Monday, March 18, 2013

Memories of Fascist rule unpleasant for Mario Seghieri and family

Friday, March 16, 2013
Last year I asked third cousin Mario Seghieri and his wife Loretta Forassiepi about their experiences during World War 2. Now that I have done some additional studies on that era, I want to ask more questions, but this time about what life was like under the Fascist regime. Once again, I am accompanied by Elena Benvenuti, who serves as translator and also adds some of her own insights. We dropped by their house around 5 p.m. and chatted for an hour.

Mussolini became prime minister of Italy in 1922 and declared himself Il Duce early in 1925, running a de facto dictatorship until he was deposed by the Italian Grand Council in 1943. Mario was born in 1924 and Loretta in 1932, so what they recall of the early years of Fascism comes from stories told by their parents and other relatives. Mario briefly served in the Italian army in 1943 in a story I recounted last year in “Mario Seghieri, World War 2, Montecarlo and the Gothic Line,” and which I have recently updated with more information they gave me today. Mario and Loretta were 21 and 13, respectively, when the war ended in 1945.

Historians usually point out some positive aspects of Italy’s government during Mussolini’s leadership: Swamps were drained to create more usable land, trains ran on time, large companies were established and national pride, at least on the surface, appeared strong.

However, when asked about the positive aspects of Fascism, neither Mario nor Loretta could recall anything, and they immediately launched into discussions of everything they disliked about it.

Mario Seghieri
Era cattivo,” Mario said. My dictionary shows cattivo can be translated bad or evil, and based on the way Mario emphasized it, I think the latter translation is what he meant.

“You had to belong to the Fascist party,” Loretta said. “If you didn’t want to sign up, you were beaten and you were drugged with a sort of oil that made you go to the toilet. They would give it in such quantity that you could never be able to reach the toilet in time, and this was very, very embarrassing for the people.”

Every family had to register as a member of the party. Without a registration card, a family was not eligible to receive bread or any government services.

She also recalls that one of her family’s neighbors was loyal to the Fascist party, and he would spy on the community and turn in the names of those he suspected of being anti-Fascist.

Loretta Forassiepi
“It was a strategy of terror within the neighborhood,” she said. “If he reported someone to the head of the village, the Fascists would send an expedition to your house. Anyone could get you in trouble.

“You tried to remain hidden. The only way to exchange ideas was after supper, during the veglia. Families would go to the houses of their friends and relatives and play cards and talk among themselves.”

Loretta’s father hated his Fascist party registration card and vowed to destroy it, but his family needed it to receive its ration of bread. His brother urged him to keep his party card and stay silent so as not to stir up trouble, and the two would argue.

Mario’s father Bruno had been overheard speaking out against Fascism by a spy who reported him to the local Fascist leaders. He was called in, supposedly for a conversation, but he soon found himself surrounded by men accusing him of disloyalty, and he realized they were planning to seize him.

Bruno and Rosa and six of their children. Mario
is in the lower right. Taken in about 1927.
“They tried to grab him, but he was a big strong guy,” Mario said. “He threw his shoulders back and stretched his arms wide to push the men away and free himself. Then he ran as fast as he could and hid. Otherwise he would have been beaten.”

I wondered how these neighbors with opposing political alliances regarded each other after the war, but Mario and Loretta have little to say, partly because they were too young to have been involved with the politics, and partly because it is something that people want to put behind them. Mario remembers in later years being acquainted with a man whose father had been head of the Fascists in nearby Chiesanuova, but out of politeness, Mario never brought up the subject. “We never discussed these things,” Mario said. “After Mussolini was shot, that was the end.”

He doesn’t recall any punishment or retaliation meted out to the local Fascist leaders, but that could be in part because they made themselves scarce. “Some of the Fascists had to go into hiding themselves until things calmed down and they could come out again,” Mario said.

Did the war have an impact on the way the older generation views Germans today? When I asked this, Mario and Loretta both started talking with great animation and at the same time, so I don’t know exactly what they said, but Elena summarized: “The feeling remains with their generation that the Germans are cruel. Not with my generation, but my mother has the same bad feelings and preconception about Germans. It comes out even when we watch the Olympic Games.”

Now the conversation turns to other topics, and I find out a few more interesting details of life here in San Salvatore. Mario’s father and grandfather were contadini, and in all likelihood so were all of their ancestors for the last 1000 or more years. Three of Mario’s children and some of his grandchildren now run the family farm, which not long after the war changed from growing grains and vegetables to growing flowers and other plants.

Now everything they plant has already been pre-ordered, so there is little risk of their work going to waste. The business is going well enough to support the families of Ivano, Fausto and Fiorella, but in Mario’s working days, it was a struggle to support just his one family with four children. He can recall a friendly competition between his family and those of cousins Sergio and Pietro to see who would stay out the latest in the day working on their farms.

“We would harvest the colored carnations first and save the white ones for the evening, because we could still see the white ones as the light of day was fading away,” Loretta said. “The children would be calling us to come home.

“The new generation doesn’t understand why we worked so hard. But it was the only way to live, to make enough money to feed everyone.”

I also found out that Mario had a knee operation recently, and he is able to walk better than he could last year. He has a treadmill in the kitchen, which he uses several times a day when the weather is too wet or cold to walk outside. For a year before the operation, he had been in constant pain that kept him chair-bound much of the time. “Working the field was too much,” Elena said. “You really wear the bone.”

Back: Seghiero and bike part, Anita Seghieri, unknown.
Front: unknown, Ruggero Seghieri, Rosina Seghieri.

I also find out something I had wanted to know about the Seghieri bicycle shop in the Albergi district of Pescia. It was started by Mario’s late brother Girardengo around 1950. He built the shop and the house above it before he married in 1954. This dispels my romantic notion that the shop had been in continuous service since the days my dad’s uncles Ruggero and Seghiero Seghieri were boys. We have a photo of Seghiero, known in my family as Uncle Jim, holding a piece of a bike when he was a young man in Italy, and we were told that he built racing bikes before he came to America in 1909. No doubt he did, but it was not part of the same business that exists today.

Lucy and I bought both of our bikes from the Seghieri bike shop in 2011, and I liked the thought that the place might have some distant tie to Uncle Jim, who was a mechanic in America. However, the only connection is that perhaps mechanical abilities run in the family gene pool.

Mario has turned 89 this week, and both he and Loretta are sharp of mind and active around the house and yard, and it is always a pleasure to visit with them. I hope that the good health and longevity that they enjoy is also part of the family gene pool.

Elena Benvenuti is a tour guide who offers cooking classes and private personal tours of Lucca and the surrounding areas. For more information, see her web site: Discover Lucca with Elena.


  1. This is really interesting. I am currently reading "Verdi's Dream" by Lisa Taruschio and it starts with Mussolini's death and then goes back to a few months earlier. Anyhow, I am very interested in Italian WWII information right now.

  2. Reading this reminds me what an easy life I have had in the the US in my 52 years. So many in other country's have had to deal with so much strife.



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