These are few paragraphs of my grandfather’s diary, Luigi Piga, who has been captured, deported and detained for two years in the POW camp Stalag IV B in Mühlberg (Germany). I would like to emphasise how much the actions of the English captain and doctor who visited him several times during his internment made his salvation, because he could rest in the infirmary for few days, even though his food ration was halved, instead of working in the Piesteritz industrial facility. He weighed less than 35 kilograms.
There’s another episode he mentions in his memoirs in which the doctor saves his life again, giving him other days’ rest. His professionality and humanity saved Luigi. I don’t know the captain’s name, who he was and if he survived, but, one day, I wish I’ll have the chance to thank at least his family. Because of him, my grandfather survived, and I can be here to tell you his story. On the right: photo of his memoirs.
For more information regaring IMI (Italian Military Internees) you can check the Website Museo Vite di IMI, many documents and videos are in Italian only, but they have an English section too.
The story of IMI in Italy and abroad is not fully documented yet. For this reason it is vital to collect and study their experience, checking them with the historical events of the War World II and trying to understand the tremendous choice these soldiers made on the Armistice day, when they refused to collaborate with the nazist, who captured and deported them to various concentration camps all over the occupied territories of the Third Reich.
All my strength was gone. I could no longer put on my shirt, but I still had to show up at work, so it was my comrades who dressed me every morning. One day we were ordered to transport iron beams; they were so heavy that we needed four men for each one of them. Most of us were more dead than alive. I really was at the end of my rope. Thank God, two of the Italians in our group still had some strength and, occasionally, they managed to steal something to eat: they gave it to us.
The two of them realised that I could no longer walk and cried out for assistance.
The head of the department arrived shortly afterwards. He made an immediate phone call, but I don’t think he understood what my two comrades told him. Because a guard arrived armed with an iron bar and, without listening to any reason, he started beating an Italian, then another, until he reached me. He left us suffering on the ground, more dead than alive.
For more than a month, my shoulders and head were black due to the heavy beatings. I couldn’t ask for a medical examination because it would have only made the situation worse. All this happened in the first days of February 1944. One day, we managed to steal some turnips and, although they were frozen, we ate them. We were so hungry that we didn’t care. But unfortunately, I got a stomach ache and for ten days I got sick.
No one cared about me, not even when I asked them to help me get a medical examination. I still had to show up for work. One morning, on my way to work, I met another Italian soldier smoking a cigarette made from strong Italian shreds. He did not deny me a puff, but as soon as I had finished inhaling, I fell to the ground. I was too weak.
Only then, they decided that I could have a medical examination. Although my physical condition was obvious, they threatened me. They made me understand that if the doctor had not recognised my condition, I would have been in big trouble when I got back to camp.
You can imagine how I felt as I made my way to the infirmary.
It was snowing that day and a half a metre of snow covered the road. I had a little cart with me, which I had to pull, and five kilometres to walk.
When I arrived, I fell on the ground.
In the infirmary, there were more than a hundred prisoners of all races and colours. But we were all in the same condition.
When my turn came, I entered the visiting room, where I met the English captain, the doctor, who had visited me sometime before. This time he spoke to me in Italian, made me undress and asked me about my condition.
I answered him with a few words, telling him that it would have been enough to look at me to make a diagnosis. Indeed, he immediately made me get dressed.
My body was just skin and bones. When the English doctor made me get on the scales, the needle didn’t go beyond 35 kilograms.
Next to me was an interpreter from another camp, and as I didn’t know the results of the examination yet, I asked him if he could sneak a peek at the register. He was kind, and when the guards loosened their surveillance, he was able to take a look. He whispered that the English doctor gave me seven days’ rest.
My breathing became regular again. I kept thinking about what would have happened if the outcome had been different, about my return to camp and all the beatings I would have taken.
Luigi Piga – February 1944