Visuals and text by Meghan Brandabur
In 1943 Domenico Reali appeared to be living the life of a normal 10-year-old in Cagli, attending school and playing with friends.
But there was one major difference. This Italian boy was also an active part of the resistance movement against the occupying Nazis and the local Fascists.
While most of his playmates went home at night, little Domenico might be helping his father shuttle ammunition and hide stranded American pilots.
On a recent summer afternoon, Domenico Reali, now 75 and a retired doctor, looked back on those years and told his story.
By 1943, Italy, which had been under the control of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini since the 1920s, was a partner with Hitler's Nazi armies fighting the Allies. Mussolini's followers wore black shirts to signify their allegiance to both him and to the Fascist party. The Fascist-Nazi groups that terrorized much of Italy throughout WWII were also referred to as the Fragetto.
Domenico Reali's adventures were due to the actions of his father, Marco Reali, an Italian politician, active in the Communist Party and the armed resistance against Mussolini's forces and the German Army.
"While [my father] refused to wear his black shirt and was thus ostracized by theFascist Party, he nonetheless maintained their respect as a good and decent man," explains Dr. Reali.
The Fragetto dealt harshly with members of the partisans as well as any of their supporters. One day, in retaliation for partisan activity, the Fragetto killed 35 men, women, and children from the area "for spor.t" The Fragetto then went looking for any confirmed partisans. Marco Reali watched as a selection of seven partisan men were dragged by cars to the river to be shot and killed and knew the Fragetto would soon come for him.
Domenico Reali spent the nights of his late childhood waiting for the inevitable visit from the Fragetto, and soon thereafter, they came. His mother stood shaking as he had to explain to the Fragetto his father was not in their home and they did not know where he had gone. However, they knew he had found refuge in Maiolo, northwest of Cagli. He was safe for the time being.
Later that year, Domenico helped his father save a downed American pilot and a Slavic prisoner of war.
The American pilot, who Domenico Reali remembers as Longino James from Atlanta, was brought to the partisans by a parish priest. For the following months both Domenico Reali and his father provided them with food, cigarettes, and company. At 10 years old, rather than spending his time at after-school sports, or playing outside, Domenico Reali reassured these two captives of future freedom and being reunited with their families. The American, James, anxiously awaited news of his unborn baby, and tension ran high for the men all living in fear. In early 1944 four partisans, his father included, took James and the Slavic prisoner to join the nearby army brigade.
That May his father, while moving ammo from under the roof of their home, was caught and taken prisoner by the Fragetto and held as a POW in Novafeltria, not far from Maiolo. Now at 11, it became Domenico Reali's daily task to not only visit his father in prison, but to crawl beneath his father's cell to communicate with him by pushing tiny pieces of paper through cracks in the floor. He was actively planning his father's escape from enemy prison when they were finally given a break. The prison commander, seeing the imminent approach of the Allies, released the inmates.
Due to his father's political practices, Domenico Reali spent much of his youth as an outsider. Constantly persecuted for his father's insubordinate attitude towards the Fragetto, he was not allowed privileges afforded those his age. He was not permitted to take summer vacations or partake in typical activities.
After the war, Domenico Reali continued to study at the university and earned his doctorate. Despite his father's political life, the son was never active in any party.
Coming to the end of his narrative, Dr. Reali Domenico's pale blue eyes suggest these memories are just a few of many. His forehead is speckled with sunspots and the wrinkles of his smile evoke the feeling that life has improved for him and his family.
"Justice and liberty are what I think are important," he says. "A group that fights for these is the group for me."