I want to conduct research in archives in Freiburg, Germany to look for diaries and witness accounts of Germans fighting in Italy during the Second World War.
Why? Because this history is part of my identity, of my family legacy, and my lead interest in life. Because I believe that all voices and memories are equally important for us to truly understand what went on in the Second World War, without bias.
I want to write a book about how people felt, and how they interacted with each other in Second World War Italy (1943-1945) during German occupation of that country - my home country. The story of the events of the war in Italy is extraordinarily complex: when, on September 8th 1943 Italy switched to the Allies’ side, the country found itself in a dangerous situation, with numerous German troops on its territory. Hitler then attempted to take control of the Italian territory with the aid of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana Benito Mussolini, in actual fact manoeuvred from the Reich. We do not know the full impact of the occupying German forces on the Italian population’s perception of the war, if not that a great sense of danger was felt. Similarly, we do not yet fully appreciate the extent to which German forces perceived and navigated the idyllic Italian landscapes that all of a sudden were no longer a friendly territory but rather synonymous with danger, violence and above all stealthy guerrilla actions, acts of sabotage and ambushes carried out by armed partisans and often hostile civilians. Similarly, the dynamics of a fragile network of safe places and trusted people for freedom fighters, constantly threatened by the presence of spies, their continuous confrontation with the ‘otherness’ of the Nazi-Fascists, and the implications on the everyday lives of Italian communities living in the Nazi-administered Alpenvorland are some of the issues which I intend to write about.
I am the grandchild of a freedom fighter (a "Partisan") and I have detected a discrepancy between my grandfather's tales of messy, emotionally fraught quotidian experiences interacting with Germans, spies, Americans etc., and the 'dry', political history written in books.
Yes: despite a recent interest in “emotion” and “identity” across the social sciences, the Second World War is still understood as a grand narrative of movements of Wehrmacht and SS deployments on Italian territory, which does not tell how these people interacted with civilians, with the partisans, and with each other. Histories of the Second World War in Italy have mainly focussed on tactical and military achievements of the movement and on its key protagonists - the Italian Resistance, predominantly male, and German military deployments. But what about the women, children, and those in between political factions? In other European contexts too, conflict landscapes are often equated with military operations, and rightfully remembered as disastrous and traumatic experiences for the civilians involved— although not usually for the armed forces, which I intend to treat and write about as people, or bodies in battlefield implicated in the all-too-messy and confusing process of fighting and striving to survive.
I have tried applying for funding for this project in Germany, Italy and the UK but it seems that the subject matter of Italian collaboration, civil war violence and the possibility that Germans played roles other than that of the baddies during the conflict are not welcome in the mainstream academic arena.
I need the £500 in order to fly to Freiburg, visit the Bundesarchiv and consult diaries, memoirs and interviews of German Wehrmacht officers who operated in Italy between 1943-1945.