Den danske partisan- Historien om Paolo il Danese
Biography, 392 pages, illustrated
Publisher: Informations Forlag, 2009, 2011
[Den danske partisan describes the life of Arndt Paul Lauritzen (1915-1978) In it Harder refers to Dan, a character in a book by Lauritzen based on his own life, and Paolo, Lauritzen’s nom de guerre. Both names refer to the same person; the use of one name or the other depends on whether the episode in question is based on Lauritzen’s book (Dan) or other sources (Paolo).]
September 1944, Lesignano Bagni
Dan didn’t seem to have any misgivings about the Russians. Paolo was perhaps not quite so confident, despite his immediate warmth for them. Other members of the brigade and some of its commanders were decidedly suspicious: first of all, the Russians had deserted their Soviet comrades and fought alongside the Nazis, then they had murdered German officers, and now they were wearing their uniforms and were expecting partisans to trust them. Paolo decided to put the Russians to the test, so that they could prove to their new comrades that they really were trustworthy. He was well aware that the Russian double deserters would be in a very awkward position after the war, and that they needed to clock up as much credit as they could by then.
During the first weeks of September, Paolo started to make plans for an attack on the German garrison in the small spa town of Lesignano Bagni, on the eastern bank of the river Parma, 5-6 kilometres from the brigade’s most advanced position and 20 kilometres from Parma. There had been a German garrison in the town since the beginning of July 1944, as well as a store of arms and ammunition supplemented over time with a quantity of other items, presumably confiscated by the Germans during the Wallenstein operations.
Lesignano Bagni was, on top of that, the only German stronghold in the hinterland, and thus represented a challenge to the partisans’ ambitions of forcing the Germans and the Italian Fascists to stay on the plains.
A successful assault on the Germans in Lesignano Bagni would draw a troublesome thorn from the side of the 4th Giustizia e Libertá-brigade and would also ensure regular supplies for several months. Furthermore, in Paolo’s opinion, the partisans had to go on the offensive in order to strengthen their own morale and to prevent the Germans and the Fascists from embarking on any forays into the mountains.
Paolo planned the attack in great detail and went on a reconnaissance tour of Lesignano Bagni himself. He strolled up and down the main street dressed in elegant civilian clothes, accompanied by the brother of one of the partisans - he held the lease of the town’s spa and could point out the relevant buildings and the deployment of German troops. The arms store was next to the town hall. A number of Germans were accommodated in these two buildings and in a third house in the centre of the town. It was difficult to gain a perspective of how many Germans there were in the town because of the constant coming and going – they may have been collecting and delivering supplies – but Paolo’s source was of the opinion that there was at least a company of SS men. Ennio “Condor” Biasetti later estimated the number to be around 150.
The bold plan was put into action in the early hours of 20th September, 1944. On that rain-swept night Lauritzen and his Russians assembled, all wearing German uniforms, together with the major part of the Distaccamente Matteotti, and troops from the Penna, Cosacco, and Armendola divisions in Capoponte. From there the troops were taken in lorries to Stadirano, one kilometre from Lesignano Bagni.
While Paolo and his men were preparing for the assault, his sister Aase had a dream which made such a strong impression on her that she wrote it down.
During the night of 19th September I dreamt that Arndt was standing on a mountain, ashen-faced, waving to me. It was so real that I got up and stood by the window. We had a bird that started squawking, thank God, and my mother came running in. Otherwise I would have jumped.
At 7.50, in the mist and rain, one detachment under the command of Bruno took up a position outside Lesignano Bagni. They were to support the assault by directing their fire into the town, then cover the attacking unit’s withdrawal and hopefully help to pack the captured arms away for transportation.
A couple of minutes later, the two lorries, with their engines switched off, began to roll down towards the town; the engines were only started at the last minute to take them the last part. One lorry stopped in front of the public weighing house while Lauritzen’s lorry halted in front of the town hall and the arms store. Lauritzen’s and the Russians’ German uniforms deceived the guard and he was saluting them when he was overpowered by the partisans and forced to show them the way to the officers’ quarters. A few of the Germans surrendered, others made a move for their weapons. The partisans immediately hurled hand grenades and plastic explosives into the room.
A furious exchange of fire involving automatic weapons and hand grenades broke out in the buildings, and also in the little square in front; shooting suddenly came from houses where, according to the partisans’ sources, there should not have been any Germans – also from the school opposite the town hall.
From their positions outside the town, Bruno’s men sent in volley after volley of fire between the houses.
The inhabitants of the town - whose numbers had swelled to more than double since 8th September thanks to almost 600 refugees evacuated from Parma and other bombed towns in the area, and to other homeless war victims - stayed indoors. Don Luigi, the arch-priest in the town, cancelled morning mass and instead, with the parish children already in the church, prayed that the fighting would not inflict casualties.
Their prayers were in vain. The close on two-hour long shoot-out cost five partisans their lives – four Russians and one Italian – and five were injured. Two civilians were killed: one man was hit in the forehead as he stuck his head out of the attic window to see what was going on, and a 14 year old boy was hit on his way to collect medicine for his mother who had fainted with terror.
German losses were not known, but Ennio Biasetti points out that several kilos of explosives were thrown into one single room. According to A.C. Holland, 40 Germans were killed during the assault.
Dan shot – and presumably killed – at least 5 Germans.
We do not know how many of the enemy Arndt Lauritzen really killed in Lesignano Bagni. In an interview with the newspaper Nationaltidende he said:
I personally killed quite a number. At first I threw up, later I had depressions. Afterwards, I didn’t think so much about it. [In Lesignano Bagni ] the incident took place that meant that I could no longer be a priest – that is: the first incident. Others of similar character followed. […] During the shooting […] I aimed at a German, but I didn’t hit him. It was my intention to spare his life. When my attention was occupied elsewhere, he attempted to shoot me. I don’t blame him – it was his right as I had not disarmed him. I was quicker and shot him. I later bent down over the dying man and asked him if he was a Catholic. He was, and he asked for and received absolution. As I was about to leave him, he took another shot at me and the bullet grazed my hip. So I was forced to kill him.
That was when I realised that I could not be a priest. This had left too deep a mark on me […]
Arndt Lauritzen describes the same incident in Cammina fratello, cammina …
One or two details vary, but the only difference of any significance is that Dan, who of course is not a priest, unlike the writer, does not absolve the wounded German soldier, but instead prays with him. Afterwards the German does not shoot at Dan, but draws a knife and Dan kills him.
He cannot help it; he lays a hand on the unfortunate man’s shoulder. Dan is weary. Deep down he feels pity - pity for himself and pity for others. They are all victims of the laws of violence. At that moment he swears that he will do what his conscience dictates – for as long as he is able. He will kill again if necessary. He will lead other men into action although it may bring pain and death, but in his heart, and to the benefit of all those for whose welfare he is responsible, he wants to retain a belief in there being something which in the final analysis justifies living. It is untenable that existence should be no more than hate and violence. But he doesn’t want to say anything: he will simply endeavour to alleviate suffering for as long as it is in his gift. His future has no meaning for him. He is conscious that he has no-one, and that he cannot have anyone for as long as this war lasts. After establishing that there is no further movement in the arms store, he gives the man he has just patted on the shoulder the coup de grâce and walks outside.
Paolo ran from the arms store into the small square, where intense fighting was still continuing, and into the entrance to the town hall. Opposite, the Russians had worn down the last German resistance with their hand grenades. As Paolo and his men were about to leave the town hall, a machine gun opened fire from a window on the first floor of the arms store. Standing in the doorway, Paolo made ready to throw a hand grenade into their window when a salvo from a machine gun hit him in the right arm and knocked him backwards. Before the Germans could let loose another salvo, one of Paolo’s comrades dragged him into the shelter of the town hall and he got to his feet again.
Paolo and his men left the town hall through a back entrance out of the Germans’ field of fire. The fighting was gradually beginning to die down. Paolo gave the partisans the order to withdraw from the town. The retreat was disorderly and Paolo became separated from his comrades. Despite his useless right arm, he managed to clamber over a high wall and then run down to the river below the town, where he lost consciousness.
The spa baths in Lesignano Bagni have been closed for many years and the arms store which Paolo il Danese’s partisans fought for in 1944 was demolished long ago. The little square in front of it has been extended to form a large rectangular open area, the two longer sides of which are bordered by new housing and the two shorter sides by the road which the partisans took to enter the town and a view over the valley surrounding the river Parma.
Rosita Lauritzen and I talk about the fighting on 20th September 1994. It is our first day together and she is visibly moved by all the memories which the stories about Paolo evoke. She speaks in a mixture of Italian and impressive Danish. Now and then she has difficulty raising her voice over the very loud television news booming out of an open window. Rosita shows me the wall which Paolo struggled to cross. From the description in his book I had imagined the wall to be about one metre in height, but in fact it comes up to my shoulders, and Paolo was ten centimetres shorter than me, as well as being badly wounded. Behind the wall there is a smallholding which he ran across, and from there a path to the road.
On the opposite side of the square a memorial stone lists the names of the five partisans who died – Primo Agostini, Alexis Cokumaxmill, Alexis Curino, Vuammo Chelaxuli, Scialowa Bedughize - and a smaller stone tells us that the olive tree behind it was planted in the 1950s in Lesignano Bagni in memory of the battle and as a symbol of peace.
We have already visited Primo Agostini and three of the Russians at the partisan cemetery in Vigatto. They rest side by side in niches in the wall in the churchyard chapel, surrounded by scores of their dead comrades-in-arms. The marble plaques capping the niches have all been furnished with a name, date of birth and death and a photograph of the deceased, taken from a family album. Only the three Russians, who had no friends or family in the region and whose names had not been entered in the Italian national register, had been buried without a date of birth. Instead of the photograph there was a red star.
Next to the olive tree in Lesignano there is large board which bears a map of the area. The map shows the various wine, meat and ham routes through “Food Valley” as the local marketing people call the district. Rosita uses the map to show us Paolo’s frantic run north out of the town and down the steep slope to the river.
Paolo’s comrades found him by the river bank and took him to the hospital in Langhirano, where Aquila, who was seriously wounded, and the three wounded Russians were already being attended to. The partisans hadn’t previously planned to use the hospital in Langhirano, but by a stroke of good fortune there were no German or Fascist troops nearby.
After some first aid the five wounded partisans were moved to Musiara Inferiore, a couple of kilometres from Tizzano, where Dr. Capretti had set up a makeshift field hospital. Dr. Capretti was assisted by Colonel Ricci’s wife, Nora, who was a volunteer Red Cross nurse and supported the partisans under the cover name of Marisa.
Aquila was badly wounded in one thigh; two of the Russians had less serious wounds to the legs while the third Russian had been hit in one lung. Paolo’s right arm had been shot to pieces and Dr. Capretti feared initially that it would have to be amputated. However, the brigade doctor - using the primitive resources he had at his disposal - managed to save Lauritzen’s arm and to save the lives of the other four men. In this task, Dr. Capretti was ably supported by the prominent surgeon, Dr. Brancati, from the hospital in Langhirano, who had crossed enemy lines twice in ten days to help the injured partisans.
Lauritzen’s arm was put into plaster and he had to wear a sling for several months; he was plagued by a stiff right hand for the rest of his life. “The injury didn’t prevent him from carrying out his duties, however, even though for months […] he was in considerable pain,” Major Holland was to write later
While Paolo and the other wounded soldiers lay in bed, they were visited by Major Holland. Condor, who was present himself, says that the Major stood to attention and saluted when he entered the room. Subsequently, the Major told Paolo that he had informed the No.1 Special Force HQ about the contribution the partisans had made, and that he had been promised an early airdrop of weapons and medicine. When Major Holland parted from his Danish friend, he gave him a bottle of whisky. “It’s a good disinfectant,” Major Holland explained when Marisa tried to confiscate it.
During a later visit Major Holland gave Lauritzen a British military beret, which he asked him to wear, and he told him that if his position in the brigade should ever become untenable for any reason, there would always be a place for him on British missions. However, Major Holland preferred him to stay in the 4th Giustizia e Libertà as long as he could so that he could remain in contact with the higher echelons of command and function as the unofficial spokesman for SOE.
Dan had anaesthetized himself with generous helpings of grappa for the first excruciatingly painful treatment, and while he convalesced he got well stuck in to Major Holland’s whisky and whatever spirits came within his reach. He didn’t only drink to dull the continuous pain and forget the grim events of Lesignano, but also to forget the considerable religious trials the struggle against Nazism had imposed upon him and which he tried to hide from the others. During one bout of whisky drinking Dan has another mystical experience and adds a new dimension to his reflections.
How can you forget when you know that, behind all this, God is there, boundlessly silent? What does it mean? If God is love, if God is goodness, if God is justice, then it can only be man’s fault that the world is full of hate, that the world is full of brutality, that the world is full of injustice. But in His conversations with others He so often said that man can love and man shall love, and man shall not kill. In his innermost being, Dan knows that his God, the one for whom he is perpetually searching, and the thought never leaves him, is infinite love. Père Leplus once said: “You are destined to suffer sorely. For you, living in the sight of God means suffering and loneliness, which you will have to submit to; in the silence there is before the Supreme Being you will hear the answer you seek. In the meantime, you will have to act in accordance with your conscience and behave as if all that Christianity has taught you is true.” And he tries to do that out of devotion to Père Leplus. How can he hurt the man by telling him that he fears that the cross is obstructing his way to the truth, that the Hebrew God, Jehovah, is closer to him? And how can he, Dan, who is not a Jew, and does not even feel comfortable with them, but who still feels a deep love for them, because they are his brothers in Christ, how can he tell Père Leplus the truth? He must proceed alone. But after all these years and the long way he has come? It has been such a long way.
He catches sight of Marisa’s face. They have come over to him. He looks at Aquila. He seems frightened. He looks at Civetta, Indigo, the wounded Russians. ‘What’s the matter?’ They must not discover his secret. With Christians he will behave like a Christian. With Jews like a Jew, and even if fear and loneliness reign in his heart and deep in his soul, he will try to alleviate evil where he can. We are at war: total insanity. There is no way out of the dark, though. We have to fight. He will do what he can to give them hope. Let them believe what they want. His past is his alone.
[…] Now he cries too. The tears flow for no reason. Marisa straightens his blanket, and he looks at the crucifix thinking: I will behave as if it is the only truth, and that is how I will go on. I know that I am ready; I am willing to pay with my own life whenever necessary.
The mention of Dan’s fascination with Judaism and that he doesn’t ‘feel comfortable’ with it, is certainly not without its ambiguities. Arndt Lauritzen was – at least towards the end of his life when he was dictating Cammina fratello, cammina … to Rosita – extremely pre-occupied with Judaism and was diligently studying the holy writings, which he read in Hebrew. According to his family, he was not in the slightest bit tempted to convert to Judaism, but for all that he valued its thinking and rituals.
Dan’s preoccupation with Judaism and Jehovah rather than the Christian God – not so surprising considering the agonies he went through to fight his enemy without hating him - can perhaps also be interpreted as an expression of his Old Testament ideas about vengeance and punishment. Another, but not necessarily an alternative, explanation could be that he may have been subconsciously showing solidarity with the Jews at the time of their persecution.
The assault on Lesignano Bagni was in some ways a fiasco in that the partisans did not succeed in taking the Nazi arms store or driving the Germans out of the garrison. On the other hand, it was a qualified success in the sense that the partisans’ losses were relatively limited, and the Germans’ losses were undoubtedly much greater. The attack also served the important purpose of demonstrating to all parties concerned – Germans, Fascists, civilians, the Allies and, not least of all, the partisans themselves – that the partisans had the ability and the will to organise active guerrilla warfare.
The immediate reaction of the Germans was to strengthen the garrison in Lesignano Bagni and 300 SS men were found quarters in the little town. Many refugees had already fled Lesignano Bagni to look for safer shelter elsewhere. The walls around the cemetery and the priest’s residence were reinforced with embrasures and machine gun placements, and the church tower became an observation post, manned from 6.00 a.m. until 6.00 p.m. every day.
On 17th October the Germans tried to arrest all the men aged between 17 and 55 in the town to send them to Germany as slave labour, but the plan had been leaked, and most managed to escape to safety. Only 15 men were captured.
And then, without any warning, the Germans left Lesignano Bagni on the night of 9th November, never to return. Perhaps the soldiers were to be relocated, or perhaps the partisan assault on 20th September had shown German High Command how dangerous it was to set up enclaves in “bandit country” and they had withdrawn.
The military lesson that Dan learnt from the engagement was that, however well an action was planned, it was impossible to steer the partisans’ efforts once the fighting had started. The mutual trust between the partisans, and not least their confidence in their leaders, had certainly prevented panic when the assault went off course, but the partisans had no training in developing co-operation between units or in the vital combination of gunfire and movement. He reasoned that in the future it would be more effective to force the Germans to withdraw their forward positions by mounting frequent lightning raids instead of making a grand assault as they had done in Lesignano Bagni. But it was clear the partisans needed more thorough training.
Charles Holland agreed, though he remarked that if the long awaited Allied breakthrough were to take place before the winter there would be no time for that kind of training or any need for it.
The expected breakthrough did not come. The Allies, under Field Marshall Harold Alexander, certainly made good progress across the Po plain in the autumn of 1944, but on 6th October Hitler decided that the Lombardy plain should be held at all costs. Albert Kesselring would have preferred to withdraw from Italy and entrench his troops in the Alps, but the Führer’s orders were to continue the fight in Italy. The tough German resistance, the transfer of Allied troops from Italy to France and the worsening weather, which turned the otherwise easily passable Po plain into mud, gradually forced Alexander and his men to prepare for the war to carry on into 1945.
On 4th Giustizia e Libertà's territory the last weeks of September and the beginning of October 1944 were remarkable for a measure of calm and progress. The commander of the brigade, Urano, tightened up discipline among the partisans and cracked down on "undesirable elements" (thieves and robbers) in their area.
The brigade's relationship with the civilian population was generally good, among other things because SOE provided the partisans with money so that they could pay for a large part of their food, and even though Tizzano and surrounding areas never actually became a partisan republic, the local area was made to function with quite impressive efficiency, all prevailing circumstances taken into account. The postman regularly collected post in Langhirano and delivered it to the inhabitants. Some local nuns ran the kindergarten and first schools, while the state schools continued under the management of the region’s headmistress. Her husband was a Fascist, it was true, but thanks to his "punctilious, humane behaviour" his family was allowed to remain in their villa in Tizzano undisturbed. Other Fascists had chosen to leave Tizzano, but apart from a couple of incidents their families also evaded reprisals.
So many new members joined the 4th GL that a whole new unit was founded and named "Amendola". It was beginning to be difficult for the commanders of the brigade to coordinate all the units, so Urano and Paolo, his Chief of Staff, decided to insert a new link in the chain of command between units and the brigade commanders - battalions. Every battalion commander was responsible for a number of units and was directly responsible to the brigade commander.
The brigade's military activities restricted themselves to nightly patrols across the plain and road blocks 24 hours a day at the most important junctions, particularly by the bridge between Capoponte and Pastorello. The patrols kept an eye open for enemy movements, maintained a high partisan profile for the local population and returning soldiers while confiscating vehicles and other supplies, and questioning prisoners.
The most serious problem for the brigade in these weeks was the internal political split which had been there since the brigade's inception. The two representatives for the social-liberal Partito d’Azione, Schiavi and Viti, who were, at least in formal terms, higher ranking than the military commander, Urano, had gone. Schiavi, after pressure from Major Holland, who deeply mistrusted him, was moved to the newly formed unit, CU, in Bosco di Cornigliano, and Viti, who had never been very visible in the brigade, disappeared entirely. On the one hand, this was a relief for Urano, but on the other, the lack of political leadership made it even more difficult to get the various political factions ( Partito d’Azione, the Christian Democrats, the Communists, the apolitical) to work together. Dan was one of those who would have preferred the 4th GL to become a purely military brigade without any political affiliations.
Dr. Capretti washed Dan’s wounds every second or third day while waiting to put his arm in plaster.
Paolo quickly resumed his work at the head of the brigade, his visits to units and his lonely peregrinations. He was well known for absenting himself. He was away for long periods at a time, then suddenly turned up at one of the units only to disappear again, to the concern of his comrades and annoyance of his superiors who tried on several occasions to impress upon him that as Chief of Staff he had to be more communicative about his movements.
Ennio "Condor" Biasetti says that there had always been something mysterious about Paolo and his activities. However, it generally turned out that he was out collecting information or recruiting new partisans or "creating order where there was none". In this latter role in did not shy from occasionally interfering in neighbouring brigades’ internal business:
Distaccamento Griffith in the 47th Garibaldi brigade were a terrible lot. They were always making trouble, but he soon had them under control using his authority and gentle manner, or by pulling rank if necessary.
Condor remembers Paolo’s temperament and his anger at all forms of injustice.
I've seen him dismiss a man from the brigade and smack someone with his plaster cast. As a vice commissioner in the 4th GL I often gave him shoes or money or a new coat, but he always came back without them: "I met someone who needed them more than I did," he would say.
Aquila had also resumed his position as commander of Distaccaccamento Matteotti and had been joined by his fiancée Laura, who had moved in with some relatives in the mountains.
During one of Dan’s meetings with Urano, the brigade commander said that there was a rumour that the Germans had received a tip-off about the attack on Lesignano Bagni and the source had to be a partisan talking out of turn.
Dan answered that he would look into the matter and "if one day I have absolute proof, you can figure out what I'll do."
He already knew from his own particular way of thinking that if he found absolute proof that there had been any treachery, he would eliminate the traitor or traitors with his own hands. This was a matter for him and him alone; he considered this eventuality with complete spiritual serenity; he simply wanted proof, and so he would create his own intelligence net without anyone else knowing. He had to get in touch with some old contacts down on the plain and in Parma. Many of his informers didn't even realise that they had co-operated on this particular investigation, one which he intended to get to the bottom of.
During one of his trips down to the plain Dan visited the Soragna family, whom we hadn't seen since he left Vigatto. On the way back to Tizzano he stopped off at Langhirano where he visited the ex-Fascist Mayor Italo Lanzi, who was a land steward for some friends of the Soragnas, Count and Countess Zileri.
Lanzi used his extensive network of contacts among the Fascists and the parish priests in the mountains to try to establish contacts between the warring parties and to make life a little easier for the civilian population. During this meeting on 1st October the ex-Mayor floated the possibility for the first time of exchanging some of the political captives in San Francesco prison in Parma for military prisoners captured by the partisans.
It was also at this time that Dan met the 27-year-old Sicilian Giacomo "Pablo" Crollalanza., the military leader of Comando Unico.
Crollalanza had fought as a second lieutenant in Greece, but had been wounded and sent back to Italy. On 8th December 1943 he was living in Parma where he had gone underground to avoid being captured by the Germans. It wasn't long before he was arrested and placed in San Francesco prison, but he managed to escape when the prison was hit during an air attack. He fled to the hills and joined the partisans using the cover name of Pablo. He had been the leader of the Communist 31st Garibaldi Brigade for a while, but when Comando Unico was formed, he was appointed its commander.
The two men met in Pastorello; they had both come down from the mountains to look into rumours they had heard about German tanks coming into Langhirano, about seven kilometres further up the road towards Parma.
… he was a very thin young man. He was struck by the expression of calm authority emanating from his facial expression. Normally he would have considered it ridiculous to see a partisan with a moustache, but in this young man's case it was almost natural. His uniform was clean and orderly. He cast a glance at the military insignia above the left hand breast pocket of his jacket. […] It was fortunate that the highest military authority rested in such a man’s hands. His young age was irrelevant. He knew that Pablo was a professional officer and that he had demonstrated courage as a partisan and had strong leadership qualities.
The two of them had barely managed to exchange a few words before a German tank hove into view a little further up the road from Langhirano. Pablo disappeared into the trees above the road and Dan set off on a wild scramble across the bridge to Capoponte.
The tank turned round when it reached Pastorello, but, clearly, there was something in the rumours. The Germans and the Fascists assembled their combined forces in Langhirano and on 10th October - another misty, rainy day on which large forces could move without being seen and sounds were difficult to identify - they attacked.
The enemy troops fought their way through the road block by Capoponte and entered Tizzano, which was only lightly defended because part of the brigade had been sent to Cisa Pass - almost 40 kilometres away to the west of river Parma - to disrupt German movements between Emilia and Liguria. However, the partisans were able to gather their forces around Tizzano fairly quickly and their intense machinegun fire soon had the Germans on the run. A single partisan was taken prisoner; a dead German was left in front of the carabinieri barracks, which housed the brigade’s HQ.
Fighting around Capoponte was fierce, and Dan was to hear rumours of his own demise. The Germans had been seen driving away with the body of an injured partisan, and Dan’s familiar pipe had been found where the man fell - perhaps it was the pipe Per Winge had hit the Thursday evening in Roskilde before war broke out in Denmark. However, Dan had given his pipe to a comrade, "Alpino", whom he had been with at a meeting of Comando Unico in Bosco di Corniglio.
Some days after this shocking discovery, which showed how vulnerable partisans still were, Dan visited the Zileri family in Langhirano again. Amongst the guests were Dr. Celso, Marisa, the nurse, and her husband, Colonel Ricci. Dr. Celso and Marisa wanted to take advantage of the more comfortable surroundings at the home of the Count and Countess to put Dan’s arm in plaster. The Colonel, through his contact with high-ranking officers in Mussolini's army, had come by some information which he wanted Dan to pass onto SOE.
Having his arm put in plaster was a very painful process and once again Dan had to take recourse to grappa.
He drank several glasses and soon slipped into a state of semi-consciousness and blissful indifference. Dr. Celso was busy finishing putting the plaster on as Dan, despite the pain, started telling jokes. The others played up to him and pretended to laugh. But somewhere inside him something bizarre happened: he was aware that he was playing a part. It was as if he was two people. His real self despised the other person who was actually playing the clown. He was almost happy that the others saw him in such a weakened state, reduced to relying on spirits; he didn't want them to see his true nature. In the last two weeks he had felt a growing distance develop between him and everything else. Outwardly he was embarking on a course of events which by its own logic would bring about an even greater involvement in the war, a war which could lead to total destruction, or to liberation, though still distant, and a return to normality. For the real Dan, however, the one he knew, there would be no chance of returning to any kind of normal life. He knew that he would not be able to resume his old life of study and teaching. For him, the coming months would bring with them his physical, and perhaps even spiritual, downfall. The basic issue in his life was neither survival nor liberation: for years he had been waiting for a response to his silent seeking and mute prayers which constantly brought him face-to-face with the highest reason for existence. He knew that he might find the answer on his dying day because he had long been blinded by his fight against evil. His sole task was to do everything in his power to achieve the goals that they had all set themselves, all the people who, together with him, each for their own reasons, had rebelled against Fascism and the Germans. Achieving the partisans’ goal was only partly the same as achieving the goal he himself sought. He was alone in a much more complicated struggle, and he was not even able to reveal its true nature to the others; he chose to act in accordance with their expectations and aims, but he wanted to view all his experiences in the light of his own inner unrest.
Of all the sections in Cammina fratello, cammina …, where Arndt Lauritzen portrays his religious torment as a result of resorting to violence, this is perhaps the strongest and the most significant. He knows he will never be able to return to normality: his work as a priest, his calling, have become an impossibility because he knows that by following his conscience and fighting with a weapon in his hand against an objectively defined evil, and in so doing threatening Christian values, he has indirectly given up his search for the meaning of life. His comrades can win their struggle because it is all about survival and liberation, and on top of that it is being fought out on their soil and in direct proximity to their homes, their women and children, but Arndt Lauritzen feels that he can only lose his struggle "because he has long been blinded by his fight against evil". Arndt Lauritzen, the priest, feels that he has betrayed his faith by blindly following the logic of violence. He is helping to liberate Italy - and Denmark and Europe - but he has lost his own freedom.
We cannot know whether Arndt Lauritzen reflected in this way in the midst of war or whether this and other similar sections are solely the dramatic representation of his constant inner struggle to pardon himself - a struggle which must have been particularly dramatic as he dictated his story to Rosita.
According to Ennio "Condor" Biasetti, Paolo felt the loss of his vocation very keenly, from the time when he was fighting in the mountains:
He wept because he could no longer celebrate the Holy Communion as his hands were soiled with blood.
The attack on 10th October and the concentration of troops in Langhirano which Dan and Pablo had observed was part of the run-up to a “War on Partisans Week" which the German supreme commander in Italy, General Feldmarschall Albert Kesselring had initiated.
Large build-ups of German troops, supported by tanks and Italian militia opened a number of attacks on partisans in the three parallel river valleys, Baganza, Parma and Enza, and on 17th October they struck the brigade's command centre.
A deserter by the name of Mario "lo slavo" had identified Hotel Gherardi as the HQ of Comando Unico in the little town of Bosco di Corniglio where, on 17th October, the CU was to meet Gino "Renzi" Menconi, the leader of the resistance movement in Parma, to co-ordinate their efforts.
For two consecutive days a large patrol of Fascist militia allowed themselves to be seen on the brow of a hill opposite Beduzzo, to the east of Bosco di Corniglio. The partisans took up positions to confront an advance from this side, but in so doing laid their northern flank bare. In the dense morning mist of 10th October, 240 SS soldiers trained specifically in anti-guerilla warfare entered the town from this side.
There followed a bitter fight around the hotel and in the building itself. Pablo and three other partisans were killed, two were injured and taken prisoner, one of them Gino Renconi. The two prisoners were later burned alive, Renconi tied to an iron bed. Furthermore, the Germans confiscated large numbers of documents.
Dan first heard the shocking news about how Comando Unico had been wiped out the following day as he approached the road block by Capoponte. He had been on one of his nocturnal excursions across the plain to set up some "contra-espionage measures" and had visited the village of Porporano on the outskirts of Parma where the village priest, Don Angelo Chierici, was one of his regular helpers. The priest was asked to pass on a message to Bertani, an engineer, in Parma with whom Dan had worked ever since his first contact with the resistance movement in the town.
On his way back into the mountains Dan paid a night-time call on another of his contacts, "the old lady" in Alberi di Vigatto, a couple of kilometres from Villa Soragna. The old lady was one of Dan's most trusted agents. According to information in Cammina fratello, cammina… they had been working together for over one and a half years, and Dan had never mentioned her existence to anyone.
From Capoponte Dan immediately made his way over the bridge back to Pastorello to cover the last 25 kilometres to Bosco di Corniglio as quickly as possible while inwardly fuming over the actions of the people who had failed in their duty to protect the HQ of Comando Unico.
Total confusion reigned in Bosco di Corniglio, but the traitor, Mario "Lo slavo", had indeed been captured and the CU’s next-in-command, the Communist engineer, Giacomo "Arta" Ferrari and his party comrade, the solicitor, Primo "Mauri" Savani, who was the political commissioner, were both fiercely determined to re-establish the unit as quickly as possible.
After long and difficult negotiations, in which Major Holland and the SOE played an important role as arbitrators between the 10 brigades, CLNAI and the local division of CLN - and put the parties under a certain amount of pressure - it was finally possible to put the new command structure in place on 14th November 1944. Arta was appointed the head of the new Comando Unico with the writer, Achille "Poe" Pellizzari as the political commissioner. Since the CU now had its HQ to the west of the road to Cisa, a special "delegatio" was set up to be in charge of the eastern area where the 3rd Julia operated. The professional soldier, Colonel Paolo "Gloria" Ceschi was the commander, with Primo "Mauri" Savani as the political commissioner.
A very efficient, energetic staff officer with a strong personality, who led the CU in the area between roads 62 and 63 from November 1944 until April 1945 when the area was overrun.
While he was in charge he succeeded in turning a disorganised group of Garibaldi and Giustizia e Libertà partisans into a disciplined military force with a good chain of command.
He was directly responsible for placing the security of the area in the hands of the relevant carabinieri who were enlisted as partisan police and to establish a central military law court run by a judge and three lawyers.
His greatest achievement was to enlist about 30 regular officers to man the subordinate posts and ensure that they were accepted and obeyed by the troops.
He was an exceptional figure in the Appennines and created an organisation that was much better than you might expect from the word PARTISAN.
This officer should and will go far.
And about Primo Savani:
An idealist with a fine sense for practicalities who held the post of POLITICAL COMMISSIONER for CU, east of road 62 from November 1944. He was an ex political commissioner for the province of Parma until the province’s CU was divided into two. This man is a distinguished speaker with a powerful personality who managed to halt and keep under control the greatest resistance to CESCHI’s progressive reforms purely by the wieght of his clear logic.
An utterly reliable, competent diplomat, respected and liked by partisans of all parties.
Continuing on from the attack on Comando Unico, the Germans opened a new offensive against the 4th GL and the neighbouring brigade the 47th Garibaldi. The Germans attacked not only from the north across the usual bridge between Pastorello and Capoponte, but also from Vezzano in the east and the region up towards Reggio. They used the cover of night for sporadic forays and attacked a succession of new places to find weak points in the brigades’ defence.
As the 4th GL’s Chief of Staff, Dan was not attached to any particular unit in the brigade, but had considerable freedom to move between centres of activity to try to form an overall perspective of the situation. In fact, he had no command authority so he was content to ensure that units had the provisions they needed, listen carefully to the orders of the commander in charge and occasionally add a few quiet comments or words of wisdom – at the same time as being careful not to fall foul of the chains of command. His visits buoyed the moral of the partisans who took them as an expression of the interest in their situation by the brigade command. Individual units kept in touch with command, incidentally, by means of runners.
Dan participated in the fighting alongside whichever unit he was with as a machine gunner, together with ‘his’ Russians. The partisans put up fierce resistance, but in Dan’s opinion they didn’t move position enough and tended to be too stationary, thus delivering the initiative to a large degree to the Germans. On the other hand, he noted that the combination of landmines, machine gunfire and hand grenades was a very effective way of dealing with German tanks.
When the attack reached its climax, the Germans entered Tizzano. The partisans held out for a long time, but in the end they became separated and the small groups only managed to find each other again when German pressure began to weaken after about a week’s fighting.
The 4th GL’s losses in October amounted to 16 dead, 13 wounded and 8 taken prisoner. Among the dead were 5 members of Distaccamento Matteotti who were accidentally caught in ‘friendly’ fire as they tried to wade across the river Parma to escape the cross fire.
Aquila’s fiancée, Laura, was one of the wounded; she was hit by a German machine gun bullet as she was fleeing from Tizzano with Marisa, the nurse. Marisa brought her to safety and later helped Dr. Celso to remove the bullet.
It was not possible to put a figure on German losses, but the partisans estimated them to be higher than their own. The partisans, however, had not taken many German prisoners.
The lack of German prisoners bothered Dan whenever informers in Parma talked about the Sicherheitsdienst’s and the Black Shirt Brigade’s very active detention policies. Should an exchange have been on the cards, it would have been good to have more prisoners to negotiate with.