Versione italiana | Search in site:

Ubaldo Pesapane 1907 - 1980

The scribe of Flossenburg who helped the Jews

Photo taken from the book "In the memory of things" Historical archive Bolzano, 2009

Photo taken from the book "In the memory of things" Historical archive Bolzano, 2009

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

He was born on May 20, 1907 in Palermo because his mother, as was customary in those days, went to give birth to the parents of the parents who lived in that city. The grandfather, a professional magistrate, was at that time President of the Court of Appeal.

Orphaned father six years old grew, by necessity, with his younger brother in Livorno in a board run by the State Railways. On the advice of the official uncle of Marina, the boy entered the Military Academy of Modena, thus embarking on a military career.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, at the front in Greece and Albania and later, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Eugene Division of Savoy, in Croatia.

There the terrible events took place after September 8, 1943. Escaped with a few officers under him, to escape the capture of the Germans, he took refuge in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines where the family was displaced. Warned of the complaint to the German Command as a renitent officer manages to escape capture and heads to the north.

He was never a fascist but he loved his country so much that, commanded, he did not hesitate to enter the National Liberation Committee (CNL) clandestinely, in contravention of his personal interests, his safety and that of his family. Presenting himself to the Military Command of the Republic of Salò and reinstated in his rank as Major of the General Staff, he began the clandestine espionage activity that, following the denunciation of another officer his ancient companion of the Academy, led him to be arrested, detained for about two months in the prison of San Vittore in Milan, then as a political prisoner in the Transit field of Bolzano and finally sent along with a load of other unfortunates, Jews and other different, with the wagons lead for this purpose, to the Lager of extermination of Flossenburg where he remained for eight interminable, tragic months of horror.

Here the prisoners, as usual, were stripped of everything and started as modern slaves to work so heavy as to bring them soon to death by starvation and exhaustion.

In life, even in the most tragic eventualities, a bit of luck is needed. My father had a trivial opportunity that served to save his life. He had a very personal, incisive and volitive calligraphy, and he knew how to perfectly reproduce every calligraphic character excelling in the order in which he arranged the drafts.

One day the imponderable happened. The Capo Campus (if one may say) set up a competition to find a scribe who would have to compile the list of daily deaths. My father showed up and was chosen for his extraordinary calligraphic skills.

Every evening he was locked up with two other unfortunates in a shack full of corpses (about 300 to 400). After moving it from the pile, every single corpse had to write down the serial number. After the macabre work, locked up in the insufficiency of the Schreibstube, had to fill in minutely the list of deaths of the day going back to the personal data contained in the registers. In the morning the list had to coincide perfectly with that of the previous day. It was the strict German organization, meticulous up to the pedantry applied also to the horror. He thus became "the man of the dead".

But it was his luck. Working at night, even in the atrocious situation described, once the work was finished, he could sleep from the morning until the afternoon, being less exposed to the harassment and torture perpetrated to all prisoners by day.

Thus being able, in his position as a scribe, to access the secret registers of the camp, he helped at risk of his life several fellow Jews. It was easy for him to "die on paper" a Jew by attributing to him the identity of someone who was not of the hated race, and perhaps giving him a distant chance to survive.In the small office, during the nights of his work, my father began to to draw up another secret list: that of the Italians who died in that camp, he wanted that if he returned, the Italian brothers who disappeared in the smoke of a chimney had a name.

In bad luck he was lucky. He did not get sick of the deadly petechial typhus and was never admitted to the infamous Revier, the infirmary where an SS soldier raged with medical-surgical ambitions. Generally, we entered it alive and went out quartered.

My father saved himself by resisting the carnage of the "march of death", the forced march during which about ten thousand men were killed, when, by now, he was freed along with a few unfortunate survivors of an American Armored Division. After the fortunate journey through a destroyed Germany, he arrived in Italy on May 20, 1945. The lists - deposited at the International Red Cross in Milan - and his testimony were very important for the hundreds of families who, in contrast, would no longer know anything about their loved ones.

The path of his rebirth was long and difficult. Flossenburg had stolen his soul.

He never considered himself a hero, never boasted about the good he had done, simply because it was what had to be done. He never took advantage of the tragedy suffered to have favors or places of relief even having known personally and attended, following the events of his adventurous life, almost all the characters who after the war became those who "counted", never took advantage of this knowledge for personal interest. At the time, despite the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazi criminals caused a sensation, public opinion never fully assessed the tragedy of the men and women who survived the factory of horrors. They were simply considered as veterans of captivity. No one, even with the most unbridled imagination, could ever conceive of such horrors.

On his return, despite the acts of extreme patriotism he was very disappointed by the Army, he was under investigation for having sworn for the Republic of Salò and, to be exonerated and prove to have been part of the CNL and suffered the tragedy of the Lager, he had to resort to the testimony of the few companions in misfortune. For this reason, with pain, he resigned and began again in civil life, subsequently achieving considerable positions as Director of Personnel in important industrial companies.

Like all those who had suffered the same tragedy did not tell much, he just wanted to forget. Indeed, he died in Milan for only seventy-three years.

I see in the man that my father was a person of value who, despite his human faults and his doubts, intelligent and of great depth, honest, courageous, generous, but above all just, pursued his ideals, his principles with obstinacy without ever taking into account your personal interest.

Giovanna Pesapane

Don’t miss the story of the Righteous and the memory of Good

Once a month you will receive articles and events selected by Gariwo Editorial Board. Please fill out the field below and click on subscribe.




Tales and testimony

of Righteous people in the Holocaust

There are numerous stories of rescue of the Jews from the Nazi fury during World War Two, which are still little known or have even remained unknowwn. In this section we feature the tales and testimony sent to the Forest of the Righteous Committee or that have reached our Website from those who want to inform people about a little known or overlooked event when rescue, aid, solidarity and human kindness were expressed in the gloomy times of hatred and persecutions.
Some events still need be evalued by Yad Vashem's Righteous Commission, where the inquiry in sight of the bestowment of the title of Righteous among the nations is started.

People recognized as Righteous

Righteous among the nations

recognized by Yad Vashem