Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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​The Pergolos 1851

an Italian family persecuted by the Communist regime in Crimea

an Italian family persecuted by the Communist regime in Crimea

The origins, in Trani 
Trani, 30 January 1851


Birth of Antonio Pergolo (the Great-Grandfather). We know, from the tales passed on in the family, that Antonio became a mariner. Navigating on a cargo vessel on his way from Trani to the Black Sea, he decided to stop in Crimea (then Russia), in Kerch, where he married Teresa Mureten, a young French woman from Avignon whose family ran a confectioner’s shop in Kerch.

Two generations were born in Crimea, in Kerch 
Kertch, 27 October 1879 Birth of Giuseppe (grandfather), son to Antonio Pergolo and Teresa Mureten. He was baptized on 30 October in the catholic church of Kerch, according to the certificate of the parish priest, father Giovanni Arazoff (who registered it on 28 April 1898). The transliteration used in the Italian document changes the last syllable, turning the surname from Pergola into Pergolo. Giuseppe then got married to Antonina Evangelista from the Italian colony of Kertch, who gave him five children: my father Antonio (1902), uncle Bartolomeo (1904), uncle Gaetano (1907), plus Francesco and Giorgetta, who died young in an epidemic of typhus or malaria. Giuseppe worked until 1910 in Ekaterinovka as chief electrician for a Belgian company, running the local thermoelectric steam plant. Giuseppe’s brother, Gaetano, married – always in Kertch - Lina Bassi, with whom he had two kids: Antonio and Nicola, the fathers of our cousins Alla and Pietro. They keep the Catholic faith, as witnessed by Antonio receiving his first in the church of Novorossisk on 5 April 1915.

The preparations to escape from Russia, after the establishment of the bolshevik communist regime, and the trip to Italy 
 Giuseppe left the Belgian firm “for political reasons” and began to plan his trip back to Italy with his wife and children. The first one to leave was Antonio, as soon as he obtained his high school diploma in 1920 (together with his Dad’s cousin, Agostina Leconte). Their parents instead remained waiting for their two other kids, Gaetano and Bartolomeo, to finish school and would leave Russia with them as refugees only in 1922, to reach Antonio in Genoa.

Now the family has come together and a slow and laborious adjustment to integrate into social and civil life in Italy began Giuseppe landed a job in Genoa as an electrician at Ansaldo first and then the “Società di Navigazione Generale” since 1925. His son Antonio entered Ansaldo after graduating in Naval Engineering, while Gaetano and Bartolomeo achieved their entrepreneurial success thanks to a company that produced equipment for military and civil ships. Taking root in Genoa is crowned with the weddings of the three children of Giuseppe between 1935 and 1941.

In the meanwhile in Russia, for the Italians left, life was first tormented by “xenophobic terror” – unleashed by Stalin’s Soviet regime- and then by war The Pergolo’s relatives and acquaintances were:

  • Gaetano (great-uncle), brother of Grandfather Giuseppe an, and his wife (with children Nicola and Antonio) and their cousins
  • Angelina Evangelista (daughter to sister Antonina) and her husband Michele De Martino
  • Their daughter Rina De Martino who married Marino Di Fonzo, arrested and shot in Odessa in 1937 (rehabilitated in 1989)
  • Their daughter Nina De Martino who married Saverio Parenti, arrested in Kertch and shot dead in 1938 (rehabilitated in 1958)
  • Saverio Evangelista (brother to Antonina)
  • His son Bartolomeo Evangelista who married Anna Di Fonzo
  • During war- in 1942 and 1943 – after the withdrawal of the Germans, cousins Bartolomeo Evangelista and the following were deported into the GULags (the former in Siberia), including Nicola Pergolo (to Tagil, Kazakhstan) and Antonio Pergolo (to Krasnoiarsk in the Urals). In 1942 , when Crimea fell under control of the German troops, the “Russian” aunts Rina De Martino Di Fonzo, Nina De Martino Parenti, Anna Di Fonzo Evangelista with their children succeeded in running away and got to Genoa, where they found shelter at the cousins Pergolo’s home.

    The thaw

    1956: in the USSR Krushchev, following the XX congress of PCUS, started “destalinization”. With the rehabilitation of the victims and political prisoners persecuted by the communist regime, also the Italians came back from the GULag. In the Sixties they resumed their correspondence with teir relatives who had remained in Russia (although letters were carefully censored, and it was necessary to avoid by all means any reference to social or political issues)

    1965: upon our invitation a few of them came to Genoa including:

  • Nicola Pergolo and his wife Mira (leaving relatives as “hostage”: it was the old Soviet technique to prevent expats from going back to the USSR) guests of Dad Antonio’s in Trento Street
  • Bartolomeo Evangelista, physically undermined for the suffering endured in his long detention in S

    Testimony by Francesco Pergolo – Genoa, 11/11/2005

    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.