1. Do bombs perhaps have a meaning?
“Mum, why do we have to die?”
It was late morning on 10th June, 1944. Bombs were falling all around the block where I lived on the fourth floor in via Limitanea in Trieste. Across the street there was a small coal factory, the chimney of which had been bombarded by the planes.
Air attacks were often announced, even during the night. The first few times we went down into the building’s cellar that had been reinforced with large beams which supported the ceiling in order to better resist the bombardments. Usually the planes simply flew over the city on their way to unload their cargo in Germany or Austria. We had become used to staying in the flat despite the air raid sirens but this time Trieste was the actual target.
That day almost ten bombs fell within two hundred metres, some actually striking the factory while two or three struck some houses, just along the avenue into which via Limitanea ran. One bomb fell a metre from the main entrance to our building. It created a small crater two metres wide and a little less deep.
They were small bombs. If they did not make a direct hit on one’s head or on the rooftops they made a great din causing a noise wave that resulted in the window panes and frames being shattered to smithereens. The buildings themselves, however, remained standing. The bomb that had ended up in front of the door of our building allowed the children in our neighbourhood to make a fantastic discovery: it had revealed a soil made of a clay type of earth, almost a modelling dough like the one that children use today to mould into little men and animals. It was a true gift from heaven to be enjoyed in an age in which it was not possible to even imagine consumerism.
Unfortunately, however, that bombardment had also caused the death of two people. My father was at work in his office located in the centre of the city, little more than twenty minutes away on foot.
“Mamma, why do we have to die?” I was with my mother in front of the entrance door to the apartment, and between the whistling of the bombs, the explosions, the shaking of the walls and ground, and above all the noise of the windows crashing to the ground, covering it with a layer of glass fragments, my question − that I have never forgotten − had no reply.
I do not remember being particularly frightened or distressed. I was told later that a child of 8 in such a situation does not fully realise the danger nor the possible consequences. That is probable. And yet I still have the memory – or perhaps could it be a mirage? A feeling of profound amazement that such a thing could have happened. What reason was there, what logic? Why, why, why? Actually the question was not dictated by fear, but rather by a strong curiosity. Unless, as the psychoanalysts say, my reaction, or my memory, was my subconscious strategy for resisting an unbearable situation.
We went down the stairs to the basement, raising the windows with their frames on every floor, in the middle of a devil of confusion, yet without incurring even a scratch. In the whole of our five storey building no one had been wounded. The bombardment ended about half an hour later, and then my father came home, unhurt, from his office. I remember that in the oven in the kitchen – where, as in the old days, there still was a “spargher”, i.e. a coal-using stove in stone and brick − there was a cake covered in a deep layer of glass shards and dust, which I was sad to see. We had learnt that every time the air raid alarm sounded we had to hurry down to safety.
Sometimes, a second vivid memory from a few weeks later comes to mind. I was on the number 5 tram that went down towards the centre, when another passenger suddenly covered my eyes with his hands. We were passing in front of a car repair centre where the Germans had hung some prisoners as a reprisal against an attack carried out by members of the Resistance the day before. I am still not sure today if I would have wanted to see them. However, I had no other opportunities to personally witness dramatic events at a time and in an area where violence broke every record including the most disastrous ones.
These two events absolutely convinced me of man’s capacity for self-harm, something I have always believed to be not only perfidious, but, what is worse, stupid.