SAY GOODBYE TO MY MOTHER. TELL HER I LOVE HER.
At 6 am, gunfire cracked into the air drowning out the other sounds of dawn. A single bullet ripped into the children’s bedroom, and the noise reverberating above their heads beat upon their ears, throwing them into a fit of screams.
Everything around Maria felt like it was moving in slow motion as she barreled down the hallway.
“Get down! Get down on the floor!”
“Mama!” Lilia cried out. She had instinctively thrown her body over her three brothers, who trembled and whimpered beneath her.
Outside, one of Arturo’s closest friends, Pietro, had been walking next to his cow-trailed wagon, headed towards his family’s farm. As an only child, he was exempt from military service. The village square was lined with jeeps and surrounded by SS and Gestapo officers. They’d received the alert that partisans had been spotted in high numbers. Upon seeing the men up ahead, armed with machine guns, Pietro had panicked, abandoned his wagon, and bolted towards Maria’s house.
Maria heard the gate rattle open, and Germans shouting in the courtyard. More bullets fired overhead.
Maria’s shrill cries echoed as she flew down the stairs, her arms flailing madly. “Oh, dear God, help us!” She flung the front door open, gasping for air. Maria watched in horror as the SS dragged the young man through the soil of her garden by his feet. The saliva thickened in Maria’s throat as the soldiers beat the boy ruthlessly with the butt of their guns and kicked him repeatedly with their boots. Gore sprayed across his teeth and lips until he was virtually unrecognizable.
“Pietro!” Maria cried out to him. His hands clawed the earth in desperation, and his screams were choked by blood. His eyes pierced Maria’s heart, and she knew that she would never forget them.
“Maria! Say goodbye to my mama. Tell her I love her,” he managed to sputter out.
His wailing receded into a whimper as the Germans pulled him onto the street.
Maria sank to her knees as she watched the soldiers take her son’s friend away. Shutters inched open as neighbors craned to watch the chaos unfold before them. What had only been the terrain of nightmares was now a daily occurrence in this once safe and peaceful haven.
“Why did you run?” Maria’s weeping wouldn’t cease as she asked the single question over and over again. A silent scream inflated her body. It was for Pietro, for Arturo, for Erminio, for Virginio. For the tragic fate that had befallen so many innocent men and their families.