ITALIAN TRANSLATION

 

THE MASSACRE OF MELISSA

From the early stages of the movement, the farmers of Melissa have participated in the occupation of uncultivated lands occurring in the early years of 1944-1945,during which the PSI[Italian Socialist Party] was reconstituted, the PCI[Italian Communist Party] was founded, and the Action Party made a brief appearance. Also active in this period were the TradeUnions which were not much different from the People’s parties, just as there is little ideological difference between  the PSI and the PCI. The public order is constantly challenged by strikes and demonstrations for the achievement of limited objectives[road construction, waterworks, removal of the town’s employment officer and corrupt officials] : above all, the most important objective was the claim to follow state lands.[In 1946 M. Stella Mercurio Amoroso writes;- only 18% of all lands were owned by a multitude of small proprietors [ more than 500] who each owned 5 hectares. Some 50 small companies owned 6% amounting to 5-10 hectares ea, a further 10% belonged to companies owning more or less 10-15 hectares each, 14% belonged to less than 15 companies with more than 100 hectares each,amongst which the largest property, comprising 1725 hectares, belonged to Baron Berlingieri. Only 40 individual property owners were in favor of the freedom movement. The farmers have work for 80-100 days per year. The diet of the people of Melissa consisted of a soup of fava beans, bread and other beans. Meat was available only on the holydays of Easter and Christmas. The dress of the day consisted of second hand military garb. Only the adults wore shoes, but not all. The children go barefoot and suffer from malnutrition, their clothes are tottered and torn. The women wear the same clothes all year and go barefoot. The houses are hovels without electricity, without indoor plumbing, and usually consisted of one large room used as bedroom, kitchen, eating area, and animal shelter, all living in promiscuous filth. There is no running water ,no indoor      heating, food is cooked on wood burning fireplaces, there is no electricity and the furniture consists of a bed with straw mattress, a kitchen table, two chairs and a wooden trunk to stow sheets, towels and supplies .The PCI and PSI incite the farmers to take action against these inequalities and are joined in this effort by Federterra [Govt agricultural agency] whose secretary is Santo lonetti.

 

The real leader of this movement is Carrubba , an uneducated farmer, who could not read or write but could speak directly to the heart of the farmers and was an important factor in the struggle against the large landowners and their supporters.

While the first occupation of lands occurred in Melissa in early 1946 and initiated by the Fighter’s Association who occupied lands in the feudal territory of [culonuda],Agro di Torre,Melissa , the poverty afflicting the farmers was not substantially alleviated. The effort was therefore redirected to Fragala, located at 17 km from Melissa where the lands had laid follow for 14 years: The 29th of October, joining similar movements occurring throughout Calabria, the farmers occupied these lands, having reached the limits of their patience at being forced by necessity to sell their daughters into prostitution, to expose them to matrimony by proxy, to subject their children to toil night and day in the fields with little compensation; to watch their women became old and wrinkled before their time ,to have to kiss the hands of the landowners who exploited them, to bring gifts and farm produce at Xmas and Easter to the Polito brothers, who managed the farms. Mindful of these conditions, the farmers, armed only with farm implements, marched on to Fragala as if they were going to a festival to resurrect the land from years of neglect and from the vegetative state of the feudal system and hoping to return it to the production of wheat, flower and bread to cure the chronic hunger of the people. That morning, on the 29th of October of 1949, the town emptied out except for the old people. Everyone else went to Fragala: men, women, children armed with shovels and hoes,some on foot, some on horseback.   The younger people carried heavier implements such as plows, palanchines,   sledge hammers and banners.The children followed surrounded by barking dogs, excited by the movement of so many people. The dogs were the only animals deemed worthy of accompanying the expedition. A few cats attempting to follow

The farmers crusade, were driven back with stones. They would remain to guard the empty houses. Some people left without locking the doors. There is nothing worth stealing in Melissa! A visitor may be offered a few chestnuts. If there are no chestnuts, they would be invited to seat by the fireplace to course together their common hunger and cruel destiny.

The occupation of Fragala, the struggle to achieve it, the password to be used, and the behavior towards the police were debated at length during the evening preceding the 29th of October 1949 at the offices of Federterra. The farmers were instructed to receive the police with shouts of :[Hail to the police of the Italian republic] and also :[we want bread and work!]

The morning of the same day, Enrico Musacchio, secretary of the local chapter of the PCI, Giuseppe Squillace, the socialist mayor of the town, Santo Lonetti, secretary of Federterre, were instructed to go to the police barracks where they were detained for several hours by the police commissioner Dr. Rossi.

According to Nicodemo Mungo, the police commissioner, Dr. Rossi, asked them to instruct the farmers to withdraw from

the lands of Fragala otherwise they would be responsible for what might happen should they refuse. Giuseppe Squillace, the mayor of Melissa, suggested that, in order to prevent problems, the farmers be allowed to stay until evening when they would have to return to their homes. At that time, they could discuss with relative calm how to solve the problem. At 2 PM, the animated discussion was interrupted by the terrible news, brought to the police barracks by Vincenzo Pandullo,: The Special Police [celerini] had fired on the people killing several farmers, not quite sure how many! And he had also been wounded in the throat. The news spreads dramatically throughout the town: they all have some one up there ,at Fragala, a husband, a son, brother, nephew, in laws. They are overcome by despair. At that moment it wasn’t possible to know more on the massacre, which appeared extensive and which was apparently premeditated for fear of a communist revolution, fueled by the hatred of the large landowners and carried forth by the state police against the farmers of southern Italy and of Calabria . The days prior to the 29th of October, the Interior Ministry issued unequivocal orders: The farmer’s movements must be broken up, particularly in the areas of their greatest strength ! Already, beginning the 28th of October, the special police {Celerini],under the command of a Lt. Luciani  , initiated provocative actions against the farmers: they insulted, mocked and bothered particularly the women and they ransacked the offices of Federterra. They also searched the offices of other liberal parties. In general, they created an atmosphere of fear which forced the people to barricade themselves in their houses at first sight of darkness. The landowners and their lackeys did their part by inciting the police against the farmers describing them as bandits and begging the police to save them from the Reds!

 

The morning of 29th of October, the special police sprang into action from the wine cellars of Ciro and from the palaces of the marquis Berlingieri, full of wine and hatred , reaching Fragala after having parked their vehicles at the outskirts of Melissa.<We were told of the arrival of the special police, testifies Vincenzo Pandullo,barely half an hour after he left the town. Following a quick consultation, we decided to continue our work : none of us thought of preparing a line of defense convinced that the police would not attack us. If we had wanted to resist and oppose them by force we could have done so: the police, in order to reach Fragala, had to come via a river through very narrow gorges where we could have ambushed them and stopped them simply by throwing rocks at them!> When we saw the first policeman, our men instructed us to group together and applaud the police with shouts of: long live the police of the people!.><bread and work>. The men continued to hoe, testifies Lucia Cannata, a peasant woman who was badly wounded in the conflict. The police, continues the woman , positioned themselves in a semicircle and I heard a voice say:< Drop your weapons and leave the lands>. Nobody dared to move. Our hearts were in our throats as we felt that something terrible was about to happen.

 

The women , men and children, ignoring the order, shouted in unison:< long live the police we want bread and work>.

The police responded by firing tear gas at the farmers and then proceeded to charge them. People started to run. The police fired on

them: during a period of minutes they fired more than 300 rounds of ammunition. Francesco Nigro is the first to fall ; he is only 29. Giovanni Zito also falls, he is just 15. Angelina Mauro is mortally wounded: she died a few days later at the hospital of Crotone. Her death instigated the movement for the emancipation of women in southern Italy. Lucio Cannata, Domenico Bevilacqua, Luciano Iocca, Carmine Masino, Antonio Cannata, Giuseppe Ferrari, Silvio Rosati, Vincenzo Pandullo, Francesco Drago, Francesco Bossa, Carmine Tarlesi, Michele Drago, Carmine Sarletti were all seriously wounded : all shot in the back ! The police, in effect, fired indiscriminately with premeditated cruelty at the fleeing farmers ; they also fired on their animals and other targets. Hey shot the mules and jackasses, they smashed water barrels, they beat all the people that didn’t run away fast enough. The dead were transported back to town on the back of jackasses; the police, afraid to cross the town, retreated to Ciro Marina via an alternate route. The wounded are transported to the hospital in Crotone; they all have been shot in the back. No policemen have been brought to the hospital: there were no casualties in the police ranks. In order to justify their action and to give credence to a supposed farmer’s revolt, the police systematically bribed the hospital doctors to collect supportive testimony. The most relevant episode was one that involved the local doctor of Ciro.

 

In a report to the National Directorate of the PSI dealing with this incident, Luigi Cacciatori relates: I departed from Rome on the evening of the 31st of October and , the next morning upon arriving in Crotone, I asked for news on the number of casualties and wounded and I was able to ascertain that no policemen had been treated at the hospital. I tried to obtain more conclusive evidence on the number of wounded police, and I discovered that some policemen suffered from bruises and scratches suffered on their journey through thick vegetation to reach the fields of Fragala. One policeman had a slight wound in the head. This particular policeman went to the local doctor of Ciro, an old septuagenarian doctor, who medicated him and issued him a report showing that he had been injured by a blunt instrument The following day, the chief of police paid a visit to the same doctor and showed him a blood stained policeman’s hat, with two holes in it. He then asked the doctor to change his report because, according to the chief of police, the hat showed clearly that the policeman was wounded by a gun shot.The old doctor explained to the chief that his more than fifty years of practicing medicine allowed him to distinguish between a gunshot wound and one caused by a blunt instrument. The chief of police did not insist further, but, a few hours later, he returned with the lieutenant of the Celere who, under veiled threats of violence asked the old doctor to reconsider his position which put him at odds with the National Police. The doctor, fearing for his life, destroyed the original report and wrote a new one supporting the police version. Later, examining his conscience and realizing that during his more than fifty years of practice he had always acted in a scrupulous and honest manner he began to have second thoughts. After spending a sleepless night, he confided the true facts to another colleague entrusting him with a written declaration of the true facts and thus put his conscience at ease. This written report is ,today, together with a legal brief of denunciation , in the hands of a special prosecutor of the republic in the appeals court of Catanzaro.

 

There isn’t the slightest doubt that the shots came from only one side, the side of the police. What isn’t known, after so many years, who fired the first shot and who gave the order to fire ! From the testimony of witnesses present at the site, the responsible individual for this criminal act was the Marshall of the Carabinieri [State Police] from the barracks of Ciro Marina, a certain Brezzi who had personal grudges to settle with the people of Melissa.

 

Enrico Musacchio, thy PCI secretary in 1949, tells us : Five months prior to the massacre, the people of Melissa convened at the town hall to protest the removal of the local administrator. On that occasion, Marshall Brizzi, apparently irritated by these demands, shouted in the presence of hundreds of people : this looks like the republic of Caulonia, but   I will give you a taste of the night of St. Bartolomeo ! These words were heard and confirmed by other farmers whom we interviewed. More explicitely, Carmine Sirlesi, who participated in the occupation of lands in Fragala and who was also wounded, asserts in his testimony:< Immediately after this tragedy, I spread the word that  Marshall Brezzi was the first to fire on the people and that I would assert this in front of anyone. The party [PCI} dissuaded me  from carrying this matter further.

My attitude caused me some troubles, One day, I don’t remember which, I was called to the home of a municipal guard from Melissa where I was confronted by the local vice-mayor  and Marshall Brezzi who advised me to retract my accusation. I refused and was sent to jail for a few days.

 

An additional deposition was given by Francesco Nigro”s father, eighty one years old, who is well acquainted with life”s struggles :><The 29th of October, I was left behind in town and din”t go to Fragala; my children, Francesco and Giuseppe went instead together with friends. Those lands had not been cultivated for many years and the town had nothing to eat. They took over those lands to grow wheat for the June harvest. It wasn”t to be ! The police came from Ciro with a tMarshall who behaved like a fanatic and called the people Criminals and ragamuffins. He was the same Marshall Brezzi, the one that gave the order to fire. Someone brought me the news that my son had been killed. I was at home and they brought my son on the back of a donkey. The government, to amend for his death, gave me a few acres of land.

 

Angelina Mauro was not involved in politics, she was a poor farmer like all the rest. At Fragala she was wounded In a kidney, but she din”t die right away. She came down from Fragala on a mule ; Having just received the news that my son had fallen, I started in the direction of Fragala whereby I came upon Angelina who was talking to my sister in law and saying: Mother aunt, we have been served our pain! Angelina died in the hospital of Crotone after a couple of days. Her mother, poor woman, died a year later of a broken heart for having lost such a pearl of a daughter. Her father died three years later and was almost blind. Nobody remembers her anymore or brings flowers to the grave. Her brothershave all left Melissa.

Giovanni Zito, a 15 year old boy, suffered a similar fate. His mother slipped in madness  and his father refused to remember the tragedy.That day, the 29th of October, the boy had joined the others at Fragala; Giovanni Zito was always involved in the movement. His family, if this is possible, was poorer than all other families ; they lived in a rat hole of a house : they were so poor that Giovanni Zito dint even own a photograph  which, in the farmers’ culture, is taken during military service or taken, as a luxury item, on the day of their weddings. The tombstone in the Melissa cemetery bears only his name. Those of Francesco Nigro and Angelina Mauro have their photographs.

 

The news of the massacre soon spread throughout Italy. The CGIL [Union] staged a successful strike. The newspapers Avanti and L’Unita are the first to print the news of the massacre and names the perpetrators. The international press also picks  up the story. The progressive Intellectual community arose in protest: famous painters such as Francesco Treccani, traveled to Melissa to experience first hand the plight of the people and to depict on canvass their aspirations to a more just world.

 

At the house of Parliament and in the Senate, the politicians of the left, vehemently denounced the events  of Melissa. Pietro Mancini who, together with Gennaro Miceli, Francesco Spezzano, Silvio Messinetti, Mario Alicata [ the then mayor of that county], visited Melissa immediately after the massacre gave a speech  and concluded: In the name of the Italian Republic , may our devout and undying homage fly over those graves full of tears. Their blood has not been shed in vain if it will bury forever the old history and creates a new one. The rebirth of Calabria will be their most deserved monument. Only then we may be able to honor them.

 

One cannot say that this wish was realized. The farmers of Melissa were not given justice. The case was, soon after, archived. The trial never took place. The young magistrate, who had gathered the initial facts, resigned after a few days. In the south and in Calabria, according to Rosa Luxembourg, the farmers tend to disappear.

 

Translation: Mrs Fausto Falsetta, New Yorl - March 2006