Tina was only 12 when the Allies landed in southern Italy in the summer of 1943. A few days after, as it appeared evident that the war was lost. Italy had surrendered, and in a few hours the Germans, from allies, became enemies. They invaded Italy and even succeeded in liberating Mussolini and bringing him before Hitler, who forced him to carry on with the war. It was at this point that some Italians began to fight the Nazis, while others joined Mussolini in his new Fascist government now in operation in northern Italy. For Italy, it was the beginning of a civil war within the war.
Tina remembers well the days when San Gimignano was presided over by the Germans. The family bar was started in 1924 by her father, who named it “Bar dei Combattenti” (“Bar of the Fighters”). No name could have been be more appropriate; the bar soon became the meeting point of local WWI veterans, and in 1943 it was confiscated by the Nazis, who then used it as their headquarters. The Nazis in San Gimignano were few; Tina only remembers a general and five very young soldiers, who were only a few years older than her. She recalls their kindness when they offered her candy, bread and margarine. And she recalls their general threatening her just before leaving San Gimignano to the Allies, that the Germans would “soon return.”
Every day for a few months, the five young soldiers left the bar to step inside “Tigre”, the name they had given to the tank hidden just outside, and fire the shots that announced the curfew.
Even today, when she hears a plane in the sky, Tina gets scared: the memory of the bombings is still alive, and it resurrects her fear of the war days. The planes that she saw coming in from the sea attacked Poggibonsi, the biggest town in the area, only a few kilometers away. Then, one summer day in 1944, Tina saw those planes changing their route and approaching San Gimignano. The arrival of the Allies was now just a matter of days away, maybe hours. The bombs were small, to avoid or limit victims among civilians, and were dropped on the walls of the city for 15 days. Whether accidentally or not, the cathedral was hit and partly destroyed.
It was during the Allied bombardment of San Gimignano that Tina entered her father’s bar and saw the corpses of the five young German soldiers. They were unrecognizable; their blood was everywhere on the walls. The Allies had understood where “Tigre” was hidden and had hit it as it released its final shot.
Candy was now donated by the Allied soldiers. Meanwhile, the local kids had understood the potential of business, even during wartime: Tina and her friends began selling wine and oranges to the new soldiers. The price for a glass of white wine and one orange went for one-and-a-half lire.
Today, if you happen to visit San Gimignano and enter it from the San Giovanni door, step inside the Bar dei Combattenti and ask for a glass of white wine and an orange. Tina is old, she does not spend much time at the bar anymore; the ‘fight’ is now carried on by children and grandchildren. But if she happens to be there, she will charge you one-and-a-half lire. And if you want, you can charge her for some of her memories.
Mussolini was impeached by the Grand Council of Fascism, the regime’s governing body, arrested by the king, and replaced by General Badoglio, who in early September 1943 signed an armistice with the Allies.
Meanwhile, the king and his new prime minister – without giving any orders to the army which was subsequently dismantled – had left Rome to escape to southern Italy under the protection of the Anglo-Americans.
, the first located inside the city from the San Giovanni door,
with a nasty expression
under the shadow of the big tree that used to be there
Inside it there were the five young, kind kids: not their nasty general, who had been able to leave before the town fell into the hands of the enemy, who threatened Tina of returning.
Those who occupied San Gimignano were mostly Moroccans.