by Giulio Meotti
There was once an Italian boy, “raised in a highly esteemed family, where respect for values prevailed, the way of life of the older generations. His life on a farm passed in the usual manner of all sharecroppers.”
That boy arrived at military service and was sent to the Don, the terrible campaign against Russia. In Bolzano he made his last Italian meal: “Pasta, meat with potatoes, a loaf of bread and a glass of wine.” And then by train through Poland, Ukraine, 17 days and 17 nights to Russia.
“The absence of family made itself felt even more. On seeing those cultivated fields, I thought of the small fields of my house. I thought of mine which would need my arms, my hands”.
The Russian cold decimated those hands, soon becoming “the swollen and purple hands.” The men protected themselves with boxes of ointment to spread in the evening and in the morning. “I prayed to God that he would give me the strength to resist.” He managed to resist with 22 other young men in a hole, with the Russian soldiers who had surrounded them outside.
“We don’t want to die in this rat hole, we want to go back to our homes and to our parents, we don’t want to die!” they said. They collected flyers thrown by Russian planes: “Italians! Return to your beautiful Italy, where you have the sun that warms you, return to your beautiful families, or you will die without even fighting.”
Instead they stayed to fight. That boy earned the silver medal. They returned to Italy on foot, isba after isba (cottage by cottage, ed.) via Vienna. “One hundred days in a sea of snow. I don’t know how many died, but they were an enormous number.” He almost lost a lung.
“I got married and had the joy of having children whom I love and loved more than my life.”
I was lucky enough to get to know and to frequent that so humble man, with uncertain writing, but with generosity and contagious values. The above was from his autobiography. He is the grandfather of my wife. I thought of him today, today when another 793 of our Italian elderly have lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemia.
The epidemic taking place in recent weeks in Italy (5.000 victims in three weeks) has highlighted the demographic decay of some nations of the world, including mine. The new coronavirus is hitting the foundations of our society, questions the sacredness of life, brings out the selfishness of those who think they are immune or belong to a low-risk population, but it can also finally give impetus to a renewed spirit of service and community, the rediscovery of solidarity in favor of the weakest, the beauty of an evening with loved ones, closeness to the children in the name of duties that ultimately prevail on human and family relationships.
Today a disease highlights, not only in Italy, the mistakes of those who believed that a lone man is an option in this world, that families are a relic of a past to forget and that children are a burden on the career and to a person’s happiness.
The health tsunami is related to the policies and decades of oblivion relating to our culture of life that has its roots in the Biblical tradition which, not surprisingly, has not found a place in the founding documents of our European Union. This epidemic awakens us from our collective sleep.
We must return to the values of that boy. Our founding fathers.