Searching for Italian POW Guerrino Bari

Left—Guerrino Bari’s son Thomas Fortuin at age nine or ten. Sandra says, “This is the only photo that we have from his childhood.” Right—Thomas on his wedding day.

Earlier this spring, Sandra Hoffman asked me for help in locating her grandfather’s family in Italy. 

“We are from Franschhoek in South Africa,” Sandra wrote. “My grandfather (my father’s father) was/is Guerrino Bari. He was a Prisoner of War in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

“We know for a fact that he left the country after the war, and my grandmother had no communication with him after that. We are hoping for an image of our grandfather and maybe contact with surviving family members.”

I asked Sandra for more detail.

She continued, “I am a South African citizen, as was my grandmother. Guerrino Bari was one of the big group of prisoners that was sent to South Africa during WW2. He was sent to the town of Stellenbosch to work on a farm. It is in the Wine Country, and the Italian POWs used their knowledge and skills to build cellars and houses on the farms. 

“My grandmother lived/worked on the Koopmanskloof farm. 

“My father never knew his father. Grandma said that my grandfather took a photograph of his son before the group of Italian POWs were sent back to Italy. Grandma put my father up for adoption, and the new family changed his name and surname. We will never know if his father enquired or searched for him, due to the adoption.

“I tried searching 25 years ago, but with no success. My brother started the search again last year, as technology and communication channels have improved so much over the years. Unfortunately, lots of valuable time has passed, and most of our older sources of information are not with us anymore. All of us are trying our best to locate any new leads.

“Any assistance to get in touch with my grandfather or his family would be greatly appreciated. By now he has five great-grandchildren this side, and they ask questions that we or grandpa can’t always answer.”

A contact in Italy provided the following information:

BARI Guerrino was born 14.5.1916 in Senigallia; his father’s name was Giovanni. The last address was NARNI, a small town in the district (Provincia) of TERNI. He was employed by Mr. WS Smit (Jnr.) from 17.5.43 to 25.9.45 (one of the nameless 6 POW) then transferred to Zonderwater Camp on 27.9.45. On 26.2.1946 he was transferred from Zonderwater to Durban, for repatriation, and embarked on the SS Stratheden that left port 27.2.46 and arrived in Naples on 17.3.46.

Sandra’s brother Theo wrote the following about their father, shared here in Italian and English:

03 Febbraio 2020

La storia della ricerca di Thomas Fortuin

Compilata da Theo Fortuin e Sandra Hoffman (Fortuin), i suoi bambini

Caro Signore/Signora

Si prega di vedere di seguito alcune informazioni rilevanti su nostro padre che sta cercando suo padre in italiano, Guerrino Bari.

Mio padre è Thomas Fortuin, 75 anni. È il primo nato di Katarina Koopman e un prigioniero di guerra italiano, WW2. Secondo l’originale Birth Register nacque in una fattoria chiamata Koopmanskloof a Stellenbosch.

Alla nascita il suo nome è stato dato come Willem Koopman. La data di nascita è il 15 gennaio 1945. All’età di 3 anni mio padre fu dato in adozione. Willem Koopman pio divenne Thomas Fortuin. Thomas Fortuin non vide mai più la madre biologica, fino all’età di 25 anni, poco prima del suo matrimonio.

C’erano 6 prigionieri di guerra italiani che lavoravano nella fattoria Koopmanskloof tra il 1943 e il 1946. I loro nomi erano Salvatore Massemino, Antonio Bravi, Michele Bielo, Guerrino Bari, Allesandro Borio e Gaetano Budda.

Mia nonna Katarina evitò di discutere del processo di adozione di mio padre. Parlava sempre di mio nonno come Bari.

Nonna Katarina ha anche detto che mio nonno ha scattato una fotografia di mio padre prima di partire.

Secondo la famiglia di Antonio Bravi, il suo amico Guerrino Bari era di Terni. Secondo Zonderwater Nel 1946 Guerino Bari fu rimpatriato in Italia.

February 03 2020

The Story of Thomas Fortuin’s Research

Compiled by Theo Fortuin and Sandra Hoffman (Fortuin), his children

Dear Sir/Madam

Please see below information about our father who is looking for his father, Guerrino Bari, in Italy.

My father, Thomas Fortuin, is 75 years old. He is the first born of Katarina Koopman and an Italian prisoner of war during WW2. According to the original birth register, he was born on a farm called Koopmanskloof in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

At birth, he was named Willem Koopman. The date of his birth is January 15, 1945. At the age of three, my father was given up for adoption, and his name was changed from Willem Koopman to Thomas Fortuin. Thomas Fortuin didn’t see his biological mother again until the age of 25, just before he married.

There were six Italian prisoners of war who worked on the Koopmanskloof farm between 1943 and 1946. Their names were Salvatore Massemino, Antonio Bravi, Michele Bielo, Guerrino Bari, Allesandro Borio, and Gaetano Budda.

My grandmother, Katarina, avoided discussing my father’s adoption process. She always spoke of my grandfather as Bari.

Grandma Katarina also said that my grandfather took a photograph of my father before leaving.

According to Antonio Bravi’s family, his friend Guerrino Bari was from Terni. Records from the Zonderwater camp indicate Guerino Bari was repatriated to Italy in 1946.

Sandra Hoffman with brothers Fergill (left) and Theo Fortuin and their parents

The extended Fortuin family

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