WHEN I landed on Lipari, the director of the colony did not address a single word to me, but stood with bent head, as though ashamed of my situation and his office. My handcuffs were removed and I was given a booklet containing the regulations in force. The Carabineers who had accompanied me from Cagliari to Lipari appeared glad that their mission was accomplished; they had treated me with much kindness.
The director took charge of my money, leaving me three hundred lire. When this was gone I could draw the rest, little by little, giving each time an account of how it had been spent.
On leaving the director’s office, I found friends who had been awaiting my arrival. Just as in prison, everything is known at the internment camp; news travels by mysterious ways and spreads swiftly. There were waiting to greet me with open arms a group of exiled members of Parliament: Beltramini, deputy for Como; Morea, deputy for Fabriano; Basso, deputy for Venice; Volpi, deputy for Rome; Picelli, deputy for Parma; Repossi, deputy for Milan; Rabezzana, deputy for Turin; Grossi, deputy from the Romagna; Binotti, deputy for Genoa. These were difficult times for members of Parliament! The lawyer Domizio Torrigiani, Grand Master of the Freemasons, also took part in the reception. For Freemasonry, too, the times were none too easy.
We quickly exchanged accounts of our different careers. It was pointed out to me at once that I was closely followed by plain-clothes men. This exceptional measure was applied only to Torrigiani and myself. Mussolini was afraid that international Freemasonry would abduct Torrigiani from Lipari; he was ignorant of the fact that Freemasonry is not a maritime power. No armored lodge ever came to carry Torrigiani away from the Mediterranean. The discovery that I too was being treated as a person of international importance flattered me not a little.
To be constantly shadowed seems a matter of little moment. It is, however, extremely irritating and painful. One’s nerves have to be pretty sound to prevent one from becoming neurasthenic. To leave one’s house, and to be followed; to approach a friend, and to be followed; to speak, and to be overheard; to stop, and know that the other too has stopped; to enter a cafe, a shop, a house, and always see the same face at the door; not to be able to smile, not to be able to shake hands with a passer-by, without your shadow taking note of it — all this becomes an oppression, a burden.
How many times, day and night, when in my own room I believed myself free at last of patrols and watchers, have I found myself face to face with my ‘shadow,’ who had made his way in to make sure of my presence indoors!
The surveillance was so vexatious that many of my friends advised me to complain. But where could one lodge a protest? The agents were carrying out superior orders, and were only doing their duty. The orders came from Rome; I should have had to appeal to the Duce, in his capacity as Minister of the Interior. I have always thought no spectacle more humiliating than that of impotence protesting. I refused to complain, and comforted myself with the thought that one fine day they would come to find me and I should not be there.
Accompanied always by my escort, I explored my new dominion, and made the acquaintance of all the others interned there. The zone beyond which we were not allowed to go was confined to about one square mile.
There were over five hundred people interned on Lipari, of whom about four hundred were political prisoners from all parts of Italy and belonging to all parties.
Among the hundred or so who were not political prisoners many figured as members of that party to which the authorities of their province thought well to ascribe them. A number of workmen from the Lazio and the Romagna, arrested for hostility toward Fascism but not belonging to any party, were officially assigned half to the communist party and half to the anarchist. Twenty citizens of Monterotondo (near Rome) were deported to Lipari for having attended the funeral of a workman well known as a socialist. Among them were two women — one the mother of five children, the other of three. They had never concerned themselves with politics, and had attended the funeral simply because they were relatives of the dead man. The police designated them all as the ‘ Monterotondo communist group,’ and sent them to Lipari. A man who has set up a small shop for selling flowers, fruit, and fowls on the island was sent there because the police sergeant of his town passed him off as a communist, though the man himself has no idea what communism means. But the sergeant was his wife’s lover. So the man says, and so say all his acquaintances, and everyone believes it.
Then, too, the brother of the boy Zamboni, who was lynched at Bologna for having made an attempt on Mussolini’s life, had never been concerned in politics. He was doing his military service at Milan at the time of the attempt, but he was tried by the Special Tribunal for the Defense of the State, together with his father and his aunt. The latter were sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment because twenty years previously they had been active in the anarchist movement. The brother was acquitted, there being no evidence against him, but he was sent to Lipari for five years. His only fault was that of belonging to his family. What is most dreadful is that there is a general conviction in Italy that young Zamboni was innocent and that the attempt against the Duce was simulated.
Others in Lipari had been sent there, like Zamboni, by the Special Tribunal. This exceptional court, formed not of regular judges but of officers of the Fascist Militia, almost always sentences to prison, as a matter of course. If, however, the accused person is acquitted, it is the regular thing for him to be sent to the islands. The mere fact of having appeared before the Special Tribunal makes him ‘a danger to the régime.’
A group of young men — lawyers, teachers, and engineers — were denounced to the Special Tribunal for having endeavored to form a secret society with the aim of reviving parliamentary institutions in Italy. The Tribunal intended to condemn them all, with or without proofs of their guilt, but several senators and exministers were implicated in the affair and to avoid too glaring a scandal the Tribunal acquitted them, and the police sent them to the internment camp.
The others on Lipari were common criminals — dishonest doctors and midwives, usurers, and the like. Besides them there was a small band of dissident Fascists — individuals who, having been too unruly or loquacious, had been removed by the political authorities in their districts for fear of their upsetting discipline. They committed the crime of revealing party secrets, and paid for the indiscretion by internment. Some of them had been sent to the internment camp as agents provocateurs and spies. The political prisoners despised and avoided them.
In 1928, the news spread in Italy that one of these dissident Fascists, Amerigo Dumini, had been put to death in prison. He was the leader of the gang that murdered Matteotti, but got off at his trial with only a few months more of imprisonment still to be served. Once free, he had the ill-fated idea of making allusions to the Duce’s complicity in the crime, and was condemned to prison for fourteen months for disparaging the Prime Minister. Having served this new sentence, he was given a concession of land in Somaliland by the Government, on condition that he should make no further appearance in Italy. Not finding the life of a farmer in Africa to his taste, he returned to Italy and was arrested at Naples on landing, since when no more has been heard of him. A man who came to Lipari from the island of Tremiti, however, assured us that Dumini was by no means dead, but interned on that island, guarded night and day by police agents.
The mail of the interned is always opened, censored, and often confiscated. In this matter the police are implacable. The friends who correspond with the political prisoners have their names added to the lists of political suspects, and have no further peace. I therefore never wrote to anyone except my mother, or friends who, being already interned on other islands or imprisoned, had nothing to lose. To send letters except through the police is to incur the risk of imprisonment up to six months.
The five hundred people interned on Lipari are guarded by four hundred officers and men of the Fascist Militia, the Carabineers, the police, and the naval guards. In so small a space, the guards are thus to be seen on every hand. On the confines of the area reserved to the interned are stationary and flying patrols. The Fascist Militia is on guard day and night on the ramparts of the Castle, which is an old citadel containing the prisons, the Militia barracks, and rooms for the interned. A motor boat equipped with a gun, mitrailleuse, and wireless, three racing motor boats, and six oil-driven ships control the sea, and in the Castle there is wireless communication with the naval bases of Messina, Palermo, and Trapani.
The political prisoners are the real colony at Lipari. Brought together by the same fate, they lead the same life. The Government offers them free lodging together in large rooms in the Castle, but even the poorest undergo every privation to be able to live in a little room of their own, however squalid. It is permitted to rent apartments in the town, provided they are within the special zone. The Government allows each interned person ten lire a day, and the large majority have to procure food, lodging, clothes, light, and water with this sum. Water is brought to the island in summer by tank ships. Very few of the interned can avail themselves of private means or financial help from relatives, and very few can find work in the place — only one or two mechanics, shoemakers, tailors, and masons. About a hundred have been permitted to have their wives and children with them; in such cases the whole family lives as best it can on the ten lire a day.
The interned are not allowed to receive monetary assistance except from their own families; anyone helping them without being a member of the family commits a political crime and may be tried as a ‘subversive’ and opponent to the régime. The Republican Baldazzi of Rome was condemned to five years’ imprisonment for having sent a sum of money to the sister of Lucetti, who, in September 1926, made an attempt against Mussolini’s life.
The interned therefore have to help one another as best they can, and secretly. It is a life of wretched poverty, endured with dignity. Certain of the poorest families apply to the Ministry of the Interior to ask either for work or for monetary help. Now and then a subsidy of a few hundred lire is allowed them, and when this happens the newspapers announce the fact under the title, ‘The Duce’s Generosity.’
The crowd of five hundred men, unable to work, found relief in walking, talking, and reading.
Torrigiani, who suffered from incipient blindness and had to read as little as possible, became the king of the streets, and was known as ‘the talker.’ By walking up and down the same street of five hundred yards in length, I am certain he did not cover less than twenty-five miles a day. Around him there was always a confused crowd, moving in all directions.
The regulations state that ‘it is forbidden to talk of politics,’ on penalty of imprisonment up to six months. And what else should political prisoners talk of? Of everything. Even of politics, provided the terminology is appropriate. When they speak of politics, they have recourse to every metaphor to be found in treatises of rhetoric. It is quite possible to talk of Fascism for hours on end, for instance, without ever mentioning it by name. If you are a novice, you require some enlightenment; but after a little practice you will have learned the art.
I believed at first that my friends were discussing the growing of shellfish; instead, they were referring to the Monarchy. For the King a terminology hardly flattering is reserved, and for the Duce (to speak disrespectfully of whom is to incur imprisonment up to three years) an infinitely richer and more highly colored nomenclature is used. By means of this veiled language the most dangerous subjects can be touched on.
All the same, if the police should come and stand within a yard of you, you would do well to talk of something else.
All branches of human knowledge had a place in our discussions. Torrigiani, who had specialized in philosophy, would range from the Summa of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the expression of the mediæval spirit, to the pragmatism of William James, a product of modern industrial mechanism. With Torrigiani these two subjects provided material enough for a millennium of history and twenty miles of road.
The most scrupulous of the police agents intervened one day and inquired, in the name of the law, who Signor James was, and where he lived. If was explained that he was a most respectable person, who did not concern himself with politics, and that not one of us knew whether he was alive or dead. The policeman made a note of the fact and referred the matter to his superiors to make inquiries.
When Torrigiani obtained permission to be transferred, still under special surveillance, to a clinic near Viterbo, on account of his increasingly bad eye trouble, peripatetic philosophy lost many of its disciples on Lipari.
According to their different vocations, the interned have divided themselves into groups, among the most important being the historians, the literati, and the spiritualists, each group with its own leader and its own adventures.
To the historians only a few centuries are allowed as field for research. The interned had collected together, at their own expense, a small but wellselected library, but one fine day an inspect ion ordered from Rome discovered in it many things dangerous to the régime. Hundreds of volumes were confiscated: all the volumes on the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution; all those that contained the word ‘revolution’ in their titles; all the Russian literature, including Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Chekhov; all freethinking writers, among them Voltaire, Mazzini, and even Anatole France. Bernard Shaw was religiously respected, but it was a bad moment for his admirers. The historical group was not a little disconcerted by this incident, and recovered from the crisis by turning, almost on masse, to archæological studies.
Nearly all of the spiritualist group ended in prison, because they were surprised in ‘doubtful attitude’ around a table. This was expressly forbidden by the regulations. It is difficult to explain what a ‘doubtful attitude’ is, according to the regulations, but it incurs six months of imprisonment. In this particular case, however, the spiritualists were able to demonstrate the legality of their attitude and got off with three days in the prisons of the Castle.
The group of literati is made up of the men quietest in character, but it has the most violent discussions. It produces many poets who comment in verse upon the incidents, both sad and gay, of the colony. As always happens with art, the contemporaries have little appreciation for works of genius, and only posterity will render justice to the misunderstood masterpieces.
In the evening, when the bugles of the Castle sounded the retreat, each man would shut himself into his own dwelling, and in solitude think over the day that he had passed. Very unalluring was the prospect then of five years of such a petty life.
On the whole, I cannot say that the Militia made the surveillance worse by actual provocation, but small vexations were not lacking. There was one serious case. A certain Del Moro was constantly being made the victim of the jibes of the Militia; wherever he went, he was stopped and insulted. One day he lost patience and struck the captain of the Militia in public, knocking him down, whereupon he was arrested and horribly knocked about. We learned a few months later that he died in a madhouse in Sicily, although he was a man perfectly normal mentally and of exceptional physical fitness. His family was not informed of his death, and wrote to us for information concerning him.
After this incident the demeanor of the Fascists became less arrogant, but not a week passed without someone being arrested upon some futile excuse or other. When a motive was lacking, one was invented.
Christmas of 1927 was approaching, and the colony was preparing to celebrate it; Christmas trees and presents for the children were ready. Suddenly a warship arrived one night. There was general astonishment at this unusual occurrence. Two hundred Carabineers, Fascist Militia, officers, and police commissioners landed, together with the public prosecutor of the Special Tribunal. Two hundred and fifty of the interned were arrested during the night and taken to the Castle, and the next day the town appeared in a state of siege. The arrested men were all interrogated during the following day, and late at night two hundred of them were set at liberty. Only then was the mystery explained. A ‘plot’ against the safety of the State had been miraculously frustrated: four hundred political prisoners, closely guarded on an island, had endangered the security of the State!
The fifty most under suspicion were taken on board the man-o’-war next day. Squads of them, handcuffed and chained together, were marched through the town, and the rest of the interned were forbidden to see them off or to approach the quay. But the atmosphere was electric; all defied the order and thronged toward the wharf, and the cordon of armed police was powerless to prevent them. It was the first collective revolt against superior orders on the island.
When the fifty arrested men boarded the boats which were to carry them to the warship, one of them, raising his hat with his fettered hands, cried with a loud voice, ‘Long live liberty!’ A great chorus echoed his cry, from the boats, from the quay, from the houses, from the street. Silence followed this unexpected acclamation. The cordons of armed men raised their rifles, and the sinister metallic sound of the clicking of triggers was heard. Pale, and with an unsteady voice, a police officer ordered: ‘Back with you, in the name of the law!’ Everyone remained motionless and silent.
A tragedy seemed imminent. Only the half-suppressed weeping of some women and children broke the stillness. But the officer did not give the order to fire. The ship left with our friends, and the crowd slowly dispersed.
After a year the Special Tribunal closed the case against these fifty men by acquitting them all. Two spies had brought accusations against them in the hope of reward, but the imposture was too flagrant. After their year in prison, the fifty took up once more their life of internment.
Following upon these arrests, the coöperative eating houses which the interned had organized for the sake of economy were suppressed, together with the classes at which they took turns teaching various subjects, and the small sports clubs. Life became harder.
Two men, above all others, I came to know, admire, and love during my internment: Carlo Rosselli and Ferruccio Parri.
Carlo Rosselli comes of a family of patriots; Giuseppe Mazzini died in the house of his grandparents at Pisa in 1872. At thirty years of age, Rosselli is a veteran of anti-Fascism. His house in Florence was sacked by the Fascists in July 1925, and a few months later he was assaulted, unarmed, at Genoa, while on his way to lecture at his school. In the spring of 1926, when the opposition newspapers were everywhere being suppressed and their editors and their staffs imprisoned, Rosselli had the audacity to found an anti-Fascist weekly. In order to devote all his time to this he resigned his post as teacher of political economy at the School of Economics at Genoa. During the night of October 31, 1926, reprisals took place in Milan, as at Cagliari and other towns in Italy, and Rosselli’s house in Milan sheltered several of the men who were being sought by the Fascists. His paper was suppressed in November 1926, together with all the other opposition papers that had resisted up to that time. In December 1926 he organized the escape from Italy of Filippo Turati, the leader of the Reformist (right-wing) Socialist Party.
Ferruccio Parri was a young teacher of history in the secondary schools before, the war, during which he was wounded twice and received four decorations for valor on the field of battle. He ended with the rank of staff major, having begun the campaign as a second lieutenant. He then joined the staff of the great Milanese daily, the Corriere della Sera, where he remained till the Fascists succeeded in getting rid of the editor, Senator Albertini. Then Parri, who had no other means or income, resigned. He was not a socialist; in England he would have been a follower of Mr. Baldwin; but he was indignant at the treatment meted out to the socialists, and he coöperated with Rosselli in organizing the flight of Turati.
The two ‘accomplices’ were arrested for this ‘crime.’ At the trial, which took place at Savona in September 1927, instead of defending themselves they took up the attitude of accusers. They reasserted their right to save from the fury of the Fascists their seventy-year-old friend, who had dedicated his life to the service of his country. In the most dramatic moments it seemed as though Rosselli himself had become the president of the Tribunal which had to try him. Parri declared that after what he had seen in the last few years he had a desire to tear off all the decorations he had won in the war and fling them in the face of the Dictator. A voice from the people cried: ‘Bravo!’ It was Parri’s old father. The accused were condemned to ten months’ imprisonment, followed by five years of internment.
To find myself with these two men on Lipari was compensation enough in my eyes for all my misfortunes; they were the personification of generosity, unselfishness, and daring.
I mixed little with the others who were interned on Lipari. I intended to escape, and from the first day I had to regulate my life with this end in view. No one interned on the island had ever succeeded in escaping, and what was difficult for the others was more than ever difficult for me, subjected as I was to special supervision.
A week after my arrival I picked out two spots on the coast within the zone reserved for us. Approach to the sea was intercepted by steep cliffs. No one ever attempted to break his neck by descending those precipices; and even if one had reached the sea, what could one have done? It was impossible to get away, because these two points were visible to the guards all along the coast. In consequence, the police wisely kept no sentinels in these places, but confined themselves to watching the access to them. Therefore I concluded, once reached, it was from here alone that escape could be attempted.
I went to live in a house a few hundred yards from both points. Should it be necessary to give up the idea of one, the other would still remain. I could escape from the house by way of the neighboring roofs in four different directions, and there was also a high terrace giving on to the sea. This choice subsequently proved to have been an excellent one.
I accustomed myself to leaving the house only twice a day — at noon, for exactly half an hour, and in the afternoon at five in the winter, and seven in the summer, for exactly one hour. If the weather was bad, as it often was in winter, I did not go out. I kept strictly to this schedule for a year and a half, and no one ever saw me outside my house at any other time. My friends used to say that the inhabitants of Lipari set their watches by my outings, as the people of Königsberg did by the walks of Immanuel Kant. I thus obtained two results: first, I was regarded as a man who for no reason in the world would change his life of study and his habit of sticking to a certain schedule; secondly, my guards came to think of me as a poor invalid who was afraid above all things of taking cold.
On my walks I always went the same way, along the principal and longest street of the town and on along the beach crowded with boats. The police considered this spot best adapted for an escape, and therefore made it an object of especial vigilance. Their suspicions were further aroused by my long pauses here, and they trebled the guards. But the place I had chosen for an attempt was in precisely the opposite direction.
Two weeks after my arrival I had already settled upon a plan of escape with two friends. It was to take place on Christmas night; I thought that at that time the surveillance would be less strict. As one of these friends of mine is now in Italy, I cannot divulge the details of our plan, which would have been relatively easy, swift, and audacious; but it fell through, owing to two unforeseen events. One of the friends, who was indispensable to the undertaking, was arrested for the ‘plot’ of the two hundred and fifty, of which I have already spoken, and I had a return of my pleurisy; on Christmas night my temperature was over a hundred degrees. News of my death reached the Fascists of my city, and they made great celebrations.
My illness prevented my flight for the moment, but it made it more easy for the future. Everyone was now convinced that I was a physical wreck, and I alone knew what reserves of strength I could count on. The watch upon me slackened. While I was forced to remain in bed, the police used to come to see how my malady was prospering, to be sure; but on the other hand my bedroom was the undisturbed scene of new plans of escape. Many times the doctor found me with a map of the Mediterranean in my hand, only to attribute my obsession for the sea to my longing for my own island home. Many times I fell asleep upon the lines which I had traced between Lipari, Milazzo, and the Straits of Messina.
When my illness was at its worst, in January 1928, Carlo Rosselli was brought to Lipari. The first time that we were alone together we discovered that we had the same idea — to escape. We took two others into our confidence — Francesco Fausto Nitti and another whom I will call Caio.
Nitti is a Southern Italian, and a nephew of the former Prime Minister. In December 1926, he was condemned to five years’ internment on suspicion of having wished to form a secret antiFascist society; but his chief fault was that of bearing, without apparent embarrassment, the name of one of the men most hated by Mussolini. He belongs to the Italian Methodist Church, of which his father is one of the leaders.
Of Caio I will say only that he was to have been one of my companions in the escape which had already failed.
We undertook, on our honor, not to reveal our intentions to a living soul; in these matters confidences are the worst of dangers. For an Italian to be silent is, as a rule, somewhat difficult, but we kept our word. No one had the slightest suspicion of our intentions.
We thought of taking Parri into our enterprise. Who more worthy than he? But he had with him his wife and child, he was always unwell, his parents were old, and other family circumstances forced him to remain in Italy. He could not take part in the attempt. We held a small council of war and decided to tell him nothing.
In the spring of 1928, Professor Salvemini succeeded in getting in touch with us from abroad. For Salvemini, Mussolini reserves a hatred without quarter, and the professor, it must be said in justification of the Duce, certainly does his best to deserve it. To the list of all his other ‘crimes’ against the regime he thus added that of concerning himself with us, and in helping us he was able to rely on three of his trusted friends, one of whom acted admirably as chief of staff in the enterprise.
Given this external help, we abandoned all our former plans. The one intended for the previous Christmas was no longer possible; the others presented various difficulties of a complicated kind. We directed all our efforts toward the realization of the scheme our friends from afar were proposing.
Our plan was very simple: to throw ourselves into the sea at one of the two points I had designated, which were not watched, and to get picked up by a boat coming from the open sea.
The sun, disappearing at sunset behind the heights which dominate the city and the port to the west, left the latter in deep shadow, and from land nothing could be seen of what was happening a few hundred yards away on the sea. The two points I have mentioned were precisely within this area of shadow. We ascertained this by making innumerable observations, and checking them carefully one with another.
The zone remained in darkness only when, in the place of the sun, there was no moon to light it. It followed that the only time suitable for the undertaking would be the week after full moon, in which the moon did not rise from the sea until after sunset.
But after sunset we were obliged to retire into our houses, at seven o’clock from November to February, at eight in March, April, September, and October, and at nine from May to August. Half an hour later began the visits of inspection — that is, the rounds made from house to house in order to ascertain that everybody was indoors. To be seen in the streets after that hour was to be sent straight off to the Castle. The only time during the whole twentyfour hours that was suitable for the escape, therefore, was the half-hour between the disappearance of the sun behind the hills and the visit of inspection. The boat that was to take us off would have to arrive in the port of Lipari from the open sea neither before nor after that half-hour. Should it arrive before, it would be seen; if it arrived after, it would be too late for an opportune escape.
There was also the danger of the motor boats on guard, whose ways we studied carefully and reported to our friends. The boat which was to come and take us off must have a speed of at least twenty miles an hour; the motor boats which might follow us would attain at the most eighteen miles. Only if we had half an hour’s advantage could we become unreachable and a difficult target for the machine gun, but we could count on this half-hour even if our escape were discovered immediately, for a certain interval of orders, counter-orders, and disorder was inevitable between the discovery and the pursuit.
The friends who came to fetch us would carry arms and munitions with them; if we were attacked, we should defend ourselves. Chance or luck would in any case have to play its part.
The plan was perfect; and, in fact, it succeeded. But it succeeded a year later. The first attempts failed.
In March 1928, I resumed my daily walks at fixed times, but they were shorter, as I was convalescing from my illness. In public I always appeared muffled up to the ears, but at home I accustomed myself by means of cold douches to the long immersion in the sea which was to be an indispensable part of the new plan of escape. We hoped to get away in June.
In May four prisoners escaped from the Castle, hoping to take ship for Calabria. But their confederates failed them, and the fugitives remained on the island, hiding in the country. The whole garrison was in arms; motor boats and sailing boats searched the seas; flying squads beat up the island in every direction. After a day, two of the fugitives were recaptured, and shortly afterward the other two; the four unfortunate men paid for their temerity with imprisonment. After this the nocturnal visits became more frequent, and the surveillance on the island more intense.
As soon as the police heard of the escape, the detectives rushed into my house; I was held under great suspicion. But my undeviating walks lulled their misgivings.
During June, July, August, September, and October, our plans fell through. Each time, on the appointed day, some diabolic obstacle intervened. All our plans had to be remade, and a new and favorable phase of the moon awaited. My terrace became an observatory, and I learned to know all the constellations. How slowly pass the phases of the moon!
One night Nitti and Caio carried out a reconnaissance in the neighborhood of the first of the two points which we had selected for our departure. They only just avoided being discovered. We were afraid that the suspicions of the police had been aroused, so we changed our plans and chose the other point.
In September another prisoner attempted to escape. He secured a canoe, hoping to reach Sicily, a distance of thirty miles. A very strong swimmer, he relied largely on his powers of resistance, even if the canoe should fail him; but he had not taken into account the currents of the Straits of Milazzo and Messina. After a few hundred yards the canoe capsized, and the current forced him to return to the island. The alarm had already been given; it was impossible for him to return to the colony, and he disappeared into the bush. They searched in vain for a month. One night he plunged into the sea, and reached a German steamship laden with pumice stone. Climbing up by the chain of the bow anchor, crushing his chest in the ascent, he reached cover; but the captain did not dare to harbor him, and handed him over to the Fascists. He was condemned to three years’ imprisonment in addition to the five years’ internment.
The surveillance became closer than ever.
Our nerves were on edge, for on November 17 another attempt was to be made. We were due to meet our rescuers at 6.30 P.M., and by different routes we all reached our rendezvous. Owing to my change of attire, I slipped through my guards without being recognized, and the others were not suspected. We threw ourselves into the water and swam a hundred and fifty yards. The water was icy and the sea rough; the weather was as bad as it could be. We stayed in the water for over half an hour with only our heads above the surface, diving whenever a suspicious sound made us fear discovery. I never as a rule take spirits, but I was obliged to swallow brandy to resist the cold. We waited for half an hour.
Our rescuers did not come. What a disappointment! We returned in silence, profoundly discouraged. The bugles from the Castle had already sounded, and a few minutes later the control watch passed our house. In spite of our misfortune we could still consider ourselves lucky, for neither detectives nor prisoners knew anything about the attempt. We passed a despairing night, however; a whole year of waiting had ended miserably in failure.
The following morning we took every precaution to hide or account for the bruises and cuts we had received on the rocks. Rosselli had a black eye and looked like a defeated boxer; Nitti had a bruised hand; I had grazed my face, and had a cut on my left hand which took two months to heal. But I was none the worse for my icy dip.
Two days later, as had been arranged, we made another attempt, but we had little hope. Nevertheless we tried. Nitti and Caio went into the water, but Rosselli and I waited on the shore for the prearranged signal, for it was both useless and dangerous for us to expose ourselves when the chances of success were so small. This time, too, our luck was out.
If we had exercised more discrimination we should have realized that during those ill-starred days a storm such as had not been experienced for many years was raging in the Mediterranean. The violence of the sea was too much for a small boat. To those who were prepared during those days to risk life and liberty for us we shall remain eternally grateful, even though fortune did not smile upon their efforts.
The fair-weather season had passed, and the winter winds had taken possession of the Straits. We were obliged to give up all hope of escape for months. The usual surveillance went on, the usual schedule, the usual miserable life.
Caio finished his sentence that winter and returned to Italy. He volunteered to pass the frontier secretly, to organize another attempt, and to come himself to fetch us. No one knew as well as he our anxiety, the difficulty of the undertaking, and the geography of the place. He made this offer, so fraught with risk, very simply. He and the pilot of the motor boat are the real heroes of our enterprise.
When Caio returned home he was put in prison twice as a suspect, the suspicion being based upon his previous internment, which in turn had been the result of earlier suspicions. He did not wait to be arrested a third time, but passed the frontier.
To get secretly across the Italian frontier to-day is as difficult an undertaking as to get unseen into the strong room of a bank. Those found violating the law of expatriation are condemned to anything up to six years’ imprisonment, if they escape being shot in the act by the Black Shirts who guard the frontier.
We arranged to make our next attempt in June 1929, and beguiled the time in making other plans in case this one also failed.
On the appointed evening — no longer four, but three in number — we retraced our steps of November 1928. We entered the water, swam out, waited vainly. Complete failure.
‘It is written in the book of Fate,’ said Nitti, dripping wet, ‘that we shall die on this island or in prison. It is a brilliant career; why should we change it? I protest against this absurd obsession to die free. I shall not take another step. I refuse to become mad.’
We learned afterward that the motor boat had broken down en route. We had arranged with Caio to make a renewed attempt on July 27.
On the morning of the twentyseventh, Rosselli came round to our house. Nitti was there. Rosselli related a dream he had had.
‘ I do not remember where I was —5
‘In prison,’ interrupted Nitti, gloomily.
‘Suddenly a lion with a mane leaped out of a shell.’
‘Africa!’ I cried joyfully. ‘That means Africa!’
‘The mane was an extremely fine one. Suddenly, while I stood cleaning my nails with the broadsword of a Marshal of Franee — ’
‘It was really a Marshal of France?’
‘Yes, without doubt a Marshal of France.’
‘Excellent! From Africa to France. Second step.’
‘While I was cleaning my nails,’ he went on, ‘I found myself playing roulette.’
‘Roulette!’ I interrupted again. ‘Paris — third step.’
It is all very well to smile, but, given desperate straits, even a dream will rewaken hope.
I took my two walks as usual; I saw my guards and the little world of the prisoners. Rosselli was profuse in his salutations of the authorities. Nitti was gloomier than ever.
At sunset Rosselli and Nitti walked across the central square discussing philosophic problems like good, lawabiding prisoners; then they separated. Once back in my rooms, I disguised myself in a second; and the detectives, who ordinarily knew me a mile off, did not recognize me again this time. We arrived late at our rendezvous, for both Rosselli and I had found the patrols blocking our way. Rosselli had risked arrest.
The sea was exceedingly calm when we plunged in. There was nothing but darkness and silence. Then, suddenly, scarcely perceptible at first, there came across the water the throb of an engine, and a motor boat drew near. The signal given was ours and Caio was in the bow, but we did not exchange a single word. One after the other, by means of a rope ladder, we climbed on board. Describing a narrow circle, we shot away, leaving behind us a white, shining path on a sea as smooth as oil.
With doused lights the motor boat passed rapidly through a fleet of fishing vessels. We changed our dripping clothes for others which our friends had provided; dressed as sailors, we took up our duties on board. As the motor boat slid forward, Nitti passed up petrol tins to Rosselli, who kept the tank filled; I pierced the empty tins with a knife and threw them into the water. These were our instructions. The pierced tins filled at once and sank, leaving no trace to assist pursuit.
Soon the moon rose. For many hours there was still a possibility of being overtaken. But little by little, as the engine drank up the petrol, the lightened craft increased her speed, and after a time all chance of pursuit was left behind.
There remained only the danger of being intercepted from one of the naval bases along our route, warned by wireless of our escape. From dawn until 8 A.M. we lived in constant fear of this; glasses were passed from hand to hand, and the horizon scanned. Only the dark silhouette of a ship appeared afar off; we altered our course and disappeared from its view.
Finally, blurred by mists, the longed for land was sighted. Danger, anxiety, and suffering were forgotten in the joy of victory. The tiny band of prisoners threw discipline and discretion to the winds and gave themselves up to unbridled rejoicing over their hard-won freedom.
- The events leading up to Captain Lussu’s arrest and exile were described in June.— EDITOR↩