Potenza, Italy--March 5, 1942
|The Robichek family was sent to a small town
called Brienza in the province of Potenza south of Rome
in the Basilicata region. A military policeman
(camicianera) escorted them there and even carried all of
their bags (a few months later he returned and proposed
to Vera). They moved into a small apartment.
The day after their arrival they reported to the police
station as required. They did this for three days
until finally they were told not to come again!
While in the Ferramonti concentration camp, Adolf had worked through an Italian monk to contact the Yugoslav government in London, so now the family was receiving a monthly stipend through England (via the Vatican and Catholic Church). A priest would bring them Lire, which they used to buy goods on the black market. It is sad that Adolf died without knowing that he was successful in his quest to obtain money from the government in exile for Yugoslav government employees in the camp.
The Germans came through Potenza to take young Italian men to dig ditches and perform other hard labor, so the family went to hide in the mountains. They stayed in the loft of a barn with goats and other cattle beneath them. There was another Jewish family in town and the daughter was blond with long hair and looked as if she could be a Nazi. One day, Vera and she were walking and the German officers were saying how she looked Aryan. They had to pretend that they were Italian and non-German-speaking so that no questions could be asked of them.
Potenza was not a province that faced war destruction. It was too far south in Italy for the fighting to reach. One time the British dropped a warning bomb, causing minor injuries and also dropped leaflets to warn the citizens ahead of time of the coming invasion.
Vera worked for the court clerk, copying court documents in longhand. She was paid with food products (meat, flour, vegetables). Alex played cards all the time with boys his age and whoever lost had to buy cheap wine and nuts (one time Alex got sick for three days--the Italians of course were used to the local rotgut wine!). They learned how to make wine and bread, shear sheep and make wool and sausages. Each time the Germans came through, the family went into hiding in the mountains for about a week. At this point, the Italians began despising the Germans, so it wasnt wise to speak German anymore. Through all of this, not one Italian gave them up to the Germans. They made several Italian friends, including some in prominent families.
The cousin of the most prominent family in Brienza was named Vera, a most uncommon name in Italy. Her father was a senior member of the Italian government. Her brother, an officer, was very good looking. They lived in Rome but visited Brienza often. Alex was 17-18 and Vera was 15-16. The Italian Vera had a tremendous crush on Alex and she was his first love. Many of the local peasant girls liked him as well, but he wasnt interested. Veras brother proposed marriage to the Yugoslav Vera, who wasnt interested. Instead, Veras first love was a non-fascist intellectual and well-known attorney who owned 90 percent of the village and its environs. His brother was a judge in Rome; another brother and sister were teachers. Vera and the attorney would read "Dantes Inferno" and other classics....go on long walks, to dances...always with groups of other young people. Marianne never allowed Vera to go without Alex (luckily they loved each other and had much fun). The attorney wrote a booklet about Brienza (Brienza Fedele) which he dedicated to Vera. But the relationship was ill-fated, since Vera had no intention of remaining in Italy or leaving her family.
On July 25, 1943, Italys fascist regime fell and they surrendered to the Allies on September 8. The country was divided in two--the north/central part to the Germans, the southern part to the Allies. Luckily, most of the camps were in the south, so this meant freedom for the captives. Many of the prisoners in the north/central regions were shipped to the extermination camps. The Robicheks were fortunate to have been liberated almost 18 months earlier. The remainder of the Ferramonti internees were officially released on September 4, 1943.
They stayed until the Allies came through in 1944. Alex and Vera worked as intepreters for the Allies in Potenza (by this time, they spoke Italian, German and English, which they had learned through tutoring at home). The Allies then took the family to Bari to work for the British Army and later in the refugee camps.