Sunday, February 28, 2016

The History of Pola (Condensed)

Pola, Istria — Old Italian City
Pola was founded in 178-177 BC as a Roman military post. In 46-45 BC it was established as a Roman colony and settled by Italian colonists. The city was destroyed in 43-42 BC, but was later rebuilt by Emperor Augustus and renamed Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea. In 12 BC the city of Pola, together with the rest of Istria, was included in Regio X Venetia et Histria (the tenth region of Italy). Pola, like all the other Istrian cities, was an integral part of ancient Italy and remained culturally and ethnically Italian for the next 2,000 years.

During the Middle Ages the city of Pola was part of the Kingdom of Italy (476-538), Exarchate of Italy (584-751), Kingdom of Italy (751-952), Patria del Friuli (1077-1148), Republic of Venice (1148-1291), Patria del Friuli (1291-1331) and the Republic of Venice (1331-1797). In the early 19th century Pola was briefly part of the Kingdom of Italy, but fell under Habsburg rule in 1815 and was annexed to the Austrian Empire. After World War I and the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Pola once again returned to the Kingdom of Italy. Pola officially remained under Italian sovereignty until 1947.

After World War II Istria was occupied by the Yugoslav Communists and annexed to Yugoslavia. The native Italians were terrorized, persecuted, murdered and forced to flee in a series of events known as the Foibe Massacres and the Istrian Exodus. Between December 1946 and September 1947, the city of Pola was emptied of nearly its entire population: an estimated 32,000 of 34,000 Italians (94% of the population) were forced to abandon their homes and property in Pola and emigrate to Italy and other countries due to fear of persecution, torture and death under Yugoslav rule. Later, new Slavic immigrants arrived to repopulate the deserted city. Like the rest of Istria, Pola lost its 2,000 year old heritage and cultural identity; the city became croatized and was renamed “Pula”.

In 1991 Yugoslavia broke up and Croatia declared its independence; the city of Pola was then incorporated into the new country of Croatia, where it remains today. The Italian Exiles are still awaiting the return of their homeland of Istria.

Full version:  The History of Pola

The History of Pola

Roman Arena in Pola, Istria (Arena di Pola)

Pola is the largest city of Istria and the former capital of Istria. Today it is located in Croatia, but for approximately 2,000 years it was part of Italy and the historic Italian states.


In prehistoric times Istria was inhabited by the Euganei, a proto-Italic or Ligurian tribe, followed by the Veneti, an Italic tribe, and the Histri. The Histri, from whom Istria derives its name, were a tribe of pirates related to the Veneti of northeastern Italy. On the site of today's Pola there existed seven hills, situated at the head of a gulf, along the southern coast of the Istrian peninsula. On these seven hills is where the city of Pola – in imitation of Rome – was later built.

Origins and Ancient Italy (178 BC - 476 AD)

Pola originated in 178-177 BC as a Roman military post during the Second Istrian War. In 46-45 BC it was established as a Roman colony and was settled by Italian colonists. Traditionally, the founders of the colony are said to have been Lucius Calpurnius Piso (father-in-law of Julius Caesar) and Lucius Cassius Longinus (brother of Gaius Cassius, who later assassinated Julius Caesar). Within a few years the population of Pola grew to about 30,000 and became a major Roman port.

The city was destroyed in 43-42 BC during the Liberators' Civil War, part of the Roman Civil Wars. The war was fought between the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) against the forces of Brutus and Cassius, who assassinated Julius Caesar. The city of Pola sided with Brutus and Cassius, and therefore was razed to the ground by the forces of Octavian.

Ancient Italy—Istria formed part of
Region X (Venetia et Histria)
from 12 BC to 568 AD
Emperor Augustus later rebuilt Pola at the insistence of his daughter Julia and renamed it Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea. It once again became an important Roman city and colony. In 29 BC the Roman Arena began construction. Also in 29-27 BC the triumphal Arch of the Sergii was built to commemorate the Roman Sergii family, who fought in the Roman Civil War (44-31 BC) and became one of the most important patrician families in the colony of Pola. During the same period the Porta Ercole (Gate of Hercules) was built; the names of the two Roman founders of the city were inscribed on the top of the entrance.

In 12 BC the city of Pola, together with the rest of Istria, was included in Regio X Venetia et Histria (the tenth region of Italy), with the city of Aquileia as the capital. Pola, together with Istria, became an integral part of Italy and would be connected to Venetia for the next several centuries.

Many structures were built in Pola by the Romans. The Temple of Augustus was completed in 14 AD, while the Roman Arena was completed by 68 AD. A temple dedicated to Jupiter Conservator, as well as Roman thermae (baths), were built on the site of the current Pola Cathedral. The Porta Gemina (Twin Gates) was constructed in the 2nd century AD to fortify and defend the city. Under the Antonine emperors, Pola reached its peak with 35,000 inhabitants.

Temple of Augustus
(Tempio d'Augusto)
Christianity reached Capodistria as early as 56 AD, but early records of Christianity in Pola before the 3rd century are scarce. St. Germanus – the first martyr of Pola – was martyred in the Pola Arena in 274 or 284. The Roman baths of Pola were used as a meeting place by Christians during the Diocletianic Persecution (303-311). The first Christian churches were built in Pola in the early 4th century. Christianity was already well-established in Pola by the time of Emperor Constantine.

In the 4th century two major executions took place in Pola. Crispus, the first-born son of Constantine, was condemned to death and executed by a local Roman court in Pola in the year 326. Constantius Gallus, Caesar of the Roman Empire and a member of the Constantinian dynasty, was also sentenced to death by a Roman court and executed in Pola in 354.

Middle Ages: Barbarian Invasions, Exarchate and Kingdom of Italy (476-952)

In 476 Italy was invaded by barbarians, who deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor. During the invasion the city of Pola was nearly entirely destroyed. Istria was subsequently included in the Kingdom of Italy under Flavius Odoacer, King of Italy. In 493 Odoacer was assassinated by the invading Ostrogoths and Istria was included in the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy under Theodoric. St. Maximianus, the future Archbishop of Ravenna, was born in Pola in 498.

Kingdom of Italy, 480 AD
In 538 Istria was recaptured by the Romans during the Justinian reconquest of Italy. However, Italy was invaded by the Longobards in 568, causing the ancient Italian region of Venetia et Histria to become divided: most of Venetia fell to the Longobards, while Istria remained under the Romans. The Exarchate of Italy was established by the Romans in 584 and Pola, together with the rest of Istria, was included in the Exarchate of Italy under Decius, the Roman Exarch of Italy. Pola remained part of the Exarchate of Italy, within the Eastern Roman Empire, for the next two centuries until the year 751, when Istria was conquered by the Longobards and incorporated into the Longobard Kingdom of Italy under Aistulf, King of Italy. This short-lived occupation ended in 788-789, when Istria was captured by the Franks and subsequently included in the Carolingian Kingdom of Italy under Pepin, King of Italy.

As part of the Kingdom of Italy, Istria was initially included in the March of Friuli, which was established in 776 as a defensive frontier land within the Kingdom of Italy. In 799 the March of Istria was established as a frontier march of the Kingdom of Italy, fulfilling the role previously undertaken by the Duchy of Friuli. The March of Istria was designed to protect Italy from invaders, specifically to keep the Avars, Slavs and Magyars out of Italy. Pola, together with the rest of Istria, remained part of the Kingdom of Italy for the next century and a half.

Middle Ages: Dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia (952-992)

In 952 Otto I of Germany invaded and conquered the Kingdom of Italy. Istria was seized by Otto I and given to the Dukes of Bavaria. In 976, after 24 years under the Bavarian Dukes, Istria was briefly given to the Dukes of Carinthia. This has caused some people to mistakenly assume that Istria, including the city of Pola, became separated from Italy for the first time in recorded history, after being part of Italy for more than 1000 years. However, despite being directly subjected to the German Dukes, Istria was still regarded as formally belonging to the Kingdom of Italy, rather than to the duchies of Bavaria or Carinthia. This is confirmed by a document from the Istrian city of Parenzo dated to 1014, in which we find the phrase “Hic in Italia” (“Here in Italy”). In a later document, dated to 1177, Frederick I Barbarossa lists the Istrians among the people subject to the Kingdom of Italy.

Middle Ages: Republic of Venice, March of Istria, Patria del Friuli and Castropola (992-1331)

In 992 the city of Pola offered itself as a vassal to the Republic of Venice in gratitude for the Venetians defending Istria against the raids and incursions of the Slavs.

In 1001 the church of Santa Maria Formosa – built by St. Maximianus of Ravenna in 547 – was given to the Archbishops of Ravenna, recognizing the centuries-old link between Pola and Ravenna (the Diocese of Pola, founded in the 6th century, was initially a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Ravenna). In 1028 the Diocese of Pola was placed under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Aquileia. In the same year the Bishops of Pola were given temporal power and several Istrian cities, including Fiume, were placed under their temporal authority. Thus Pola briefly became part of its own ecclesiastical feudal principality under the Bishop of Pola, who was given the title of “Count”.

Domenico Morosini,
Doge of Venice
Lord of All Istria
In 1040 the March of Istria was reestablished by Henry III of Germany as an imperial march of the Holy Roman Empire; Istria, including Pola, was given to Poppo I of Weimar, Margrave of Istria, and Pola became the seat of the Margraves of Istria. But just 37 years later, in 1077, the Patria del Friuli was established and the March of Istria came under the temporal rule of the Patriarchs of Aquileia.

Pola became a tributary of the Republic of Venice in 1148. Two years later, in 1150, Pola swore allegiance to Venice. In the same year Domenico Morosini, Doge of Venice, was proclaimed Totius Istriae Dominator (Lord of All Istria). In 1177 Pola obtained the status of a free city, and received its first podestà (mayor), but remained under Venetian influence and continued to pay tribute to Venice. Pola was briefly captured by the Pisans in 1195, but was returned to Venice.

In 1233-1239 Pola began to renegotiate its old relationship with the Patriarchs of Aquileia, and in 1242 a war broke out: the pro-Aquileian faction within Pola took control of the city and declared war on Venice. The Venetians attacked Pola, causing damage to the Cathedral. The pro-Aquileian faction was defeated and soon after the city of Pola once again swore allegiance to Venice.

The ancient Italian family of the Sergi, local leaders of the city of Pola since Roman times, changed their name to Castropola and declared themselves Lords of Pola in 1271. The family was slaughtered in Pola during a religious procession on Good Friday in 1271 by a rival faction led by Andrea di Tonata (also called Andrea di Ionata, a member of the Gionatasi family) and was nearly entirely exterminated. According to tradition the only survivor was a young boy, who carried on the lineage of the Sergi-Castropola family, which later became known as the House of Pola.

The Peace of Treviso forced Venice to give up several Istrian cities, including Pola, to the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1291. Pola became part of the Patria del Friuli, under the Patriarchs of Aquileia, for the next 40 years. However, local power resided with the Sergi-Castropola family, who remained the Lords of Pola and dependent on Aquileia until 1331.

Renaissance: Republic of Venice (1331-1797)

In 1331 the Sergi-Castropola family was permanently expelled from Pola after a popular uprising led by the Gionatasi family. The city of Pola swore perpetual allegiance to Venice and remained part of the Republic of Venice for the next four and a half centuries, until its demise in 1797.

Pietro Tradonico and Pietro Polani
Doges of Venice
– Born in Pola, Istria
The deep historical connection between Pola and the Republic of Venice could be seen even before the Venetian period. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, when Istria was still part of the Kingdom of Italy and later the Patria del Fiuli, two native-born Istrians from Pola became Doge of Venice: Pietro Tradonico (838-864) and Pietro Polani (1130-1148). Both descended from noble Italian families which had lived in Pola for centuries.

At the beginning of the Venetian period Pola had a population of approximately 6,000 inhabitants. Under the Republic of Venice, Bertuccio Michiel was nominated as the first Count of Pola (1331-1332). In 1334 the people of Pola sent a request to the Venetian Senate, asking them to destroy the castle and homes of the Castropola family, to prevent the city from falling into their hands again. The castle and homes were demolished and the Castropola family never again returned to Pola.

The Black Death swept through Istria in 1347-1348, killing two-thirds of the overall Istrian population and one-fifth of the population of Pola. The pandemic killed entire families, including fifty patrician families in Pola which went extinct. In 1378-1381, during the War of Chioggia between Venice and Genoa, Pola was burned and sacked by the Genoese. The city was almost entirely destroyed, but was rebuilt and fortified by the Venetians. The Venetians also made repairs to the Pola Cathedral, which had been previously damaged during the war of 1242, and also constructed a sacristy.

In 1412 Italian colonists from Pola were sent to settle the Brioni Islands, a group of fourteen small islands off the coast of Pola which had been depopulated since the Plague of 1312. The Statuto di Pola (Statue of Pola) was promulgated in 1431 by Giusto Venier, Count of Pola. In 1437 Istria was struck by another plague which devastated the city of Pola.

In 1487 Michele Orsini, Bishop of Pola, dedicated the altar of the Pola Cathedral to several early saints whose bones were located under the main altar of the church. Their names were St. George, St. Demetrius, St. Theodore, St. Basil and St. Florus. The remains of King Solomon of Hungary, who died in Pola in 1087, were also later discovered under the Cathedral.

The city was attacked in 1607 by a band of Slavic pirates known as the Uskoks, which led to the Uskok War (1615-1618) between Venice and the Habsburgs. The Fortezza di Pola (Pola Fortress) was built in 1630. Also in 1630-1631 Istria was struck by the Bubonic Plague, the final plague to hit Istria, which devastated the city of Pola and the neighbouring Istrian cities. The population of Pola was reduced to just 350 inhabitants. Already in 1626 Giulio Contarini, the Provveditore in Istria, had described Pola as a “city of corpses” (“cadavero di città”).

In 1707 the Venetians built the Campanile (bell tower) next to the Pola Cathedral using stones from the Roman Arena. The facade of the Cathedral was rebuilt in 1712 by Giuseppe Maria Bottari, Bishop of Pola. By the end of the Venetian period Pola had approximately 600 inhabitants.

Napoleonic Period: The Habsburgs, Kingdom of Italy and Illyrian Provinces (1797-1815)

In 1797 Pola was occupied by the forces of Napoleon and the Habsburgs, and the Republic of Venice was forcibly dissolved after 1100 years of existence, losing its independence and territories.

The Treaty of Campo Formio was signed on October 18, 1797 and Pola, with the rest of Istria, was annexed by the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1804 the Habsburgs established the Austrian Empire. In recognition of its millennial connection with Venetia, Istria was included in the Venetian Province (Duchy of Venice) within the Austrian Empire.

After the Peace of Pressburg on December 26, 1805, Istria became part of the Kingdom of Italy under Napoleon, King of Italy. Public education became mandatory and Italian was recognized as the official language. However a mere four years later the Treaty of Schönbrünn, signed on October 14, 1809, tore Istria away from Italy and assigned it to the Illyrian Provinces within the French Empire. After its incorporation into the Illyrian Provinces, Pola remained governed by Italians: Domenico Bradamante (1809) and Giuseppe Muazzo (1811-1813).

Kingdom of Italy, 1807 (Yellow)
Istria and Dalmatia belonged to Italy from 1805-1809

Habsburg Period: Return to Austria and Anti-Italian Policy (1815-1918)

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Istria was annexed again by the Austrian Empire, where it remained until the end of the First World War.

Istria was initially included in the Kingdom of Illyria within the Austrian Empire, but in 1825 it was politically separated into its own administrative unit known as the District of Istria. In 1849 the Habsburgs created the Margraviate of Istria and the Austrian Littoral; the Margraviate of Istria was included in the Austrian Littoral within the Austrian Empire, with the status of a Crown Land.

In 1856 the Austrians established a new naval arsenal in Pola. The city became a major port and in 1866 became the military capital of the Austrian Navy, leading to a massive increase in immigration, attracting not only Italians, but also Slavic peasant-workers and German military personnel. From only 1100 inhabitants in 1850, the population of Pola grew to 10,400 in 1869 and to 25,100 in 1880. This led to the sudden extinction of the local Italic dialect, known as Istriot, which had been natively spoken in the city of Pola for centuries.

In 1859 Pola, together with several other Istrian cities, declared its wish to be reattached to Venetia and join the Italian Confederation proposed by the Treaty of Zürich on November 10, 1859. However, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria rejected the idea. On June 18, 1866 a group of Istrians, exiled by the Austrian authorities, wrote a letter to Victor Emmanuel II, King of Italy, saying:
“We will be the guardians of the Julian Alps; of those Alps which many times have been infringed upon by foreigners and are the necessary boundary and security of national territory. We are the descendants of those Istrian sailors who fought and won under the glorious banner of San Marco. We will deliver into your hands that Pola which was an Italian naval port since the time of ancient Rome.”
(Essi saranno i guardiani dell'Alpe Giulia, di quell'Alpe che, violata troppe volte dallo straniero, è complemento necessario e sicurezza del territorio nazionale; essi sono i discendenti di quegli arditi marinari istriani che combatterono e vinsero sotto il glorioso vessillo di San Marco. Essi Vi daranno in mano quella Pola che, fin dall'epoca romana porto militare italiano...”)
Later that year, on November 12, in a meeting of the Austrian Council of Ministers, Emperor Franz Joseph expressed his intentions to denationalize (de-Italianize) Istria, as well as Dalmatia and the other Italian possessions of the Habsburgs, declaring that Austria must:
“...decisively oppose the influence of the Italian element still present in some crown lands, and to aim unsparingly and without the slightest compunction at the Germanization or Slavicization – depending on the circumstances – of the areas in question, through a suitable entrustment of posts to political magistrates and teachers, as well as through the influence of the press in South Tyrol, Dalmatia, and the Adriatic Coast.”
(“...di opporsi in modo risolutivo all'influsso dell'elemento italiano ancora presente in alcuni Kronländer, e di mirare alla germanizzazione o slavizzazione – a seconda delle circostanze – delle zone in questione con tutte le energie e senza alcun riguardo, mediante un adeguato affidamento di incarichi a magistrati politici ed insegnanti, nonché attraverso l'influenza della stampa in Tirolo meridionale, Dalmazia e Litorale adriatico.”)
The antecedents of this anti-Italian policy could be felt in Pola as early as 1857 when Juraj Dobrila, a Croatian nationalist priest, was appointed Bishop of Parenzo and Pola by Emperor Franz Joseph, despite these two cities having almost exclusively an Italian population at the time. Dobrila was very active in Austrian politics and advocated the slavicization of Istria, Dalmatia and Trieste.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was established after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867; the Margraviate of Istria remained part of the Austrian Littoral within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The old Christian baptistry, built by the Romans in the 5th century, was demolished by the government in 1885 in order to expand the courtyard of the Admiralty building (Ammiragliato).

The Habsburg policy of slavicization reached new heights in 1894 when the Austro-Hungarian authorities attempted to introduce the Slavic language into the Istrian courts, leading to a revolt in several Istrian cities, including Pola, known as the Revolt of the Bilingual Tables. The revolt was suppressed by the Austrian government with the aid of Croatian bayonets. The city of Trieste, which also took part in the revolt, later attempted to erect a memorial plaque which said:
“Here on November 2, 1894 the mayor and the delegates of Istria reaffirmed that human power can not erase twenty centuries of Latin life.”

(“Il giorno 2 novembre 1894 qui convennero i podestà e i delegati dell'Istria a riaffermare che umano potere non cancella venti secoli di vita latina.”)

First World War and Kingdom of Italy (1918-1943)

In 1915 Italy entered the First World War and declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many Italians from Istria enlisted in the Italian military, hoping to liberate their land from Austrian rule. One such soldier, naval lieutenant Nazario Sauro, who was born in Capodistria, was captured and executed in Pola by the Austrians on August 10, 1916 on charges of high treason. His final words were: “Viva l'Italia! Morte all'Austria!” (“Long live Italy! Death to Austria!”).

Anniversary of the Liberation of Pola
November 5, 1919
On the night of October 31 and morning of November 1, 1918 Italian frogmen sunk the battleship Viribus Unitis at the Austro-Hungarian naval base in Pola in a daring event known as the Pola Exploit (Impresa di Pola). Italy defeated Austria in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on November 3, 1918, causing the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army and the eventual dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Italian Royal Navy occupied Pola Harbour on November 5, 1918 and the entire Austrian navy and mercantile marine surrendered to Italy, in accordance with the terms of the Armistice of Villa Giusti. Italian troops entered Pola the same day, liberating the city and annexing it to the Kingdom of Italy.

On September 10, 1919 the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was signed, confirming Italian territorial claims; Pola and the rest of Istria was officially returned to Italy after a century under the rule of the Habsburgs. In the Treaty of Rapallo, signed on November 12, 1920, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia) also recognized Italian sovereignty over Istria and the other Italian territories previously belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Istria was incorporated into its own province within the Kingdom of Italy, with Pola as the capital, called the Province of Istria (Provincia dell'Istria) or Province of Pola (Provincia di Pola). The 1921 census showed that the Province of Istria had an ethnic Italian majority, with 199,942 Italians (58.2%); 90,262 Serbo-Croats (26.3%); 47,489 Slovenes (13.8%); and 5,708 Other (1.7%). In the city of Pola there was a total of 49,323 inhabitants: 41,125 Italians (91%) and 5,420 Croats (9%).

Italian-Istrian culture flourished in the Kingdom of Italy. In August 1933 the summer opera season was inaugurated at the Roman Arena in Pola. The first performance was “Nozze istriane” (“An Istrian Wedding”) by Antonio Smareglia, a native-born Italian composer from Pola. The performance attracted spectators from all over Istria and Trieste.

Second World War: Yugoslav Occupation, Foibe Massacres and RSI (1943-1945)

On September 8, 1943, during the Second World War, the Armistice of Cassibile between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allied Powers was declared, causing Italian troops to become divided and forced to choose between loyalty to the Allies or the Axis Powers. In the midst of this chaos, Istria was briefly occupied by the Yugoslav Partisans of Josip Broz Tito, the future Communist dictator of Yugoslavia. During the Yugoslav occupation many Italians were murdered and thrown into large pits or sinkholes, now known as the Foibe Massacres.

By October 1943 the Axis forces pushed out the Yugoslavs and the Italians regained control of the area, where they discovered the first victims of the Foibe. Italy was now also divided in two: the Kingdom of Italy in southern Italy and the Italian Social Republic (RSI) in northern and central Italy. With Italy divided, Istria became part of the Italian Social Republic, included within the Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral (OZAK).

Pola suffered its first air raid by the Allied Powers on January 9, 1944, around 11:30 AM. The bombing killed more than 70 civilians, including Aldo Fabbro, a 25-year old footballer from Naples. Pola suffered another violent bombing on February 25, 1944. Pola was bombed again by the Allies on June 8, 1944, the Feast of Corpus Christi, damaging the Palazzo del Tribunale (Courthouse) and nearly destroying all the courthouses of Pola. On June 22, 1944 Pola was bombed again by the Allies, severely damaging the Pola Cathedral. The city was bombed by the Allies three more times in 1944—on July 21, November 26 and December 2, 1944. During the latter aerial bombardment, Monte Paradiso – an area of Pola with many villas – was struck by bombs; also struck was the Palazzo della Prefettura (Palace of the Prefecture) and the marketplace.

Yugoslav Communist rally in the Roman Arena of Pola
May 13, 1945
In 1945 the Allies bombed Pola on at least nine more occasions—on January 20, February 1, February 7, February 13, February 17, February 19, February 20, February 27 and March 3, 1945. During the bombing of February 27, 1945, 18 civilians were killed and 30 wounded. The final Allied bombardment against Pola on March 3, 1945 was a surprise nighttime air raid. During the raid a cloister was destroyed by a 500-pound bomb. The Temple of Augustus was also damaged. Overall, between 1944-1945, about 40% of the buildings in Pola were destroyed by Allied bombs.

In May 1945 Italy capitulated to the Allies and Pola was occupied by the Yugoslav Partisans of Josip Broz Tito. The Italian population of Pola was persecuted and terrorized by the Yugoslavs, who occupied Pola for 45 days. The Bishop of Parenzo and Pola, Msgr. Raffaele Mario Radossi, was arrested by the Yugoslavs. After his release he sought to protect the Italian community of Pola, but was later forced to flee Istria. He was the last Italian bishop of Pola.

On May 13, 1945 a demonstration was staged by the Communists in the Roman Arena in Pola: hundreds of Slavic Communists filled the Arena, glorifying the victory of the Yugoslav Partisans and celebrating before a giant image of Josip Broz Tito. The Yugoslavs spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the city and on the ruined buildings, writing “W Tito” (“Long live Tito”), “W Stalin” (“Long live Stalin”), and “Tito-Pola”, joined with the hammer and sickle and other Communist symbols.

Although occupied, Istria officially remained under Italian sovereignty until 1947.

Post-War: AMGOT, Istrian Exodus and Annexation to Yugoslavia (1945-1991)

Pola during the Yugoslav Occupation, May 1945
The Morgan Line was established on June 10, 1945, dividing Istria between the occupational forces of AMGOT (Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories) and Communist Yugoslavia. Most of Istria was occupied by the Yugoslav Communists, but on June 12, 1945 the Western Allies – United States and Great Britain – occupied Pola and the Yugoslavs evacuated. Many Italian refugees from other areas of Istria arrived in Pola, fleeing from those Istrian cities that remained under Yugoslav occupation and oppression.

During the Paris Peace Conference, which lasted from July to October 1946, it became clear that Pola would eventually be given to Communist Yugoslavia. Conscious of the fate that would await them under Yugoslav rule, many Italians began to leave Pola. This was the beginning of a mass exodus that would become part of the wider Istrian Exodus or Julian-Dalmatian Exodus.

On August 18, 1946 there was a large explosion in Pola, known as the Vergarola Massacre, which caused the death of approximately 75-100 Italian civilians, as well as two British soldiers. An Allied investigation revealed that the explosion was caused by torpedo warheads and TNT charges which were intentionally detonated by unknown assailants. It was never officially determined who was responsible for the attack, but it was widely believed to be a terrorist attack by the Yugoslavs—a terror tactic designed to scare the Italians into leaving Istria. Decades later this widespread suspicion was finally confirmed: the terrorist act was committed by the Yugoslav secret police.

On February 10, 1947 the Paris Peace Treaties were signed and all of Istria, Pola included, was annexed to Yugoslavia. Never before in history had Istria belonged to a Slavic state. On the same day as the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties, General Robert de Winton, commander of the British garrison of Pola, was assassinated in Pola by Maria Pasquinelli, an Italian teacher from Dalmatia. When he was killed, Winton was on his way to a ceremony where he intended to hand over Pola to the Yugoslav authorities. Pasquinelli explained her motives in a confession, saying that her actions were a protest against the expulsion of Italians from Istria and the Allies' decision to give the Italian Province of Istria to Yugoslavia:
“I rise in rebellion with the firm intent of killing the man who is unfortunate enough to represent the Four Great Powers that, at the conference in Paris, in violation of justice, against humanity, and against political wisdom, have decided to tear out once again from the maternal womb the lands most sacred to Italy, condemning them either to the experiments of a new Danzig or, with a chilling sensibility and complicity, to the Yugoslav yoke — a synonym to our indomitable Italian people of death in Foibas, of deportation, of exile.”
(“Mi ribello, col fermo proposito di colpire a morte chi ha la sventura di rappresentarli, ai Quattro Grandi i quali, alla Conferenza di Parigi, in oltraggio ai sensi di giustizia, di umanità e di saggezza politica, hanno deciso di strappare ancora una volta dal grembo materno le terre più sacre d'Italia, condannandole o agli esperimenti di una novella Danzica o con la più fredda consapevolezza, che è correità, al giogo jugoslavo, sinonimo per la nostra gente indomabilmente italiana, di morte in foiba, di deportazioni, di esilio.”)
Italian Exiles leaving Pola
February-March 1947
Between 1946 and 1947 Pola lost almost its entire population: an estimated 32,000 of 34,000 Italians (94% of the population) were forced to abandon their homes and property and emigrate to Italy and other countries due to fear of persecution, torture and death under Yugoslav rule.

On March 20, 1947 the steamship Tuscany made its last voyage, leaving Pola for Italy, carrying with it the Istrian Exiles who were destined to live in refugee camps. After the expulsion of the Italians, Pola was left deserted and emptied. The city was subsequently repopulated by new Slavic immigrants who were transferred from other regions of Yugoslavia by the Communist government. The Serbo-Croat language was imposed as the official language throughout all of Istria. During anti-Italian riots in 1953 all the old Italian signs and placards in Pola were destroyed. Pola, like the rest of Istria, lost its 2,000 year old heritage and cultural identity; the city became croatized and was renamed “Pula”.

Breakup of Yugoslavia and Croatian Independence (1991-present)

In 1991 inner political turmoils and ethnic tension led to the collapse and breakup of Yugoslavia; in March 1991 the Yugoslav Wars began and in June 1991 Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. The Croats occupied most of the Istrian peninsula, including the city of Pola. The new Republic of Croatia was internationally recognized in January 1992 and Pola has remained part of Croatia since.

The municipal government of Pola – like many other former Italian cities in Istria – officially adopted bilingualism: road signs can be found in both Croatian and Italian and the official name of the city is Grad Pula - Città di Pola. However, these changes have made little difference in restoring the Italianity of the city, and most of the native population of Pola remains in exile.

According to the 2001 census, there were 2,856 Italians in Pola, representing 4.87% of the city's population. According to the 2011 census, only 2,490 Italians remain in Pola today, just 4.33% of the city's population. The Italian community is officially represented by the Comunità degli Italiani di Pola, which has its own headquarters in the historic centre of Pola. The headquarters has been repeatedly attacked and vandalized by Croats. There have also been numerous attempted arsons.

During the negotiations for the accession of Croatia to the European Union, the Istrian Exiles asked the Italian government to demand either compensation or the return of private property stolen by the Croats in Pola and the rest of Istria after World War II. However, the subject was not resolved.

The Italians of Pola who are still living in exile are officially represented by the Libero Comune di Pola in Esilio (Free Commune of Pola in Exile) with its headquarters in Trieste. Today the Italian Exiles are still awaiting the return of their homeland of Istria.

Pola, Addio!” (“Farewell, Pola!”)
Wall in Pola, Istria, 1947

See also:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

St. Maximianus of Ravenna - February 21

Mosaic of St. Maximianus in the
Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy

February 21 is the feast of St. Maximianus, archbishop.

St. Maximianus of Ravenna (San Massimiano di Ravenna) was born in 498 in the city of Pola, in Istria, Italy. He was born just two decades after the deposition of the last Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus, in a period when Italy was politically divided between the Romans and the invading Ostrogoths. For most of his life Istria was under the rule of the Ostrogoths, but in 538 it was reconquered by the Romans. St. Maximianus, now a deacon of the Catholic Church, gave his loyalty to Emperor Justinian.

In 546 he was consecrated bishop by Pope Vigilius and named the first Archbishop of Ravenna. As archbishop, St. Maximianus completed the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, and also comissioned the construction of Sant'Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, the church of Santa Maria Formosa in Pola, a Benedictine monastery in Rovigno, and several other churches.

He died on February 22, 556. His feast is celebrated by the Catholic Church on February 21.

Throne of Maximianus (Cattedra vescovile di Massimiano), an episcopal
throne in Ravenna commissioned by Justinian as a gift for St. Maximianus.

Pola: Birthplace of St. Maximianus

Pola was founded in 178-177 BC as a Roman military post. In 46-45 BC it was established as a Roman colony called Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea and settled by Italian colonists. In 12 BC the city of Pola, together with the rest of Istria, was included in Regio X Venetia et Histria (the tenth region of Italy). Pola, like all the other Istrian cities, was an integral part of ancient Italy and remained culturally and ethnically Italian for the next 2,000 years. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Exarchate of Italy, the Kingdom of Italy, and the Republic of Venice. In the early 19th century it briefly formed part of the Kingdom of Italy. In the 20th century, between the world wars, it once again formed part of the Kingdom of Italy.

After World War II Istria was occupied by the Yugoslav Communists and annexed to Yugoslavia. The native Italians were terrorized, persecuted, murdered and forced to flee in a series of events known as the Foibe Massacres and Istrian Exodus. Between 1946 and 1947, the city of St. Maximianus was emptied of nearly its entire population: approximately 94-98% of the inhabitants of Pola were forced to leave Pola and migrate to Italy and other countries. Yugoslav immigrants later arrived to repopulate the deserted city. In 1991 Yugoslavia broke up and Croatia declared its independence; the city of Pola was then incorporated into the new country of Croatia, where it remains today.

St. Maximianus is one of the many figures of history who represents the Italianity of Istria, the millennial connection between Istria and Italy, and the lasting legacy of the Istrian Italians.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Triestine Girls: Reflections on the Istrian Exodus

(Written by Benedetta Grasso, taken from the magazine I-Italy, April 15, 2010)

What is generally called “The Istrian exodus” is a quite recent mass migration from Istria and Dalmatia of hundreds of thousands of Italians that had to flee to various countries in the world but particularly to the United States and Australia.

Between 1943 and 1960, in fact, almost 400.000 people escaped from that area due to ethnic hatred and the International politics triggered by World War II.

While other Italian immigrants came to the United States simply to escape poverty, the people living in these territories – constantly torn between Italy and other states throughout the centuries, being situated exactly at the North-Eastern border and having ethnically mixed citizens, Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and more – were involved in some of the most controversial and shameful moments of history. Italians had a very stereotypical image of the Slavs, considering them “barbaric” while the Slavs, under the regime of Tito, saw Italians as fascists. The most tragic events were the Foibe massacres in 1945 after the liberation of Istria, in which more than 5000 Italians were brutally killed and thrown into mass graves.

The reality of the times was far more complex and, even though the hatred was real, the communities were in some cases also very connected. Trieste in particular was a very thriving intellectual city which allowed for a pleasant daily life and “nourished” many writers, artists and political activists.

Although the exodus was anything but a happy experience, there is a very interesting documentary “Triestine Girls” which follows some very lively women who managed to create a new life for themselves in America.

That tragic time is recounted by them almost with irony and a certain nostalgia, obviously not for the war, but for their youth and the familiar memories. As teenagers, Americans appeared to them as “movie stars” with their cigarettes, their chocolate, their blue jeans: handsome soldiers who swept them off their feet and took them to the US to get married and live a safe life together.

This documentary will be screened at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute on April 29 2010 at 6PM.

To remember these events I-Italy would also like to re-propose an article written by Eleonora Mazzucchi for I-Italy (June 24, 2008) which clearly explains the historical background and contextualizes it.

Read article here: A Painful Piece of Italian History, Overlooked

A Painful Piece of Italian History, Overlooked

(Written by Eleonora Mazzucchi, taken from the magazine I-Italy, June 24, 2008)

The city of Pola (Istria) during the mass exodus.

Italians living in the former Yugoslavia during the Second World War break the silence about the sorrow they endured and the massive flight they were forced to make. It is a chapter in Italian history scraped from textbooks, in no small part because of the Italian government, and brought to the fore with an exhibit at the Italian Consulate. We spoke with celebrity chef Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, a native of Istria (now Croatia), who like many Istrians, has waited to see this piece of her history recognized.

The Second World War is the conflict they say we’ll never forget. Manifold atrocities, subjugations, sufferings and displacements are its legacy, the very exemplary of a brutality we are warned not to repeat, but even as we dutifully recall the war’s effects there remain episodes we speak little of today. Among them are the events that took place between Italy and the former Yugoslavia.

The tension between the two central European giants, that fomented tragedy for one population of Italians in particular, is rather complex and merits some explaining. Sizeable border areas, Istria, Dalmatia, and the Quarnero islands, now part of Croatia, and the cities of Trieste and Gorizia, disputed between Italy and Yugoslavia and at present Italian, contained both Slavs and ethnic Italians in the 1940’s. Italians who had established themselves in these parts for centuries refer to themselves as Giulianians (“Giuliani”), from the influence of the northeastern Venezia-Giulia region. The Association of Giulianians in the World (“Associazione Giuliani nel Mondo”, or AGM) is dedicated to commemorating the Italian presence in those areas and their subsequent, rather grisly diminishment following the Second World War.

Succinctly put, the Yugoslavian partisans of Josip Tito’s Communist government, in 1943 and in the immediate aftermath of the war, engaged in a politically and ethnically motivated campaign to rid Italians from Dalmatia and Istria. Open hostility broke out against Italians, seen as belonging to the nearby Fascist regime, and anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 of them (numbers are contentious) were killed. [Editor, between 20,000 and 30,000 Italians were killed]. Civilians, regardless of age or gender, were gunned down and thrown into mass graves, known as “foibe”.

Approximately 300,000 Italians left their homes in the territories soon to become Yugoslavia, forming a mass exodus that took them all over the world, including the Americas, Canada, and Australia, but for the most part, Italy. A Giulianian emigration had in fact begun during the First World War, but in far lesser numbers and under less dramatic circumstances. It is in order to amalgamate these dispersed peoples that the AGM was born, to bring light to a chapter of history largely forgotten, officially ignored by the Italian government for decades.

The Italian Consul General Francesco Maria Talò, who hosted the AGM a couple of weeks ago, would later say that he “felt a deep sense of shame for what Italy had not done” and had not recognized with respect to the gruesome history of the Giulianians. It is speculated that the Italian government chose not to discuss the 60-some year-old tragedy because of its long-standing sympathies with Communism and, perhaps more likely, because it would be forced to admit to brutalities Italy, on its part, had committed against Slavs during the war.

The AGM inaugurated its traveling exhibit, “Into the New Millennium with Our Roots” (“Con le nostre radici nel nuovo Millennio”), along with a documentary by Chiara Barbo and Andrea Magnani, “Triestine Girls” (“Le ragazze di Trieste”), at the Italian Consulate in New York. The exhibit, which the AGM is planning to permanently install in its headquarters in Trieste, consisted of several large panels outlining the history of the Giulianian diaspora. The black and white pictures, along with photocopied letters and historical documents, had both a deeply intimate feeling to them—many were retrieved from families—and a touch of the didactic. Indeed, the consolidation of this material, affecting because in part it resembles the personal effects lost after a shipwreck, brings to the public eye, for the first time, what AGM’s President Dario Locchi called “a lost page in history”. Locchi went on to explain that only 22 percent of Italians know anything about this piece of history, and among them, only 57 percent know of the consequent Giulianian flight.

The exhibit’s mission is to inform as large an audience as possible (it has been carried across continents), breaking the silence surrounding the suffering of a people and their forced exodus—an Italian emigration, Locchi underlined, vastly different from the Ellis Island variety. We come to know through the display, somewhat surprisingly, that some of our most beloved Italians and Italian Americans were of Giulianian descent, including screen siren Alida Valli, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, influential art-dealer Leo Castelli and racecar driver Mario Andretti. One such notable was present at the event itself, renowned celebrity chef Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, who provided the catering for the presentation and for whom the issue of exodus is profoundly, personally significant.

Talò touched on what may be one of the most interesting aspects of the Giulianian population. He had opened his moving, at times apologetic, speech by saying that the exhibit brought an Italian sentiment that was more deeply felt because it was mired in suffering. Throughout, speakers from the Association reminded the audience, a gathering of Italians and Italian-Giulianians, that they had endeavored to never lose their Italian identity, and listening to them, one had the impression that their purpose was not just to reclaim a place in history but to assert their very Italianness.

The screening of “Triestine Girls” mitigated some of the sense of desperate migration. The documentary traces the fate of Triestine women who left Italy for love, marrying American soldiers stationed in their city during WW II and then moving to the U.S. to build entirely different lives. As Chiara Barbo pointed out, the women protagonists, now well into old age, recall their experience of cultural transition with humor and what she called, “a typically Triestian irony”. One sprightly woman spoke of wonderment at skyscrapers, and another of the difficulty of buying a pack of cigarettes when a store clerk couldn’t understand her thick accent—a patchwork of anecdotes that contributed to the work’s buoyant feeling.

I-Italy had the chance to speak about Barbo’s documentary, and more, with Lidia Bastianich. Bastianich has had a successful cooking show on PBS, “Lidia’s Italy”, for many years and owns a number of restaurants in the U.S. in partnership with her son, Joseph. She contributed her talents to the exhibit with a feast of trypically Triestan specialties. Her family hails from Pola, Istria, and moved to New York in 1958, when Bastianich was 11 years old.
What did you think of the documentary?

It really captured the soul of these women—their nostalgia, but also the happiness for what they have achieved.

What is some of your personal history of emigration?

My mother was pregnant with me when we wanted to flee [Istria had become part of Communist Yugoslavia]. My father sent us to Italy years later, but for some time he got caught behind the iron curtain.

What do you feel about this “lost page in history”, about what this exhibit will achieve?

History needs to be taught correctly. Who’s right, who was wrong, that’s way behind us now. The anguish needs to be recognized and the submissive tendency to keep this all secret has to end. The outspokenness we’re seeing now is long overdue.

Do you pass this story on to your children?

I take them to Italy as often as possible. It is important they become better human beings when they know where they came from.
Dario Locchi would echo this same sentiment when he said “There can be no future without memory of the past”. This “proud people, who paid the price of a lost war” can take solace in their Association’s efforts. Because there can truly be no future if grief isn’t taken out of the shadows and brought into the light.

Heroes of the Redeemed Lands

(Taken from the journal “Italy Today: A Fortnightly Bulletin”, Volume 1, Issue 7, 1918)

Cesare Battisti

Cesare Battisti was born in Trentino in 1875, where his education began. Like all Italians of Trentino, Istria, Dalmatia, who wanted a superior education, he finished his studies in Italy at the University of Turin and Parma. He returned to unredeemed Trentino a broad-minded Socialist, and when he entered the political field was elected member of the Diet at Innsbruck. His ideas on Socialism did not interfere at all with the idea of nationalism, which means that his Socialistic ideas did not have the seal of the German internationalists.

When war broke out he fled to Italy and was a warm propagandist of war against Austria among those Italian Socialistic elements which were following German Socialistic leaders and thought. Cesare Battisti was instrumental in opening the eyes of many Italians to the subtle work of moral disruption that had been very successfully undertaken by the Germans, Socialists or otherwise.

When the Italian Army was launched against the Austrians intrenched on the peaks of the Alpine barrier, he was with it as Lieutenant in the Alpine Corps and fought valiantly. Unhappily, in one of the individual fights so common in mountain warfare, he was lost sight of and, having been wounded, was found later on by hostile patrols. Someone recognized him; he had been a conspicuous figure in local and State politics before his flight to Italy. No sooner did the military authorities know that Cesare Battisti was a prisoner and powerless in their hands, than Austrian brutality asserted itself. He was sent immediately to Trento, although badly wounded, and after a mockery of martial trial was sentenced to death and hanged. He was denied the honor even of a bullet—as a soldier's due. Austria always knew how to be mean: but Austria is dead forever.

Cesare Battisti, instead, will be a living spirit forever, dear to the memory of Italy as a national hero, revered as a martyr to the cause of liberty by all nations.

Nazario Sauro

Nazario Sauro, an Italian from Istria, therefore under the Austrian yoke, was another "irredento" who paid with his life for the ardent love of his mother country, Italy. He was a born sailor, familiar with all the nooks and corners of the eastern coast of the Adriatic. At the outset of the war between Italy and Austria he, too, fled to help his real country and put at its disposal his maritime knowledge. He made sixty-three raids on various Austrian naval bases and was absolutely fearless. A spy denounced him to the authorities. While in disguise he was strolling on the wharf of Grado. Arrested, he denied his identity stoutly. Lacking a substantial witness to identify him, the military judges dragged his old mother into court and submitted her to the third degree during a whole week, until the poor old woman, out of sheer exhaustion and prostration, gave way under the strain and identified in the prisoner her son. During the execution — ne was of course hanged — the poor mother was compelled to stay under the gallows, witnessing the hanging. The moral he left to his sons was "to keep sacred and warm in their hearts the love of the land to which he had fully dedicated himself." A great Italian poet, also an "unredeemed" from Dalmatia, had sung it to them long ago — "a egregie cose il forte animo accendono l'urne dei forti" — that is, "The grave of heroes fires the hearts of the brave."

Francesco Rismondo

The New York Herald not long ago, giving vent to indignation at Austrian brutalities, was wondering why some occult power could be so energetically, though occultly at work shielding that vile monarchy and by a crafty, insidious propaganda could spread the utterly false notion that Austria was waging a decent, honorable war. The dual monarchy founded on a treacherous, soulless bureaucracy is now dead. What it was capable of only the Serbians and Italians that were confronting that power of darkness could tell. Francesco Rismondo from Spalato, Dalmatia, could tell. The soul of this Italian hero was clamoring for vengeance from the great beyond. The armies of the allied democracies that swept the tyrants into nothingness have appeased him.

Spalato in Dalmatia saw him developing into a hardy youth. The first months of war between Italy and Austria saw him fighting like a lion in the Bersaglieri Corps on the bare craigs of the Dolomitic Alps. Badly wounded in a fierce encounter, he refused to give up, but physical weakness having got the better of his undaunted spirit, he was made a prisoner and burned alive in the main square of Gorizia by the Austrian soldiery on Oct. 26, 1915.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Foibe are Still Open in Our Hearts

(Written by Dario Burresi, taken from the magazine “L'Alpino”, March 2012)

Sixty years ago, on February 10, 1947, a treaty was signed in Paris which took away from Italy and assigned to Yugoslavia the city of Fiume, the territory of Zara, the Lagosta and Pelagosa islands, most of Istria, the Gorizian and Triestine Carso and the Upper Isonzo Valley. Trieste, with its Julian and Istrian hinterland, became part of the newly formed Free Territory of Trieste, divided into Zone A, under Anglo-American administration and Zone B, under Yugoslav administration.

The work of denationalization began with the Foibe Massacres in September 1943 in Istria, and then with the repeated terroristic bombings of the Anglo-Americans (but instigated by Tito) which nearly completely destroyed Zara, an entirely Italian city. The exodus of Italians, which began in May 1945, became massive after February 10, 1947: the experience of September 1943 had clearly demonstrated what their lot would be with the arrival of Tito's partisans. There were more than 250,000 exiles during those tragic days; about 300,000 if you include the smaller previous and subsequent departures.

The numbers seem small, but they are huge if placed in relation to the population of those areas. From the city of Pola departed 98% of the population. A similar fate befell Fiume, Zara, Parenzo, Umago and Capodistria, which were emptied of their Italian inhabitants and replaced by Tito with Serbs, Bosnians and Montenegrins, and above all with Croats and Slovenes (this mixture later proved disasterous with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991).

Italy began to provide some ships for the transport of the refugees, but it was the steamer Tuscany that was used the most, with 12 departures from Pola. The personal belongings which the refugees were able to take with them were very few. A person was able to embark on Tuscany with a chest, some pieces of furniture, portraits of extinct loved ones, but these had to be abandoned at the landing ports, prior to their diaspora in Italy and especially abroad and overseas.

As in February 1947, it was cold also on February 10, 2012 in the forecourt of the foiba of Basovizza (Trieste) where they commemorated the Day of Remembrance of the Exodus and the Foibe Massacres.

The Mayor of Trieste Roberto Cosolini was present with other military and civil authorities, Bishop Msgr. Giampaolo Crepaldi, an armed guard, the banners of the comunes of Trieste and Muggia, a large crowd, the associations of the exiles and the families of victims of the Foibe Massacres, and the Military Associations with their banners. But, most noticeable for its consistency, was our Association, with over 300 Alpini, the Labaro escorted by the national president Corrado Perona and some national directors, with twenty banners and fifty pennants. The cold and strong northern wind made it difficult to stand and the standard bearers struggled to keep the banners in place.

The organizers decided to reduce the duration of the ceremony: there was the deployment, the entrance of President Perona and the Labaro of the Alpini saluted by the military picket and all the bystanders, the entry of the municipal banners, the flag-raising, laying wreaths, and a few short speeches. It was not possible to celebrate Mass because of the inclement weather.

We had to wait for the President of the Senate, Renato Schifani, who arrived a bit late and laid a wreath at the foot of the monument that covers the foiba of Basovizza. By now many exiles who lived this nightmare are gone, many of whom died with sadness in their heart for a Fatherland that, as long as they were alive, did not understand their desire to feel Italian.

We Italians of the Julian Alps have always been in the forefront to remember these tragic events and to honor the victims. To see the participation of many people in this ceremony, we feel a strange emotion, which is bitterness and joy at the same time, for the sacrifice which was at first denied and after so many years finally recognized.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Priests Murdered in the Foibe Massacres

(Written by Marco Vigna, taken from the journal “Comune di Pignataro”, February 9, 2016)

Don Francesco Bonifacio
Istrian Italian priest killed by the Yugoslavs

Among the many thousands killed in the Foibe Massacres, there were at least 50 priests. Ranieri Ponis has devoted a monograph to each one, entitled “Storie di preti dell’Istria uccisi per cancellare la loro fede” (“Stories of Istrian priests killed for their faith”), published by Zenit.

Indeed, the Slav invaders sought first and foremost to eliminate people who were in any way part of the Italian ruling class or at least associated with them, such as intellectuals, politicians, entrepreneurs, teachers and clergymen. The hatred of priests stemmed also from the ideological convictions of the Yugoslav partisans, Tito at the time being a close ally of Stalin.

After the complete eradication of the entire Italian civil and military body in Julian Venetia and Dalmatia, the bishops and priests were the only remaining representatives of the Italian population, which typically was very religious. Undoubtedly, one of the causes that led to the Exodus of Italians from Julian Venetia was religious persecution, which was carried out with the specific intention of intimidating Italians into leaving. The idea of attacking the religious faith of a population in order to facilitate an ethnic cleansing had already been formulated in the so-called “Manual of Cubrilovic”, originally intended by the author to drive away Albanian Muslims from Kosovo. It ended up being used by Tito against the Italians. Hindering or preventing the practice of religion, together with marginalizing, expelling or murdering Italian clergy, was therefore a means to further terrorize the Italians in Julian Venetia, who are rooted in Christian convictions. And after the invaders eliminated the Italian “intelligentsia”, the only remaining representatives of Italians were the clergy. In fact, the “Manual of Cubrilovic” specifically recommends targeting the most representative and authoritative members of the enemy's population.

The massacre of Italian priests began as early as September 1943, when bands of Slavs took temporary control of Istria. During that month a group of Slav partisans seized the parish priest of Villa di Rovino, Don Angelo Tarticchio, imprisoning him in Castle Montecuccoli in Pisino, which was converted into a prison. Don Tarticchio ended up being killed in a mass shooting after a few days in jail. The bodies of those shot were thrown into a bauxite quarry. The bodies were bound together with barbed wire and the priest also had a crown of barbed wire on his head.

Among the other priests killed by the invaders back in 1943 was Don Placido Sancin, parish priest of San Dorligo della Valle, who was kidnapped by the Slav partisans in October 1943 and vanished into thin air. He may have been thrown into the foiba in San Servolo, located near San Dorligo, since ecclesiastical garments were discovered there in a pit.

A similar fate befell Don Giuseppe Gabbana, chaplain of the Guardia di Finanza, who was killed by a band of Slavs on March 2, 1944 at his home in Trieste. After trustfully opening the door, never suspecting he would be confronted by a hit squad who came to assassinate him, he was massacred with machine guns and a rifle butt. Among the other victims of the partisans were Don Nicola Fantela, drowned in Ragusa with a stone tied around his neck on October 25, 1944, Don Giovanni Dorbolò, thrown into a foiba on May 1, 1945, etc. etc.

The Church has officially recognized as a martyr one of the 50 priests killed by Slav Communists, part of the 129 Italian priests murdered soon after the end of World War II. The then Pope Benedict XVI had in fact approved the decree of beatification, saying that the murder happened “in odium fidei,” or “in hatred of the faith.” His name is Don Francesco Bonifacio. Born in Pirano, Istria on September 7, 1912, he was nicknamed “el santin” (“the saint”) in seminary and was ordained a priest in Triest on December 27, 1936. He was kidnapped by a group of “people's guards” and Slav soldiers on September 11, 1946. The Titoists beat him, stripped him, stoned him, and finally stabbed him to death with knives. The body was possibly burned, or perhaps thrown into the foiba called Martines. It is uncertain, because his body was never found. His brother tried looking for him when he heard that he had been imprisoned.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints decreed on July 3, 2008 that his death was a martyrdom and the rite of beatification of Don Francesco Bonifacio was held in the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste on October 4, 2008.

The Bishop of Trieste, Monsignor Antonio Santin, ended up nearly lynched in 1947 in Capodistria. A mob broke into the seminary, smashing down the door and attacking the prelate, snatching away his pastoral cross. Then they began a beating which lasted for two hours. The police, i.e. the Slav Communist “People's Guard”, was alerted, but did not respond. In truth, most of its members were among the attackers of the bishop, wearing civilian clothes. The “People's Guard”, present at the scene, intervened only when it became clear that the bishop was about to be killed, which would have damaged the image of Tito's dictatorship in the eyes of the international community. Monsignor Santin, after he was wounded in the head and nearly killed, was expelled from Capodistria, making it impossible to hold religious celebrations, which was the reason he visited the Istrian town. The attack on the prelate was due to the fact that he was a beloved figurehead for the Italians in the Diocese of Trieste, who opposed the Slav invasion and Tito's ambitions of annexation.

The killings and attacks against Italian clergymen were accompanied by other acts of violence. There were limitations or prohibitions against religious activity (teaching, catechesis, celebration of Masses, etc., which were subject to severe limitations and restrictions, and at times hindered). Many sacred buildings were also destroyed, including a good number of Byzantine, Romanesque and Venetian churches of great artistic value. The destruction of Roman and Venetian churches was done by the Titoists in order to erase all visible traces of the Italian past of the region, vandalistically annihilating works of art, as had already happened in Dalmatia, while at the same depriving the entire native Italian population of places of worship.

See also:
The Rape and Murder of Iolanda Dobrilla
The Rape and Murder of Norma Cossetto
The Disappearance and Death of Don Francesco Bonifacio
Titoist Crimes: 50 Priests Murdered in the Foibe Massacres