A Thousand to One
BY CAPTAIN EMILIO LUSSU
ON the afternoon of October 31, 1926, an attempt was made in Bologna against the life of Mussolini. A few hours later, throughout the whole of Italy, the Fascists started to sack the headquarters of anti-Fascist newspapers and associations and the private dwellings of opponents of the régime.
That day I was at Cagliari, in the island of Sardinia. In the morning I had pleaded before the jury the cause of a young man accused of murder at the Court of Assizes, and my client was acquitted. Before returning to the mountain village where he lived, he came to my house to thank me, accompanied by all his relations, who had come to Cagliari for the trial. On leaving, the eldest of them, an eightyyear-old patriarch, who was wearing the costume of the Sardinian mountaineers, — coat of black wool, white linen trousers, and tight black gaiters,— invoked, in Biblical phrases that I cannot recall without emotion, the blessing of Heaven upon me, the savior of his innocent son. The clock of a neighboring church struck halfpast nine.
I had scarcely stepped out of my house when one of my friends appeared, breathless, to warn me that the Fascists were sounding their summons to battle. I locked my office and went out to see what was happening.
In the street another friend informed me that the news of an attempt against Mussolini had reached the Fascists and the Prefecture.
‘I have been able secretly to obtain a copy of the telegram. The boy who fired at Mussolini at Bologna was lynched on the spot by the Fascists. Here they have been summoned for immediate reprisals. Your house and your life are in danger. Leave the town and hide yourself in some safe place.’
While he spoke, from all sides could be heard the bugles summoning the Fascists together in the different quarters of the city.
I returned home, and sent the servant away. My mother, fortunately, was at our country house, and I had only myself to think of. I went downstairs again, and met in the street other friends who had hurried to warn me that the Fascists were gathering at their headquarters, that motors were to be used as rapid means of transport, and that shouts of ‘Death to Lussu!’ were already to be heard.
I went to dine at a restaurant a few yards from my house. As I was eating, news reached me by degrees: the theatres, the cinemas, all public resorts had been closed; armed Fascist gangs were going about the streets; a punitive expedition against me was being organized at the Fascist headquarters; the leaders were exhorting the rank and file with inflammatory speeches; I was the appointed victim; in half an hour the work was to begin.
Copyright 1930, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The waiter who attended me had served under me during the war. He had subsequently become a Fascist, but he could not forget his loyalty to his former officer. He was very much embarrassed that evening, and hardly dared to speak to me. Though he tried once or twice, I did not encourage him. Finally he said: ‘Signor Capitano, I know what orders have been given. I beg of you not to return home; leave here at once. It will only be a matter of a few days. Then everything will be normal once more.’
‘Do you think,’ I asked him, ‘that I am right or wrong?’
‘You are right,’ he replied, reddening, and mechanically standing at attention in the military manner.
‘Then why should I beat a retreat?’
My question embarrassed him still more. He did not reply. As I went away I said to him, ‘Why did you turn Fascist?’
‘Things are so difficult. They made me many promises. . . . Who can live in opposition to the Fasci?’
‘I live well enough,’ I retorted, and left him. But I had not told the truth. I could not honestly say that I lived well.
In a moment I was at home again. I occupied an apartment on the first floor, of which five windows faced the square. Next to me, on the same floor, lived an associate judge of the Court of Appeal, Cavalier Tanchis. I went to his door and rang the bell, wishing to appeal to his conscience as a judge in order that, whatever happened, he should bear witness to the violence used against me. Although he was at home, he made no sign of life; he was terrorized. In the upper floors of the building everything was silent. The occupants had hastened to seek refuge elsewhere.
The square, which was the most central one in the city, was deserted; houses, shops, all were closed. From afar came the strains of the Fascist songs.
Then I prepared to defend myself. I had a sporting rifle and two army revolvers — munitions enough. Two war trophies in the form of weighted clubs, taken from the Austrians, hung upon the wall.
The memory of many others who, during the last six years, had had their houses sacked, their families dispersed, flashed into my mind; of those who had been killed, unarmed, in their homes, under the eyes of their helpless wives and children. I remembered, and seemed to see before me, poor Pilati, my comrade in the war, in which he was wounded, and subsequently my colleague in Parliament; he had been murdered in his bed beside his wife. And I was conscious of immense and tragic compassion for my country.
Two young friends ran up the stairs and announced to me that a large column of Fascists were marching toward my house and demanding to lynch me. When I told them that I did not intend to escape, they offered to help in my defense. I had to force them to leave.
Hardly had the heavy door giving on to the street closed behind them when I heard my name threateningly shouted from the advancing column.
‘Now for it,’ I said aloud. ‘One must set an example.’
I half-closed the shutters and put out the light. I could thus see without being seen, and observe what was happening in the square, which was brilliantly lit.
In the street to the right of my house was the printing press of the ChristianDemocratic newspaper, the Corriere di Sardegna. The Fascists invaded and sacked it.
Then it was the turn of the neighboring office of the lawyer Raffaele Angius.
Angius came of humble family. His parents had suffered the most heroicprivations to maintain him at his studies. He had gone through the whole of the war, and had greatly distinguished himself. As a lawyer he had laboriously built up for himself an excellent reputation, and his family owed their present ease to his work.
Furniture, books, legal documents, all were thrown into the street and burned. In a few minutes the Fascists destroyed, that evening, the work of a lifetime.
During the following days the lawyer’s clients, in despair, went to demand their scattered documents. Angius left Cagliari, and died a year later at Milan, leaving his aged parents in poverty. He was scarcely thirty-five years old.
These two preliminary feats having been successfully carried out, the column turned toward my house.
‘ Down with Lussu! Death to Lussu!’
The column was commanded by the lawyer Giovanni Cao, Count di San Marco, a member of Parliament, and leader of the local Fascists. He had been a fellow student of mine at the University, and my companion during the whole of the war; afterward he had been a member of my own political party, and as a lawyer had worked in my office; he had been among my most affectionate friends up to the time of the March on Rome. After the March on Rome, however, being unable to resist both threats and flattery, he became a Fascist. I had to request him to leave my office, since my position as an adversary of Fascism made it impossible for us to continue to work together. He never spoke to me again. Nevertheless I was surprised, that evening, to see him personally conducting the attack upon me.
I recognized others among the aggressors. One, a certain Baldussi, had become famous on account of other ‘punitive expeditions.’ He was known to me personally, for I had been his lawyer once when he was indicted as the author of a somewhat sensational theft. He appeared among the most eager against his former defender.
I was no less astonished at the presence of another, a man named Fois, from Cagliari. An organizer among the maritime workers, a syndicalist-anarchist, and violently antiFascist, he had been many times attacked and arrested by the Fascists. When the Fascists occupied the headquarters of his organization, he found it impossible to earn his living. He wanted to emigrate to France, and I gave him introductions to friends there, that he might find help and work. Before leaving he had come to my house to see me, and had talked with me at length of his difficulties and of his family, which consisted of a wife and three children, named Liberia, Spartaco, and Libero (Liberty, Spartacus, and Free). In despair at not finding work in France, he had returned to Cagliari and had joined the Fascio toward the end of September, thus being able to take over again the direction of his former organization, now become a Fascist one. He excused himself to his former comrades by adducing the necessity of supporting his children, but he let it be understood that his syndicalist-anarchist faith remained unshaken.
I still wonder why he too, that evening, was demanding my lynching. I know that he has since changed the names of his children. It is not wholly improbable that in the future, when times have changed, he will rechristen them with their original names.
Probably I should have been able to identify other old acquaintances of the same kind had I had time to do so. But the street door had been broken in, and the staircase was filled with a shouting crowd up to the door of my apartment.
I had made arrangements for defense in the belief that the door would immediately give way. Instead, it held. Warned by me that I was waiting, armed, within, the Fascists, after their first efforts to break it down, thought perhaps that there was no necessity for any excess of zeal.
The column in the square thereupon divided into three. One part remained to support those who had invaded the staircase; a second began to scale the five balconies facing the square; and the third went to the back of the building and endeavored to enter my apartment from a courtyard.
I had not foreseen such military strategy, and found myself in much embarrassment as to how to defend myself from three separate and simultaneous attacks. I was forced to go rapidly from one side to the other in order to be in time to confront the first to make a breach. I confess that I have found myself in more pleasant situations in the course of my life.
The yells in the square were demoniacal; the crowd was furiously inciting those who were making the assault upon the windows.
One balcony was reached. I fired at the first to appear, and the unfortunate man was precipitated to the ground.
Terror invaded the crowd. In a flash the square was deserted; not a soul remained on the staircase. Several times Count Cao attempted to reorganize the column and to lead it again to the attack, but in vain. My house was as though bewitched.
Half an hour later the police turned up, followed by the Carabineers in large numbers. They stood guard over my house. Finally the Chief of Police appeared, together with many commissioners and the Colonel of the Carabineers.
When my house had been surrounded and the whole square occupied in a military manner, the Fascists slowly reappeared, at first silently, by ones and twos, then yelling and shouting, in a crowd. They had recovered their courage. The police did not interfere with them.
There came a blow at my door.
‘Open, Onorevole!’ It was the voice of the Chief of Police. ‘On my honor, on my family, on my children, I swear that I am here to defend you.’
The rest all echoed in chorus: ‘Yes, we are all here to defend you!’
I explained to the Chief of Police, through the door, that I found myself in the unfortunate position of not being able to trust his word.
‘If you wish to enter, do so. But I warn you that the light is out, and that my revolver is loaded. Enter only with your hands up.’
‘Impossible! A chief of police cannot enter with his hands up!’ The poor man groaned and sighed.
‘Very well, then, send a commissioner.’ And I suggested the name of one of those with him whose voice I had recognized.
‘An excellent idea,’ said the Chief of Police. ‘Signor Commissario, you go.’
I opened the door and let the victim in; then shut it once more and turned on the light. The Commissario was holding his hands up, pale and upset. I put down my revolver and told him not to be afraid.
He explained to me that they were come to arrest me. They really did intend to protect me from the Fascists; as a proof he adduced the large number of Carabineers that surrounded my house. He convinced me of his sincerity. Shortly after, I opened the door to the Chief of Police also.
This gentleman, somewhat embarrassed, communicated to me the order for my arrest. I opened the Penal Code, and read to him the part concerning legitimate defense and a state of necessity. I told him that it was the duty of the authorities to imprison the attackers, not the attacked; the violent invaders of a private dwelling, not the citizen exercising a right sanctioned by the law. But the Chief of Police explained to me that he had a painful, a very painful, duty to fulfill — that of arresting me. At the same time he anxiously observed that I should do well to remove myself from the lighted window, right in front of which I was standing; some evilly disposed person might have a shot at me from the square, and the shot — though this he did not actually put into words — might make a mistake between myself and him.
Seeing that the penal law was no use, I appealed to constitutional law. I was a member of Parliament. Parliamentary immunity from arrest was laid down in the Statute, an immunity which members enjoyed while Parliament was in session. All in vain. The Chief of Police had a painful, a very painful, duty to perform.
I was handcuffed and conducted to prison by a squad of Carabineers.
The following day, acts of violence were continued in the city. All supporters of the opposition were arrested; Fascists sacked and destroyed their homes.
My house alone remained unscathed, protected by numerous cordons of Carabineers and even soldiers. This astonished me not a little. However, I understood the privileged treatment accorded me when I was reminded that my furniture and belongings were insured against damage committed for political reasons. The Insurance Society had lost no time in setting in motion all the authorities in order to avoid the looting of my home and the paying of the premium.
Those arrested remained only a few days in prison. On their liberation, the Chief of Police explained to them that he had deprived them of their freedom because their lives were in danger owing to excessive excitement on the part of the Fascists, and prison was the safest shelter for them. As a matter of fact, one of them, Dr. Sanna, had found a perfectly safe refuge for himself in the house of his mother-inlaw, in a village one hundred and fifty miles from Cagliari, amid a devoted population that would have defended him from all aggression. The police considered this asylum insufficiently secure. They sent Carabineers and soldiers to arrest him, and brought him laden with chains to Cagliari. His father, years before, had been Undersecretary of State to the Ministry of Justice in a Democratic Cabinet , and this was a hereditary blemish to the discredit of the son.
The Government ordered that the funeral of the Fascist whom I had killed should be an imposing affair. All public employees, the pupils of the state schools, the Fascist Militia and members of all the provincial Fasci, representatives of the navy and the army, the entire magistrature, the prefect, and the general commanding the Sardinian Army Division were all present. The dead man was compared, in the official speeches, to the martyrs of the Risorgimento. The population kept away from the ceremony.
The dead man’s family received the pension accorded to soldiers killed in war. At present a legion of Fascist Vanguards bears his name.
On the occasion of the opening of the juridical year, the Attorney-General for the province stigmatized, with inspired eloquence, ‘the detestable crime committed by a politician against a young man full of love for his country,’ and invoked exemplary justice on his behalf.
Count Cao di San Marco, leader of the punitive expedition against me, was shortly afterward nominated Undersecretary in the Ministry of Transport, as a reward for his good intentions in organizing the enterprise, if not for its success.
Throughout the first night that I spent in prison, and for many succeeding nights, the Fascists passed to and fro outside singing insulting songs about me. They had certainly regained their self-confidence.
In the cell next that which I occupied there was an old acquaintance of mine. A few months previously he had killed his young wife and had entrusted to me his defense, but he insisted on basing this on the plea that his wife had been unfaithful to him, which was untrue. He was a pathological case, in whose unbalanced brain jealousy had become a fixed idea, leading him to crime. Unable to endorse his line of defense, I refused to take his case, but he bore me no malice. It was he who, having been some time in prison and being acquainted with the habits of the place, informed the other prisoners of my arrival, by means of the mysterious systems which exist in prisons. The
member of Parliament for Cagliari in prison! The prisoners were proud to be in such company. I had been the defender of many others among them — that is to say, for them I was the most outstanding personality in their world. What an undreamed-of surprise, to see one’s own defending counsel ending in prison himself! Modesty apart, it was quite an historical event for the prisons of Cagliari.
The following morning, when I was taken to the open air for half an hour’s exercise, I found my name written upon the walls together with good wishes toward me. One of these inscriptions read: ‘Long live Lussu! ’ It was signed: ‘The Amalgamated Society of SafeBlowers’! This proof of popularity was most flattering to my vanity.
When I was once more in my cell, notes wrapped around pebbles were thrown with great skill through the bars of the window opening. They all said more or less the same thing: ‘Courage. If you have need of anything, we are here. Burn this at once.’
The evening of November 1 the examining judge and the public prosecutor came to interrogate me. There were many expressions of grief at my situation. Both affirmed that it was a matter merely of formalities indispensable at this stage; the whole city had been a witness of the assault committed against me; my action had been legitimate; my liberation would be a question of a few days. Handshakes and renewed compliments.
I nominated as my defender a lawyer named Marcello, a personal friend of mine and a teacher at the University. The following day, the second of November, Marcello was arrested. It was not a safe time for lawyers.
To avoid further trouble for Professor Marcello, I entrusted my defense instead to a young friend of mine named Calabresi, who was getting his training in my office. At the moment he was in Rome, and I therefore believed him safe from local ill-feeling and reprisals. I was mistaken. On his return journey to Cagliari, my friend heard in time that the Fascists were awaiting him at the station, and in order to avoid arrest he turned back. His house in Cagliari was sacked. He had to remain for a long time in hiding, now in Rome and now in Sardinia.
My cell, which was on the ground floor and measured three metres by two, was very cold, and badly lit by a small barred window which gave on a courtyard. A table, a chair, a folding bed fixed to the wall, a straw mattress, and one or two other objects completed its equipment. When the door was opened, a strong draft was formed between it and the window, which during the winter was like an icy douche.
I was in the army during the whole of the war, and in the trenches I had ample opportunity for increasing my entomological knowledge. Nevertheless, a good many varieties of the insect race were as yet unknown to me. Those who do not specialize in natural science never come in contact with them. But they flourish in Italian prisons, and, although the Penal Code makes no reference to them, they constitute a very real augmentation to the prisoner’s sufferings.
The prison rules allow those who are awaiting trial to obtain better cells upon payment. I applied for one, and my request was immediately attended to and complied with. On the door of my cell a placard was fixed bearing the words, ‘Paying Room’; but the cell remained the same. In deference to truth, however, I must admit that when my cell was thus promoted to the dignity of a paying one a woolen mattress, a washstand, a jug of water, and a tumbler were added to it.
Living for a year under these conditions, I fell a victim to bronchitis and pleurisy, although I had been in the best of health at the time of my imprisonment.
My case gave the local bench a great deal to do. Under Italian legal procedure, the inquiry into the facts of the case is made by an examining judge assisted by the public prosecutor. When the inquiry is finished, the Attorney-General for the province presents his conclusions — that is, proposes that the accused should be recognized as innocent or sent to public trial. A commission of three judges, called the Accusing Section, examines all the evidence and the proposal of the Attorney-General, and pronounces whether the accused is innocent or whether he is to stand trial by jury. In the latter case, the commission also formulates the charge to which the accused must reply. After this first sentence is passed, the public trial by jury takes place.
The inquiry into my case lasted till April 1927, — that is, five months, — as though it were not a question of a public incident all the details of which could have been ascertained in a few hours! Meanwhile I remained in prison.
When the inquiry was concluded, the Attorney-General requested the commission to impeach me on a charge of intentional manslaughter, a crime punishable under the Italian Penal Code by from eighteen to twenty years’ imprisonment. He deposed that I had acted with brutal malice, having ‘under the stress of ambition, and on seeing my hopes of political power shattered, basely committed murder.’
The indignation of all honest people in Sardinia was tremendous. The father of the man I had killed refused to appear at the trial, and sent a message to me in prison to say that he grieved not only at having lost a son in a criminal enterprise, but also to see that in the name of his family a great injustice was being committed against me.
In May 1927 the three judges of the Accusing Section pronounced sentence of acquittal for legitimate defense.
Before the sentence had been registered at the Chancery, and thus made effective, the Chief Justice in the province intervened to obtain its modification. One of the three judges refused to make any concession. The Chief Justice therefore, availing himself of a right accorded to him by law, himself took the place of this judge in the Accusing Section, and deposed that the sentence must be altered and that I must stand my trial according to the request of the Attorney-General. The other two judges resisted. After a fortnight of conflict, the two judges finally consented to modify the sentence, and decreed that I should be tried for ‘excess of defense,’ but they refused to alter the definition of the crime. ‘Excess of defense’ constitutes attenuating circumstance and diminishes the penalty by two thirds.
The Attorney-General was still dissatisfied. He appealed to the Court of Cassation, demanding that my sentence should be revoked and that I should appear before the Court of Assizes on a charge of intentional manslaughter. The Court of Cassation could not countenance such a flagrant act of injustice. It confined itself to annulling the sentence, and decreed that the case should come up again before the Court of Cagliari itself, to be reëxamined by other judges.
This persecution leveled at me was so outrageous that it is said an influential personage in the Fascist Militia,
General Zirano, in speaking about it to the Duce, expressed the opinion that the scandal was too great, and damaging to Fascism itself.
I am told that the Duce replied that I should be judged by impartial judges outside Sardinia, at Chieti in Abruzzo, and the General was dismissed from his post.
Had I been brought to trial at the Court of Assizes of Chieti, I should certainly have been sentenced to the maximum penalty. The Fascist Government tries all the most scandalous cases at Chieti. The Fascists who murdered the member of Parliament Signor Matteotti in June 1924 were condemned to the minimum penalty by the jurors of Chieti in March 1926. The Fascists who, during the night of October 3, 1925, in Florence, shot and killed the lawyer Ernesto Consolo under the eyes of his wife and children, and the ex-member of Parliament Pilade Pilati, surprising him in bed beside his wife, were acquitted by the jurors of Chieti in May 1926.
My three new judges at Cagliari put up a really heroic resistance to the pressure brought to bear on them by the Chief Justice. They acquitted me for legitimate defense, drew up the sentence, and had it immediately registered at the Chancery before the Chief Justice had time to intervene, as he had done the first time.
This example of courage I record in honor of the Italian bench, while so many judges, especially in its higher ranks, and beginning with the President of the Supreme Court, have entirely submitted to the will of the political power.
As a result of my acquittal, I ought immediately to have been set at liberty. The order was, in fact, communicated to me in due course, but at the same time the prison authorities were ordered by the Prefect to keep me where I was, for political reasons which would be communicated to me at an opportune moment.
During these days I was suffering from a chronic high fever, and irritation of the bronchial tubes and the pleura obliged me to remain in bed. I was transferred from my cell to the infirmary, under increased supervision, for they were afraid that I should attempt to escape. They telephoned from the Prefecture even at night to make certain that I was still there.
After ten days I received a half sheet of typewritten paper, from which I learned that the Provincial Internment Commission had sentenced me to internment for five years, as a person ‘dangerous to the regime, a confirmed adversary, and one harmful to public peace.’ The Commission was careful to point out in a footnote that this decision had been taken by a unanimous vote — this unanimity being naturally of especial satisfaction to me!
I never had the pleasure of seeing my latest judges; I was never called to defend myself. They inflicted the maximum penalty upon me, and informed me of the fact by means of that half sheet of typewritten paper. That was all. The efficiency of the Fascist régime was undeniable.
There is such a commission in every province, which condemns the opponents of the dictatorship to the confino — that is, internment. Each commission is composed of five members: an attorney-general, an officer of the Carabineers, an officer of the Fascist Militia, the chief of police of the province, and the prefect, who presides. The political adversary is arrested, sent to prison, and kept there until the commission has decided his destiny — that is, until a piece of paper reaches him with the communication that he is to be set at liberty or sent to the confino.
The provincial internment commissions were originally set up on November 6, 1926, and I had been in prison since the end of October. Since the day on which the new law had come into force, I could not have committed any new misdemeanor, and was sentenced for activities which had taken place before the new law had been thought of. Not even a single day was allowed me in which to prove that I was not dangerous to the regime.
A police commissioner, who declared that he was sent by the Prefect himself, came to see me and told me with extreme courtesy that, in consideration of my state of health, I was to be allowed the exceptional privilege of choosing the place in which I wished to pass my five years of internment, provided that it was outside Sardinia. He spoke sincerely, and in perfect good faith. I realized it when, on leaving, he held out his hand and I did not give him mine; he was embarrassed, and reddened at the unexpected affront.
My medical certificates stated that sea air would be harmful to my health. Nevertheless, on the afternoon of November 16, 1927, the director of the prison informed me that I was to spend my five years of internment upon the island of Lipari, in the midst of sea air.
I was in bed with fever. The prison doctor declared it impossible to move me, and the prison regulations direct that if the doctor considers it harmful to a patient to move him, his removal must be postponed. During the whole evening, conversation on the telephone between the Prefecture and the prison authorities was continuous. The doctor was repeatedly pressed to change his opinion and not oppose my departure; the political authorities assumed the responsibility of any possible complications or consequences. One cannot deny that they had a certain courage. The doctor would not change his mind, however. Italy is full of these humble and unknown heroes who put their duty before all else.
At night another doctor came to see me, sent specially by the Prefect. He carefully examined my tongue four times, and treated with contempt the sister of charity who suggested an egg beaten up with Marsala for me. The following day, at twelve o’clock, I received the order to get up from my bed and to leave.
A closed motor awaited me in the prison yard, ‘The Chief of Police,’ said a police commissioner, ‘ has ordered that you should go to the port by car, and not in the prison van,’
I was moved by such kindness, and took my place between the Carabineers. The city was in a state of siege; I saw nothing during the drive of half a mile except Carabineers, police, and armed Fascist Militia. When we arrived at the port, the marshal of Carabineers, to whom the prison authorities had consigned my money and papers, paid for the motor at my expense. My gratitude for the kindness of the Chief of Police became somewhat modified.
The port was deserted and all traffic was suspended. Sentinels and patrols were everywhere to be seen. As I went down toward a police boat, there sailed swiftly in before the breeze a fishing boat, which passed in front of me at a distance of a few yards. A young and sun-bronzed fisherman recognized me and understood what was happening. Springing upright upon the prow, he cried: ‘Viva Lussu! Long live Sardinia!’ It was my island’s farewell to me.
The patrols on the quay threw themselves upon the boat as it landed; I had barely time to see the fisherman sur-
rounded by the armed throng and disappear.
Political prisoners travel as though they were common criminals. Handcuffed, without water to drink, foodless, they are conveyed in ‘cell carriages’ by trains that stop every evening at a station to allow the prisoners to be given food and to sleep in the ‘transit prisons,’ or else they are crowded in the hold of a steamer, beside the cattle.
In my state of health such a journey was literally impossible. They would have had to convey me on a stretcher. So I was permitted to travel second class, paying for my own ticket and for those of the Carabineers accompanying me.
The journey from Cagliari to Trapani takes eighteen hours. The steamer was small, but the sea calm, and after a year in prison to find myself in the open air, on the sea, gave me a sense of exaltation. Exaltation and fever never left me.
From Trapani the same steamer took me to Palermo. The morning of November 18 we passed by the island of Ustica, where the worst and most incorrigible of the common criminals are interned. Among them there were at that time a large number of political prisoners. A few months before, one of them, Spartaco Stagnetti, had been killed by a common criminal, whom he had found in the act of stealing. General Bencivenga, who was General Cadorna’s secretary during the war, and later, in 1925, was my colleague in the Chamber of Deputies and president of the Italian Press Association, was there until a few months ago; he is now on the island of Ponza.
We arrived at Palermo on the evening of the eighteenth. A police commissioner with his men awaited us, and he shouted with a voice which rivaled a megaphone: ‘Where is the arrested deputy? Where is the arrested deputy?’
The people on the quay stopped. The spectacle of an arrested member of Parliament was one not to be seen every day.
‘Where is he?’ ‘Which is he?’ ‘What has he done?’ ‘Is he the one from the bank?’ ‘He’ll have put the money in some safe place.’ ‘What bank?’ ‘What money?’ ‘Who is he, then ?’
‘Political police!’ shouted the commissioner.
The crowd became mute.
‘We understand,’ said a voice, lost in the throng.
I made my way through the respectful crowd. As the steamer, by reason of the rough weather encountered during the last hours of the journey, had arrived very late, the Carabineers conducted me straight to the railway station. I was thus spared the torment, of which all the interned speak with horror, of remaining for a certain time in the prison of Palermo, which is the most frightful of all the prisons in Italy.
I traveled by train from Palermo to Milazzo, where I arrived late at night. The prison was at some distance, and I should have had to reach it on foot; but I had a high fever, and obtained permission from the Carabineers to pass the night in one of the rooms at the station.
Some railwaymen were clearing up the room, which had just been used for a Dopolavoro (a kind of night school) ceremony. There had been a small party and a lecture. When I entered, the men were grumbling at having had to pay five lire a head for two bottles of syrup and a worthless lecture. All wore the Fascist badge, and gave the Carabineers the Roman salute.
I did not speak until one of them asked me who I was. When they knew my name, they gathered round me, prepared me a sofa with cushions to lie on, and offered me hot coffee. Then came confidences. Mussolini should disguise himself as a political prisoner in order to learn what his railway employees think of him personally and of his régime.
The next morning, with as much circumspection as if they were handing me a bomb, they offered me a small bunch of flowers.
I boarded the ship for Lipari. With me was being conducted a woman who had with her a baby two years old. She was worn out with suffering, but the baby was fat and rosy. The woman told me her story.
‘I am the wife of Sergio di Modugno. He fled to France, because the Fascists never let him alone. He wanted me and the child to join him, and he went over and over again to the Italian consulate in Paris to ask for our passport. They put him off from one w’eek to another; they kept him for hours at a time waiting for an answer, and then told him to return another day. This went on for six months, and finally he lost his head. He fired at the consul and killed him. I knew nothing of it. How should I know what my husband was doing in Paris? They arrested me with my child and are sending me to Lipari for five years. For a month I have been sent from one prison to another. Do you know anything of my husband?’
She continued to tell me of all that she had endured. Of what use to speak of it here?
At last we came to the Æolian Islands. There was Lipari, the queen of the archipelago. From a distance it is enchantingly beautiful. To the east, Stromboli, with its smoking volcano, stands out against Calabria, like a sentinel. To the southwest the little island of Vulcano guards the way to Milazzo.
Lipari appeared much larger than the other islands. The sun was shining upon a long line of mountains behind the little city by the sea.
I landed, handcuffed with a double chain.
‘This is a place to get out of as soon as possible,’ I thought as I stepped ashore.
It was my first thought. Other considerations came later.
(In the July issue Captain Lussu will describe his escape)