Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Exodus of Istrians in the First World War

Italian deportees at Wagna Refugee Camp, c. 1915

(Written by Lorenzo Salimbeni, taken from the newspaper “Il Giornale d'Italia”, November 20, 2017.)

Italians living around the base of Pola were transferred to internment camps

At the outbreak of the First World War the Austro-Hungarian Empire issued evacuation measures for their strongholds, with obvious reference to those that were close to the border with Russia, the scene of the first battles, but also the city of Pola was part of this measure. The Istrian city, in fact, was the main naval base of the imperial war fleet and therefore a call was issued that urged the population to prepare for any special measures. In the spring of 1915, when the movements of the Kingdom of Italy signaled its entry into the war against Austria, the first calls for the evacuation of civilians were made. Some organized themselves with their own means, moving in with friends and relatives residing in other places of the Empire; as regards the Italian citizens residing in the Adriatic Coast, the so-called "regnicoli", those fit for military service were collected in special internment camps, while women, children and the elderly were gradually able to return home through Switzerland.

The exhortation to evacuate first pertained to Pola and southern Istria, then expanded to Rovigno and central Istria, so it is estimated that about 50,000 people (out of a population of 100,000) were loaded onto trains and taken to barracks camps built in Styria or near Vienna. Those destined to live in these Barackenlager first had the traumatizing experience of the interminable journey (in memoirs we often find the word "invaginated", i.e. enclosed or turned inside out, which gives a good idea of how these people had been crammed into cattle cars), after which they experienced the shock of the structures in which they would be forced to live. Wagna, for example, the most famous of these camps, was created from the hasty expansion of a military training camp, in which the buildings were full of drafts and each barrack contained a hundred people gathered in precarious hygienic-sanitary conditions and in extremely close proximity. The Habsburg authorities guaranteed a daily allowance to everyone, but if someone could find work in the area or preferred to settle in a better structure outside the camp, he would lose this small pay. The poor living conditions of the internees of Italian nationality were in vain brought to the Parliament of Vienna by the Deputies Alcide De Gasperi, with special reference to the Trentino, and Valentino Pittoni, who sought to protect the displaced Italians from the Adriatic Littoral. During the so-called "Events of Wagna" the troops stationed to guard the camp (managed in such a way as to resemble more a prison than a shelter for refugees) suppressed a protest demonstration so forcefully that they killed a victim.

When the Italian army was forced to retreat to the Piave, the Adriatic Littoral regained security and the refugees began to return, but so slowly that, in the strikes that shook the Empire at the end of January 1918, workers and military demonstrators in Pola also demanded the immediate return of their relatives. The local administrators did not make significant efforts to help the reintegration of refugees, appealing to the technicality that Pola, Rovigno and the county had never been officially "evacuated", since the authority was limited to "advising" people to leave. Those who were still living in the Barackenlager experienced the national conflicts that were shaking the foundations of the Empire, since the committee that had arisen among the refugees of the Littoral to report to the administrators of the camps lost its solidarity. This committee had always been presided over by representatives of Italian nationality, as Italians were the majority component of displaced persons of the Province and in any case the other ethnic groups were never discriminated against; however, the Slavic and German elements in the first months of 1918 created alternative structures of representation in order to highlight their own specificity in the presence of the Habsburg administration.

Due to the convulsive final phase of the Empire, the return of the displaced Istrians ended only in the first months of 1919, under the Italian military authorities that had in the meantime taken up positions in Julian Venetia.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Overview of Lidia Bastianich's Autobiography

Lidia Bastianich is a world famous Italian chef and author. She is also an Istrian exile. In 2018 Lidia published an official autobiography or memoir, detailing the story of her life—beginning with her origins in Istria to her life as a celebrity chef in the United States.

Overview: ‘My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food’ by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

From the best-selling cookbook author, beloved and award-winning television personality, and hugely successful restaurateur—a heartwarming, emotional, revelatory memoir told with all her hallmark warmth and gusto.

Lidia's story begins with her upbringing in Pola, a formerly Italian city turned Yugoslavian under Tito's communist regime. She enjoys a childhood surrounded by love and security—despite the family's poverty—learning everything about Italian cooking from her beloved grandmother, Nonna Rosa. When the communist regime begins investigating the family, they flee to Trieste, Italy, where they spend two years in a refugee camp waiting for visas to enter the United States—an experience that will shape Lidia for the rest of her life. At age 12, Lidia starts a new life in New York. She soon begins working in restaurants as a young teenager, the first step toward the creation of her own American dream. And she tells in great, vivid detail the fulfillment of that dream: her close-knit family, her dedication and endless passion for food that ultimately leads to multiple restaurants, many cookbooks, and twenty years on public television as the host of her own cooking show. An absolute must-have for the millions of Lidia fans.

The book is available for purchase at Barnes & Noble: My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food

See also:
Excerpt From Lidia Bastianich's Autobiography

Excerpt From Lidia Bastianich's Autobiography

Here is a brief excerpt from the first chapter of Lidia Bastianich's new autobiography or memoir, My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food, published in 2018:
Few people outside of my immediate family know this, but for the first five years of my life, my name was not Lidia, it was Giuliana. My mother had chosen this name for me as a way to remember her homeland, which was then part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy. The Second World War had ended, and communism was coming to Pola, the small city on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, where my family lived. The Yugoslav Partisans, who were communist-led, had fought as guerrillas against the Nazis and Fascists and had taken over the government of Yugoslavia when the Germans were defeated. As part of the 1947 Treaty of Paris, our city, and most of the Istrian Peninsula, which had become part of Italy after World War I, was given to communist Yugoslavia. 
The redrawing of borders sparked a mass exodus from the area, with more than three hundred thousand people fleeing to Italy to reclaim their Italian citizenship. Many of them had deep Italian roots; they spoke Italian, and their families were Italian. Many of them migrated on to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. My parents planned to join the migration, but my mother was pregnant with me, and they knew that travel would be difficult. There was also the question of where to go once we crossed the border. Refugees were being placed in camps, and my father was not comfortable with the idea of my mother's giving birth and caring for an infant in such a place. They also had my three-year-old brother, Franco, to consider. The war was still raging when my mother gave birth to him in July 1944. With the collapse of Fascist Italy in 1943, the Germans occupied the city and used it as a U-boat base, making it a target for Allied bombardments. (...) When he was five months old, two bombs were dropped on Pola. The minute the siren sounded, alerting residents to the bombardment, my father assumed his role as driver of the fire truck for the Pola town arsenal, Cantiere Navale di Scoglio Olivi. My mother awoke to see pieces of the ceiling falling onto her baby's cradle, and she hurried to his side, grabbed the [wooden cradle] with Franco inside, and ran to the bomb shelter. 
At the end of the war, Pola was under the Allied forces when my mother became pregnant with me. The exodus of Italian Istrians was still open, and many of my mother's friends and relatives were moving to Italy, because Istria was soon to be under the Yugoslavian rule.
(...) on February 21, 1947, she gave birth to me at the hospital in Pola, and seven months after that, on the fifteenth of September, the day the provisions of the Treaty of Paris were put into place, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia was officially closed. My parents—and Franco and I—were now stuck in Yugoslavia.
Change came to Pola (“Pula” in Croatian) almost immediately under communism. The names of streets, towns, and monuments were changed to reflect the area's new official language [Serbo-Croatian]. Everybody's last name was changed as the new documents and identification cards were issued. Ours was changed from the Italian “Matticchio” to the Slavic “Motika”. Churches across the peninsula were ordered closed. Suddenly, people weren't allowed to go to church or even practice religion openly. It was a sharp blow to many—both Italian and Croatian—who lived in the city and had practiced Catholicism for generations. (...)
“Giuliana” had a deep meaning for my mother. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is still a region of Italy, and Istria before the war was part of that region. Istria was in the Giulia part of the region, and we were Giuliani, as the emigrants from the area were referred to. (...) For the first five years of my life, I was known as Giuliana by everyone who knew me—friends, family, and everyone in town. I was Giuliana. Then, suddenly, I wasn't. Suddenly, I was Lidia.

The book is available for purchase at Barnes & Noble: My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food