Mortale and the Evacuation to Cesano

Early March 1944
The local doctor warns the Mortalese to hide their valuables as battles are raging in Cassino.  Although Mortale is not occupied by Germans, there are divisions in S. Andrea and S. Nazario.  Periodically, the Germans come into the village to recruit men for manual labour, but a large number of local Italian officers are hiding in the mountains.  The main road up to the village is finished at this time.  (The first section of the road from the cemetery onwards was started by Mortalese wanting a road that would take wheeled vehicles.  This was continued with local government funding up to about 100 metres past the Montaticco bivio.  The Germans finished the road from here up to La Soda in Mortale. They also built a road wide enough for a motorbike and sidecar up to Le Fonnelle.  The old road, which connected Casalattico to Mortale, was a mule path and remained so).

Because of the large number of Mortalese who have emigrated to Britain before the war, rumours spread to the Germans that Mortale is on the British side and therefore represents a thorn in the side of the local German war effort.

There is at this time in the village another refugee from Pompei who has a jewellery business. He has brought a lot of Cameo stones to hide in Mortale. A collaborator knows this and asks him for money. When he doesn't get the money, he goes to Casalvieri along with Doctor Ventura and they tell the Germans that Mortale is full of English.  The doctor is loathed by the Mortalese.  But it is soon felt that God pays him back for this act ashis two sons have to flee to Argentina in fear of being hanged and both he and his wife die shortly after of cancer.

Rinaldo Forte is taken back to Dachau Concentration Camp for several weeks.

5 March 1944
Early in the morning, villagers awake to the sound of Germans shouting "Rauss, Rauss!"  In the confusion and panic, there is little time to grab belongings and the whole village is marched down to La Soda, where everyone is assembling.  Eventually people are split into groups and are escorted down the mountain on foot. Some manage to escape as they walk down the mountain, including Olimpio Forte (Bexhill) and his family who hide in a house in Casalattico.  Some escape to Caslavieri, Arpino and the Sora region.

By this time Mammanuccia is old and frail, Maria (Alessandrina) is very ill with typhus and she is in her dressing gown and slippers. Tella and her father Giovanni died earlier this year. Giovanni died from pernicious anaemia and Tella died from pneumonia/bronchitis.  Porzia's siblings, Pasquale, Luigi and Olga are in Jersey.  Elio is in Bari in the army.  Antonio is still at La Cisterna and Guerino is at his house in S. Nazzaro.  The Germans have taken his house over to use as a field hospital.  So in the evacuation this family are 5 in number: Porzia, Mammanuccia, Mamma Teresa, Antonio and Maria.  They are firstly brought to Colle Secco and then on down to the cemetery.  When they get close to the cemetery they find themselves at the head of the procession.  The German guards are some way behind.  Antonio tells them to follow him and he breaks off from the file of people and brings them to the house of a friend nearby.  People try to follow them but the Germans catch them and take them back. Antonio and Porzia etc make it to the house. They hide there under the beds. They are not far from the cemetery where the rest of the people are taken.  It is very cold and Porzia can hear a lot of the children crying.  The cemetery is surrounded by German guards.

Lucia Forte remembers that they stop at about midday at S. Caterina and stay here for quite a while. Uncle Donato (Uncle of Emilia, Pietro and Luigi Magliocco) kills a lamb in a field.  It is cooked on a fire and provides the last good meal for a long time ahead. They make their way to the cemetery and wait there.  As soon as darkness falls, the villagers are herded into large German army trucks. They eventually arrive at an old monastery, which the germans have occupied near Ferentino, north of Frosinone.

6 March 1944
The villagers stay in Ferentino until the evening and one man in the group dies. They have no food, other than anything they have brought in their pockets. That night they are herded into army lorries and set off again, arriving at a fibre glass factory at La Breda, just east of the Rome ring road.

Back home, Olimpio, his family and animals transfer to Sora.  When stopped at S. Andrea by Germans, a cry of "Typhus, Lazarus" does the trick and they move on.  Olimpio's sister does actually have typhus.

Antonio Forte knows someone nearby who has a taxi.  He gets the taxi and drives all his family to the mountains near Sora.  They come upon a disused house and spend the first night there.  The next day they are still in danger and go on further up the mountain.  Up there they find a family who gives them the use of a house as well as feeding them for the first two or three days.  Before Luigi went to Jersey he left Antonio a picture that had some value to be sold in case of need.  Antonio goes to Sora and sells the picture which enables them to buy food each day they are there.

7 March 1944
The monastery at Ferentino is flattened by allied bombardment. The villagers are taken down a long spiral staircase at the Breda factory until they are about 20 metres underground.  They are told to strip off their clothes and are put into large rooms, with showers in the ceilings.  Here they are washed and their clothes are taken away for delousing. (No one had yet heard of the atrocities carried out on the Jews in Nazi camps when they were taken to gas chambers, disguised as shower rooms). Their clothes are returned to them, after being 'cleaned' in large hot tubs, however, when they get them back, they are full of flees.

Once again, at night fall, Lucia recalls that they are put back into the lorries and set off.  Soon, they know that they are in Rome as they can feel the lorries driving over the cobbled Roman roads. For many, it is their first time in Rome and they are hoping to be able to see St. Peter's or the Colosseum, but, through a tiny hole in the side of the lorry, all they can see is wet cobble stones.  Once again that night, there is heavy bombardment and the factory at Breda is flattened.

8 March 1944
The villagers arrive at Cesano di Roma and are taken to a large five-storey house in an Italian military camp, originally built by Mussolini for his troops.  It is in this house that they are to spend the next few months, together with some other families from Belmonte too.

The camp is run by Italian military police under German command and the villagers are treated very humanely.  The food is pretty awful, often just a bun and soup, made of water and lamb.  Several people become ill and sadly, a few die. These include Maria Giuseppa Forte (Maria Longa, mother of Filomena Forte from Brighton), Franceso Antonio Cafolla (father of Carmine, Giuseppe, Maria Antonia, Domenico etc.), Alfonso and Caterina Forte (parents of Antonio Verdescuol, Luciano, Angelo and Valentina), Filomena Morelli (mother of Crescenzo and Raffaele from Hastings), Salvatore Forte (father of Libera, Angelo, Caterina, Teresa, Concetta) and Michele Forte (brother of Loreto, Italo and Lena).

After a while some are transferred to another house in the camp and some catch typhus, including Lucia Forte, daughter of Camillo and Annunziata.

Good Friday 7 April 1944
From Jane Scrivener's Diary, "Inside Rome with Germans": "The Pope sends 7,000 loaves of bread to the concentration camp at Cesano, near Lake Bracciano, for the refugees whom the Germans have forcibly evacuated.  It is one of the worst in Italy; the people there are housed in wretched army huts, with no blankets, no sanitation and next to no food. Numbers of them have died of hunger and exposure.  The Pope has saved many of their lives by sending food to the camp".

Easter Sunday 9 April 1944
The villagers are allowed to hold an outdoor mass, but there is heavy bombardment that day.

From the US Army Air Force Combat Records for Twelfth AF:  "P-40 and A-36 FBs bomb railroad line between Rome and Bracciano, hitting tracks, a station, and a warehouse; attack Littoria and Terracina, repair shops NW of Valmontone, and several gun positions; and bomb scattered motor transport during armed rcn of Avezzano-Sora, Pontecorvo-Ceprano areas".

Italo recalls everyone getting a small Easter Egg sent from the Vatican.

April 1944
Rinaldo Forte is taken to Duisburg to carry out forced labour at a steelworks from 6am to 8pm each day and often at night too.

4 and 5 June 1944
Rome is liberated by the allies.

9 June 1944
There is heavy bombing in the Cesano area.

10 June 1944
The British army come to liberate Cesano.  From this day on, the food improves and there is lots of it.  The villagers start to eat "Me-atte", a meat that comes in tins, but no one can pronounce "meat" properly so it is always known as "me- atte".

The British are good to the villagers, but they are not interested in taking them back to Mortale.

13 June 1944
It is St Anthony's Day and the advancing Americans find Porzia and her family hiding near Sora. They give them food and tell them not to go back home for 2 or 3 weeks because the roads are heavily mined.

Late June 1944
Porzia and her family stay on for a few weeks during which time she and Antonio go up on a ridge to get a view of the front line.  They are shot at so they get back down to the house quickly.

The Marocchini are about. They are very bad and there are stories of rapes.  One particularly good looking girl is taken by one of them and, when she resists,  the Moroccan bites off the flesh of her cheek scarring her for life.

Early July 1944
After three weeks it is felt safe for those hiding near Sora to go back homewards.  Antonio gets a car and they drive back.  When they come to S. Nazzaro, they find the bridge has been destroyed so they have to cross the river on foot.  Maria, who is very ill, falls into the water. They make it back to Guerino's house, but as the house has been used as a hospital, they find blood over the walls and floors and even a severed arm and other bits of bodies. This is so horrific that they leave at once and continue on up to Mortale.  Nearby there has been a big shell explosion the week before which has left a massive crater. There are bits of rotting flesh everywhere so they are very glad to get away and continue up the mountain towards Mortale.  When they arrive home, they find the house is an empty shell.  The Germans have taken everything right down to the floorboards to use for firewood.

12 September 1944
Through the efforts of Don Fusciardi (whose mother was a Forte from Mortale) and with the help of the Vatican, the villagers manage to return home. Lucia's grandfather, Leonardo Forte dies that day soon after arriving back in Mortale.

© 2011 Paul Forte

On 5th March 1944, the Mortalese people are rounded up like cattle and taken to a German prison camp at Cesano, just north of Rome.

The following chronology of events is taken directly from first-hand accounts of people who were in Mortale at this dreadful time.  My thanks go in particular to the late Porzia Forte for her valuable contribution and to Lucia Jones (née Forte) who was 12 years old when she was taken from Mortale to the German prison camp at Cesano.

Rough route from Mortale to Ferentino to Rome to Cesano

Francesco Antonio Cafolla

Leonardo Forte

The Ossario in Cesano Cemetery, in which lie the remains of many who died in the German camp

The Cesano Camp remains a Military Camp today

US General Mark Clark 
in Rome
on 4th June 1944

Maria Giuseppa Forte

Alfonso Forte

Caterina Forte

Filomena Morelli

Michele Forte
Salvatore Forte

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