As the stalemate continued in Italy the plight of the civilian population caught in the middle grew worse. In the areas occupied by the Allies they were heavily dependent on aid to prevent starvation.
In the Germans held areas there was much anxiety as the battle approached. Now the civilians were no longer allies of the Germans they were treated with the contempt by the occupying troops. Aggravating these circumstances was the fact that the puppet Italian government, still dominated by fascists, was much more likely to side with the Germans than the local population. They were in a hopeless position.
Still assiduously recording this state of affairs was Iris Origo, an Italian American who remained in Italy throughout the war, doing her best to provide some refuge for refugee children:
A German officer comes up, and inspects the Castelluccio. Antonio points out (1) that it has already been reserved to store the goods of the hotel-keeper of Chianciano. (2) That there is insufficient water. (3) That there is no stabling. To which the German — a Prussian of the worst type —- merely replies that he will require the whole of the castle for his three hundred men, stabling for eight hundred horses in the farms, and quarters for his eight officers in our house. As to the refugee children, we must find lodgings for them ‘elsewhere’.
In the afternoon we hear that the man who was killed at Chianciano this morning was one of our workmen, Mencatelli – a quiet, peaceable, hardworking fellow, totally unconcerned with politics, whose murder seems to us inexplicable. His wife rings me up, and implores me to go down to her. I drive down, and find two German sentries barring the road. They let me pass, and, as my car drives up the empty street, terrified faces appear at the windows.
What new danger, they think, is coming now? In the dead man’s little house, which, after thirty years of hard work and self- denial, he had at last succeeded in owning, the widow is hysterically moaning and sobbing beside the bed of her boy of eleven, who saw his father killed. The child is in a queer state of coma, from which he awakes at intervals to a fit of shivering and sobbing, then sinks back again.
His mother and some other women continue moaning and crying, repeating the miserable story over and over again. It appears that, when the German and Fascist troops began to search the houses nearby, poor Mencatelli, terrified of being taken off to a labour camp, hid in his little attic. The boy, hearing that the attics in other houses were being searched, shouted to him to come down, but he was too panic-stricken to do so, and crouched there, in frozen terror, waiting.
Finally the soldiers, a German and a Fascist, came cramping up the stairs and, throwing aside the weeping woman and child, climbed up the attic ladder. As soon as they saw the defenceless little man crouching there, the Fascist fired, hitting him in the head. He was killed instantaneously, before the eyes of his wife and child. When I saw him, already laid in his bed, his head swathed in white bandages, and a few faded stocks scattered on his pillow, his tired, drawn face still had a look of terror.
Of all the Fascist crimes that I myself have seen this is the ugliest, meanest and most purposeless. But we are all guilty. ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’
I drive in to Chianciano, to try and make arrangements for the funeral — and find the streets entirely empty, and on the walls a notice stating that, while the German authorities deplore what had occurred, they consider it to be the fault of the local population, owing to their unco-operativeness and general hostility. In consequence, there will be a curfew at eight-thirty p.m., and the population is warned that any further attempt at sabotage will be followed by the arrest of ten hostages.