Terracina. September 4th, 1943. Story of a massacre.

Today, September 4th, marks the anniversary of the first Terracina bombing. The tragic episode cost the lives of 138 people (according to the number of officially ascertained victims) and destroyed most of the houses in the historic center bringing to light several ancient monuments including the Capitolium.

 

A cursed Day

It’s a sultry day at the end of summer and children play in the streets. Men and women are in the countryside. Fishermen put their nets in place after a day at sea. My grandmother Giovanna is 17 years old and her day runs slowly and quietly out of the door of her house at Vicolo Rappini, near the Spiaggetta.

Women walking near Porta Napoletana (Credits: ugo52.blogspot.com).

I asked her several times to tell me what happened that day, but she often cried. The eyes were wiped dry and the hands were put on the ears. Then I let her stay and we ate an ice cream on the terrace. But a few weeks ago, grandmother began telling me about that ominous day. At first they were just flashes. Sirens, whistles of bombs, a boy engraving her infected heel with a razor, linen, the only memory of my great grandmother Giuseppina, mistaken on the black market for a handful of flour … and then hunger, misery, fear for a future that seemed hopeless. It was the story of the war.

The war arrived in Terracina with all its violence at 16:30 on September 4th, 1943. It was afternoon when two American squadrons bombed it. And that was just the first of a long series of air raids. For 8 consecutive months, Terracina was bombed (the last bombing was that of the Germans on 27th May, 1944). Once, on 21st January 1944, the threat came even from the sea. The Americans, for diversification purposes in the landing at Neptune, carried out with six ships two cannonade from the sea along the entire coast of the city.

Planes flying over the Spiaggetta of Terracina. In the background Monte Sant’Angelo (Credits: agropontino.blogspot.com)

 

But that cursed 4th September, the people of Terracina were not ready.

My grandmother and her brothers told me that the siren announcing the approach of aircraft loaded with bombs had been ringing since the beginning of the war. Those deadly airplanes, which the children, without even knowing what they were doing, reproduced by running in the street with their arms outstretched, had often “caressed” Terracina, but had never struck her. And in a sense the people of Terracina were almost tired of hearing that sound and having to escape to the shelters as a precaution. Many people had become accustomed to this practice and thought they had nothing to fear.

What could the war from Terracina want? Very few German soldiers were in the city. There were no major military objectives.

And so, as happened almost every day, that afternoon the siren also rang. And it was a moment, just a handful of seconds and the American bombers appeared from behind Monte Sant’Angelo, preceded by a strong bang that anticipated that wind of death. The four engines opened their bellies and unloaded all their load onto the charming town in Lazio. The bombs, which someone described in his stories as similar to large cylinders, fell everywhere, destroying, without distinction, men, buildings, animals, exterminating and tearing apart anything they encountered along the way. At the same time as the fall of the bombs, there were machine guns, responsible for the death of many unfortunate people.

It all lasted a few minutes. It was a quick, but extremely painful step. Huge chasms opened up along the main streets. Cadavers everywhere. Unexploded bombs lay here and there. Tradition has it that some brave people from Terrachins defused them. Many are the victims. The butcher and his apprentice, surprised while working in the small shop near Via del Rio. The daughter of Perugini, owner of an activity in Piazza della Repubblica. And then the children, who intrigued by that sound, had come out to watch those monsters that would soon kill them.

 

The first bombing of Terracina took place on September 4, 1943 and cost the lives of 138 people (Credits: anxurtime.it).

 

A senseless massacre

It was then discovered that the bombing, an integral part of a series of missions aimed at convincing Italy to conclude the armistice, was a useless bloodbath. Terracina was in fact hit after the armistice of Cassibile, whose signature, for various reasons, was kept hidden until September 8th, 1943. The American command did not stop its war actions on the secondary Italian cities, among which Terracina, a strategic objective because it had a port.

First page of the newspaper Corriere della Sera. It is announced that the armistice was signed on 8 September 1943. As you known, the armistice was signed a few days earlier, but was officially announced only September 8 (Credits: lacooltura.com).

 

It is shocking to know, as the historian Bianchini reports, that part of the population was completely unaware of what had happened. The women who returned from Frasso, at the end of a day spent picking grapes, walked and sang. Monte Leano had hidden the sight and sound of that terrible moment. And so, once they learned the misfortune of people fleeing to the countryside, they immediately rushed to the city to trace their loved ones.

 

The Storia di Terracina written by Arturo Bianchini (Credits: abebooks.it).

 

The power of hope: the history of the a “miracle”

And in this context of death, there are a number of folk tales, including the Pentolaccia.

In Terracina Alta, in the old town centre, there were many houses built directly on Roman antiquities. Some of them were even excavated inside the ancient city walls.

In one of these houses lived a lady who that afternoon was preparing a pot of legumes for the evening dinner. When the preparation was finished, he placed the pot on the window sill of the house. Suddenly the siren rang and then the woman ran with her family to take cover. Back at the end of the bombing, the house was no longer there, but the pot had remained miraculously still there, on the windowsill, just as it had left it.

True or not, little interests us. That pot is the symbol of a daily life that wanted at all costs to survive the violence and barbarity of war, a war that still represents a painful plague in the souls of those who experienced it over their skin.

 

The pot that the woman left to cool on the windowsill of her house during that famous September 4, 1943. The house was destroyed, but the pot still remained there. The house is located more or less in Via Anxur 100.

The back of some of the houses (including the house of the history of the pot) dug into the walls of Terracina. As you can see, nothing remained after the bombing.

An indelible memory

Years later we continue to remember that sad afternoon with some ceremonies that generally include a tribute to the monument of the fallen in Piazza Garibaldi. The city of Terracina was awarded the Gold Medal of Civil Merit.┬áThis year the commemoration in Garibaldi Square will take place in today’s day at 10:45 a.m.

 

The monument in memory of the victims of the Second World War created by Duilio Cambellotti and located in Piazza Garibaldi (credits: www.artefascista.it – photo by Gianni Porcellini).

 

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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