the following experiences are on pgs 174-179 of the 1982 Yearbook
(illustration of Br Aldo Fornerone, on pg 177)
Neutrality A Protection
As in other countries, maintaining neutrality has served as a protection for the brothers in Italy. For example, Aldo Fornerone, a faithful 76-year-old brother imprisoned and sent into exile during World War II, relates this experience:
“Although the Nazis were in retreat, they were still holding the area where I lived, and during a punitive expedition three German soldiers burst into our house. At a glance the officer saw a Bible on the table and a picture on the wall depicting the scene of Isaiah 11:6-9 with a wolf, lambs, a lion, a goat and a calf, all together with a little child. In German he asked, ‘Bibelforscher?’ or, ‘Bible Students?’ I nodded my head.
“Then, in French, he asked my wife to give them something to eat and gave orders to his men to shut the door and stay inside the house. Again in French he explained: ‘I have told my men we shall be all right here because you are Jehovah’s Witnesses, the only people we can trust.’ He also told us he had relatives in Germany who had been sent to a concentration camp because they were Witnesses. While these soldiers ate, shooting could be heard outside, many houses were set on fire and numerous civilians were killed. At the end of the punitive expedition these soldiers left the village, and the officer shook hands with us as he said good-bye.
“Not long afterward the commander of the Italian resistance group arrived with 16 of his men. ‘Why didn’t they take you away with the rest of the civilians?’ he asked. He knew me and also was aware of the fact that I had been in prison and in exile because I would not take part in the war. They all listened as I witnessed to them, and they accepted the booklet Comfort for the People. After having partaken of something to eat and drink, they also went on their way. The commander said: ‘If everyone were like you we wouldn’t be hunted down like wild animals, and there wouldn’t be such trouble in the world.’ This experience made me appreciate more than ever before the value of maintaining one’s neutrality.”
Help From The Brothers
Many brothers who were sent to prison left their wives and small children at home. Did anyone help them? Vincenzo Artusi related:
“When I was exiled to another part of Italy for one year, I was very worried about my wife and three small children. I was also afraid that the clergy might take advantage of my absence to entice my wife away from the truth because she had only been interested for a short time. But Jehovah was watching over them, and with the help of the brothers who still had their freedom my family was sustained materially and spiritually. My wife made a final break with the Catholic Church as a result of the brothers’ loving visits, which were also spiritually upbuilding.”
The Work Continues In Spite Of The War
The fall of Fascism came about in 1943, and the majority of the brothers were released from prison afterward. Nevertheless, the war was still raging throughout the country, and while the Allies advanced from the south, the Nazi troops slowly retreated to the north, leaving death and destruction behind them.
Even during the darkest period of the war, efforts were made to reestablish contact with the brothers who were still in their homes and enjoying relative freedom of movement. Agostino Fossati, a brother who was faithful until his death in 1980, had been expelled from Switzerland because of the truth. In 1940 and 1941 he did all he could to correspond with certain brothers, sending them various publications, including Watchtower articles that he translated from French. He was arrested in January 1942 and sent into exile.
Sometime afterward, Brother Narciso Riet took refuge in Italy. Born in Germany of Italian parents from the province of Udine, he had lived at Mülheim an der Ruhr until the Gestapo discovered his activity of introducing clandestine copies of The Watchtower into the concentration camps. When it became clear that it was dangerous for him to stay on any longer, a brother working on the railways helped him to reach his wife who had recently gone to live in Italy at Cernobbio on Lake Como, near the Swiss border.
The Swiss branch assigned Brother Riet the task of translating the Watchtower magazines from German into Italian and then forwarding copies to the brothers. To ensure that the police would not intercept them in the mail, deliveries were to be made by hand to brothers not too far away in northern and central Italy.
Brother Riet bought a typewriter and immediately set to work to translate the main articles of the magazines. He was helped by Brother Agostino Fossati, who had returned from his year in exile, and later by Sister Maria Pizzato when she was released in 1943. The magazines were introduced into Italy by underground methods. After translation, copies were run off on a duplicator and given to Brother Fossati, who was in charge of deliveries. He traveled to Pescara, Trent, Sondrio, Aosta and Pinerolo to take this spiritual food to the brothers, under constant risk of arrest and imprisonment.
After the arrival of Sister Pizzato, the Nazis, helped by their Fascist henchmen, found out where Brother Riet was living, and, as Sister Pizzato relates: “One day at the end of December, his house was surrounded, and an SS officer and his men burst in. Narciso was arrested and kept at gunpoint while the soldiers searched the house. They soon found the ‘criminal’ evidence they were looking for—two Bibles and a few letters! Narciso was sent on a long journey back to Germany, where he was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. There he was horribly tortured. For a long time he was kept chained up like a dog in a low narrow cell, where he was forced to remain curled up day and night. After much suffering inflicted in one camp after another, he was put to death with other unfortunate prisoners before the Allies occupied Berlin. His remains were never found.”
Sister Pizzato continued the work begun by Brother Riet, and when Brother Fossati was arrested again she also had to deliver the spiritual food herself. After making about 70 copies of each translated article, she delivered them personally, as long as it was possible to travel.
When all the lines of communication had been interrupted by bombing, she decided to send the translation of the main article in The Watchtower of January 1, 1945 (English ed.) by mail to brothers at Castione Andevenno, in the province of Sondrio. The article was intercepted and handed over to the police, so Sister Pizzato was taken in for questioning once again. She was, however, allowed to go home afterward, and she quickly decided to take the opportunity of leaving the area so that others would not be involved. That same night she destroyed the evidence of her activity from December 1943 to March 1945, and she was helped by friends to reach Switzerland, together with Brother Riet’s widow.
At the end of the war all refugees had to return to Italy, and the two sisters went back to Cernobbio. The Swiss branch gave Sister Pizzato the job of establishing fresh contacts with the brothers, now that Fascism had been definitely swept away and the war had ended. The brothers had been severely tried, but they were grateful to Jehovah and full of zeal. Very few of them had fallen victim to the Devil’s snares. Now a large doorway to vast activity was open before them.—1 Corinthians 16:9.