February 10 is, in Italy, the day to commemorate the victims of the ‘foibe‘ atrocity.
Geologically, “foibe” are narrow mountain gorges, typical of the Friuli Venezia Giulia and Istrian peninsula, today mostly located within the slovenian and croatian borders, where the landscape is characterized by karst mountains that create natural chasms.
Between 1943 and 1947, especially towards the end of WWII and crucially also after its end, some 15,000 Italians living in the Istrian peninsula were killed by Tito’s communists and dropped into the “foibe.”
The massacre was due partly in retaliation for Italian occupation of the peninsula during the war. The Istrian peninsula has always been a disputed territory between Italy and Yugoslavia, and during WWII things got worse and horrible acts were committed on both fronts.
Istria had been Italian for large sections of its history, as part of the Venetian Republic first, and of the Kingdom of Italy after (it eventually became part of the newly born state of Yugoslavia only during the years the events we are about to tell took place).The Istrian-Italian community had been thriving for centuries and was still very much preponderant during the years of the war.
The first wave of anti-Italian violence began after the Armistice of the 8th of September 1943, signed by Badoglio and the Allied Forces in Cassibile. Slavic communist partisans sought vengeance against those Italians who were not politically aligned with them. This included Fascism supporters, but also a large amount of people who had no open political affiliation. In this occasion, at least 1000 Italians were tortured, starved, killed and thrown in the foibe.
Violence escalated in 1945, when Tito’s troups occupied Istria, as well as Trieste and Gorizia: Italians are once again victims of communist violence, especially the Fascists, the Catholics, churchmen, children, the elderly.
Some victims were killed and thrown into the deep gorges, others were tossed in alive.
Persecutions continued until the Spring of 1947, when the border between Italy and Yugoslavia was finally decided, and both Istria and Dalmatia became officially Yugoslavian. Italians of Istria faced another trauma: more than 350.000 Italians were forced to leave their homes and flee to Italy. Once here, they were not welcomed with open arms: the country, on its knees after the war, accepted with difficulty the new comers. The newly born democratic Italian government did not help them either: these Italian refugees, looking for hospitality and security in their own country, were despised by Italian communists, supporters of the Yugoslavian regime, and very much ignored by the rest of Italy’s political panorama.
Il giorno del ricordo: the day of Remembrance
This Day of Remembrance is meant to commemorate not only those that died in the gorges, but all the disappearances and killings of Italian people in territories occupied by Yugoslav forces: they died in concentration camps, on their way to deportation or in jail. The victims were not only fascists, but also partisans that didn’t accept the Yugoslavian occupation and simple citizens. Following these atrocities, as we said, many people were forced to flee their home to find refuge in other parts of Italy.
What strikes the most is that the Left parties of Italy for decades have covered the subject; it was only in 2005 that the “National Remembrance Day of the Exiles and Foibe” was established and acknowledged by most politicians. It was an important lesson for us all: we should not hide our past, but we can overcome it; today’s Europe has gone beyond the clashes between its peoples, but what happened must not be forgotten, it’s the foundation of our present.
Francesca Bezzone & Katty Piazza