My mother and my brother Antonio were called and underwent to hard interrogations and abuses with the guns aimed at the nape of the neck. They, however, were in the dark about everything. We have to thank the intervention of the then Podestà, Luigi Bonomo, who convinced the germans to leave my parents alone, because they were unaware of the plan and I had acted alone because I was in love with the daughter of Battistini.
Then intervened the SS (Schutz-Staffeln. Squad of Defence, personal militia of Hitler) that, viewed the documents that I showed at the jails of Castelfranco Emilia, convinced themselves that I was the author of the whole mission, helped by the clandestine organizations of the Resistance, in collaboration with the Intelligence Service. The investigations, besides in Villa Santo Stefano, moved also to Rome. After having seen their husbands in Torpignattara, the wives of Battistini and Leoni returned to Villa Santo Stefano, not to cause us any problems.
Doctor Ailati made us change our hideplace and brought us nearby Via Ostiense. The SS and the P.A.I. (Afro-Italian Police) forced the door of Battistini’s home in Via Taranto n. 132 and that of Leoni’s in Via dell’Acquedotto Felice n. 11, and turned the apartments upside down. The investigation carried on nonstop. We lived days of fear also thinking about our darlings that could be submitted to hard tortures from the merciless SS.
News from Villa Santo Stefano didn’t arrive, we only knew that Armando, the unaware provocative of our vicissitude, ran away to depart from the germans that were looking for him in order to interrogate him.
During this event, we were always assisted by doctor Ailati with money, provisions, garments and also with cigarettes that we, afraid to be captured, smoked in abundance.
One day, I wanted to risk, going to Villa Santo Stefano to examine the situation from closer. I caught some means on Via Casilina and even some german trucks, that stopped to take on women and children. I arrived in the proximities of the town passing through the woods and places not frequented by the people. Near the church Madonna dello Spirito Santo, I met Ersilia Palombo, the daughter of Augusto of “Carminuccio” and Rosa Iorio “il deto”.
Ersilia immediately told me that the germans were looking for me everywhere and that, about two hours before, two soldiers asked to “B’cailla Mi l’naro” (Bicailla Poggiassi) if he had seen me somewhere. In town had been interrogated almost all the citizens. I asked to Ersilia if, with the due precautions, she could tell to my mother and Antonio to come by me.
I climbed on a cliff that was in the land of my aunt Domitilla, in front of the Santuario della Madonna dello Spirito Santo, and waited. While I was there, I saw some women that went to pray in the church. I recognized Maria Fasani, Iolanda di Gelsomina, za juccia Mantella, za lucciola di Cianno and my aunt and godmother Maria, “la Madonna”.
After about half an hour, I saw my mother went down toward the Sanctuary reciting the Rosary. I called her, I went down and we embraced each other. Anna wasn’t traceable and I begged my mother to greet her. I had also the time to see my brother Antonio, that was flocked, informed by Ersilia, and reproved me saying: “Bastard! What on earth got into you, to risk your life in this way?”. He embraced me and understood I didn't have other way out considering that I was inside a very dangerous game. I greeted them both and returned to Rome with the available means of transport and always with the fear to be stopped by the germans in some roadblock. Returned in my hideplace on the Ostiense, I communicated to Battistini and Leoni that we were wanted.
Traslated into English by Silvia Sarracino
Nel caso in cui il testo derivi sempicemente dall'esposizione, con o senza traduzione, di documenti/memorie al solo fine di una migliore e più completa fruizione, la definizione Autore si leggerà A cura di.