Death on Via dei Giuliani

Borgo San Giacomo, Trieste — I am sleeping less than 100 yards from where my great-grandmother Maria Cescutti Nassutti died on June 10, 1944.  She was 81.

On that day, a brilliant late spring day, a wave of B-24 Liberators, P-51 Mustangs and P-38 Lightnings of the US Army’s 15th Air Force attacked the city’s oil storage facilities.  Unfortunately, these enormous oil tanks lay on the edge of the port just 500 meters down the hill from my great-grandmother’s home.  Perhaps the bombardiers were new to their jobs.  Perhaps their pilots had taken evasive action to avoid German anti-aircraft fire and veered a bit off course.  Perhaps a rack of bombs didn’t release and had to wait for a crew member to manually pry them loose, the bombs falling out late and overshooting the target.  Perhaps there were targets in the city itself, such as military barracks, train yards, or the Palace of Justice which housed the German headquarters in Trieste.

On the wall of San Giacomo’s Catholic church

What is certain is that Maria had not gone to the bomb shelter three blocks away under Piazza Puecher.  Perhaps she hadn’t heard the air-raid sirens.  Perhaps she, as so many others that day, chose not to respond after dozens of air-raid drills conducted by the occupying Germans and the Triestine authorities with the express purpose of protecting the civilian population.  It had been nine months since the Germans had occupied Trieste to secure its vital port and oil refinery.  It had been three years to the day since Italy had entered the war on the side of Germany.  This was the first time that Trieste had been attacked from the air.

One of those bombs spiraled slowly as it fell at terminal velocity and pierced the red-tile roof over my great-grandmother’s tiny apartment.  The stone and mortar structure imploded onto Maria and half a dozen mules parked in the ground-floor stable by area farmers who were peddling cheese, milk and dried meats in town.  462 other people died under the bombs that day.  More than 4,000 were injured or left homeless.  399 other buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged.  Spared was an identical building joined to Maria’s by a simple breezeway covering the entrance to the stable.

It feels odd to me that my great-grandmother was killed by an American bomb delivered by an American airplane piloted by Americans.

I stand at number 38 Via dei Giuliani and look up at the plain concrete facade of the apartment building that rose from the rubble of Maria’s home.  If I stand in the doorway, I am just 10 feet from where her body was found.  To the left, that sister building remains, a mirror image of Maria’s, and I study it, trying to imagine her living there with my grand-uncle Amedeo and his wife Netti.  And dying there.

This morning I visited Maria’s church, San Giacomo.  According to my father Stelio, she came here every weekday for vespers and every Sunday for a full mass.  Tomorrow I will visit the San Giacomo parish’s historian and its current priest to learn more about the day she died.  The church hosted the mass funeral for the 463 victims.  The central nave was filled with row upon row of plain pine coffins.  Thousands filled the broad square outside, including my grandfather Umberto, my grandmother Ada, Stelio, Amedeo and Netti.

Another nine bombardments would strike the city before the end of the war, raising the death toll to just over 700.

A marble plaque on an outside wall of San Giacomo urges passersby to remember that day’s dead.  I hope they also keep fixed in their memories the horror, tragedy and hipocrisy of war.

Comments 4

  1. Joseph Schillaci wrote:

    No, you are wrong on all counts.
    The bombings were no accident.

    The Allies, decided, in their wisdom to “carpet bomb ” Trieste. They were trying to clear the way for the New Zealanders troops that were about to enter the City . They decimeting civilian apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and other public buldings killing thousands of civilians.

    The leftover 2,000 German soldiers were concentrated in Castello San Giusto and at the local police station .

    June 10 1944 was the day that the Allies reached Trieste and forced the Yugoslavian partisans out of Trieste. The Partisans left after
    murdering thosands of Italian soldiers that had earlier surrendered.

    Posted 08 Oct 2012 at 1:20 pm
  2. Mark wrote:

    Hello Joe, thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, I cannot accept your comment as your facts don’t square with the vast array of historical documents I’ve consulted in developing this story. Just as one example, you say June 10 1944 was the day the Allies reached Trieste. That date is actually the date of the first Allied aerial bombardment of Trieste (which killed my great-grandmother). The Allies arrived in Trieste by land at the very end of the war, May 1, 1945.

    While not completely accurate, I think this wiki article might be the most convenient way to update your World War II timeline: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trieste Scroll down to the section on World War II and it’s aftermath. If you read Italian, a very nicely written and detailed history of Trieste (and fairly balanced from a historigraphical perspective) from 1914 to 1954 is http://www.anobii.com/books/A_Trieste_sotto_7_bandiere_1914-1954/01a5eb82a9aad70b70/ I highly recommend it.

    As to whether the Allied air forces intended to bomb civilian areas of Trieste, it’s my conclusion that they were targeting military objectives inside the city rather than the conventional targets of the shipyard and oil storage facilities on the periphery.

    Regarding the Yugoslav partisans and their murders, all the research I’ve seen, including joint research conducted by a combined panel of Italian and Slovenians, concludes that at most 1,000 people were killed. While I could never sanction extra-judicial killings, I find Italian outrage over this atrocity disingenuous considering the hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered by the Italian Army and Fascist Squadristi in the Balkans. For details on that campaign, read “Si Ammazza Troppo Poco” (We’re Not Killing Enough), by Gianni Oliva.

    Auguri,

    Mark

    Posted 09 Oct 2012 at 11:08 pm
  3. Joseph Schillaci wrote:

    Thank you for your response. Your dates may be accurate I’m not sure.

    I’m going on my uncle’s memory, that still lives in Trieste, and I speak to every Sunday.

    Thank you for your refernces I’ll be sure to read them and catch up on what happened in Trieste.

    I was born in Trieste on the 21st of February 1946. We lived in citavecchia near Piazza Cavana and a kid grew up and witnessed the studetn protests and uprising.

    Piazza Cavana was far from any military target yet many of the building had been bombed and in rubble. We kids played in these destroyed apartment buildings.

    Grazie

    Posted 21 Oct 2012 at 12:28 pm
  4. Bruno Stoar wrote:

    On the 10th of June 1944, I was a six and a half year old boy. At 9:15 am, in via Cristoforo Colombo, the bombs started to fall. I was playing outside with other kids. Panick stricken, we ran into my building. My mother raced outside, grabed me and pulled me in under the archway. There were 7 or 8 of us. I saw a litle girl running down the stairs. At that moment, the bomb hit the building. The stairs collapsed and killed the girl. We survived, a miracle. Some hours later we were rescued.

    Posted 10 Jul 2013 at 11:48 pm

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