Riots of 53 - Corriere di Trieste
This is an account of the riots and their causes by Sig Petruzzi who was a member of Special branch VGPF
Il Corriere di TriesteChapter VIII
Memories of a “Cerino”.
Grassi: Sig. Petruzzi, you served from 1950 to 1954 in the Civil Police of the Free Territory of Trieste. In which division? What were your duties?
Petruzzi: In those years I was stationed in Piazza Dalmazia with the C.I.D.(Criminal Investigation Division) and more precisely in the Special Squadron of the Uniformed Division: this was a squad of eight persons who carried out their services in civilian clothes for the performance of special tasks. We carried out a service of control and coordination on the political questions: so therefore we made investigations of a political character, gathering information of all types on local personages and foreigners resident in Zone ‘A’. My superior was a Mr. ‘A’ who reported directly to a Colonel Hopkins. Therefore, all that we carried out was done in parallel and in colloboration with the Field Security Office. The Field Security Office was the counter-espionage for the security of the British troops. We were the Triestine arm of the security services. ‘A’ entrusted us with these tasks and we had to refer the results of our investigations directly and exclusively to him. The secrecy of our tasks was absolute, so much so that even on the interior of the squad we were forbidden to talk about our investigations: one worked in “closed” compartments. Even the rest of the Civil Police knew nothing at all of who were members of the Special Squad.
Grassi: Did you know of the “Trieste Courier”? Did you ever collect information on the editors or on any journalist of the independent daily newspaper?
Petruzzi: I have done investigations on Carolus Cergoly, to get deeper information. I found an ex-partisan of the Garibaldi Brigade and he gave me some information. I can say, that as a partisan, Cergoly, in principal, ran away from the Germans; he never had a big role and he kept away from the rest of the group. Of the “Trieste Courier”, it was known that it was financed by a political centre in Lubiana which kept an eye on the happenings in Trieste. Other than that I can’t say much.
I can, in any case, tell you an anecdote that I happened to hear and which regards the offices of the Fronte dell’Independenza (Independence Front).
Do you know why the demonstrators assaulted the Independence by the windows in Corso Italia, climbing up to the first floor, instead of going through the front door? It was because there were always 3 armed policemen on the stairs; and, in 1953, the corporal who was present there had opened fire on the demonstrators who tried to get up the stairs.
In those days I was always present at the demonstrations and actually underneath the Independence Front offices I assisted at a significant scene. A grey Fiat 1400 arrived from which descended ‘B’ – well known in nationalist circles – shouting and screaming against the police who were abusing the children. There was also a Major Williams: without batting an eyelid he replied that they were also abusing the adults: and with his officer’s stick he hit ‘B’ on the head and wounded him. For this action, obviously, he was called up in front of Colonel Hopkins, and it was actually me who got the orders to go and get him in the barracks in San Sabba to take him back for his interview. In the films of the disturbances of 1953, you can see an English soldier who gets beaten and then knocked down by the crowd on the steps of S.Antonio Nuovo: right, that soldier was the Major Williams.
Grassi: What do you remember of the hottest moments of the first years of the fifties?
Petruzzi: Already in’52 there was a feeling of possible damgerous situations; we had orders to stay on our guard. We had to keep an eye on certain noted personnages. We were given a long list of names, some of which were then mixed up in the demonstrations. Amongst these, there was also Francesco Paglia, who then died in 1953, in the other and more grave disturbances in the city.
Properly in ’53 however, things changed substantially for us in the Civil Police: for the first time, in October of that year, the patrols had to move around armed with carbines all day, something which previously happened only on night shifts from 2300 until 0700 hours. Naturally we were all alarmed by this new state of affairs, which seemed to signify that the command was in possession of preoccupying information for the security of the citizens. A telegram which was sent to Bartoli was intercepted in which the President of the Council, Pella, recommended that incidents in the squares should be avoided, in as much as there were in course delicate negotiations on the future of the city. It seemed therefore, that the biggest problems could arise here in Trieste: shortly afterwards we learned instead that it was from Italy that the dangerous personages arrived and that through the Office No.5 of the Ministry of the Interior, came the money for the local agitators, such as, for example, the Circle of Cavana for the Defence of Italianity. And there are papers signed by Andreotti in which appear the accounts for the expenses incurred: for persons, for vehicles. With these monies they also paid for the fuel for the Lambrettas which chased up and down the streets of the city with the tricoloour flags.
Grassi: What can you tell me about the demonstrations in the squares in 1952 and 1953? At that time, as an agent of the Civil Police, how did you see and judge them?
Petruzzi: They were all demonstrations organised in which a minority were those who committed acts of violence. And also, naturally, they were exploited. For instance, when the Giornale di Trieste (Trieste newspaper) ran a title that a peaceful trader had been savagely attacked and then when you read the name of the trader you discovered that it was ‘C’, that is, an individual who got money from the No.5 Office of the Italian Ministry of the Interior. ‘C’ had a garage where all the demonstrators went for fuel with the Lambrettas and the few vehicles of the protestors. When the city was returned to Italy, anyway, he finished quickly in prison. Then I also remember ‘D’, ex-Social Republican, was directing from the outside certain things, he was one of the chiefs: then, I recall ‘E’, another one we kept under observation. And another, ‘F’ a troublemaker. They were persons who gave an appearance of brave citizens, but who were, really, true and proper delinquents paid with the money from the No.5 Office. In the lists which were subsequently found in a cupboard in Rome, there were reported their requests. In one record was recorded that they asked for fast vehicles, 40 pistols and at least 2 million lire. At that time, our squad did not have in their hands those papers, but the rumours went round and we already knew a lot. Not really precisely but sufficiently to know who to keep an eye on. In conclusion, of the demonstrations in the Squares, one found this sort of individual, certainly not idealists.
Grassi: So for you of the CID, the climate in November 1953 was, therefore, particularly heated?
Petruzzi: Yes, the climate was really tense; all leave had been suspended, all the agents had been recalled to service. Just think: we had received orders to always go out in pairs, even in civilian clothes, always armed and with a bullet in the chamber, making sure not to be seen in certain streets where we could be recognised and where we risked becoming isolated and therefore in danger, One day I was with a colleague, ‘G’, -- since emigrated to Australia -- in Piazza della Borsa (Stock Exchange square). There where there used to be the underground public baths. A demonstration was taking place: a motor-cyclist, carrying orders was crossing, coming down from the Corso Italia; he was knocked off his bike and fell to the ground. The motorcycle was set on fire and there are photographs of what happened.
Then the crowd encircled the motorcyclist who, frightened, pulled out his Colt .45 and fired just a little over their heads to frighten the crowd and give him space enough to escape. He managed to hide himself in the Prefettura. I fired in the direction of the demonstrators, amongst whom we ourselves had become mixed; then, to get to safety, we jumped over the balustrade and down the stairs of the baths and my colleaqgue dropped his pistol: another man who had escaped with us said to my colleague, “hey mister, you’ve dropped it”. Not for nothing surprised. I had mistaken that person for one of the demonstrators. In those days the climate in Trieste had degenerated. There was a person who was called Negus because of his dark skin: my friend ‘H’, whom we called Max, was born in Bologna of an Italian mother and an English father, spoke perfectly many languages and was a non-commissioned officer of the Field Security Service. With the tricoloour flag around his neck and the card of an accredited journalist for the paper of the extreme right “L’Asso di Bastoni” (the Ace of Clubs), he moved around amongst the most dangerous groups of Cavana and the Viale; calling them comrades, he photographed them one by one with his Rollieflex. Thus we listed them all, but meanwhile Negus made us take one of him showing him as proud, to the objective with bombs in his hands. One of thos bombs was certainly exploded during th confrontations of ’53 in Piazza Unita`, in front of the Prefecture, and shattered the foot of a policeman. In that moment American soldiers were eating in the courtyard inside the Palace; at the explosion of the bomb they immediately closed the door thinking of an assault on the Prefecture and leaving outside the two frightened policemen on guard. These then opened fire in the square, receiving the munitions from the soldiers on the inside. One of thse was an ex-partisan of the Osoppo, ‘I’. He was one of the best shots in the Corps; with every one of his shots from his carbine, one of the demonstrators fell. I personally, went to take away the bodies of the dead and wounded to the hospital. I remember Francesco Paglia, one of four fallen in Piazza Unita`: he had 35 gunshot wounds. He had stolen a carbine during the assaults on the wagons of the Police, and, behind a column in front of the Café` degli Specchi, shot at the Prefecture. From there, replying to his firing, they had hit him many times. The English soldiers instead, had drawn a cordon in front of the Municipal building and with loudspeakers were advising that that zone was forbidden and whoever passed a white line on the ground would be shot. Manzi had gone over that line and an English soldier opened fire. In that moment the angloamericans had assigned colours to show-up the dangerousness of the actions of the demonstrators: action yellow, action red and action black. With action black, which was the highest level of danger, the army had to intervene and at that moment we were in action black with the English and American soldiers on the streets.
An anecdote, little known, but in which I assisted personally, ocurred in the Corso where, from a balcony we came under fire from a pistol, probably a 6.35. At this, from the roof of the AMG, the head of the Corps of Guards of the Palace – who was an ex-soldier of the San Marco battalion who was called ‘J’ – replied to the firing with a carbine. On the balcony the 6.35 stopped firing: we never learnt anything of what had happened to whoever had done the firing. Probably he was included amongst the many wounded in that demonstration. I think that all thse acts were intended to put the dead on the table of the diplomatic negotiatios, to show that the situation in Trieste was unsustainable, that the AMG was not able to maintain public order and that the city wanted to be returned to Italy.
Grassi: Certain journalistic chroniclers and many Italian politicians have accused the Civil Police and the Anglo-American soldiers of having reacted disproportionately against the demonstrators. What do you think?
Petruzzi: It is very easy to criticize and condemn the police and the soldiers who have fired in those difficult days. Too often it is forgotten that those were moments in which the police were attacked without remorse and with every means, hand grenades included.
Grassi: It is said that there have been made threats against those agents of the Civil Police particularly involved in the encounters in the Piazza during 1953.
Petruzzi: Also in this case it is enough for me to recall that properly on the interior of the Civil Police there is a list published of those agents who had fired during the demonstrations.
So, in “Il Piccolo”, there appeared the names and surnames of those agents and the number of shots fired from their arms.
Grassi: The renowned journalist Tullio Mayer has spoken of a sort of a clearing out of the Civil Police on the return of Trieste to Italy in 1954. What can you tell me of that?
Petruzzi: To become a member of the Corps of Civil Police of the AMG it was not necessary to be Italian, but enough to be a stable resident of Trieste. Therefore, when Trieste returnd to Italy many colleagues were confronted by a dilemma: leave the Corps and pass over to the role of a civilian. Others, that’s to say those born outside Trieste, have very quickly had to change jobs.
I want, however, to record an important factor. In 1953, we have certainly carried out investigations on members of the Civil Police, on those colleagues who formed part of the Committee for the Defence of Italianity and who had a design to partake in an eventual uprising against the AMG. There had been stalking and following on foot: we had discovered that they were having meetings in an apartment in Vis Udine. Thus, with a microphone dropped down the pipes of the washing room of the apartment on the next floor above we recorded all their conversations. Those colleagues involved in the investigations carried out service with the Police Headquarters of the TLT in Via XXX Ottobre, near to the church of S.Antonio Nuovo; they were for the most part, ex-agents of the Security Forces of the Italian Kingdom and ex-carabinieri. The clashes in front of S.Antonio were amply preordined, so much so that the Council had also started to initiate in advance the digging up work at the church, in order to furnish the demonstrators with the stones for throwing. Thus, in the case that the demonstrators might be able to gain entrance into the Police Headquarters, these agents were ready to occupy the offices and to put under arrest the other agents opposed to this surprise attack. Our squad already knew the intentions of the demonstrators so well that for a while, our superior ‘A’ had secreted himself in the Armoury and had removed the barrels of all the pistols which were kept in the Armoury, replacing them afterwards back on their rails as if nothing had occurred. Therefore, these arms were unserviceable. When Italy took over the town, they torpedoed him with a low trick: he was officially separated from his wife and was in a relationship with another woman. Nothing inconvenient therefore, but they invited him to resign for immoral conduct. Se he too went to Australia. Instead ‘A’ was an upright person. He had a lot of medals on his uniform and had concluded with success, many investigations.
Grassi: Always because of what happened in the clashes of 1953, many chroniclers have given an unfavourable image of General Winterton. What do you remember of him? What kind of man was he?
Petruzzi: I did six months service at AMG Headquarters. I remember that Winterton arrived punctually every day at eight: got down from his black Humber with the English flag and the red plate with the General’s two stars. The guards on the doors saluted him and he responded always with an impeccable salute, taking his pipe from his mouth. Instead, when he arrived in civilian clothes, with his tweed jacket, he always showed his pass like any other soldier, even though everyone knew him well. He had been the Governor of Ceylon, not just another somebody. When he had received the command of the TLT, he had had precise orders to be impartial in the management of the delicate Triestine situation. Winterton was a military man and as such had to carry out the orders he received from the British Government. Notwithstanding that which certain journalists had written against him, Winterton was really and truly in love with our city, he really liked it and he came back afterwards in private.
Grassi: A great scandal arose with the notice that arms had been found in certain parts of the city. How did you people of the Special Squad conduct the investigations?
Petruzzi: Strangely, the Field Security Service gave us orders not to insist in searching for information and those responsible: they knew that there was an organisation – semi-clandestine - on the part of the Italians to oppose any eventual entry by force of the Jugoslav forces into Trieste.
For the English, renowned as double-dealers, this situation was ideal: the practically had another armed force available without being responsible.
However, even if less excitable, facts which were kept under wraps, I remember a few. For example, during a reunion of the X Mas at the beginning of 1953, with Valerio Borghese at the Rossetti Theatre, two activists, known and identified by the Rome Police HQ as dangerous agitastors were wounded by an SRCM bomb which they were carrying and which slipped out of their hands. Even so, as if in a dream, after a few days nobody spoke about this preoccupying fact of news.
But Trieste was also the epicentre of trafficking of every type. Individuals suspected of coming, from all kinds of places, were walking around without documents and with false docunments. I remember one night a man not known to us, crossed the frontier at Basovizza. A truck of the Field Security Service was waiting for him: they took him to town and on the the next day, with his safe-conduct pass ready and in perfect legality, he embarked on a ship which sailed for Australia with 1000 pounds sterling in his pockets. Who was he? None of us knew. I only know though, that 1000 pounds in one lump sum I have never seen.
Another morning I controlled the documents of two displaced persons: one of our cars had found them whilst they were wandering about in the middle of Via Carducci and had brought them into the district office. I also remember that one of them was wearing a trenchcoat of cloth of a very deep ochre colour. When I interrogated them I asked if they had any arms. This one opened his trenchcoat and tranquilly showed me that underneath he had a machine-gun! Incomprehensibly, nobody had asked him before if he was carrying any arms: thus, he had spent the night in the barracks armed to the teeth! Some days later I learnt that they were two people of note, and all the telexes of the Services of the world were talking of them.
Another time I had to search for information for a displaced person who requested permission for a holiday in TLT. He was a general of the ex-army of King Peter, by name Giuro Giuraskovic. Later I learned that he was the local responsible of the United States Secret Services for Jugoslavia.
Grassi: Do you remember any particular news you collected during the elections of 1952?
Petruzzi: We always tried to keep under observation the “filotitina” (titino is the pejorative word used in referring to the Slovene inhabitants of Trieste) communists, because some informers had told us that there was a project to strike at some election seats and destroy the urns where it was presumed that the votes would go against them: all to invalidate the elections, obviously. In any case, properly for that particular Triestine situation, as well as for all the information we had, the vigilance for the seats was strict and, fortunately, nothing happened.
Grassi: Can you tell me any anecdote on the many public meetings which took place during the electoral campaigns of those years? I imagine you must have attended plenty?
Petruzzi: I assisted at many meetings….. I recall now the meeting by Terracini in the Piazza dell’Unita`. In 1949 there were no Civil Police: as spectators, however, I can say positively that meeting was boycotted by all kinds of means, so much so that Terracini risked almost being lynched. Only afterwards when I entered the Corps, did I find that that meeting had had a tragic consequence obviously less well known. A policeman who, it appears, had insulted Terracini during the meeting, was killed a few days later at San Giacomo, by, it was said, some communist activist.
I also recall a meeting in Piazza Garibaldi by Vittorio Vidali: on that occasion the DC, had had posted some posters in which they remembered that, during the war in Spain, in a convent one night, a thousand nuns of the order had been raped by the 5th Regiment, commanded by one Commandante Carlos, alias Vittorio Vidali. At that meting Vidali himself said to those who were listening: “Have you read that? a thousand nuns, and with friendly gestures, and in one night!” and the laughs echoed round the square: he had not undergone any grand education but he was an able orator and an astute poltician. He was very convincing when speaking. In ’53 the Italian and Jugoslav troops were lined up facing each other along the border of the TLT: we knew that Vidali had been to see ‘de Castro’ and he had referred to the fact that he was putting his arms at Vidali’s disposition. But did the arms really exist? or did he have to give them later on to him? However it might be, his actions were guessed at, putting a lot of the other local politicians in agitation. Obviously he was a nuisance and had many enemies. For this reason his meetings were armoured with an exceptional security from the party: he also had a bodyguard who was called ‘K’; we knew he was armed with a Walther P38 but we had orders not to go and bother him. Vidali also had his pistol, and he always kept his hand on it in the right hand pocket of his trousers. ‘L’ at Skofije during a meeting, also tried to shoot him. ‘L’ was one of those who, with an arrogant action, carried out the attempted shooting in Via d’Azeglio and had also escaped capture by the Germans.
I remember that I have heard of, always by reason of my service, another meeting with Vittorio Vidali: if I’m not mistaken it was the one of 25 October 1954. On that occasion he affirmed:
“Remember this! the Italian soldiers who will tomorrow arrive in Trieste, are not the sons of burocratic Italy, of a fascist and imperialistic Italy, but are the sons of those Italians who have voted in the elections of 1948 at 45 per cent for the Popular Front”, and there was great applause. Because, when in 1918 there arrived the Bersaglieri, the Trieste people threw them kisses and flowers, but following the arrival of Italy there also arrived the burocracy, which ruined the climate of great joy. The older people always said: the let-down and the contrast with the Austrian administration of correctness and exactness was enormous and caused by the rabble of the burocrats, in the main Southerners, sent by Rome, who have arrived in Venezia-Giulia almost like conquerors and with the spirit of bosses.
Then there was the fascism and finally the war: all the climate of discontent has been spilt by nostalgic people, including Cergoly. Thus during the immediate after-war, the independnt parties have acquired a certain weight.
Grassi: What is your judgement of the Triestine independence movement?
Petruzzi: The Free Territory would have been the fortune of Trieste, with its free port which would have attracted capital coming from all parts of the world. Instead, the fraternal hug from Italy was too tight. The reality is the reality. Italy already had Genoa and Venice in the north. Trieste as a port was not wanted, it was only an ideal question: a political move by the parties of the government to play in the elections. It happened to me, personally: in Rome, when they knew I was from Trieste, they asked me if I could take a parcel to Trento. And I, astonished, smilingly gave them the reply: “but look, the bridge is long!” Instead, they were convinced that the two cities were near to one another. And at that time the number plate TS was on my car. “Where do you come from?” they asked. And I, who had understood the hint, replied seriously: “From Trebisonda”.
Trieste, in 1954, was literally floundering about. Now we can say that the sixty years of darkness have passed because with the opening of the frontiers, has also reopened those economic and social possibilities which were sleeping in all those years. But above all, the Free Territory would have been a good possibility for saving the saveable. That is to say, we would have saved the Italians of Istria, the zone of Capodistria at Cittanova, where the coast was mainly Italian.
The interior was populated by Croations, but they were already absorbed enough by the Italian culture: it was in practice an Italian enclave. Making the Free Territory would have lost nothing. Instead, the cost has been truly too high.
Grassi: One last question. Have you ever voted for a party of independence?
Petruzzi: Yes, in those years I voted for independence: I voted for the TLT. And it wasn’t because I was afraid of losing my post, as certain propaganda would have it, but because I shared that vision, that particular point of view. It could not have been otherwise: in the Civil Police there were people of every ethnic group and from the more disparate past:
Italians, Slovenes and Germans, ex-republicans, ex-partisans, ex-soldiers from the Wehrmacht. But in the Civil Police, as elsewhere in all cities, it was like that. And there was never, in fact, a problem, becasuse we worked together well.