Note: With the anniversary of VE Day approaching, remember those who fought in WW II.
Several years ago I took my dad to an army reunion in St. Louis. Attending were the men serving Trieste (Italy) following WW II. With the September passing of my father, I discovered this yet-to-be-posted essay.
For those that don’t know, Trieste was part of Italy during WW II. Before that, it was Austria-Hungary’s only port. Besides, as a pivotal port city at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste’s history is filled with conflict.
After Mussolini’s regime fell, Nazi Germany quickly moved in. As the war was winding down, Tito’s Communistic Yugoslavian forces were engaging the Nazis in their pursuit of Trieste. With all this in mind, Trieste contained partisans Fascists, Nazis, Communists, and many native Italians who inconspicuously worked above ground for one of the sides, yet were ready for a return to normalcy.
Eventually, the Allies pushed into Trieste. Winston Churchill stated in a March 1946 speech,
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
Trieste was again at a pivot point in history: the start of the Cold War.
WW II ends with Trieste as a free territory divided into zones patrolled by the Allies and the Yugoslavs. This time period is where my life begins. My dad had re-enlisted into the Army and was assigned to Trieste. During this time he met my mother, they eventually married and I was born.
In 1954, the land is divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. I last visited Trieste in 1964 as part of a family vacation.
During that weekend in St. Louis I met many of the soldiers protecting Trieste. Remarkably, many of them also married Triestine women – some knew my mother (who died in 1987).
This is where I met Elsa Spencer: a gracious woman full of both American and Italian pride. When first introduced, she was signing a copy of her book to a friend. Given the title – Good-Bye Trieste – it caught my eye. Dad bought a copy, thus I spent time reading with anticipation.
Good-Bye Trieste is her story about life. It starts with a young Triestine school girl consumed by Fascism, which served as the focal point for her family history. As the war continues, she experiences bombings, being shot at, public hangings, executions, family trauma, and eventually discovering (on her own) Fascism’s deceit.
The war ended, but her roller-coaster life continued. Eventually, she married an American soldier, and then came to the U.S. and started a new life. As I was reading, I suddenly realized not only was she telling her story, but also the story for the similar Italian women who met and married American soldiers. Oh my God – she’s also telling Mom’s story.
There’s much I didn’t know (or possibly understood) about my mother. Suddenly, 21 years after her passing, I was drawn and touched to her life through Elsa because I could relate too many of her stories. Other women in attendance confirmed the thoughts.
Good-Bye Trieste is an easy and enchanting read. It’s also an important read for anyone who grew up as I did with an Italian mother who came to America during the 1950s as a military wife. But I can’t stop there because anyone who lived in a multicultural home can relate to Elsa’s story.
So to Elsa I want to say “Thank you.” Thank you for your gracious personality. Thank you for sharing your story to help me understand Mom’s story. Thank you for giving me a better understanding of my birthplace. Thank you for renewing my tie to the region and my birthplace.
My last visit was long ago for a variety of reasons. So Elsa, because of you, I can now say, Hello Trieste – I look forward to visiting again; hopefully sooner than later. Meanwhile, I can enjoy these videos and the distant memories.
Photo courtesy of Monocle