The retired general

Publish date 16-01-2024

by Renato Bonomo

On 19 November 1971, a unit of Bersaglieri of the 22nd infantry regiment of the Cremona division paid military honors to the body of Pietro Brandimarte. Apparently nothing strange, Brandimarte had been decorated with the medal silver for military valor for his exploits in the Great War. Except that Brandimarte, veteran and hero of the First World War, fighter and gymnast, who then ended up working as a simple haberdashery clerk in post-war Turin, had become head of all the fascist squads in Turin in 1922. With that rank he had participated in the rally in Naples and the subsequent march on Rome. But Brandimarte was above all among the main people responsible for the so-called Turin massacre which took place from 18 to 20 December 1922. Mussolini had already been in government for about a month and a half, but his position was not enough to stem the fascist violence which, in fact, continued to systematically destroy the clubs and union and party headquarters that proved irreducibly anti-fascist.

On the night of the 17th, on the southern outskirts of the city, the young fascists Giuseppe Dresda, a railway worker, and Lucio Bazzani, an engineering student, were killed in a firefight by a communist militant, Francesco Prato. Prato, although wounded, managed to escape, and was then hidden by his companions in a house in the area. The bloody incident was the spark that unleashed fascist violence. The Turin fascio ordered general mobilization and reprisal

"We don't mourn our dead, they take revenge. [...] We have a list of over 3,000 names of subversives. Among these we have chosen 24 and we have entrusted their names to our best teams, so that they can do justice. And justice has been done." Regarding the problem of the corpses not yet found: «they will be returned by the Po, even if it returns them, or they will be found in the ditches, ravines or scrublands of the hills surrounding Turin». This is how Pietro Brandimarte expressed himself in an interview with a local newspaper in the aftermath of the squad massacre. 11 people died and 26 were injured, mostly socialist, communist and anarchist railway workers. Among them also a tavern owner. The fault: being anti-fascists.

For more than two days, Turin saw every form of legality annulled. The public institutions were subdued by the overwhelming force of the gangs who, with their black banners, claimed to embody the nation, invested as they felt with a sacred mission conquered through merit and blood in the trenches of the Great War: to punish and free Italy from the Bolshevik threat. That day even what remained of the liberal state definitively died with the victims of the black fury.

Among the eleven victims we find Pietro Ferrero, who was secretary of the Federation of Metallurgical Workers (FIOM), made unrecognizable by the beatings and by being dragged along Corso Vittorio Emanuele tied by his feet to a truck. And then Andrea Ghiomo and Matteo Tarizzo, two anti-fascists killed with their skulls smashed with sticks.

The other victims were called Carlo Berruti, Matteo Chiolero, Erminio Andreone whose house was also burned down, Leone Mazzola, Giovanni Massaro, Cesare Pochettino, Antonio Quintagliè, Evasio Becchio.
Stefano Zurletti had a different fate as he pretended to be dead and was saved at the last minute. He was admitted to hospital, but there too he had to suffer violence and harassment from the fascists.

Brandimarte, arrested in Brescia in 1945, was tried for ten of those crimes. In 1950 he was sentenced by the court of Florence to 26 years and 3 months in prison. However, in 1952 the Assize Court of Appeal of Bologna acquitted him due to insufficient evidence, thus leaving him free and without having settled his account with justice. Indeed, when in 1959, the son of one of his anti-fascist victims recognized him on the street and verbally abused him, Brandimarte attacked him and took him to the nearest police station, justifying himself that no one could offend a retired general!

Renato Bonomo
NP December 2023

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