By Francesco Paoloni
It must be noted that the attempts to reclaim Alto Adige in the name of Pan-Germanism is no longer just a peculiarity of the Bavarian press, but has become a propaganda and polemics campaign.
Even the Prussian newspapers are engaging in this campaign, including NSDAP newspapers, which until a short time ago – just before the Nazi coup in Austria – had denied any "South Tyrol Question" and lavished praises upon Fascist Italy.
Now the press, organized by unofficial Nazi rabble-rousers, suddenly speaks of the "infamy" and "barbarity" of Fascist policy in Alto Adige: they use as a pretext the transfer of the monument of the German poet Walther Vogelweide from the main square to a garden in Bolzano, a monument which, according to the Munchner Zeitung, "is considered by many Germans to be a national shrine in this extreme southern point of German territory", even though, as the newspaper itself was forced to admit, there is no evidence on which to base the claim that Walther was born in this region; according to some he was a native of Franconia, while according to others he was from Bohemia; they protest the changing of the names of streets, squares and towns; and they dishonestly present the frequent and numerous requests made by natives of Bolzano and other towns in that province for decrees to restore their Italian surnames in place of the Germanized ones.
By attributing supposed "barbarity" and "infamy" to the Italians in Alto Adige, these Nazi polemicists demonstrate their bad faith, because we have here some documents concerning the methods of the Nazis against non-German national minorities in the territory of the Reich, or in territories otherwise governed by Hitlerites.
The following reaches us from Kaunas:
"The Lithuanian newspaper N. T. Koloivis in Tilsit is protesting because last year the names of 120 Lithuanian towns and villages were Germanized; it concludes that the spirit of the Lithuanian peasant of East Prussia – after the long experience of Teutonic domination – will continue to resist this latest ordeal of Germanization."There are reports from Danzig that the Nazi repression has been resumed against minority parties and Catholics who made remarkable statements in the recent elections.
The Danzig authorities have now proceeded to arrest Fr. Aelterman, pastor of a small town near the Free City, on charges of having expressed himself unfavorably towards the creation of labor camps. In reality the parish priest had only requested that the leaders of this institution, created on the Nazi model, make changes to the schedule in order to make it possible for his parishioners participating in the labor camp to have time to attend religious services.
Finally, the neutral newspaper Zuercher Zeitung records these facts:
"In the northern regions of East Prussia numerous names of families, towns, fields and rivers still recall the original Lithuanian character of the population. This area underwent Germanization just a few generations ago. In a church in Tilsit the Lithuanian religious service survived until the time of Bismarck, that is, until the end of the century. An action is currently under way for the eradication of all the names that recall the Lithuanian past. A philologist has been given the task of providing German-sounding names to replace the Lithuanian names, either through translation or adaptation. It is estimated that in this way more than 100 towns will be renamed, and more than one thousand names of other kinds will be changed."And now we know that this was the same policy followed by the Pan-Germanists when Austria dominated South Tyrol; "La Provincia del Brennero" informs us of some typical cases:
"In 1913 an official from Caldaro, to whom it seemed that Giacomo and Tessadri Eugenia's surname 'Marchetti' was out of sync with the many people named 'Marcket', obtained the issuance of a decree by which the final part of their surname was immediately suppressed and thrown to the wind.
In Val Badia, the teacher Giovanni Sorarù, born in Colfosco in 1889, learned one fine day that his birth name had been changed to Giovanni Oberbacher. The same thing happened to the many other Ladin people named Sorarù in the Val Badia, and the alteration of their surname took place without any legal justification. Pan-Germanism entrusted to the whims of some mad municipal employee the task of eliminating those traces of latinity which had been respected for centuries.
The Kastlunger, who according to parish and municipal records were originally (that is, just fifty years ago) called Costalunga; the Di Biei, who saw their surname changed into Villeit; the Erlacher, who until 1920 were named Almei; the Agreiter, who up until two generations ago called themselves Aiarei; these are just some examples which are sufficient to summarize the irrational and coercive acts which led to the Germanization of the surnames of entire municipalities in South Tyrol, especially in those valleys that had more tenaciously preserved the traces of their Roman heritage.
And how about the bizarre evolution of certain surnames in Val Gardena – such as Perathoner, previously known as Pierantoni – which in the parish records of the last century sounded very Italian? And how about the fact that in the cemetery of San Giacomo (Ortisei) the funerary tombstones were written in Italian form up until 1914, with the classic Roman lapidary character, whereas after that date they suddenly display the most beautiful Gothic script and the purest German language?
And how about the various people named Clement, Zanoll, Kazzonelli, etc.?"With this in mind, according to Fascist policy in Alto Adige it is obligatory by law to restore to the Italian form those surnames whose etymology is Latin or Italian. On the other hand, in cases where the surname derives from a Germanic or in any case foreign etymology, it is optional – that is to say, it is entirely up to the individual person who requests it. And as regards the spontaneity of these requests – which are many – it is sufficient to see the bureaucratic meticulousness of the applications.
But probably the fury of certain Nazi newspapers was provoked by the news concerning the enthusiasm with which the very young "Blackshirts" of the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) of Bolzano, gathered in Rome, proclaimed their Italianity to the Duce, and the fervor of festive songs with which the recruits from Alto Adige presented themselves for military service for their Italian Fatherland.
Epigraph for Goethe at the Brenner
Another news item which perhaps may have caused great irritation to the Nazi newspapers is the news of the memorial at the Brenner for the German national poet; not Walther, but someone else.
This is the news:
On March 22, on the anniversary of the death of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a plaque was erected at the Brenner in place of a meager pre-existing epigraph. The plaque reads as follows:
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
on September 8, 1786
turning his steps towards the soul of Rome
where the charm of a millenary civilization
radiant throughout the centuries beckoned him
stopped here in these Alps
which forms the boundary with Germany,
and obeying the imperious voice of nature
spoke words which fate fulfilled
on November 4, 1918
and marked the irrevocable destiny of Italy
"...and now I wait for the morning dawn to illuminate this alpine gorge in which I feel myself trapped on the border between the North and the South." (Goethe, Italian Journey).Thus we honored the great poet whose German background did not prevent him – just as it does not prevent his other countrymen – from recognizing the southern, Mediterranean character of the region on this side of the Brenner, confirming the prophetic verse of Dante that "In our fair Italy, at the Alp's foot, there lies a lake above Tyrol – the Benaco – which forms the boundary with Germany". And that is precisely the reason why the people of the north in past centuries felt drawn towards expansion to the south, which the Pan-Germanists today would like to present as a title of right to ownership.