Above: Duilio Virgili
Alle amico [To a friend]
Last June, Alan Rosenblum sent me a detailed account of the protection his father, Sergeant Albert Rosenblum, was given by the Virgili family of Ortezzano, Italy, after his escape from Camp 59 in 1943.
Al also sent scans of a few old photographs and an envelope from a letter sent by Duilio Virgili to his father after the war (the letter has since been lost).
I forwarded Al’s account and the photos to Italian researcher Filippo Ieranò in Servigliano, Italy, explaining that Al was interested in making contact with the Virgili family.
In September, Filippo replied: “It was not easy, but eventually I managed to get in touch with Rita Virgili, the sister of Duilio Virgili of Ortezzano.”
Filippo explained, “Mrs. Virgili recalls that Albert and several other American prisoners came to their house during the war. She currently lives in Rome, and would be very glad to establish a relationship with Alan Rosenblum.”
Printing on front of envelope:
Mr. Albert Rosenblum
3765 Doney Street, Whitehall
Columbus 13, Ohio
On back of envelope:
M. Duilio Virgili 2_ Mayo
c/o 174 B. Blonca
Concerning the letter itself, Alan Rosenblum writes, “The original letter from Duilio has been lost, probably when as a boy, I steamed off the stamp for my collection.”
Above: Duilio Virgili
RICORD DI [In remembrance of]
Octo 13, 1943
Below is Al’s account of his father’s escape, followed by comments Rita Virgili shared with Al via e-mail late last year.
Albert Rosenblum After the Escape
When my dad and three fellow prisoners escaped from Camp 59, they decided that south was the best direction to travel to reach the Allied lines.
They had no food or water, no weapons, and they were in foreign territory wearing their prison military uniforms.
My father and Sergeant John Novotny, both in the Army’s 18th Infantry, had been wounded at El Guettar and had not fully recovered. All the prisoners were malnourished from the inadequate food supply at Camp 59.
As they neared the town of Ortezzano (Ascoli), sympathetic locals put them in touch with the Partisans. The Partisans fed them and provided less conspicuous civilian clothing.
The Americans, all experienced as infantrymen and schooled in escape and evasion techniques, wanted to try to reach the Allies. They asked for an Italian guide to lead them through enemy lines.
The Partisans, however, felt it was too dangerous and that the escapees were in too poor health for an arduous journey of hundreds of miles on foot. Winter was approaching and the Italian mountain country was unforgiving. The Italians knew that the Germans had instituted a massive manhunt for escaped POWs, and that they were bringing reinforcements to harden defenses against the expected Allied invasion after Mussolini’s overthrow.
The Partisans thought it better that the Camp 59 escapees remain and work with the underground while their health and the military situation improved.
Dad and his group of escapees agreed and they divided up, each staying with a different Partisan family. The families were at great risk, because the penalty for aiding and harboring an escaped POW was death.
Dad became part of Virgili family on their farm near Ortezzano. As the eldest son, Duilio Virgili was head of the household.
Another of the POWs stayed with the family of Onelio Ferretti in the nearby town of Montelparo.
Above: Onelio Ferretti
Montelparo 1943 XXI
The following photos of Italian partisans are from among Albert Rosenblum’s papers. Alan writes, “I think they were in the Italian underground unit with Onelio Ferretti that my Dad and his fellow escapees worked with while fighting the Germans after their escape.”
Above: Salvatore Coccia
Antonio e Annita
Antonio and Annita
In Memory of the/his Salvation
Above: Guido Lupi
Through that winter and spring, Dad and the other POW escapees helped on the family farms during the day and on prearranged nights would gather with resistance leaders to plan ambushes and attacks on military and munitions convoys traveling through the district.
They proved to be a good fighting force, combining the skills, training, and combat experience of the soldiers and the intelligence gathering and terrain knowledge of the Partisans.
They were successful in intercepting and burning several convoys and they destroyed rail installations and facilities important to the German war effort.
The Partisans had a hidden radio that they used to monitor the military situation. News of Allied victories spurred everyone’s hopes. Dad and his band of escapees, now healthy, were eager to return to their units. They said goodbye to their host families with promises to meet again in better days.
With help from members of the underground, Dad and the others made their way through the German lines. They met up with American units in the Caserta area and were repatriated on June 28, 1944.
The group was taken to Mediterranean Base Headquarters in Italy and then on to Oran, Algeria, for shipment back to the United States.
Dad continued his Army career after the war, and in 1953 received orders for a transfer to Germany. At the time he spoke of reuniting with his Italian friends. My mother had lost family members in Eastern Europe to Nazi atrocities and did not want to live in Germany. Dad decided to retire from the military.
A couple of years later, we received a letter from Duilio Virgili. Dad had befriended him during the war and even taught him to box. The son, now in his early twenties, was thinking of immigrating to the United States. He wondered if Dad would sponsor him. Dad wrote back, but he received no further letters.
In the late 1970s, as my dad was retiring from his second career at the Defense Construction Supply Center in Columbus, Ohio, he and my mom talked of traveling to Italy. But by then health problems prevented the trip and a possible reunion.
Rita Virgili on the Sheltering of the Escaped Prisoners
The following comments from Rita Virgili are presented in Italian, followed by English translation.
On September 26, 2011, Rita Virgili wrote:
Io di quel periodo ricordo poco perchè avevo 5 anni, ma ricordo perfettamente ciò che accadde.
I do not remember much from that time, because I was five years old, but [in this case] I do remember perfectly what happened.
Ricordo che Suo padre era rifugiato in casa nostra con altri prigionire ed aveva un bellissimo rapporto con i miei genitori a tal punto di chiamarli Mamma e Papà.
Di giorno giocava spesso con me e con mio cugino Tarcisio e una mattina andando a scuola nel periodo tra fine aprile e primi di maggio del ’44, da lontano abbiamo visto un Signore di nome Roscioli,capo zona dei fascisti, che avendo avuto una soffiata da qualcuno cercava i prigionieri americani rifugiati ad Ortezzano ed in particolare in casa nostra dove ve ne erano 9 che stavano facendo colazione con la famiglia. Di conseguenza io e mio cugino tornammo di corsa a casa gridando che stava arrivando Roscioli e mio padre si affacciò controllando la situazione, mentre mio fratello Duilio li aiutò a scappare accompagnandoli presso un fiume nelle vicinanze dell’Indaco per non farli trovare, ma da quel momento non abbiamo avuto più notizie loro.
I remember your father had taken refuge in our house with other prisoners, and they had such a great a relationship with my parents, so much so that they called them Mom and Dad.
During the day they often played with my cousin Tarcisio and me. Going to school one morning, in late April or early May of ’44, we saw from a distance a man named Roscioli, who was head of the area fascists. Having received a tip from someone, he was trying to locate American prisoners and refugees in Ortezzano—in particular those nine at our house, who were having breakfast with the family. Consequently, my cousin and I ran home crying that he was coming. My father looked out for Roscioli, while my brother Duilio helped the men to escape, accompanying them to a river near to the torrente Indaco, so they wouldn’t be found. [A torrente leads into a river—in this case it would be the river Aso—and is the conduit for snow melt, and therefore dry for much of the year.] From then on we had no more news of them.
Se posso esserLe utile mi ricordo solo i nomi di due compagni che erano con suo Padre, Costantino e Raphael, ma i cognomi non li sapevo.
Mi ha fatto molto onore ricevere la Sua lettera con le foto di mio fratello, il quale purtroppo è morto poi in Argentina al Rosario di Sante Fè nel 1955 misteriosamente, senza aver mai avuto informazioni dettagliate sull’accaduto. Il dolore per la famiglia è stato grandissimo ed è per questo che l’aver ricevuto questa lettera ha suscitato in me piacere e commozione allo stesso tempo.
If it is of help you, I remember the names of two comrades who were with your father—Constantine and Raphael—but their surnames I do not know.
I was very honored to receive your letter with pictures of my brother, who, sadly, died mysteriously in 1955 in Rosario of Santa Fe, Argentina. [Rosario is the largest city in the Argentinian province of Santa Fe.] I never received detailed information about the incident. The pain was very great for my family, and that is why receiving this letter has both pleased and disturbed me at the same time.
Le invio in allegato alcune foto di un tratto del paesino di Ortezzano e una parte della casa dove era rifugiato Suo Padre.
I have enclosed some photos of a section of the village of Ortezzano and [a photo of] part of the house in which your father took refuge.
Above: Photos taken at the old Virgili home in Ortezzano
On October 12, 2011, Rita Virgili wrote:
Duilio era in Argentina come emigrante per cercare lavoro,ma non faceva parte dei partigiani e non ha combattuto nella rivoluzione.
Mi ricordo che tuo padre quando era lì ad Ortezzano aiutava spesso mio padre e la mia famiglia nell’azienda agricola che avevamo facendo le cose sempre con il sorriso e la serenità.
Duilio was in Argentina to find work as an emigrant, but was not part of the partisans who fought in the revolution.
I remember when your father was in Ortezzano he often helped my father and my family by doing chores on the farm—always serenely and with a smile.
Il periodo in cui avete ricevuto l’ultima lettera di mio fratello non ti ricordi in che mese era? Io posso dirti con certezza che lui è morto a dicembre del 1955 e con lui c’era l’altro mio fratello Dino più piccolo di 5 anni che è morto poco dopo, nel febbraio del 1956 lasciando un dolore grandissimo per tutta la famiglia.
Do you remember the month when you received the last letter from my brother? I can tell you with certainty that he died in December 1955, and my other brother, Dino, who was five years younger, died shortly after—in February 1956—leaving a huge pain for the whole family.
In famiglia nostra eravamo 5 figli, 3 femmine e 2 maschi di cui, oltre a Dino e Duilio c’era mia sorella Lidia che era suora ed è morta nel 1998 per una malattia.
Ora siamo rimaste io e mia sorella Pia più grande di me di 14 anni che vive ad Ortezzano, mentre io vivo a Roma con mio marito Mario, due figlie Lorella e Dina e 4 nipoti, 2 maschi Gianluca e Matteo, e 2 femmine Federica e Martina…tutti loro mi rendono molto orgogliosa.
In our family we were five children—three females and two males—of which, in addition to Dino and Duilio, was my sister Lydia, who was a nun and died in 1998 due to illness.
Left now are my older sister Pia, who has lived in Ortezzano for 14 years, and me. I live in Rome with my husband Mario, our two daughters Lorella and Dina and four grandchildren—two boys, Gianluca and Matteo, and two girls, Federica and Martina. They all make me very proud.
On December 19, 2011, Rita Virgili wrote:
Mi avevi chiesto della disposizione della casa di Ortezzano dove tuo padre era stato rifugiato con la nostra famiglia e si trattava di una casa agricola su due piani più la soffitta nella quale dormivano in una grande camera i miei fratelli e tuo padre. Il piano sotto la soffitta era composto da una grande cucina e 4 camere da letto perchè in famiglia eravamo 13 persone. Era bellissimo nelle serate d’inverno quando c’era ancora tuo padre riunirsi a giocare tutti insieme davanti al camino, mio padre recitava il santo rosario e tutti insieme si pregava, non avevamo ancora la luce e usavamo i lumi a petrolio, ma nonostante tutto eravamo felici di stare insieme.
You asked me about the layout of the house where your father was sheltered with our family in Ortezzano. It was a farmhouse with two floors plus an attic with a large room where my brothers and your father slept. The floor below the attic was comprised of a large kitchen and four bedrooms for the family, because we were 13 people. We had wonderful winter evenings together when your father was still with us. We would get together and play in front of the fireplace. My father recited the holy rosary and we prayed together. We did not have electric lights, so we used kerosene lamps. But, in spite of everything, we were happy to be together.
Duilio and Rita Virgili’s mother and father
Postcard of Ortezzano, probably brought back to the U.S. by Albert Rosenblum—one of a number of souvenirs
Many thanks to Albert Rosenblum’s son Alan Rosenblum and daughter Pam Maccabee, and to Albert’s granddaughter Meara Maccabee for sharing their resources for this post.
I am also grateful to Rita Virgili for allowing us to share her reminiscences and to Anne Bewicke-Copley for help with translation.