Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Rape and Murder of Norma Cossetto

Norma Cossetto
(May 17, 1920 - October 4/5, 1943)

Norma Cossetto was an Italian student, born on May 17, 1920 in the Istrian village of Santa Domenica di Visinada, near Visignano in Istria, which was then part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Her father, Giuseppe Cossetto, was the Mayor of Visinada. Norma graduated from secondary school in Gorizia in 1939, then enrolled at the University of Padua. After 1941 she began attending schools in Pisino and Parenzo in her native Istria. During the summer of 1943 she traveled around on a bicycle doing research for a school thesis on Istria.

After the Italian Armistice on September 8, 1943, in the midst of World War II, bands of Yugoslav partisan terrorists took control of Istria. The Cossetto family soon began to receive death threats. On September 25 the Cossetto household was raided by the Yugoslavs. On the following day Norma was summoned to the old Italian police station in Visignano, which was occupied by Yugoslav partisans. The Yugoslavs interrogated Norma and asked her to join the Yugoslav partisan movement, but she refused. The next day Norma was arrested by the Yugoslavs and imprisoned in the old barracks of the Guardia di Finanza in Parenzo, along with her relatives, acquaintances and friends, including Eugenio Cossetto, Antonio Posar, Antonio Ferrarin, Ada Rios, Maria Valenti, Umberto Zotter and several other Istrians.

A couple days later the prisoners were transferred to a school in Antignana, which the Yugoslavs converted into a prison. Norma was kept separate from the other prisoners. She was bound to a table and subjected to torture, beatings and was gang raped by the Yugoslavs for several days. In total she was beaten, brutalized and violated by 17 Yugoslav partisans, all belonging to the terrorist bands of Josip Broz Tito, the future Communist dictator of Yugoslavia.

On October 4/5 all the prisoners, a total of 27 including Norma, were tied with barbed wire and forced to walk to Villa Surani, a small village near Antignana. All the prisoners were then thrown alive into a sinkhole, i.e. a large pit in the ground known as a foiba. Three of the female prisoners were subjected to rape before being thrown into the pits by the Yugoslavs. Norma, the last to be thrown in, was once again raped and was nude when she was thrown into the pit alive. She was 24 years old. This brutal and horrific massacre is known as the Foiba di Villa Surani.

Norma's father Giuseppe found out she had been arrested and, not knowing that she had already been murdered, he went to Visinada with another relative, Mario Bellini, to find out information about the whereabouts of his daughter. On October 7 the two men were ambushed in Castellier-Santa Domenica by the Yugoslavs and were stabbed to death. A few days later the two men had their dead bodies dragged around and thrown into a sinkhole.

Between October 2 and October 9, 1943 the German army occupied Istria in Operation Wolkenbruch (Operazione Nubifragio). Norma's sister, Licia Cossetto, informed the Germans of the crimes committed by the Yugoslavs. An investigation was launched by a local Istrian and chief of the Pola fire brigade, Marshal Arnaldo Harzarich. On December 10, 1943 Norma's beaten and lifeless body, together with her fellow prisoners, was discovered in a sinkhole 136 meters (446 feet) deep. In addition to the bodies of Norma and the other 26 prisoners, the bodies of a dozen other Italians later thrown into the pit were also discovered.

When Norma's body was recovered and examined it was discovered that both her breasts had been amputated and that she had been raped with a large wooden object, which was found still lodged in her body, between her legs.

Licia Cossetto later testified:
“Even now I have nightmares at night, remembering the way we found her: hands tied behind her back... her face alone seemed quite serene. I tried to look for bullet wounds, but there were none; I am convinced they threw her in alive. A woman later approached me and said: ‘Miss, I wish to remain anonymous, but my house is close to the school, and that afternoon I looked through the half-closed shutters, and I saw your sister tied to a table and the beasts were abusing her; that same evening I heard her screams: she was calling for her mother and asking for water, but I could not do anything because I was afraid.’”
The German authorities managed to find and arrest 6 of the 17 Yugoslavs involved in these heinous crimes. They were ordered to attend Norma Cossetto's funeral in the mortuary chapel of the local cemetery in Santa Domenica di Visinada, forced to stay awake all night in a candlelight vigil, standing and looking at the young woman they had beaten, tortured, raped and murdered a couple months earlier. The 6 criminals were summarily executed the following morning. The other Slavic torturers involved in these crimes were never found.

The rape and murder of Norma Cossetto, and the massacre of her 26 companions, was just one incident among many. It was part of the much larger Foibe Massacres, a systematic genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Yugoslavs (Croats, Slovenes and Serbs) against the native Italians of Istria during World War II. The purpose of these barbaric massacres was to exterminate the Italian population of Istria and slavicize the region before annexing it to Greater Yugoslavia.

These massacres – which inflicted terror upon the indigenous Italian population of Istria, Dalmatia and Julian Venetia, and claimed the lives of approximately 20,000-30,000 Italians – was followed by a mass exodus and forced expulsion of 350,000 Italians, an event known as the Istrian-Dalmatian or Julian-Dalmatian Exodus. The Italian territories were then occupied, forcibly slavicized and annexed to Communist Yugoslavia. These regions today are occupied by the ex-Yugoslav successor states: Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. The victims and their families remain uncompensated by the Slavic governments; hundreds of thousands of Italians remain in exile from their homeland.

Grave of Norma Cossetto and Giuseppe Cossetto
Cemetery of Santa Domenica di Visinada, Istria