The following experience is about the first brother to face the issue of Christian neutrality in Italy, and related info regarding his court trials and imprisonment (which included being placed in a mental asylum) and info regarding how the ministry work initially got started in Italy during those early years (pgs 117-128, 1982 Yearbook)
(illustration on page 127 of the 1982 Yearbook)
In 1891 a certain American traveler stopped off at Pinerolo (situated in one of the picturesque valleys in the Cottian Alps, known as the “Waldensian Valleys”) during his first series of visits to Europe. He was Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society.
There at Pinerolo he met Professor Daniele Rivoire, a Waldensian who taught languages at the Waldensian cultural center of Torre Pellice. Though Professor Rivoire never became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he showed much interest in spreading the Bible’s message as explained in the Watch Tower Society’s publications. A few years passed, and in the meantime, Fanny Lugli, a Waldensian of San Germano Chisone, near Pinerolo, received a book called “The Divine Plan of the Ages” from relatives in America. By 1903 she had recognized the book’s contents as being the truth and was conducting meetings with a small group of persons at her home.
Moreover, around 1903 Professor Rivoire translated the book The Divine Plan of the Ages into Italian. He had the book printed at his own expense at the Tipografia Sociale in 1904. This was before an Italian edition of the book came out in the United States. In his 1904 edition, Professor Rivoire wrote the following note to its readers: “We place this first Italian edition under the Lord’s protection. May he bless it, so that, in spite of its imperfections, it may contribute to magnify his most holy name and encourage his Italian-speaking children to greater devotion.” Jehovah did bless the outcome of this book’s distribution.
Professor Rivoire also began to translate Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence into Italian. It was published quarterly in 1903 and was printed at Pinerolo. Interestingly, the magazine was distributed through the regular channels to the chief newsagents in the most important provincial centers. During this same period, Clara Cerulli Lantaret and Giosuè Vittorio Paschetto also came to a knowledge of the truth, and Remigio Cuminetti joined them a few years later.
A Congregation Formed
In 1908 the first congregation of Jehovah’s modern-day servants was formed in Italy. The meetings were held on Thursday evenings at Pinerolo, in Piazza Montebello 7, the home of Sister Cerulli, and on Sunday afternoons at Gondini near San Germano Chisone, at Sister Lugli’s.
When Brother Russell came back to Italy in 1912 to visit the only existing congregation, there were about 40 persons attending the meetings. At that time the work was superintended by the Swiss branch office of the Watch Tower Society, and this arrangement continued until 1945. Sister Cerulli, who could speak English and French as well as Italian, represented the Swiss branch in Italy.
(illustration of Fanny Lugli's home -pg 119)
Brother Cuminetti’s Court Trial
Italy’s entry into the war, in May 1915, marked the beginning of a very difficult time for one member of the congregation, Brother Remigio Cuminetti. When he was drafted for military service, he decided to maintain his neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4; John 15:19) This meant that he would have to go on trial before the Military Tribunal at Alessandria. Sister Clara Cerulli attended the trial and sent a detailed report about it to Brother Giovanni DeCecca at Brooklyn Bethel, knowing that he always was interested in what was going on in the Italian field. Her letter, dated September 19, 1916, is an authentic account of what took place:
My dear brother in Christ,
I feel I should write without delay to tell you the good news of how our dear brother, Remigio Cuminetti, took a firm stand for the faith and gave a good witness during his trial at Alessandria. Sister Fanny Lugli and I had the great privilege of attending the trial and being upbuilt by the open confession of our brother’s firm faith. The Judge repeatedly tried to trap our brother into some admission or other but Remigio was never once confused. Here is an account of what was said at the trial:
JUDGE: ‘I warn you that you are on trial before this Tribunal on a serious charge and yet you look as though you had something to laugh about!’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘I cannot help my facial expression. The joy I feel in my heart must be reflected on my face.’
JUDGE: ‘Why do you refuse to put on a military uniform and serve in the defense of your country?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘I am here before the Court because of my refusal to wear a military uniform, that is all. I am not guilty of any other offense. I feel it is unseemly for one of God’s sons to wear a uniform that stands for hatred and war! For the same reason I refuse to wear an armband and work in a factory taking part in the war effort. I prefer to be branded as one of God’s sons by acting peaceably towards my neighbor.’
JUDGE: ‘Do you admit to stripping down to your underwear when you were in prison at Cuneo?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘Yes, Your Honor, it is true. Three times I was forced to put a uniform on and three times I took it off again. My conscience rebels against the idea of doing harm to my neighbor. I am ready to give my life for the good of others but I shall never lift a finger to harm my fellowman, because God, through his Holy Spirit, instructs us to love and not hate our neighbor.’
JUDGE: ‘What kind of education did you have?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘That has little importance. I have studied the Bible!’
JUDGE: ‘Answer the questions I put to you. For how long did you attend school?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘For three years, but I repeat that this has little importance compared to my training in the school of Christ!’
JUDGE: ‘It is a pity you came into contact with certain people [indicating Sister Lugli and myself] who have led you into wrong ways. [Deprecatingly] How long have you studied this book you call “Bible”?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘For six years and my only regret is that I did not begin before!’
JUDGE: ‘Who teaches you this new religion?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘God himself teaches his own. More mature students have helped me to understand Bible truths, but only God can open our eyes of understanding.’
JUDGE: ‘Do you comprehend the seriousness of your disobedient conduct? Will your decision be strong enough to face up to the consequences?’
BROTHER CUMINETTI: ‘Yes, I am sure it will. I am ready to face whatever might happen. Even if I should be condemned to death, I shall never violate the promise I have made to serve the Lord to the full.’
"After this the Public Prosecutor asked for a sentence of four years four months for Brother Cuminetti and then it was the turn of the Defense to speak. The lawyer rose to his feet and gave a marvelous witness regarding our brother’s attitude, saying that, rather than being given a prison sentence, such a man should be admired for his courage and faithfulness to his God. It was pointed out that the accused did not want to violate his conscience by going against the Bible command not to kill. He was acting in obedience to the Divine Law.
After this the judges withdrew for five minutes and then returned to the courtroom to read the sentence. ‘Remigio Cuminetti is condemned to three years and two months’ imprisonment for treason against the King and the laws of the land.’ Our brother thanked them with a radiant smile on his face! Then the Judge asked him if he had anything further to say. Remigio replied, ‘I should have a great deal to say about God’s love and his marvelous purpose for mankind.’ At this the Judge testily retorted, ‘We have already heard enough on that score. I repeat the question. Have you anything further to declare with regard to the sentence?’
‘No,’ replied our brother, his face alight with fervor, ‘I repeat that I am ready to give my life for the good of others but I shall not lift a finger to harm my fellowman!’
This was the end of the trial. Sister Fanny Lugli and I had the privilege of speaking to our dear brother. Everyone admired him. Even the judges were amazed by his humble attitude mixed with the courage..."
“The Odyssey Of A Conscientious Objector”
What followed the court trial is in itself another story. So remarkable was it that years later it was recounted by the periodical L’Incontro in its issue of July/August 1952.
The following extracts are from the article, entitled “The Odyssey of a Conscientious Objector During World War I”:
“This Witness was Remigio Cuminetti, born at Porte di Pinerolo in 1890. . . .
“However, when war broke out the engineering factory [the RIV of Villar Perosa] was incorporated into the war effort and workers were required to wear an armband and consider themselves as under the military authority. Cuminetti could have accepted to do this and remain a civilian. If he had done so he would have been spared the trials he had to bear afterward. As a specialized worker he could have had permanent call-up deferment, but he immediately thought to himself, ‘Having dedicated my life to God, can I continue to do his will and, at the same time, contribute to the war effort? Although indirectly, I should be disobeying the commandments, “Do not kill,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Aren’t the Germans and Austrians my neighbors just as much as the French, English and Russians?’ To this straightforward man the answer appeared to be obvious and clear-cut . . .
“When his age-group was drafted for military service he stuck to his convictions and refused to join the army. As a result, he was arrested again and tried before the Military Tribunal of Alessandria. He was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment [actually three years and two months] and sent to the military prison of Gaeta . . . However, the military authorities thought it unfair that he should quietly spend his time in prison while his fellow countrymen were risking their lives on the battlefield! . . . They decided to take him out of prison and send him to the military command where he would be forced to become a soldier and fight for his country . . . once there, he refused to put a uniform on and was left out in the yard in his shirt.
“After spending some time in this condition amid the general derision of his companions, he thought the matter over and decided that just wearing certain clothing would not make a soldier out of him. He reasoned that no one could be considered a soldier or be subjected to military discipline if he did not attach the stars to his jacket. So, he put the uniform on without the stars and no one ever succeeded in making him attach them to his collar. They sent him back to prison and from there he was transferred to a mental institution because the authorities decided he must be out of his mind. Since he was as capable of reasoning as anyone else, the Head of the institution could not classify him as mentally deranged and passed him on to his regiment once more. In view of his determined refusal to wear military stars or do any kind of military service he landed back in prison before long. So it was that several months went by between prison and the mental institution.
“Finally, he was sent back to his regiment, and this time a certain army major decided to break his resistance once and for all. One day he ordered him at gunpoint to take his weapons and go into the trenches. Cuminetti . . . knew that this major had already killed a number of soldiers for much lesser offenses, . . . so he was sure that his moment had come. Nevertheless, he calmly refused to touch the weapons. Then the major told two other soldiers to prepare a kit bag for him, put it on his back and buckle a bandoleer, saber, and so forth around his waist. After having dressed him up in this fashion the major again threatened him with his revolver and ordered him to go out to the lines. Since Cuminetti did not move, two solders were ordered to frog-march him to the trenches by force. At this point, as they were taking him away, Cuminetti observed, ‘Poor Italy! If her soldiers have to be taken out to the trenches by force, how will she ever manage to win the war?’ This remark made even that fierce and implacable major relent and he ordered that Cuminetti be stripped of his military trappings and be sent back to prison.
“Sometime later, he was sent for by the colonel of the regiment. This officer had decided to reason kindly with him to get him to wear his military stars. He called him into his office and gave him every assurance that if he were to obey orders he would never have to touch a gun and it would be arranged for him to serve behind the lines. Cuminetti admitted later . . . that this was the hardest test he had had to undergo so far. At a certain moment, seeing his humble and respectful attitude, the colonel thought he had won the battle and said in a fatherly tone, ‘My poor fellow, how can you possibly fight against the formidable strength of the whole army all by yourself? You would be bound to be overwhelmed. Now, I am going to pin your stars on for you and you will wear them without rebelling anymore. I am doing this for your own good and swear that you will not have to shoot at other men and that your ideas will be fully respected.’
“Cuminetti replied quite simply, ‘Colonel, if you try to pin the stars on my uniform I shall let you do it, but as soon as I get outside I shall take them off again!’ Faced with such unbending decision, the colonel did not insist any further and abandoned him to his fate.
“On account of his faith, this simple humble man stood trial five times. He was imprisoned at Regina Coeli, Rome, Piacenza and Gaeta, as well as the Reggio Emilia mental asylum.”
Finally, after spending additional months in prison, Brother Cuminetti was taken to the front to serve as a stretcher-bearer. The magazine reports:
“One day, while he was on duty in the front lines, he heard that a wounded officer was lying out in front of the trenches without the strength to get back behind the lines. Nobody wanted to go out and get him. Cuminetti immediately offered himself for this risky mission and succeeded in getting the officer back to safety although it cost him a leg wound.”
He was awarded a silver service medal for this action, “but he refused the decoration on the grounds that he had acted out of love for his neighbor, not with the idea of winning a medal.”
The verdict pronounced against him by the Military Tribunal of Alessandria on August 18, 1916, is registered under No. 10419 in the Trials Register to be found in the Military Tribunal Archives at Turin. Brother Cuminetti was, without doubt, the first Italian Witness to take a stand for Christian neutrality and probably the first conscientious objector in the history of modern Italy.