Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War

By Christopher M. Sterba | Go to book overview

6
“More than Ever, We Feel Proud
to Be Italians”

The event that proved most decisive in pulling the New Haven colonia into the war effort took place three thousand miles away, near the small town of Caporetto. There, in the early hours of October 24, 1917, a combined Austrian and German force smashed the Italian Army's lines. By midafternoon Italy had lost all of the ground it had gained in the previous twoand-a-half years of fighting, and by nightfall the front had collapsed seventeen miles in what had been one of the most immobile theaters of the war. The Italians did not halt the enemy advance until November 10. By that time their losses were staggering. Forty thousand men were killed or wounded; roughly 300,000 were taken prisoner and nearly as many stragglers deserted their units and fled to safety. 1

Caporetto was also a catastrophe for the civilian population. Close to half a million refugees were caught in the crossfire. Inevitably their escape clogged the roads the army needed for its retreat, producing a human quagmire of soldiers who had thrown down their weapons and peasants who had gathered whatever belongings and livestock they could save. Venice, only fifteen miles from the Austro-German advance, evacuated in desperation. The city's population of 160,000 fell to 20,000 almost overnight.

Except for a brief period in the spring of 1916, Italy had always been on the offensive and fighting on enemy soil. Thus the disaster at Caporetto left New Haven's Italians stunned. A clergyman encountered a group of immigrants weeping openly in the street over the news that their native village had been captured. “This brings the dark side of the war close to us,” he commented. A reporter covering the reaction in Wooster Square agreed: “Interest in the war is at fever intensity…The great reverses reported in the press are the topic of conversation wherever Italians meet.” 2

The immigrant population manifested this “fever intensity” in either the most personalized or the most patriotic terms. Consul Nicola Mariani, the Italian government's spokesman in the area, flatly denied all reports of cow-

-133-

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Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Good Americans *
  • Introduction - The Melting Pot Goes to War 3
  • 1 - The Heyday of the New Immigrant Enclave 9
  • I - Your Country Needs You 31
  • 2 - Raising Volunteers and the Italian Response in New Haven 34
  • 3 - The Draft and New York Jewry 53
  • II - Training the New Immigrant Soldier 83
  • 4 - Being Italian in the Yankee Division 86
  • 5 - Being Jewish in the National Army 105
  • III - The Home Front 131
  • 6 - More Than Ever, We Feel Proud to Be Italians 133
  • 7 - New York Jewry Must Do Its Duty 153
  • 8 - Survival and Victory on the Western Front 175
  • Epilogue - A New Voice in Politics 202
  • Notes 213
  • Selected Bibliography 251
  • Index 265
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