Image Credit: Alejandra D., Milford, CTMy grandmother, Mary Carano, is a remarkable woman who told me an amazing story. I am grateful she shared some of her memories of surviving the Nazi invasion of her village.
Where and when were you born?
I was born Maria DeSantis in Pacentro, Italy. It’s in the state of Abruzzo, by the Apennine Mountains. I was born May 10, 1936.
Who were you parents?
My father was a forest ranger. My mother had a public oven where people came to bake bread. That, and she stayed with us, the children, although we worked in the field during the day. We grew potatoes and corn. My father’s pay wasn’t much, so we all had to do our part.
And your brothers and sisters?
My mother had 14 children, but many died. Her first child was my sister, Angelina. And then my brother Lorenzo, who lives here in Boardman. My brother Quintino died when he was ten, someone threw a rock at his head. Maria died at two of a disease I never knew much about. Frank died when he was two, also. My other brother Frank was born in 1927 and lived to be 36. Flora was born in 1930, then Quint in 1933. My other sister Maria died in 1934. I was born in 1936, and I know there was another baby girl who died at birth. The others weren’t even named because they died at birth. There are four of us still living: Lorenzo, Quintino, Flora and me.
What was your schooling like?
I had very little schooling. I started first grade in 1945, but it ended abruptly that October because of the war. I’m sure the war is what you really want to hear about.
Sure, start at the beginning.
Well, one day at the end of October in 1945, my father, after a meeting at the city hall, told us we had to leave our city because of the Nazis.
What was your reaction?
I didn’t understand what was going on. I was only seven years old. I didn’t even know who the Nazis were.
So, what did you do?
Well, my cousins had a cabin in the mountains with the animals. It was really cold because of the snow and we had to walk for hours to get there.
How long were you there?
We thought we would stay two or three weeks but we ended up staying until March. Finally some of the men heard that the Americans were coming for us, so we tried to return home. We couldn’t see very much from the up in the mountains, but as we went down into the village, some men started shooting at us. We couldn’t get back to the cabin because of the snow so we stayed in a cave.
What was the cave like, and how long were you there?
The cave was very, very small. It was freezing and wet and very windy. We barely had any food. We thought we were going to starve. We ended up staying there for three weeks.
What prompted you to leave?
We heard some loud blasts. Word was out that some of the Germans had left but were blowing up bridges as they went. So we returned to the village.
That was a sight I’ll never forget. They had broken doors and all the windows. They had thrown everything away. When we got to our home, it was practically destroyed, with glass and wood everywhere.
Did you stay in your home?
Not for long. The Nazis showed up and told us we had to go with them. We didn’t speak German, so we didn’t understand what they were saying. They started hitting us and yelling. The one doctor in town who spoke German told us that the Nazis were ordering everyone to the church square. There, the Nazis were trying to push everyone into the church. The doctor told us that they wanted to put us in a truck and take us to Northern Italy.
Did the trucks come?
Yes, and none of us knew what to do. They were just pushing everyone in. Suddenly they grabbed my sister Angelina, who was seven months pregnant with twins. My mother begged them not to take her, but they shoved her in the truck anyway along with her husband. My father and brother Frank told the Nazis that if they were going to take us, to take us all together as a family. Meanwhile, my brother Quint had run away. But the Nazis said no to my father. When the afternoon came, they didn’t have enough trucks, so they told us to go home. When we got back to our destroyed home, we cried and cried. We cried for ourselves, but especially for Angelina.