The resistance in Prato

Text by Andrea Mazzoni

from : Dizionario della resistenza. Luoghi, formazioni, protagonisti, Vol II, pp.123-125, Torino, Einaudi

Prato, a workers’ town, took active part in the anti-Fascist struggle and in the Resistance. In the town itself there were GAP [Gruppi d’Azione Patriottica, i.e. Communist-inspired Patriotic Action Groups, small groups of partisans, usually not more than five men] and SAP [Squadre di Azione Patriottica, i.e. Patriotic Action Squads, groups of up to 20 men], while sizeable fighting units were formed in the mountains of the Bisenzio Valley, north of Prato. Individual opponents of the regime or secret cells set up by workers were active inside the factories (veritable “universities of anti-Fascism”). The labour movement had strong roots in the Prato area, where the “Red Biennium” [the two years, 1919 and 1920, that saw riots and occupation of farmland and factories] had been very intense. It therefore
offered a fertile ground for widespread hostility towards the dictatorship. In the immediate aftermath of Mussolini’s fall on 25 July 1943 [when he was ousted as Prime Minister and arrested], a call to end the war went out from the factories, which saw a spate of spontaneous strikes, while the population in Prato and in the surrounding hamlets knocked down all symbols of the regime. Strikes continued for several days before the repression set in, with police authorities arresting dozens of workers.

After 8 September and the arrival of German troops, hostility against Nazi-Fascism led to the organizing of armed struggle. At first the gathering point for anti-Fascist combatants was at Catena di Quarrata, a hamlet in the adjoining province of Pistoia. Later on, the mountain ranges north of Prato became the main areas of partisan activity. Towards the end of 1943, the unit commanded by Lanciotto Ballerini moved from Mount Morello to the Calvana [a mountain range closer to Prato]. Ballerini, born in Campi Bisenzio, was a senior corporal who had defected from the army after 8 September. His aim was to reach the mountain areas in the province of Pistoia and join the partisan formation of Manrico Ducceschi, who went by the nom de guerre “Pippo” and like Ballerini had ties to the Partito
d’Azione [Action Party]. On Boxing Day 1943 Ballerini and his men stopped at Valibona [a village on the slopes of Mount Morello], before starting on the march that was meant to take them to the 1st “Rosselli” Brigade they intended to join.

They were unable to carry out their plan because in the night from 2 to 3 January 1944 several hundred men – militiamen of the National Republican Guard and the “Muti” Battalion– advanced in three columns from Prato, Vaiano and Calenzano, and in the early hours of the morning surrounded the farmhouse where the anti-Fascist combatants were hiding. In the ensuing fight Lanciotto Ballerini and two of his men were killed.

Carlo Ferri, a Communist from La Briglia, in the Bisenzio Valley, had been intending to have a partisan group from Prato join Ballerini’s unit. After the events at Valibona, he continued in his efforts to organize a group of combatants, eventually forming in February, at Faggi di Javello [a beech forest on top of Mount Javello, north of Prato], the fighting unit “Orlando Storai” (named after an anti-Fascist executed by firing squad in Florence, in the park of Le Cascine, during a retaliatory action). After skirmishes with Nazi-Fascists at La Briglia and nearby Migliana, the “Storai” unit continued its operations on Mount Falterona and also carried out important operations at Fontebuona and Dicomano. In April 1944, however, large-scale German mopping-up operations caused the formation to dissolve. The men returned to the Prato area where, meanwhile, the transfer of the local textile mills
to northern Italy had been prevented and there had been the general strike on 4
March and on the following days. Thanks to an accurate organization and to picket lines manned by partisans on the roads leading into town the strike had seen a massive workers’ participation in Prato and in the entire Bisenzio Valley. The industrial action had been followed by an extensive roundup, despite the fact that on 7 March Prato had been hit by heavy air bombing. Many citizens of Prato – strikers, opponents of the regime, ordinary people – were captured and deported to concentration camps, from where few would return.

At the same time, the clandestine struggle, led by the CLN [National Liberation Committee], which would meet in the nunnery of San Niccolò, was expanding its operations. Sabotage acts, such as the one against the railway line between Prato and Bologna, became increasingly frequent. The most memorable of these actions took place at Carmignano, south of Prato, where a group of young partisans was operating under the command of Bogardo Buricchi. Already on 1 May they had carried out a sensational action, hoisting a red flag on a bell-tower. Earlier, in March, they had set fire to the town offices were the registers for the National Stockpile of agricultural products were kept. On the night of 11 June this group of patriots blew up eight freight wagons loaded with explosives from the nearby Nobel Powder Factory that were standing on sidings near the Carmignano train station. The explosion killed four members of the squad, including Bogardo and his brother.

A partisan brigade formed at Faggi di Javello about this time was named after Bogardo Buricchi. For supplies and logistics the “Buricchi” Brigade could rely on the local rural population, in addition to the contacts it maintained in town and the constant flow of material it received from there. It thus kept growing until it had about two hundred men, and carried out sabotage actions, engaged in skirmishes with Nazi-Fascists, and saved civilians from reprisals.

On the eve of Prato’s liberation the squads that were in town moved into action in order to assume control of the town’s outskirts. In the night from 5 to 6 September the “Buricchi” Brigade started to come down from the mountain, intending to join the operation, but their descent – rumour of which had imprudently been spread – was intercepted by German troops at Pacciana. The partisans were forced to disperse, many were taken prisoner, and twenty-nine of them were executed by hanging at Figline, even as the Allies were about to march into Prato. That very evening, in the town hall, the CLN installed the new town council headed by Dino Saccenti.


6 September 1944: The Massacre at Figline and the Liberation of Prato

by Camilla Brunelli

Towards the end of August 1944, the 334th Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht under the command of Reserve Major Karl Laqua, which had fought in Latium, Abruzzi, Umbria and Tuscany and was then retreating along the Val di Chiana [a long valley running from Orvieto in Umbria to Arezzo in Tuscany] and the Pratomagno [a mountain range north-west of Arezzo], was transferred to the Prato area, from where it resumed its march northwards.
After a skirmish near Pacciana [north-west of Prato], and possibly after a summary trial at the German command stationed in the Villa Nocchi at Figline di Prato, the commander of this entirely “normal” German army unit (not of any infamous SS-Division) ordered the hanging of the 30 partisans that had been taken prisoner. This decision no doubt relied on the binding orders issued to all German forces in Italy – in the context of the so-called “war against bands” – by General Field Marshall Kesselring, which included the so-called “impunity clause”, guaranteeing full legal protection to whatever excesses might be committed by junior officers during the operations against partisans.
The partisans that were hanged belonged to the “Bogardo Buricchi” Brigade, a group of about 250 men, many of them quite young, based high up in the mountains in a place called Faggi di Javello, who had come down into the valley in the night from 5 to 6 September to take part in the liberation of Prato. Florence had been liberated almost a month earlier, the Allies were at the gates, war in this area was at long last coming to an end – even now, it is not entirely clear how it came about that this partisan unit decided to move towards the town, where they might expect to clash with the Germans still in the area, who were superior in number and much better equipped.
It has been said that a guide did not turn up, that they were caught in a veritable ambush, that the Germans knew of their movements beforehand. This is what the report by the German troops found in the Army Military Archives at Freiburg says:

6.9.44 In the early morning hours a well-armed 150-man band was sighted near Figline di Prato. In the course of the engagement 40 bandits were cut down and 35 prisoners taken (7 Russians among them), also 1 heavy and 1 light machine gun, 1 mortar and numerous small arms. We should not take these statements at face value, because all too often there was a tendency to exaggerate the extent of the “booty”. Italian sources also diverge slightly as to the exact number and the names of the men killed, and also as to the way in which they met their death: some died during the encounter, others were executed by firing squad at Figline, others still, the majority, were hanged under an arch between two houses at the start of Via Maggio. Among those hanged some were wounded or already dead, one or maybe two managed to escape. The indisputable fact remains, however, that dozens of young lives dedicated to the Resistance against Nazi-Fascist terror were lost on the very same day that Prato was liberated.

The slaughter of the 29 young men by hanging and the various isolated murders of
civilians in those first days of September mostly took place in the course of military operations against partisans and in the wake of armed clashes during which the Germans also had suffered losses, which however were not mentioned in the reports. The massacre at Figline was an exemplary event, seen in the context of the “war against bands” aimed at deterrence, however belated. It was also first and foremost an indication of the ruthless conduct of war and of German fury over a war already lost, which typically manifested itself – and most particularly in Tuscany – in the areas that saw the passage of the battlefront, causing an extremely high number of casualties even among civilians: men and women, children and old people, all slain in horrendous ways.

For the people of Prato, Figline remains a place sacred to the memory of those young men, mostly local boys but some Russians as well (escaped prisoners of war who had joined the partisans), who at Figline laid down their lives in the name of freedom. Every year, a torchlight procession marks the day that saw their tragic death but also the so eagerly awaited Liberation: 6 September 1944. Around mid-October of that same year General Clark, Commander of Allied Forces in Italy, visited Prato and, talking to some local people, heard of the war crimes committed a few weeks earlier by German troops. Two or three days later, four FBI agents began to investigate. The first to be interviewed was a priest, Don Milton Nesi of the parish church of San Bartolomeo at Coiano, who made a statement about the events he had witnessed. The Allied Military Command in Florence also made enquiries in the area to ascertain the facts. On 15 November the investigation was considered completed and a report in three copies was sent to the Allied Forces Headquarters of the Mediterranean Theatre for further action. Further enquiries were carried out by the British in April and June 1945. On 5 December 1946 the American Military Prosecutor sent the entire dossier to Italian authorities.
In January 1960, in Rome, the dossier with the papers of the investigation on the events at Figline di Prato (14 years after Italian authorities had received it), ended up, together with other 694 dossiers concerning massacres and slaughters carried out by Nazi-Fascists, in the so-called “cabinet of shame” [an office cabinet that was hid away, with its doors towards the wall, in a storage room of the building that at that time in Rome housed the Military Prosecutor’s office]. The cabinet was at long last discovered and opened in May 1994, after 34 years, and the dossiers were sent to the Military Prosecutors’ offices having jurisdiction.

In 2003, 59 years after the events, the dossier on the massacre at Figline di Prato was taken up again by Marco De Paolis, Military Prosecutor at La Spezia [who had jurisdiction over Tuscany]. In September of that same year the historian Carlo Gentile was invited by the town authorities of Prato to hold a conference at the Museum of Deportation at Figline and told of his research in German Archives that had unearthed the names of those responsible for the hanging of the 29 partisans at Figline di Prato. In September 2005 Military Prosecutor Marco De Paolis personally came to Figline to tell of the results he had reached through further investigation and of how in the end he had been forced to close the inquest, as the man charged with violence, murder and massacre was presumed dead.