Not beauty, but war…

In my blog posts I’ve been showing and talking about the beauty that surrounds us during these early days of retirement in Lucca, Italy. But the last few weeks, Jim and I have been exploring and learning about the local World War II activities. Within an hour from our home, there were many battles fought and much sorrow. We’ve taken two trips to nearby villages to see and understand more:

The Gothic Line at Borgo a Mozzano

Between 1943 and the summer of 1944, the commanders of the Nazi forces constructed a 32K kilometer (20K miles) defensive line from the Adriatic Sea to the Tyrrhenian Sea, as a last stronghold against the invasion of Northern Italy. The defensive line was known as the Gothic Line or Green Line. At Borgo a Mozzano (about 30 minutes from our home), bunkers, anti-aircraft emplacements, communication trenches, and antitank ditches are still well-preserved. We visited a museum and two bunkers during our tour that was led by a very informative and engaging guide.

The museum was stuffed full of artifacts and interesting documents.

This map was copied from the Nazi commanders and taken to the Italian partisan fighters and Allied troops. The dots show locations of bunkers. Without this map, the Allied forces would have been in a very weak position. With it, they broke through the line.

Our guide told us stories about many of the local individuals that lived through WWII, including several that he had interviewed for a book. Anna Maria was the person that brought the map from the Nazis to the partisans, risking her life. She was 18 years old at the time.

Here is our guide in front of one of the bunkers, explaining how they were built, hidden, and used during the war. We went through two of the bunkers. Most of the bunkers are not opened to the public. These two are available only through guided tours.

A beautiful medieval bridge located in Borgo a Mozzano. You can read the legend of the bridge here.

Sant’Anna di Stazzema

In 1944, Nazi officers were given orders to round up Italian partisans in the Tuscan region. On August 12, about 300 Nazi troops surrounded Sant’Anna di Stazzema, a small village in the Apuan Alps. This remote village had been flooded with refugees that were gathered here to hide from the Nazis. The Nazis found them, rounded them up and shot them. Some people were herded into basements and killed with hand grenades. Before burning the village to the ground, the Nazi soldiers murdered hundreds of women and elderly and 116 children, the youngest of which was just 20 days old. The precise number killed is uncertain, but the most commonly cited number is 560 people.

The massacre, perhaps the most egregious war crime committed by the Nazis on Italian soil, took place as the Nazis were retreating up the Italian peninsula. Some historians say the killings were in retaliation against Italian partisans resisting German occupation; others maintain it was an unwarranted act of intimidation.

The Nazis burned all of the buildings in the town, but the church has been rebuilt.

A child’s artwork in the church says “I can do some things that you can not. You can do some things that I can not. Together we can do big things.” (my translation) Maria Teresa in Calcutta

A steep and long (for me!) path leads to a memorial. Along the way there are plaques showing the story of the Passion of Christ and corresponding depictions of the massacre. Very powerful…

At the end of the path is an Ossuary Monument in memory of the victims of the massacre. The monument is a large tower 12 meters tall with four arches, a tombstone holds the names of the dead that have been identified, and many other features to help us remember.

This lists the names of all known victims. There were entire families killed, so many of the victims had the same last names. There were also signs in the church and museum that showed pictures of the children and pregnant women who were killed that day.

The view from the memorial was gorgeous. You can see the Tyrrhenian Sea, seaside towns, beautiful mountains and forests.

And some updates on life…

  • We are still working through the process of becoming residents. Jim has an appointment next week that will bring him very close. My next appointment is in December.
  • Once Jim gets the card showing that he is a resident, we can buy a car. We can drive for one year with our International Driver’s License after becoming a resident. Then we need to get an Italian Driver’s License, which is very challenging, especially because the test is in Italian. And for the first year, it is considered a Provisional license with extra restrictions, like you can only drive a car with a very small engine. So… we plan to buy a car, but a small one. For example, my Mini Cooper had an engine that is much larger than we are allowed here!
  • The government changed the rules to control the coronavirus last week, including requiring everyone to wear a mask whenever in public – inside or outside – with just a few exceptions. But then the number of new coronavirus cases started to rise very quickly. We are expecting new rules again today or tomorrow. Rumors include online school only, closing restaurants, 10pm curfews, etc. I don’t like it, but I fully support taking whatever actions are needed to get it under control. The number of new cases per day:
  • The weather has changed here. So far, October has been usually cold and wet. The last few days (and this coming week) have been gorgeous. I’ve been posting early fall foliage pictures on Facebook, although the trees are still mostly green. And I’ll end this blog post with a picture taken one evening last week, after a storm when the sun burst through the clouds.

I am touched that you take the time to read my blog posts. If you have things that you’d like me to write about, please let me know! JoAn