It was summer of 1944. War, over the years, had taken a heavy toll of lives and destruction over the various fronts in the world.
Italy had experienced some of the cruelest disaster losing the war in North Africa, and the Allied Forces unexpectedly had landed in Sicily quickly occupying the island.
In September of that year Italy saw an open revolt against the Fascist regime, and the new Italian Army Commander overnight dispersed the Italian Armed Forces that were standing on one side with the Germans ordering them to abandon their positions and go back to their homes. Chaos was created over the country and the Italian front.
The situation created a vacuum which was quickly replaced by the Nazis and
The Fascist regrouped soon after under Mussolini’s Republican forces that stood at the side of the old allies, the Germans.
Venice heavily felt the impact of the events and several businesses closed their door to the public.
Among the turmoil and difficult times of German occupation, the Manin kept its doors open. It was mainly patronized by Fascist and German officers, and those women who came with them.
The Arsenale was home of two battalions of Fascist Marines called the X Mas and their political commander was a well-known person, who in the past patronized the Manin restaurant. It was Gianni Venturi. He earned this position as a fanatic Fascist and as a hero on the North African front, fighting side by side with Rommel’s forces. For his past and his political views, Comandante Venturi became accepted by the SS German Command responsible for the Veneto Region.
The war had changed Gianni Venturi’s personality making him tough with the subalterns.
His fluent German, learned from his mother who was a Viennese, made his contacts easier with the German officers, and as part of his duties, Comandante Venturi entertained important Germans at the Manin.
Comandante Venturi maintained a friendly approach at the Manin with Annemarie and Gilberto, without mentioning the days before the war when they first met.
But he always treated with a cold approach Marco and treated him as an inferior. It was most likely at the base of his hasty attitude the fact that Marco was evidently Annemarie’s lover.
Gianni Venturi sat at his desk at the Arsenale reading the morning documents dispatched to him. Between other was an urgent message from the German Command, which he couldn’t ignore.
The Germans requested him to supply a list of local Venetian residents who were suspected to be politically and racially enemies of the Reich. The Command notified him to work with discretion, for don’t raise suspicious between those people, and prepare a list of undesirable. They let know to Comandante Venturi that they would not tolerate delays and that was entirely his duties as the political commander of the city.
“They certainly act as the Masters. I can’t object or take things lightly. As usual I’m without any options and I have to bow to their commands.” He thought.
That was the most critical year of the war, and the Fascism was only an excuse of legality used by the Germans to do whatever they wanted with their ally. Gianni was compelled to play their tune to survive those critical events.
He thought, “I should act astutely and create an alibi for myself. War will be over soon, and I must have something working in my favor at the time war is over, a reasonable guarantee that I haven’t act criminally standing at the German side.”
Gianni rapidly formed a solution in his mind, which he thought, would equally satisfy the Germans request, help him with cash money to buy his future, and mostly to gain the necessary evidences for after the war, that he didn’t commit any crimes and that he did the best he could to protect many civilians from the Gestapo. Only in that way he would save his skin at the end of the war.
With this plan in mind one early morning went to the Manin to talk to Gilberto.
“Gilberto, I’m here to offer you a proposition. We live in difficult times and you well know how our lives are endangered with the war. In the past you saved my life and I owe you for that.”
“Well Comandante I don’t expect anything back. It’s our duty to help when necessity arise.”
“Listen to me carefully, Gilberto. You are in danger, and so are many others. I have a plan that will save your skin as well as many other people lives. But are conditions that I have to impose to protect anybody involved.”
“Sure Comandante. I’m listening.”
“I start with you Gilberto. Your surname is Levi. Documents tell that you are a Christian, but on the other way the surname tells you are of Jewish origin. According to the German rules this is a reason enough to deport you to Dachau, one of the camps erected for this purpose. I can assure life will be hell there, and only a few would live long enough to see the end of the war. Does this tell you something?”
“Comandante, you should well know that I’m not professing any religion. I never have been into a synagogue since I was a boy.”
“Don’t interrupt. I don’t have all day for this matter. Because of your business you are in contact with all the wealthy Venetian Jews. And this is what the Germans are interested about, capito? And this is the major reason why I came to see you. It tells me that you are the right man to handle the role of mediator in my scheme and in this way you could save many Jewish’s lives, am I clear Gilberto?”
“Yes Comandante, I’m starting to get in into your project.”
“Fine, let’s go on. You will act and stick to the rules, other way your life and others Jewish’s lives wouldn’t have any value; then … you get a ticket to Dachau, without any but… Capito? You going to talk to them and you’ll report back to me.”
“Yes Comandante. Your picture is clear. I talk to them, and convince them to accept your proposal, or else…Kaput and no return ticket from Dachau…Is that what you want me to do? And if I do this for you what kind of benefits would I get?
“Gilberto, you are using crude words, but yes, at the base of the plan that’s exactly what I want. Because of my position I cannot be involved directly with those people, you talk, you don’t mention my name, but they are your friends so they would listen. Your credentials are fine on this regard. You collect two-thousand-pound sterling either in cash or jewelries for each person. After their payment is accepted, you will give them a valid document to go to a locality on the Lake of Como. Contacts would be arranged and an overnight boat would take them into Switzerland. That would be the good luck ticket for them, after all life is much more important then money.”
“I’ll try my best Comandante. But again, it’s risky. What I’ll get back?”
“For you Gilberto is not any share in the booty. But I’ll give you much more. As my protégée your prize will be freedom, providing you do the right thing. You’ll not appear on any deportation list till you do that. After all you are a Jew, Comprendi? Everything clear?
“I think I have the full picture, Comandante”
“Gilberto understand, you are privileged under this scheme. What I give you is worth more then money can buy. Understand also that with this my debt with you is paid off. But that’s all. If you are making mistakes and you go into troubles, that’s completely your responsibility. Don’t call back to me, I would not know you. You are warned, and stick to this rules to stay alive.”
“I will Comandante. I’ll do as you say. Anyway, I don’t have many choices left, am i? I’ll do that as a duty and not so much to save myself. I’ll do it because this is God’s will to save people lives; therefore, I’m listening to His wish.”
Two days later Gilberto received the first list of political and racially persecuted people to contact. The list was quite lengthy but time was limited to one month for them to collect the necessary cash. For many, time wasn’t enough, and they couldn’t buy their safe-conduct to Switzerland. But others had stored away some saving it in consideration of some difficult times ahead and safely they bought their ticket to freedom.
End Part Four