Sunday, February 18, 2007

Peppo Coppula - 4317

Photo taken shortly before his arrest
This is a tribute to Callogero Marrone. A Catholic life-long anti-fascist, born of a middle class Sicilian family, he was the Head of the Varese Registry Office, and from there he issued a large number of false identity cards to Jews and to anti-fascists; indeed, it was his office that issued both my mother's and my ID card in 1944, obtained by my father, and, although we were British the cards certified that we were Italian. A minor detail, compared with the hundreds of Jewish lives he saved.

He was betrayed (it is believed by a fascist empoyed in his office) and arrested by the SS on 4 January 1944. He was held for nine months in a succession of prisons, first in Varese, where he was badly tortured in an effort to get him to reveal the National Liberation Committee network, but he refused to say a word. Then he was taken to a prison in Como for daily interrogation; then after a failed attempt by partisans to free him, to the notorious San Vittore prison in Milan.

After this the SS seem to have given up interrogating him and he was sent to the Bolsano-Gries transit-concentration camp, run by the Butcher of Trieste, Odilo Globocnik. There he managed to get a letter smuggled out, on a scrap of paper writing in tiny letters, to his 17 year old son, who had joined the partisans:

Here I am in my new residence, still as always in the best of health and high morale. I'm in a concentration camp for political prisoners where there is no lack of cool fresh mountain air to fill my lungs. There is a problem with not having woollen clothes, but you can't have everything, and I'll get used to it. Don't worry about me, I can truthfully say that the past nine months have strengthened my character. Suffice it to say I can now adapt myself to any kind of labour. I shall return with callouses that would honour any man. I've a ravenous appetite and the tar-black bread they give us seems like cake to me. ... If you could see how I'm now dressed you would burst out laughing: sheared like a sheep, a self-made paper hat on my head against the cold and the sun, a sort of overall with a large cross on the back and a red triangle on the front, the sign of a political prisoner, and underneath the number 4317, dirty shoes, and so on. But what is important is this: excellent health and morale as high as ever. I'm called 'the Philosopher'. Have courage and be constant. ... On Monday or Tuesday we shall be taken further north. Do not worry about me for wherever I go I shall know how to survive this foul bestial existence.

For safety reasons, he signed smuggled notes with the pseudonym Peppo Coppula.

Transferred to the extermination camp at Dachau, he died there of typhus on 10 February 1945.

In happier times with his family in the 1930s. Callogero with his wife, Giuseppina. Their four children from left to right: Dina, Domenico (youngest), Salvatore, and Filippina. The elder son, Salvatore, seated with legs crossed, could not join the partisans so as not to compromise his father. When called up in 1944 he was smuggled to Switzeland. Domenico, 16 when his father was arrested, joined the “Poldo Gasparotto” partisan brigade, commanded by Luciano Comolli.

This is a marble plaque on the Varese Registry Office in his memory and honour put up jointly by the Jewish community, the National Association of Partisans, and the Varese municipality. It reads:

At this site Callogero Marrone, Head of the Registry Office of Varese, operated clandestinely to save our Jewish brothers from the Nazi-Fascist ferrocity. Betrayed and arrested on 4 January 1944 he was deported to Germany to the extermination camp of Dachau where he died just as the dawn of liberty was breaking. May the name of this righteous man be blessed for all Eternity.

Favara, Agrigento, 8 May 1889
Dachau, February 1945


Blogger Peter G said...

Some additional notes.

The text of the letter I quote was in fact spread over two letters, at the point where I've broken the text with three dots (...).

Suffice it to say I can now adapt myself to any kind of labour. I shall return with callouses that would honour any man. He was put to work digging a huge pit from the first day of his arrival at Bolzano, with pick and shovel.

On Monday or Tuesday we shall be taken further north. That was dated 29 September. Those two days came and went. In another smuggled note dated 2 October he said I still find myself at the fourth station of my 'via dolorosa'. There is rumour of another consignment of sheep heading north, either tonight or tomorrow. He left for Dachau sometime after 5 October 1944. The journey across Austria, Germany, and into Poland would have been in crammed cattle waggons without food. Many did not survive those journeys.

Father Giannantonio, a Cappuchin priest, later wrote After my departure from Milan [prison] I did not see Marrone again. It was only in Dachau that someone told me that he had arrived there, but that he had been taken to an isolated quarantine hut. A few days later I was given the sad news that he had died in there.

On the memorial plaque it says literally May the memory of this righteous one be eternally blessed which I have translated as May the name of this righteous man be blessed for all Eternity as I don't understand how a 'memory' can be blessed. Perhaps Ron will be able to say what the correct Jewish formula is.

Monday, 19 February, 2007  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...


You ask for clarification on the saying "Blessed for Eternity".

It is actually a very old saying that pops up all over the place in Jewish writings(as a brief foray into GOOGLE will confirm).

To the best of my knowledge there is no hidden depth to it, it merely means "his/her name should be remembered (blessed) for ever".

Of more comman usage is the custom whereby whenever one writes the name of a person who is no longer alive to follow it with the letter z"l .

This is an acronym for "Zicher L'Bracha" or "it should be remembered for a blessing"

In my parents time it was more the custom to say "Over-Sholem" meaning "rest in peace" but in recent years the use of "zl" seems to have replaced the saying.

Any time :)


Monday, 19 February, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

If I can add yet another thought to "blessing of a memory" - in fact the Catholic Church often blesses the memory of many people not merely saints, who after death are in Purgatory being cleansed prior to their entrance into Heaven.
The other Catholic saying in his letters refer to the "Fourth Station in his Via Dolorosa ' - which is on the path of Jesus' passion and carrying of his cross to Calvary he passes fourteen "stations" which have been commemorated since the crucifixion
and Peppo Coppula's choice is particularly apt viz:- - "Jesus meets his afflicted Mother"....
The meditation to accompany this " fourth station" is -
"Long years before ,Mary had heard Simeon prophesy near the Temple that Jesus was to be the salvation of all men. Now as she meets Jesus, weighed down and bleeding,she realizes that salvation can only be purchased by pain and death."

Tuesday, 20 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...


The consensus in Italy, then and now, is that he was telling them indirectly that he had arrived at his fourth location, having moved from Varese, to Como, to Milan and then to Bolzano.

Talking of cool fresh mountain air tells them that he is in Bolzano

'Going north' means Germany, and Golgotha is Dachau.

He was in a terrestrial Hell, rather than Purgatory - as were the Jews with him. I do hope that his faith gave him some comfort, but I doubt that he was absorbed in the finer aspects of it.

Tuesday, 20 February, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

You may be right along with the concensus but the man was a good if not devout Catholic, and so he could relate in a meaningful way to Christ's passion along the 'way of suffering' which is the Via Dolorosa. There is no question he was in terrestial hell.
The "blessed memory" idea is emphasised every time a current Pope talks of his predecessors.. when he quotes them and adds - "these are the words of Pope Pius X11 - of blessed memory" - for example !
We also add to a deceased's name - R.I.P. - Requesicant in Pace.

Tuesday, 20 February, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

with a further review of Peppo Copula's letter of 2nd October - " I still find myself at the fourth station of my Via Delorosa" must go against the consensus of the whole Italian nation of that time - and since - as his reference can only refer to his own suffering on his way to death at his personal Golgotha and not to the mountain air at Bolzano - is not Como in a mountainous region with similar fresh air as opposed to Milan and it's smog ?
I have seen too many injured comrades, equally non believers -
calling for the assistance of Christ and His Mother - at the time of their own personal 'Via Dolorosa'to go along with your consensus.
Sorry about that
Whilst October is not near the lenten period leading towards Easter - as is the case to-day where many pancakes will be consumed in the U.k. prior to Ash Wednesday of to-morrow with it's fasting and abstaining from meat as a sacrifice - it is however the month of the Rosary and in his particular condition I would guarantee that his thoughts were of Christ's Mother during those days and so the "Fourth Station" would be extremely relevant !

Tuesday, 20 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...


The account I have given of Callogero Marrone is based mainly on the information given here and with some additional information given in a book review here. If you go to the first link you will see, even if you don't understand Italian, that it is much more detailed and far longer than the brief account I gave of him in my Post. As for the book, I have not yet read it.

My account is grounded on those sources. But I have left out a great deal of detail which would have meant translating a lot of text.

For example, although he assisted hundreds of Jews the Germans never discovered this. He was accused of having helped only two Jews on 15 December 1944 by irregularly issuing two identity cards in the false names of Natalina Rosati and Pietro Del Giudice, believed to be two Jews from Milan. The specific charges levelled against him were:

1. Suspected collaboration with bandits (i.e., partisans).
2. Assisting Jews to escape justice.
3. Abuse of office.
4. Passing information to the CLN.

Each of which carried the death penalty. There was no proof of any of this other than the two irregularly issued identity cards. Sensing that an Italian trial would get no where, the Germans took him away from the Italians to have him interrogated by the SS, taking him from Varese Prison to nearby Como prison (beside Lake Como) and then to Milan. In these locations, although taken away daily for German interrogation, he was in Italian prisons and his wife was actually available to briefly visit him in Milan prison.

So his family knew full well that he had been in Miogni prison in Varese, San Donino prison in Como, and San Vittore prison in Milan.

The notes he got out of Bolzano-Gries concentration camp, to his seventeen year old son, are simply written in a light vein to give his son courage, they would know full-well that he was in that concentration camp from the person who delivered the notes. The treatment meted out in that particular camp, run by Globocnik, was also well known and he is trying to reassure his family that he can cope with it.

I said that Golgotha meant Dachau, but that of course is hindsight on my part to condense a story. He wouldn't have know at which camp he would end up in 'going north', it could have been to any one of dozens of German concentration camps. He had probably never heard of Dachau.

Wednesday, 21 February, 2007  
Blogger Peter G said...

The Internet is truly amazing, I have actually found an exrtact from the book here.

Here is a relevant extraction which actually explains what he meant by Via Crucis:

L’ultima lettera da Bolzano è del 15 ottobre. «Miei amati, oggi si doveva proseguire la Via Crucis ma è stata sospesa la partenza a causa di forte pillolamento proprio a poca distanza da noi»

And in English:

"The last letter from Bolzano is dated 15 October. My Dearest Ones, today I was to continue my Via Crucis, but my departure has been postponed because of a heavy air-raid just a short distance from us."

Wednesday, 21 February, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Peter -
While I am not - or ever have been a student of the Italian language I did understand the reference to "ancora quattoro statione della Via Crucis" and so I would still claim that he meant that he was in fact praying his Rosary very much, and was cognisant of the meditation with reference to his suffering on his way to his death in an imitation of Christ.
Good Catholics tend to do that particularly at this time of Lent in preparation of the passion of Holy Thursday,the cruxifiction on Good Friday, and resurrection on Easter Sunday. No matter that Rome might try to change things as Peppo Coppula's suffering happened long before the Vatican 11 Council.
That is what our Faith is all about - He died as a sacrifice to His Father that we might be saved from the eternal torments of Hell. !

Wednesday, 21 February, 2007  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Quite a personal story in many repects, Peter. It took some courage to do what Mr Marrone did r cases that took place in France.

I wrote about some of these cases for my university dissertation. It is a difficult thing to deal with because it is still emotive. In some locations the people who did the betraying were were often known(or suspected).

I also have copies of quite a few letters written by people from the concentration camps although I haven't translated any into English. Their memory should be honoured.

Thursday, 22 February, 2007  

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