Sicily, Still Haunted by World War II

December 5, 2011

Giuseppe is peering at the Gazzetta del Sud in the doorway of the circolo for war veterans in Monterosso Almo. He invites me in.

Sicilian War Veteran in Monterosso Almo, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

“Guess my age.”

The inevitable question asked by every Sicilian over the age of 70. “I don’t know, signore. Seventy?”

“Eighty-eight. I was a soldier in the Italian army in the Second World War. I was in prison in North Africa.”

I don’t ask him who imprisoned him. I think I know. George Patton during the North African campaign.

“For how long?”

“Six months.”

What do you say to someone who, almost 70 years after a war, is still haunted by it?

Sicilian War Veteran in Monterosso Almo, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giuseppe suddenly starts talking English.

“I learn English in prison, and later in England. A commander he take me to England. Then I come back in Sicily in 1945.”

Our conversation is interrupted by a new arrival. I say goodbye, so sorry there is no time to ask the many questions on my mind.


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24 comments to Sicily, Still Haunted by World War II

  • Emalene

    Yes, Cassino is at the foot of Montecassino, I visited the cemetary there with my aunt and cousins, it’s so sad moving.

    • Jann

      Emalene, I’d like to go there someday. I’m sure it’s incredibly moving. (Isn’t there a famous film about that battle?) I think it’s a day trip from Rome, isn’t it?

  • for those who have been through such a life changing experience there is always the wish to share, you have given him that gift and shared with us! grazie lisa

  • Jann, this character photo of Giuseppe is just superb. You’ve captured his look perfectly in that first shot. I’d dare say it’s a look of resignation; of going on with life. It’s also infused with a touch of loss and sadness. That said, 88 years of age? Really? May I look half as good as this gent when my time comes, if I ever get to that, I mean! 🙂

    • Jann

      Yes, resignation, world-weariness. I agree about him not looking his age. He had such a board-straight back that he inspired me to stand up straight for a change.

  • cemal karahan

    I’m thinking of who prepared the map because most institutions,when preparing the map of Europe , do not include Turkey as a whole in the map…but only her land in Thrace…So when somebody looks in the map of Europe they cannot realize that there is a country to explore within the very reach of so many countries…Anyway ,we are lucky that this attitude is changing rapidly…The Italian veteran is somehow lucky because during the last minutes of falling Ottoman Empire some of our granddads in most families had 13 years of military service under unimaginable tough conditions of the vast empire…! Thank you Jann for introducing this gentleman…Good luck to him….! Best wishes…!

    • Jann

      Ciao Cemal, it’s hard for me to see what’s going on in this map. Is Turkey labeled correctly here? (I can tell you the map looked very very old…. ). It’s impossible to imagine 13 years of military service under the Ottomans. Ach, war. What a horror.

  • There must be something very special about you that invites people to open up and to present themselves so honestly for a portrait. You have such a gift for photographic portraiture, and the framing of your subjects relates more of their stories.

    • Jann

      You’re so sweet, louciao. Nothing special about me except I’m pretty bold about meeting people and very interested in their stories. I urge all visitors to Sicily to engage with the locals and not be shy. Sicilians may stare at you like you’re from outer space, but the minute you say hello and smile, they totally open their hearts and their stories spill out.

  • Charlie

    I found it fascinating to learn that there was support to make Sicily the 51st US state. I kid you not. Look it up. Merry Christmas to all. Charlie

    • Jann

      Ciao Charlie. Merry Christmas back to you! Thanks for your comment. Someday I’m going to get to the bottom of this 51st state story. I’ve heard different versions of it from many Sicilians! Some say the US tried to “steal” Sicily, and others say the whole story is a myth… Does anyone have more info about this?

  • Sam

    It may be a little more likely that he was a prisoner of the British, since he was befriended by a British officer. Also, the British spent 3 years fighting Italians in North Africa, whereas Patton came along and fought alongside the British there for about 1 year. Thanks for a great photo of a living piece of history!

    • Jann

      Hi Sam–yes, you may be right. Because why in the world did a British commander take him to England? Did they become friends? Was he still a prisoner in England? I hope to go back to this little town and ask Giuseppe more questions.

  • Guiseppe looks pretty darn good for 88, and amazing he would remember any English after such a short brush with it. I don’t know how he, or anyone, could be anything other than haunted by war and time in prison. Time means nothing when it comes to our emotional bodies and trauma gets embedded in our cells. What is remarkable is the way humans can go on after such trauma, make a life, keep an open heart. Maybe what to say might be to ask how he is today, or what he most loves in his memories, or what still gives him joy. No doubt you, and each of us, have such opportunities in the future. I can only hope. Thanks as ever, for the provocative encounter. xxoxx

    • Jann

      Thanks for commenting, Aysha, about the long, never-ending legacy of war.
      And you’re right–he does look AMAZING!

  • –Jann,
    you capture the essence & core of the soul.

    And when you do, your readers feel it inside their soul, as well.


  • emalene

    So sad and Yes there are other parts of Italy still haunted
    by the war. My grandmother came to the US in 1947, and I remember
    her shrapnel scars from bombs and some scant stories but mostly she avoided talking about the horrors.
    She had two sons in the war, one in Italy and the other in the US Army
    and she would get that sad distant look until the day she passed away.
    She was in a small village just ourside of Cassino.

  • Cathy

    Oh those eyes, Jann! So soulful and sad looking… So many experiences in his life.

  • sandee wheeler

    This is a good lesson for us all about our veterans of wars as well as any veterans of war.

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