Academic journal article Italica

"C'era Una Volta la Prigionia": Guareschi's Resistance in the Favola Di Natale

Academic journal article Italica

"C'era Una Volta la Prigionia": Guareschi's Resistance in the Favola Di Natale

Article excerpt

Nel '43 ho rifiutato di servirei tedeschi e fascisti e mi hanno portato in un Lager dove ho usato tutte la mia intelligenza e la mia abilita per impedire che i tedeschi riuscissero a prendere per fame i disgraziati che erano con me. Ho fatto un buon lavoro. (1)

--Giovannino Guareschi

While many scholarly studies have addressed the history and memory of the partisan Armed Resistance to Nazifascists during World War II, fewer have focused on the unarmed or "White" Resistance that took place at the same time by Italian soldiers interned in Germany and Poland. In the Italian collective imagination as well, popular memory of the Resistance remains largely congealed around partisan sacrifices and guerilla warfare. But fortunately, a more complete picture of prison life in the Lagers continues to emerge that validates this experience as a heroic form of anti-fascism. (2) This present study focuses upon a form of prisoner entertainment as Resistance, the Favola di Natale, a Christmas show written and produced in the Sandbostel Lager in 1944 by Giovannino Guareschi.

After the war, through his editorship of Candido, his anthologies and films of the Don Camillo saga, and the famous libel suit that Alcide De Gasperi brought against him, Guareschi achieved international fame. But to this day, the dwindling numbers of surviving Italian ex-prisoners of war simply think of Guareschi as the "cantore collettivo" of their travails (Nello, "Guareschi" 44).

The Favola provides an excellent example of Resistance literature that attests to the Italian POW experience in the greater Third Reich primarily for two reasons. First, since Guareschi actually wrote and performed the fable as a musical production to satirize his German guards and assail the morally impoverished Nazi regime, it allows us to see how significant Resistance efforts took place behind barbed wire. Second, the publication of the Favola and its performances on stage after the war sheds tremendous light upon Guareschi's attempts to make sense of his sacrifices as a POW; the work, in other words, gives us a snapshot of Guareschi's bitterness that eventually dissipated to the point where he could forgive his captors. Newly discovered material relevant to the Favola, which Guareschi never published, provides scholars with the best critical route to plumb the richness of the tale.

To begin our inquiry, we should first place the work in its proper historical context.

Telling tales to Resist: Guareschi as "Fabulist"

Shortly after Italy signed an Armistice with the Allies in September 1943 and opted to get out of the war, the Germans seized Guareschi, then an artillery lieutenant stationed in Alessandria, and pressured him to swear allegiance to Hitler or Mussolini. When Guareschi refused, they shipped him to an interment camp in Poland. After an arduous train trip, he debarked to find himself among fleas and bedbugs, immersed in mud and surrounded by graveyards found along the perimeter of the camp (Diario Clandestino, xiv). Since Italy had not declared war on its former ally, the Germans classified Guareschi and the other Italians they captured as Internati Militari Italiani (IMI) instead of Prisoners of War, thus nullifying their 1929 Geneva Convention rights. As internees, therefore, the International Red Cross could not provide Italian soldiers adequate assistance, and the status of imprisonment and rules governing treatment remained both murky and in limbo (Nello, "La Resistenza clandestina" 147). (3)

To help himself cope with the deprivations, Guareschi began to maintain both a chronicle, wherein he noted the particular events within the prison, the status of the weather, and the changes in his health and morale, and a journal in which he elaborated his attempts to come to terms with various experiences of prison life. After the war, he returned to Italy with over twelve notebooks that are today housed in his extensive archives located in Roncole Verdi. …

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