Everybody who lives in Italy knows that, every year, on the 25th of April, Italians give their opinion and comments on the meaning of this day. They often argue and fight: some celebrate this holiday, while others criticise it. But what does this celebration really mean for Italy?
The 25th of April is the Anniversary of Italy’s Liberation, also known as the Anniversary of the Resistance. The Italian “Resistance”, operated during World War II, by opposing the Nazis and their Italian puppet state, the Italian Social Republic. The date commemorates the end of the fascist regime. Indeed, on this day in 1945, in a radio announcement, the National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy urged the population to insurge and proclaimed the death sentence for all fascist leaders. One year later, this date became the official Liberation Day.
Partisans belonging to various groups inspired by different ideologies and political parties fought the Italian Liberation War. They fought in the countryside as well as in towns and cities. One of the most important Resistance movements in Italy, which operated from 1943 until the liberation of the city by Allied forces, was the one fighting in Rome.
Women were at the heart of Italian Resistance, and they fought with courage for what they believed was right. From the workers of the city to the peasants living in the countryside, they all joined the Resistance to liberate Italy. They made a crucial contribution to the effort against Nazi-fascist forces by providing basic necessities to partisans, as well as raising funds for them. They were also involved in political activity and military operations. However, the most important role they played was linked to communications: they could often cross enemy checkpoints to reach their companions and reveal to them information about the enemy’s movements.
Partisan Couriers, or “Staffette”, very young women, usually aged between 15 and 18, not only ensured that the communication among partisans worked effectively, but also maintained contacts between them and their families. Many provided partisans with food, clothes and shelter, while others smuggled weapons and ammunitions. “Staffette” risked their life every day, and many of them died while carrying out this indispensable job.
I asked a former “Staffetta” to tell me what the 25th of April means to her. I interviewed Luciana “Luce” Romoli at her house in Rome. Her living room is decorated with photos showing her, in schools over the country, sharing her experience with young students. The room is like a greenhouse; students, teachers, journalists, and friends regularly send her flowers to thank her for sharing her precious experience to new generations. She is very proud of the work she does and of how it influences people, especially kids. She believes it is crucial to remember the past to build a better future.
What happened on April the 25th in 1945?
I remember that prisons were opened and prisoners made their way back to their families. Exiled political opponents went back home. However, the war was not over yet: the King, some of his ministers, and the heads of the armed forces fled to Brindisi, leaving the army in disarray. The Germans, therefore, occupied Italy.
What was the atmosphere you sensed in your city, Rome, during the Liberation of Italy?
Almost everybody flew Italian flags outside their windows, and I could feel an atmosphere of celebration. However, the flags could get rid of the spectre of war. All citizens still suffered when they remembered their past, the deaths that occurred in their families, the beatings, and the torture they endured.
What was the role of women during the Resistance?
I think that during the dictatorship the most women were simple housewives, who belonged neither to the left nor to the right. When bombings began, they lost everything. That was the moment when they united and entered the Resistance with their heads held high. They brought messages for partisans, cooked for them, carried weapons, and some even fought alongside them. Without “staffette”, for example, the orders coming from the National Liberation Committee would have never reached all the members of the Resistance.
What did the Resistance mean for you?
It meant everything. My father had a friend who was a pharmacist; my sisters and I kept a cyanide pill inside of our socks so that, in case fascists or Nazis caught us, we would kill ourselves to avoid being tortured by them. We would have rather killed ourselves than reveal the partisans’ secrets.
What are the consequences of the important role women played in the Resistance?
Women gained their right to vote, in a sense, thanks to their participation in the Resistance. The importance of their presence in the new democratic life was immediately evident. The right to vote was not given to women as a gift: they fought for it during the Resistance. This enabled them to fight for their right to work and their efforts revealed women’s new spirit.
How did your effort in the fight against Nazi-fascism start?
In 1939, when I was a child attending school, I had a dear classmate called Deborah, who was a Jew. When a new fascist teacher was assigned to our class, she started to apply racial laws, manifesting her will to expel Deborah. My sister and I stood up in protest. The school expelled us and we could no longer go to school until we were 14. However, Deborah’s fate was to be much worse: she and her family were deported and eventually died in Auschwitz. Some years later, I decided to join the Resistance to help my country defeat fascism, a movement that killed Deborah and many others.
What do you think is the biggest problem in our contemporary society?
Nowadays, we are witnessing a deep crisis threatening democratic institutions. One of the biggest issues for young generations is employment and the youth’s right to work. Moreover, the issue of inequality still remains complex in all areas of social life. This problem is particularly serious in school; the right to study is not always equal to the possibilities of the job market. We all have the responsibility and the duty to build a different society capable of welcoming the needs of new generations, of women, and new families.
What is an advice you would give to younger generations?
When I visit schools to give my talks, I always tell students to disregard the society we currently live in as a model because it is unjust. My family always taught me that everyone should show solidarity and support to others. My grandmother used to tell me “when you have a piece of bread, you should always share it: if you eat it without sharing it with those in need and they do not make it, how could you go on living with this regret and guilt?”. My advice is: unite and create a new Resistance. No matter how different your ideas may be, discuss, present new ideas and write about your desires for the future. Organize yourselves to create a new society.
What is the 25th of April for you?
It is not only a day of celebration for those who took part in the resistance, but for all Italians in general. Long live the 25thof April and long live the Resistance!
To conclude, not every situation we face is black or white, especially when it comes to very complex historical processes and events. Having said that, I think we should be grateful for the effort of thousands of honest Italian men and women who risked everything they had not only for themselves, but especially for the generations to come that is for us. They spent their youth at war, hoping for and believing in a better future and acted accordingly. Therefore, have a wonderful 25th of April and may this day remind us all that we can improve the world if we join forces for a common goal.