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World War II Survivor Mary Carano MAG
My grandmother, Mary Carano, is a remarkable woman who told me an amazing story. I am grateful she shared some of her memories of surviving the Nazi invasion of her village.
Where and when were you born?
I was born Maria DeSantis in Pacentro, Italy. It’s in the state of Abruzzo, by the Apennine Mountains. I was born May 10, 1936.
Who were you parents?
My father was a forest ranger. My mother had a public oven where people came to bake bread. That, and she stayed with us, the children, although we worked in the field during the day. We grew potatoes and corn. My father’s pay wasn’t much, so we all had to do our part.
And your brothers and sisters?
My mother had 14 children, but many died. Her first child was my sister, Angelina. And then my brother Lorenzo, who lives here in Boardman. My brother Quintino died when he was ten, someone threw a rock at his head. Maria died at two of a disease I never knew much about. Frank died when he was two, also. My other brother Frank was born in 1927 and lived to be 36. Flora was born in 1930, then Quint in 1933. My other sister Maria died in 1934. I was born in 1936, and I know there was another baby girl who died at birth. The others weren’t even named because they died at birth. There are four of us still living: Lorenzo, Quintino, Flora and me.
What was your schooling like?
I had very little schooling. I started first grade in 1945, but it ended abruptly that October because of the war. I’m sure the war is what you really want to hear about.
Sure, start at the beginning.
Well, one day at the end of October in 1945, my father, after a meeting at the city hall, told us we had to leave our city because of the Nazis.
What was your reaction?
I didn’t understand what was going on. I was only seven years old. I didn’t even know who the Nazis were.
So, what did you do?
Well, my cousins had a cabin in the mountains with the animals. It was really cold because of the snow and we had to walk for hours to get there.
How long were you there?
We thought we would stay two or three weeks but we ended up staying until March. Finally some of the men heard that the Americans were coming for us, so we tried to return home. We couldn’t see very much from the up in the mountains, but as we went down into the village, some men started shooting at us. We couldn’t get back to the cabin because of the snow so we stayed in a cave.
What was the cave like, and how long were you there?
The cave was very, very small. It was freezing and wet and very windy. We barely had any food. We thought we were going to starve. We ended up staying there for three weeks.
What prompted you to leave?
We heard some loud blasts. Word was out that some of the Germans had left but were blowing up bridges as they went. So we returned to the village.
That was a sight I’ll never forget. They had broken doors and all the windows. They had thrown everything away. When we got to our home, it was practically destroyed, with glass and wood everywhere.
Did you stay in your home?
Not for long. The Nazis showed up and told us we had to go with them. We didn’t speak German, so we didn’t understand what they were saying. They started hitting us and yelling. The one doctor in town who spoke German told us that the Nazis were ordering everyone to the church square. There, the Nazis were trying to push everyone into the church. The doctor told us that they wanted to put us in a truck and take us to Northern Italy.
Did the trucks come?
Yes, and none of us knew what to do. They were just pushing everyone in. Suddenly they grabbed my sister Angelina, who was seven months pregnant with twins. My mother begged them not to take her, but they shoved her in the truck anyway along with her husband. My father and brother Frank told the Nazis that if they were going to take us, to take us all together as a family. Meanwhile, my brother Quint had run away. But the Nazis said no to my father. When the afternoon came, they didn’t have enough trucks, so they told us to go home. When we got back to our destroyed home, we cried and cried. We cried for ourselves, but especially for Angelina.
What happened to Angelina?
The next day, we heard a knock at our door. It was Angelina and her husband! The trucks had cloth roofs. Someone on the truck had a knife and cut a hole. Angelina had jumped from the truck and run home. My mother was shocked and scared by the fact that Angelina, pregnant, had jumped from a truck, but we were all relieved and for the first time in a long time, our tears were happy instead of sad.
So what happened then?
Well, in a few weeks, the Nazis knew that the Americans were coming so they bombed all the bridges in Pacentro. They got rid of all our electricity and destroyed our mill where we made bread. They bombed where we got our water, so we had to walk a mile just to get it.
Were there any other close calls with the Nazis?
Once when my sister Flora went to get water, some soldiers started to shoot at her. She ducked and crawled back to the cave. And one day when Flora, Quint and I were walking through a field, Quint ran away from us. We yelled for him to come back. When he did, he had a loaf of bread. “Where did you get that?” we asked. He said he had stolen it from a Nazi’s tent. We knew stealing was wrong but we were so hungry that we were excited about the bread. We ran up to the mountains and ate it together. It was our only real meal for a week.
Once there was a bad snowstorm and the Germans were having trouble getting into town. So they gave the men, including Quint, shovels and told them to shovel the snow. My brother tried to run away, but was caught. The Nazis told him they would chop off his hands if he tried to leave again. The men ended up shoveling from Pacentro to Sulmona. Those poor men were worked like dogs.
Were things better after they left?
A little, but it was still very bad. Eventually spring came and we planted seeds, but we were still starving. We had nothing to eat and would usually go to bed hungry. My oldest brother was in the U. S. and sent us meat and powdered milk and eggs and some clothes. I was grateful for the clothes, because all I had to wear was a tattered canvas dress that was stiff and itchy. (laughs) When he sent us those rations, we at least had something instead of nothing. Many people of the village were jealous.
Describe what your village looked like after the wrath of the Nazis.
Oh, it was terrible. Everything was destroyed. Some villages, like Grandpa’s Carovillese, were okay. My father took our mule and walked for three days to another village to buy grain and flour. When he came back, we couldn’t believe it. We made bread and had food for about a week. But most of the time, my sisters and I would look for dandelions in the fields. There are plenty of weeds to eat but some were poisonous. There was one we called the“pig nose” that we ate once, it made us all sick. But that’s all we had to eat because we had no food.
Our little, beautiful church where the Nazis shoved everyone was completely destroyed. They had brought their horses in and left hay all over the floor. And because the horses were slipping on the floor, the Germans made big chips and holes in the beautiful marble floor so their horses could stand. The men had to put in a new floor. They ruined our beautiful little church.
Describe the arrival of the Americans.
Well, one morning we heard planes overhead. They bombed the train station downtown, then started using machine guns. I cried because I thought it was the Nazis, and I knew there would be much death. But the next day, we found out that it was actually the Americans. The Nazis were occupying the train station, so the Americans bombed it. They killed 200 Nazis. I remember all the dust and smoke.
Did you go back to school?
I did, but it was very different. We had to sit on the floor and only listen to the teacher. We had no books or pencils, and the stupid Germans had broken all thed esks.
When did things start to return to normal?
Not long after I went back to school, actually. The Pope and the United States sent some things to us. In 1941 my other brothers went to the United States. And in 1954, one of them called me and I came to the United States.
In a word, how would you describe your experiences during the war?
Terrible. But some good came out of it. We were forced to live a very hard life. I suffered so much, but now I appreciate everything I have. I thank God every day and night for my family and my life. Because of my experiences, I really feel for those who suffer daily in our world. When I see the war in Iraq, it makes me so sad to see people dying and starving. And that’s why I strongly oppose the war and what George Bush has done.
I suffered so much, and I hate to see their civilians and our soldier skilled. I just want this war to end, and I want the death to stop. I hope you never have to endure such pain. I hope you live a happy life, one not affected by war, hunger and poverty.
What is the single most important thing your experiences taught you?
To appreciate everything, especially family. I wouldn’t trade my family for all the riches in the world. I was so fortunate to escape with all my family still alive and relatively unharmed. Throughout life, just remember to love your family. Love your neighbors. And hope for peace.