Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Andrea Bertazzoni

the lucky "comrade" who escaped all purges of Stalin's, but not those of the PCI

Testimony by his son Vladimiro – Mantua and Milan, 9 November 2005 (remarks delivered at Palazzo Marino in memory of the Italian victims of Stalinism)

Although he did not lose his life, my father Andrea Bertazzoni, filed in the USSR under the surname “Mukas”, can be considered as a victim of Italian-Soviet Stalinism. I was asked plenty of times why he did not end up in the GULag or shot dead or imprisoned in the years of the purges. Russians themselves, when they learn about my father’s presence in the USSR from 1932 to 1946, ask me full of curiosity: “And they didn’t jail him?”. When I answer nope, I read a sense of surprise on their faces. Is it ever possible? There is no answer to this state of things, which escapes any logic or criterion. The most appropriate image of those years is the “Russian roulette”. Everybody had a gun barrel pointed to their heads, but not everybody was shot dead.

A similar situation had been endured by my father during World War I. Based on article 92 which provided death penalty, he had been sentenced over self-inflicted wounds, refusal of murdering and being murdered, and handed down a 20-year term in a military confinement facility. One of his fellow soldiers, for deliberately wounding himself at one finger, was shot dead (see Plotone di esecuzione, by Forsella-Monticone).

In the USSR he had several “good opportunities” to be jailed. On the one hand the Russian secret police already put a great deal of effort into hitting the so called “people’s enemies”, the traitors of the cause, the dodgers, the Trotskians, the renegades, and the social democrats, on the other hand they were given a helping hand by the people in charge of our antifascist emigration, who reported to the NKVD the fellow nationals who, in their opinion, did not feature unequivocal signs of communist “ideological purity”.

Never so suited appears to be Pietro Nenni’s sentence: “There is always someone purer who purges you”. I will sum up in a few lines some of the “good opportunities” my father had to end up in jail:

  • The now notorious story of the production of green cheese in the USSR, which got him to be reported as a traitor and a poisoner of the people because of the yellow-greenish mould of the product (a nice and world-known gorgonzola cheese!). This occurred in 1936. Mukas was freed from blame and released.
  • A poem against Paolo Robotti, always in1936, in which Togliatti’s brother-in-law was accused of having an authoritarian attitude so that he could “yell at everyone/”Be silent when talking to me!”. This poem become widespread among our nationals. It was a reaction to the notorious way our leadership reported about Mukas, describing him as a cheater, and no good at producing cheese, to the Russian authorities.
  • The “top secret” file Elena Dundovich published in the book Tra esilio e castigo (Between exile and punishment) where near the name Bertazzoni-Mukas we read, among else: “He is politically weak, wavering. Strong remainders of social democratic ideology occur to him …”. This document of 1937 could have been quite a “not negligible opportunity” to be sent to a gulag.
  • The clashes with the top sectarian Italian leaders that made Mukas’ life miserable, led my father, at the end of 1937, to demand to leave the USSR for France. The reply came from the chairwoman of the International Red Rescue, Elena Stassova, former secretary of Lenin’s: he should demand first the cancellation of his Soviet citizenship and then… My father of course did not do that, because it could lead to a journey to Kolyma instead of Paris.
  • Our home was always open to the relatives of the Italians who had run into the purges: wives, children, acquaintances. Ours was hence a suspicious home.
  • In the self-biographies sent to our leadership, Bertazzoni confessed he had been passive in one field only, “the one regarding the apologetic activities about the figure of Robotti”(then jailed and tortured). And to Vincenzo Bianchi, the head of the Italian émigrés, who wrote to my father: “Try to free yourself from your bitterness against the party, otherwise you had better not contact anymore...”. Mukas replied that one thing is the party meant as the working class, and another one is the bossy concept of it that its leadership had. Such statements and arguments were not really heralds of a quiet future…

In 1939 Robotti, during interrogations in jail, told the names of the Italians “who did not fully understand the politics of the USSR and the Soviet government… Did not accept the Bolshevik kind of criticism of their faults…”. The list included my father’s name. Some of the people listed had a sad fate. And when, as remembered by Felicita Ferrero, our accused told the police to ask the Italian leaders about their non involvement in the charges, cops would reply: “But if it was precisely them…” who reported the other Italians.

Another “good opportunity” occurred in Uzbekistan, when my father was called to work as an interpreter in camp no. 26, where 2.000 Italian prisoners were interned. We were in 1944. A Soviet official reported my father over falling under the influence of fascists, because he opposed some mishandling that certain officials, despite the international agreements, inflicted to our soldiers. The report was followed by the official’s demotion. The conference held by my father to the prisoners started like this: “Dearest fellow nationals”. What a scandal! A jailer who treats prisoners like that! Many prisoners, after getting back to Italy, bore witness to the humane and understanding attitude of “commissioner Mukas”.

If the years of Stalinism experienced in the USSR did not have tragic consequences for inscrutable reasons, even though they caused a great deal of tension and even despair sometimes, the “made in Italy” Stalinism had no delay at producing its effects. Having come back to Italy in Spring 1946, Bertazzoni (already persecuted by fascism, jailed, expatriated to France for 7 years and the USSR for 14 years) was expelled by the Italian Communist Party, which published news in the press regarding the measure against him entitled as “Revolutionary surveillance” providing the following motivations: “Bertazzoni has proven to hold no communist ideology, but rather to be essentially imbued with a narrow social democratic mentality”. It seems to read the typical reports sent by the leadership of the Italian Communist Party to the Soviets.

Those were the years of the events related to the “renegades” Magnani and Cucchi (partisans, Members of the Parliament from the region Emilia who criticized Togliatti’s leadership for its subjection to Moscow). Those were not only disciplinary measures, but also forms of persecution, isolation, sacking from his job. A situation, which was experienced by our family and similarly Magnani and others, well described by Franca Magnani in her book Una famiglia italiana, when relatives, uncles, cousins were urged by the Pci to point to their own relatives as “infamous” people.

Now many decades have gone by, but it is right not to forget... in the direction so often indicated by Nella Masutti, Pia Piccioni, Dante Corneli and many others who in vain had demanded the recognition of the errors, forms of complicity,  abandonment to their tragic fate of many Italians, by an Italian Communist Party which for so many years did not heed the calls and did not embrace the cry of despair of Emilio Guarnaschelli: “Comrades, we were wrong! Don’t lose heart”. Today, with the victims, we also remember their relatives, who were subject to the consequences of a despotic concept of civil, social and political life.

Stories of Italian victims

of Soviet totalitarianism

During the Twenties and until the early Thirties of the Twentieth Century, political refugees joined the ranks of the traditional Italian immigrant communities in Kerc’ and Mariupol. These newcomers were communists, anarchists, socialists and antifascists in general. Moscow became the destination of continuous political pilgrimage: very often, albeit for a short time, it was visited by the middle and high rank Italian Communist Party officials, the militants who came to work as officers in the party's branches and, in the end, the cadres who had to study at the party schools. We can calculate that at the time there were nearly 4,000 Italian in the USSR.
As a whole, nearly 1.020 underwent some kind of crackdown from 1919 and 1951: shooting, internment in a labour camp, confinement, deportation, deprivation of civil rights, loss of job, outcasting. At least 110 where shot and 140 sentenced to forced labour, while about 50 of them were confined, while over 550 members of the Italian communities in Crimea were deported to Northern Kazakhstan in 1942.
Despite all, many kept on believing in the ideal of communism and those among them who managed to get into safety, very often returned to civil life resigned and hopeless. Some of them instead were deceived, above all to honor the disappeared comprades. In this mission they met with huge difficulties, they risked to undergo new persecutions and they underwent discrimination and ostracism.
Their tales have just started coming into light, as the Soviet archives are opened and the group Memorial in Moscow carries out its denounciation activities.