12 January 2021

Comfort women for soldiers: Ciociare women also await justice

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"She lay on the gutted cushions, still young, her skirt up to her face, an ashen face framed by beautiful black hair. The blacks, big and thick, methodically worked that woman open by force, now silent and inert, who had long since stopped moaning under the violent thrusts. There was no respite between one man and another. There were more than a hundred of them, with their trousers down and the rod in their hands, waiting for their turn. An officer stood by the door". (from Les Eaux Mortes by Frédéric Jacques Temple, a soldier in the French army).

The news is of these days: After an eight-year trial, a Korean court has ordered Japan to pay compensation to 12 women kidnapped during World War II and forced into prostitution for Japanese troops.

A historic judgmentMany of the protagonists of these horrors are dead, others are now very old, but they have never given up in their demand for justice, for recognition by the Japanese government of the evil inflicted on them, forced to act as 'comforters' for the fighters in a war not wanted by women. The tenacity of these elderly women, who have been protesting for years in front of the Japanese Embassy, has been unanimously supported by the Korean people who rallied around their daughters and sisters, listened to them in their pain and raised their anger.

The money will not turn back the clock, it will not restore the youth of these women, who have been violated in an unholy way, but it will constitute an acknowledgement of the wrong done to them by identifying the perpetrators, the guilty.

Happy with this historic ruling, we Italians cannot help but remember our many sisters. even more unfortunate than the Koreans because they were unheard and re-victimised, the victims of the Ciocian 'Marocchinate' of May 1944.

German resistance to the advance of the Allied troops was particularly tenacious in the Frusinate area, and the French command granted the goumierssoldiers of Moroccan origin fighting on the front line, the 'right' to plunder the countryside around Cassino. Sources speak of 11,000 men from the North African colonies, who for 50 hours were responsible for unspeakable massacres, especially of women of all ages, girls and old women, who were horribly raped. The men who tried to fight back were also massacred, and the parish priest of the village of Esperia was horribly martyred.

After this bloodbath, the silence, the shame, the removal of what happened, the diseases, the syphilis, the hidden pregnancies, the abortions, the abandoned children, the mental illness of those who could not return to life and went mad with horror.

It was a women's issue, the inevitable price to pay for History decided and made by men. In the euphoria of the post-war period, with new political scenarios and new alliances, the 'liberators' could not be portrayed as butchers and murderers. The drama of thousands of poor peasant women was quickly silenced out of 'modesty'. Those who succeeded put the horror behind them, moved to Rome and hid the event as if it had never happened. They had to get married, return to a "respectable" life, entire families left their native villages, where everyone knew, where everyone had seen.

The state did not help these women, they were never granted moral damages, they were not treated as war victims. Only paltry pensions in the face of humiliating, guilt-ridden, merciless medical and fiscal evaluations. Witnesses were needed, complaints to public authorities, red tape. Women's things, of little importance. And then the silence, not speaking, not saying, hiding. The history books are silent about this 'shame', which fell on the shoulders of those who had suffered it, and the politics of removal plays its part.

The memory of those years, however, remains with the PCI deputy Maria Maddalena Rossi, President of the UDI, Constituent Mother, on the night of 7 April 1952 (sic!) he managed to get a parliamentary question on the inexcusable delays in aid, compensation and health care for the victims of the 'marocchinate' of 1944 put on the agenda: 60,000 in the province of Frosinone alone requests for compensation and damages, of which only a fraction had been dealt with, with sporadic, ineffective, blame-shifting interventions towards those who had lived through an experience that had been "worse than death".

A year earlier, many of these women, peasants who had come down from the mountains on purpose, had come to Pontecorvo to talk, to tell their tragedy, but the public authorities tried to block the meeting (called by Rossi herself) because it was 'contrary to public morality'.. There were 500 of them, who came from all over lower Lazio, humble women who never imagined they would have to speak in public about a horror that had united them all.

But Undersecretary Tessitori replied that it was a mourning like any other, like that of someone who had lost a husband, a son at the front. "How can you tell that Ella is not a woman!"Ms Rossi replied.

Five years later Alberto Moravia wrote one of his masterpieces, La Ciociaralater made immortal by the film directed by Vittorio De Sica with an extraordinary Sophia Loren who won an Oscar for this masterful performance.

And then? And then those who survived made do as best they could.. Those who managed to rebuild their lives, those who died in the meantime, of pain, of madness, of the physical consequences of the violence, of syphilis, just as the children of those horrors died, aborted, abandoned, killed as soon as they were born, or their health undermined. Some money came in, but not much, begging from France, which has always taken a denialist line on this issue. (supported not only by historians, but also by emeritus cardinals such as Eugéne Tisserant), and little money from the Italian state, which has always denied the moral damage of this tragedy.

From being a worldwide drama, the Moroccan attacks have gradually been reduced to a national, local and private matter. It is an increasingly faint memory that has been forgotten by history and ignored by the younger generations, who have never heard of it outside Ciociaria, either in the family or at school.

In the meantime, the laws have changed: in Italy, since 1996, rape has been a crime against the person and no longer against morals, while after the horrors of the Balkan War, these 'war incidents' are now ascribed to the category of crimes against humanity.

It was only last year that, after 75 years, a victim of the 1944 Marocchinate was awarded moral damages. It is bitter that the news was only given by the local media and the right-wing press, which, especially in Rome, has made this tragedy one of its strong points, paradoxically helping to make a page of history that everyone should know even more taboo.

So what are the differences between the historical Korean sentence, which has spread all over the world, and the fate of women from Ciocia? They are in the word.

There the pain was given voiceto the shame of being revictimised, not believed: there the horror was in fact shared by an entire countrywomen were accompanied for decades in front of the Japanese Embassy to demand accountability. Those women were treated as sisters, mothers and grandmothers to everyone, and when their pain finds a voice it becomes something different than before, it becomes strength, anger, dignity, courage.

Very little has been done in Italy If we exclude the political commitment of the Constituent Mother Rossi and the artistic commitment of Moravia, De Sica and Loren, a collective fact has become private, very private, silent and lacerating, it has become a repressed, a taboo. The very few public initiatives that have taken place over the last few years have been supported almost exclusively by the right wing.

We take the historical Korean ruling as a cue to remind the younger generation of what happened in our grandmothers' time. Women's stories, stories (no longer) of little importance.  

Here is the link to the parliamentary records of the question raised by Maria Maddalena Rossi on 7 April 1952.

Anna Perenna

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