After I added the post on Giovina Fioravanti to the Camp 59 Survivors site this week, I heard from Joely Carter. Giovina is her husband’s grandmother. On her blog, iwishiwasalandgirl.wordpress.com, she has shared some personal reminiscences:
“My husband’s grandmother, Bella, has always been larger than life. A typical Italian matriarch, she is fiery and protective, and always wants to feed you! When I first met her around 7 years ago, I was struck by how beautiful and elegant she was, and couldn’t believe it when she told me she was 86! Bella is a term of endearment, her real name being Giovina Fioravanti. Originally, Bella aspired to be an actress however on the outbreak of World War II Bella volunteered her services to her country. Over the years, Bella has shared many stories with me, the most memorable being that during a boat crossing from Albania back to Italy, a Bulgarian man had taken a bullet for her using his body as a shield. When I first went to her house, I was proudly shown a certificate, which was hanging in the dining room. Bella explained that this was for bravery during the War, but never elaborated on what she had done to obtain this. It was always assumed that this was an award given to all Italians who played their part in the War.
“Recently my Mother In Law began to do a bit of digging into her mother’s history. With a little bit of help from some internet sites, Izzy discovered that Bella had been awarded her certificate for helping people escape from a POW camp in Italy.
“I am truly in awe of this wonderful woman, and am so proud to be part of her family. I wonder if there are others out there, who like Bella are too modest to tell their story. I hope that one day, your families will be able to say how proud they are of you.
“If you recognise Bella from the War years, please get in touch.”
We don’t know for sure what Bella did during the war. She most likely helped escaped POWs after they were out of the camps. Many prisoners were allowed to escape after the Italians signed the armistice with the Allies in September 1943. In some camps, including Camp 59, the guards left their posts or did not fire on prisoners as they fled.
As the Germans swept southward and began to recapture escapees, the men were reliant on local farmers and workers, many of whom opened their hearts and homes to them. The Italians could have been, and often were, beaten or killed if caught harboring fugitives.
Giovina may have helped to hide escaped prisoners. She may also have helped them find passage to the Allied lines in the south or neutral Switzerland. As a Red Cross worker, she may have provided medical care.
In any case, her Alexander certificate is evidence that what she did was significant. She may well have been responsible for many lives saved.