Race and Victimhood in Postwar Representations of Sexual Violence in Occupied Italy

After 1943, even relationships that were consensual – or, if not consensual, at least more ambiguous, difficult to define – likely products of wartime exigenciesbecame particularly controversial.[6] For example, Orietta M., who was a young girl when the war broke out in Italy recalls the retaliations that women who left their Italian fiancés for their American occupiers were subjected to: “Quando gli americani arrivarono a Roma fu una gioia incredibile e difficile da raccontare. C’erano i marocchini che assalivano le ragazze! Ma c’erano anche le ragazze che…lasciarono i fidanzati italiani per mettersi con gli americani. E le teste rapate venivano coperte con dei bei foulards!”[7]

This example reveals that in addition to those women who had been “compromised” through their relationships with either the Germans or fascists after the fall of fascism in 1943 and those who had been condemned spies, women who simply went with the stranger – in this case, the Americans – were also punished in this way.[8] Giovanna B., writing of her experiences along the Gothic Line during the liberation, describes a more extreme example of the jealousy that these women evoked: “Capimmo che gli americani erano vicini…C’interrogarono per sapere le posizioni dei tedeschi e tutti risposero quel poco che sapevano; a noi ragazze un comandante raccomandò di non dare confidenza ai militari perché potevano nascere gelosie e tragedie (infatti per questo era stata uccisa una ragazza di soli [sic] quindici anni).”[9]

These women were seen by some of the other civilians, their male counterparts in particular, as traitors. For some civilian observers, the Allied occupation had clearly become too intimate and invasive – especially in the case of rape committed by the black or ‘colored’ troops. Some of the testimonies of Italian civilians who lived during the war, for example, reveal a deep, long-lasting and collective fear of these soldiers – of not only the Moroccan troops, but, in many cases, of black or ‘colored’ soldiers in general, which was not only influenced by what civilians actually saw and experienced but also by the anti-black propaganda of the Italian fascist regime and the Repubblica Sociale Italiana.[10] For example, one woman described the fear felt by her family when the Americans, with their ‘colored’ troops, were stationed in their homes in Liguria: “In quell’occasione, per la prima volta, conoscemmo davvero la paura: quella paura che toglie il fiato e le forze. Cercavamo di sorridere, di mostrarci ospitali e disinvolti, ma non ci riusciva molto bene. Ci terrorizzava soprattutto il colore di quei visi: era giallognolo, olivastro; non ne avevamo mai visti prima di cosi.”[11]

In many testimonies, in fact, Italian civilians frequently wrote of the disillusion that came with liberation and referred to liberation sarcastically – as a curse rather than a blessing.[12] he experience of the liberation for many civilians signified violence and violation. This violence and violation, as Filippo Focardi and Lutz Klinkhammer have noted, – especially that which was attributed to the French Moroccan troops – also took on a broader political meaning in the immediate postwar period. It formed part of a wider narrative that justified Italy’s status as a victim of Nazi-Fascism and helped to exculpate Italian war criminals and keep such criminals from being tried by the Allied Forces in the years right after the war (Focardi/Lutz 2004: 330348).

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Bildnachweis: Mulberry Street (ca. 1900), Library of Congress (cc), https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8e/NYC_Mulberry_Street_3g04637u.jpg/1200px-NYC_Mulberry_Street_3g04637u.jpg