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Ubaldo Pesapane 1907 - 1980

the "scrivener"of Flossenburg who helped the Jews

Picture from the book "Nella memoria delle cose" (in the memory of things), Archivio storico Bolzano, 2009

Picture from the book "Nella memoria delle cose" (in the memory of things), Archivio storico Bolzano, 2009

Testimony by his daughter Giovanna Pesapane - Milan, 24 May 2013

Ubaldo Pesapane was born on 20 May 1907 in Palermo, into a family of the Neapolitan haute bourgeoisie, whose history is intertwined with the history of our country prior to the time of the fall of the Bourbon Kingdom and the unification of Italy. His birth in Sicily is only due to her mother’s wish to follow the old Sicilian women’s tradition of travellng to their parents’ home in order to deliver their babies. His Grandfather, a magistrate, was in those years the President of the Appeal Court.

Fatherless since the age of 6, he grew up, out of necessity, with his younger brother in Livorno, in a boarding school run by the State Railways, and despite living in the North from a very early age, he had retained the warmth and kindness of his people, of the Neapolitan gentleman, the true Neapolitan. After obtaining his Grammar School diploma, he would have liked to study Medicine, but as his mother lacked the means to pay for his university fees – after her husband’s death she worked as a scrivener precisely at the offices of the State Railways -, upon advice of an uncle who was a Navy officer he entered the Military Academy of Modena, thus undertaking the military career.

After getting married, and moving with his family to Turin, he successfully attended the Warfare School, starting a brilliant career, so that he was then Italy’s youngest officer appointed at the Chief of the Staff Office. A history and music amateur, he played piano and organo, after long years spent studying with a skilled teacher, but he never succeeded in cultivating these passions as those certainly un easy times would lead him, after the out break of World War Two, to the front line first in Greece and Albania and then as appointed Chief of Staff of the Divisione Eugenio di Savoia, in Croatia.

There he was befallen by the dreadful events following 8 September 1943. Having run away with a few subordinated officers to escape capture from the Germans, he took refuge in the Tuscan-Emilian Appenine where his family had fled. Warned about a report someone had filed against him as a deserter at the German command, he managed to escape capture again and headed for the North.

He was never a fascist but he loved his homeland so much that, when requested to do so, he did not hesitate to secretly enter the Committee of National Liberation (CNL), against his self-interest, his safety and the one of his family. Introducing himself thus at the Military Command of the Republic of Salò and restored to his rank as Major of the Chief of the Staff Office, he started his activity of underground espionage, which, following the report of another official who had formerly been his comrade at the Academy, led him to be arrested, detained for about 2 months in the prison of San Vittore in Milano, than as a political inmate in the Bozen transit camp and inthe end set in sealed carriages, with a load of other ill-fated people, Jews and others, to the Flossemburg death camp where he remained for eight, endless and tragic months of horror. Here the prisoners, as it used to be there, were stripped off naked and despoiled of everything to be sent as modern slaves to carry out such burdensome works that would soon take them to the death by starving and exhaustion.

In life, even in the most tragic events, it takes a bit of good luck. My father had a banal opportunity that saved his life. He had a very personal, effective and volitive writing, and could perfectly reproduce any calligraphic character, standing out for the order in which he drafted his texts.

One day the unpredictable occurred. The Camp Guard called (if we can say so) for a contest to hire a scrivener who would have to write down the daily body count. My father enter the competition and he was selected for his extraordinary calligraphic skills.

Every evening he was shut with other two ill-fated people in a barrack full of corpses (about 300-400). After moving every single corpse from the pile, he had to write down its matriculation number. Once finished with the macabre job, shut in the small office of the Schreibstube, he had to minutely compile the daily body count tracing back to the personal data recorded in the registers. In the morning the list had to match precisely the one of the previous day. It was the strict German organization, meticulous up to fastidiousness, applied to horror, as well. He thus became the “man of the dead”.

And yet that was his strike of good luck. Working at night, although in the atrocious situation described, once he had finished his job he could sleep from the morning ‘till the afternoon, being thus less exposed to the mishandling and torture perpetrated in the day against all prisoners.

As a scrivener he could access the secret camp registers. Thus he helped several Jewish fellow inmates to a great personal risk. It was easy for them to let a Jew "die on paper” assigning to him the identity of somebody who was not of the hated race, and living him thus a slight opportunity to survive. In his small office, during his nights at work, my father started compiling another secret list: the one of the Italians who had died inside the camp. If he had succeeded in returning home, he wanted the Italian brothers vanished in the smoke of a chimney to have a name.

In his ill fate he was lucky. He did never catch the lethal petechial typhus and he was never hospitalized in the notorious Revier, the infirmary where a SS soldier with surgical ambition took his toll. Normally, people entered it alive an left butchered.

My father saved himself and survived the slaughter of the “death march”, the forced march during which nearly 10,000 men were murdered. Nearly exhausted, he was freed by an US Armoured division. After an eventful journey through a ravaged Germany, he arrived in Italy on 20 May 1945. The lists – deposited at the International Red Cross in Milan – and his testimony were very important for the hundreds of families who, instead, would not here anything about the fate of their dear ones any longer.

His pathway to rebirth was long and difficult. Flossenburg had taken his soul away from him.

He never consider himself as a hero, he never boasted the good he had done, simply because it was what needed be done. He never took advantage of his tragedy to demand any favoritism or to cover important posts, although in the aftermath of war we met with many future leaders, and he never took profit of those acquaintances. At that time, despite the Nuremberger trial against the Nazi criminals had drawn a lot of attention, the public opinion never fully grasped the tragedy of the men and women who had survived the factory of horrors. They were merely considered as former prisoners. Nobody, even with an unrestrained imagination, would ever be able to conceive such horrors.

When he returned home, despite his acts of extreme patriotism, he was very disappointed by the Army, that investigated him for pledging allegiance to the Repubblica di Salò and to be freed from blame and prove he had belonged to the CLN and having befallen the tragedy of lager internment he had to recur to the testimony pieces of his fellow inmates. This is why he painfully decided to resign and he started over from scratch in the civil life, then reaching remarkable positions as Director of the Personnel in important industrial corporation.

As all the other people who had experienced the same tragedy he did not tell a lot about it, he only wanted to forget. He died prematurely in Milan at only 73.

I see, in the man who my father was, a person of great value who, despite his human faults and doubts, he was very intelligent, of a great moral value, honest, courageous, generous, but above all, a Righteous. He pursued his ideals and principles with obstinacy and never considered his self-interest.

- Carla Giacomozzi, Nella memoria delle cose, (In the memory of things, documents from the lagers onated by the Historical Archive of the City of Bozen, 2009)
- Giovanna Pesapane, Anni Quaranta. I dieci anni che hanno cambiato il mondo, (The Forties. The decade that changed the world), Libreria Bocca Editore, Cremona, 2011

Giovanna Pesapane

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