A Partisan Among Us: Reflections on the Festa della Liberazione

A bus stop, a small park, and a restaurant that doubles as a meager general store. The civic space of Grezzano is made up of this, and not much else. We’re a small town, apparently with small-town needs: a place to buy milk and bread, a loitering spot for restless teens, and the means to escape to larger towns when needed.

Wedged between the bus stop and the billboard for posting political ads and death announcements, there’s an inconspicuous stone monument dedicated to one of Grezzano’s own, Rolando Lonari, whose story is like so many from the era of the Italian Resistance. Young Lonari joined up with a partisan brigade based at Monte Giovi. He was a messenger. At the age of 19, he was captured and shot by Germans on July 28, 1944 in Fiesole. A few weeks later Florence was liberated, an event in which partisans from Monte Giovi played a vital role. After the Liberation, Lonari’s remains were moved from Fiesole to the cemetery in Grezzano, per his family’s wishes.

In May of 2009, our little piazza was rechristened Largo Rolando Lonari in his honor (a “largo” is not quite a piazza; it’s more a wide road). At the dedication ceremony, one of Lonari’s relatives spoke, and while I couldn’t quite make out if she was a daughter or niece or what-have-you, I remember the earnestness with which she spoke about La Resistenza, the importance of remembering the values of that movement. She grew political, controversial, calling on us to honor those lost in the Resistance fight by resisting the buffone, or clown, currently running the country (this was two years ago mind you, long before Rubygate). Not surprisingly, half the crowd cheered, the other half winced and snickered. There were a few perfunctory boos. She finished gracefully, however, despite the partiality of her audience and the rather blazing sun that morning.

Why the mixed reaction? Today, the Festa della Liberazione, Italians are meant to honor the countless boys like Rolando Lonari who lost their lives fighting in the Resistance. Then, added to that already complex emotional concoction,  some gratitude to the Allies for their part and some exultation at the end of German occupation, the end of the war. (Although much of Italy was liberated the year prior, April 25, 1945 marks the official end of Mussolini’s republic and the ousting of German forces once and for all.) But not all Italians are on board with today’s agenda; it’s a day reflective of the deep political divisions still alive here.

First, should partisans  be so credited for their part in the Liberation? Not to everyone. Some think they are overly-praised with undue honors. That partisan activity caused many preventable deaths, inasmuch as their guerilla style tactics provoked evermore brutal, ruthless retaliations from the Germans throughout the country after the Armistice, is a factor not easily forgotten. Very generally speaking, average Italians during the war did believe that the partisans were good; that they were fighting off an evil that must be driven from their country, and that without them the Allies would not have accomplished all they did. Ultimately their reputation is one of heroism, sacrifice and ingenuity in the face of the harshest elements. Still, not everyone believes they were the saviors of Italy. Not everyone believes in the values they brought to bear on the political make-up of the newly formed Italian Republic.

This is a very tricky holiday, if you think about it, not unlike our 4th of July. In honoring our heroes, our roots, and the traditions that spring from American collective memory, we must also acknowledge the murkier, less than heroic aspects of the founding of the nation. But we all need our heroes. And while I can’t say that Rolando Lonari committed one particular heroic act, I do know that by joining an active partisan group, in a role that at times was surely as dangerous as direct combat–an act that ended his very young life wrongly and viciously–I know this earns him the right to be remembered by his paesani, the people of Grezzano.

This entry was posted in Local History, World War II in Italy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Partisan Among Us: Reflections on the Festa della Liberazione

  1. Mom says:

    I really enjoyed this story, you always teach me things. The next time I am in Grezzano I will have a new prespective. I hope to read more soon, I’ll be checking!!!
    Love Mom

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