|The square of Montese in a vintage postcard|
A long winter
While the Allies failed to make a breach in the Gothic Line, at the end of September 1944 the Germans were stationed on the ridges that ran from Mount Belvedere, in the north-east to the left of the Reno River, controlling the area around the ss Porrettana 64 highway, the main road towards Bologna and northern Italy, the front remained stationary for six long months.
The stand of the front became an endless ordeal of cold, fear and pain for the surrounding villages close to the German stations. Many men were forced by the occupants to dig trenches and battle stations. To escape bombings, shelling and forced labor, civilians took refuge in the woods and natural ravines at the mercy of mines. Evacuated by force, many tried to pass the German lines south to reach the allies.
On September 26, 1944 at Ronchidoso, 68 civilians were massacred and their homes destroyed to clear the mountain ridge.
During the summer of ’44,with the advance of the allied troops towards the Tuscan-Emilian Apenines, the first Allied bombings began; from the winter of ’45 until the end of the conflict there were bombings from both conflicting sides. The population, in those long years of deprivation and violence, had to learn to live not only with the destructive power of the weapons, but also with the round ups of the Axis forces. Cellars, stables and barns were then used as shelters and bomb shelters were dug, people also hid in the sewers in the centre of Montese. A familiar knowledge of the surrounding woods and territory favoured the exhausted population; the presence of caves and natural sink holes provided essential shelter from continuous bombings and violence. Trunks of old chestnut trees became hide-outs and other shelters were built. Impending bombings were signaled by the passage of a reconnaissance plane that was renamed “Pippo” (or the stork). The long wait in the shelters could last days and nights with the fear of being discovered by the Germans. In these tight spaces the people prayed, celebrated mass ,spoke quietly and tried to sleep. Many refugees came from the plains as the mountains of the Apennines were considered safer than the cities; Montese also offered refuge to several Jewish citizens persecuted by the racial laws.