Memories of imprisonment


This is a necrology, obituary notice, for Arturo Tarabusi by his brother. It’s also a report of Tarabusi’s experience as a prisoner of war in Austria-Hungary and of his escape to Romania. He includes sketches of Austrian life and remarks on the cultural differences in the Austrian Empire, that few soldiers understand each other because ‘in Austria there are a lot of dialects and languages’. Because of this Tarabusi can pass as an Austrian soldier despite his poor German. By the end of the narrative he has met an Italian-speaking officer of Fiume, now Rijeka in Croatia, who doesn’t help his escape as he had hoped. Tarabusi concludes that not all Italian-speaking Austrians were disloyal to the Empire.


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A group of officers, who had been previously informed, enticed the sentinel far from the small door.

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The tenant Fasser – the ace of the aces of the escapes – (this was his tenth tentative) got near for first to the door and broke it with a with his shoulder: I was the last of the march, even because I should be ready to face up the guards in case of resistance.
It was an instant: we six left the place with the rapidity of a lamp.
In the meantime people gave the alarm!
We parted in two groups.
Lugli from Capri: Gelmetti from Salsomaggiore, and Fasser from Terni by one side: Milanesi from Turin, De Rosa from Lecce and I on the other.
Milanesi and De Rosa were running wildly: they took a small path and disappeared: I slowed down: dressed as a perfect German in a passive and indifferent attitude, I thought I could have less attract the attention of the soldiers.
When I came to the walk of Danubio, I saw the Austrian who were running shouting: << Stop! Stop! They are Italian officers >>.
Gelmetti, De Rosa, Lugli and Milanesi, came together again, were running as fast as they could.
Fasser followed, instinctively, my example: he left quiet, with the hands on the back, as if what was happening didn’t interest him.
As soon as he saw me, with an imperious sign, called me: he had the grades of the Austrian major Caporal!
I immediately understood his plan: I ran towards him, and I stand to attention as a real tugnitt: he asked me the documents which I showed to him: he observed carefully the documents with an amazing seriousness, with a proud frown and Austrian chasers passed without disturbing us.
The cold blood saved us!
Behind the soldiers an Austrian sergeant came and commanded us to follow him and nothing remained us than run after our fugitive companions. A cinema scene!
Caporal Fasser at a certain point suffered some pains; he suffered asthma, I was limping, I couldn’t follow the good

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sergeant. We proposed to cut the street to the fugitives and we slipped in a street which conducted us again towards the bridge of Danubio.
We found it free and we passed.
It was our freedom.
Fasser went wards Gyor (Raab), I went directly to the station. At 17 ½ I could take the train, at 22 I came to Buda-pest, under a torrential water.


I’d never seen Buda-pest and you can easily guess how I was entangled and undecided in the middle of this movement and in the mood I were.
In two years I learnt German, but not enough to immediately understand, from the same pronunciation, my foreign origin.
But there was a circumstance that made me feel calm.
In Austria there are many dialects and languages: I had the occasion to know many soldiers who couldn’t understand each others.
I decided to assume an idiot face in case of interrogations and go ahead.
In comparison with me Renzo Tramaglino, at his first entrance in Milan, was a genius.
I don’t know why I was really thinking in that moment of the wonderful character of Manzoni, but certainly I was all absorbed in that memory when someone hit my shoulder.
I turn back and I saw in front of me an Austrian captain.
I had a shock, but only for a moment.
The captain, kindly, asked me to take for him a big package to the station.

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I couldn’t answer no: I took the bundle and go.
Dash! It weighed 75 kg! There were memories from the front: bullets, arms and what else.
I should follow him, with that small things, till the train leaving for Vienna. Saying that it seemed to me an endless trip is something that lightly came near to what I felt in that moment.
The captain took some coins from his pocket and made the act of offering to me.
Instinctively I refuse, but he had a dark face and I understood that I made a mistake, I extended my hand and took the very splendid tip.
I went towards a cabin where crowed some soldiers who seemed to go on leave for their aspect and their dress.
I saw them handing the trip ticket through a window and gave some coins. Tip.
The whole world is a country. Many times people spoke about our poor Italy as a corrupted nation, where you can obtain nothing without a gold key.
Also there, despite the obligation of serving the soldiers with order, justice, and for free, people were publicly trading and the one who offered more were firstly served.
I understood that and I was largely generous.
I immediately had a through ticket with other five soldiers.
A caporal made a squad and invited us to follow him: he brought us in a room where the mess were given to the soldiers who were passing.
They gave to me a crust of bread, a piece of salami and a cup of hot coffee.
I didn’t have the mess-tin and a soldier gave it to me.
It was a real manna from heaven. If we don’t consider the accident of the Captain and the effort of the 75 kilos. Everything perfectly worked, considering the scrap metal.

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I was satisfied, I went out in town, I wandered here and there; I wrote some postcards, then I came back to my cabin. My comrades were lying on the ground and they were soundly sleeping: I tried to imitate them, but I couldn’t close an eye: I was sailing in a sea of dreams: my country, my house, my dears, were passing in front of my brain in a vertiginous way. The sensation I proved I can’t precisely define it. Hope? Fear? Joy? I don’t know: the whole thing, together.
At 2 after midnight a commission to verify the passengers came in.
They were five ugly mug.
Here : when I speak about those people, I don’t know why, but my mind depicts them with faces horribly bad. I don’t know why it happens, but the truth is that even today, remembering them, I feel a painful sensation, as if I was seeing an horrible object or animal.
They came directly wards me, asking for my documents, which I showed and while they were verifying them, some of those people was interrogating me.
The commission was composed by an Austrian, an Hungarian, a Polack, a Bosnian, a Rumanian. My plan to behave as an idiot, to feign as if he couldn’t understand, collapsed in front of the clear-sightedness of those vipers. I assembled all my intellective faculties and answered in German..
I discreetly got out of trouble, when a damned boor saw that the document was wrong.
Without lots prefaces he drew out a revolver, pushed it in my chest and ordered to tie my hands behind my back.
I was on the verge of protesting : an idea that came out in this tragic moment was my salvation.
I kept silence : I gave an expression of wonder, of astonishment: I let them do and I followed them.

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I thought: << If a sergeant made me tie, it means that he doesn’t understand who I am: he wouldn’t ever allow the fact that an Italian officer should have been tied, how much is deep-rooted in them the respect of the grade >>.
They interrogated them again: I showed the paper of the trip left together with other five comrades, but nothing changed. I had been conduct to the chief and from there I went in a cell or prison where there were other soldiers, but all of them Austrian.
Were they thinking I was a deserter? Had they some doubts about my identity?
I lived terrible moments in those prison!

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It was my destiny to save myself. In the morning, at seven more or less, a sergeant came in: he made me a sign to follow him, he took me to a train which was ready to leave and told me: << This is the train for Leopoli, be fast, have a nice trip >>. I thought I was falling down the clouds! I hadn’t time to thank him, the train was leaving, I went away towards the unknown.
I was stunned, I couldn’t believe!
This sergeant was young: he seemed to me extremely beautiful. Was he a friend? Was he an enemy?
Had he violated the delivery for me? Had he received the order of let me free?
I was turning up and down the paper for the trip which I had in my hands; it was mine.
Oh ! Whoever you are, wherever you are, blessed you!
I’ve passed other bad moments, I were in tragic situations, but your image never let me alone, you were for me as a talisman and together with that of my dears, your face will always be impressed in my soul.
Why in this moment couldn’t I know your name? I will always remember you, young, and it is your memory that today sweetens my memories and make me hope that our two countries, after this awful storm, will be friends again, and without any reason of fight, they will love each other forever.
The memory of that adventure never left me.
I passed through Nagy-karol, Debreezene and at the evening of this same day I was in Styr. I came at Leopoli, I passed through Stanislau, Kolomea, Czernowitz where I came at 16 p.m. on 29 July.
No one accident: only at Kolomea, an inspector had some objections about the validity of my ticket and considered my permission to leave as irregular.
He made some noises, I made the idiot and he told me a “stupid”, sure that I was on the verge of losing my temper and jumping on his neck, but all ends there and I took comfort with the well known proverb.
<<Everything ends good is good >>.

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A soldier came wards me with the bayonet ready and it was difficult for me to stop. The soldier was a Rumen sentinel.
That torrent signed the line of the armistice: I passed it without being aware, I passed the Austrian sentinel, I was save.
I had been taken to the Rumen chief: I was full of attentions and kindness and restored with bread, milk, coffee and honey. Good time!
On 31 July I was leaving to Jassy and on 1 August I presented myself to the Italian Consul Giuseppe Serpi and to the military attacchè General Peano Comm. Alberto, who promised to give me the passports to pass through Russia and reach Pietrogrado and Arcangelo.


On 15 August I was called to the Legation and the R. Consul gave me a Russian passport perfectly regular, fitted with my photograph as a civilian, with the name of Serghei Alexevitch Verckine, student, some money and he wished me to have a nice trip.
At the Russian line I had to stop. I met many officers who were running out of Russia where the revolution had exploded and the terror began. The allies were jet at Arcangelo and the Russian bolshevism sided against the Intesa. At Moscow the R. Consul Cav. Lombardi and others officers had already been arrested; it was absolutely impossible to advance.
Then we received an order from General Comm. Peano and we must came back.
It was a new imprisonment, sweeter, for the personal freedom and the kindness received, but it was an imprisonment, we couldn’t reach Italy, our

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family, the war field were, we felt it, the last chard would have been played.
I couldn’t adapt with this situation: nothing could do the attention of the Rumen authorities, nothing the kindness of General Peano, nothing the inestimable friendship of R. Consul Cav. Serpi!
I wanted my Italy!
I made a brave plan which I told to some officers who wished, as me, to see again their families.
I told it to Cav. Serpi: he shook his head as if he was telling me << you are crazy >> but he didn’t try to change my mind. Among my comrades, only Cap. Rago sir Michele and Tenant Schenone sir Carlo, decided to side with my project.
<< With our right Russian passports we should try to cross Austria-Hungary to go in Swiss, in Newchatel, for studying reasons >>. This was my plan: brave, but not impossible.
After having well studied the itinerary and the way of behaving, we started the march.


We reached the Rumen-Transylvanian line and precisely Agae. It was 21 August: we passed the frontier and got to Taravas, an Austrian command to verifying the passports and to obtain the << permission >> of the General-Kommando of Brasso.
We had been interrogated: we answered well; but they didn’t trust us.
The person who was interrogating us was an officer from Fiume, Tenant Vezzosi who understood from our pronunciation that we weren’t Russian: we had strength and extremely long interrogations and maybe he wouldn’t have find anything without the help of another Tenant, Tagliavini from Trieste who said that he heard tenant Schiavone speaking Italian to us.

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When we knew that they were two unredeemed, two Italians, Tenant Sebenone confessed everything, hopeful, maybe, not to be betray by those two compatriots for whose liberation Italy had moved, and ended with declaring also our personal particulars even though we were protesting.
We had been ipso facto surrounded by bayonets and the following day, with an officer and four Hungarian soldiers who were escorting us, we had been transferred to the General-Kommando of Brasso.
We arrived on 25 evening. At the Kommando everybody were absent because it was a holiday day : the guards didn’t want us in custody : we had been conducted to a near field of prisoners, but also there the Commandant wanted any responsibility and he surrendered to our escorts after lots of sincere prayers.
We suffered the usual sermon : we shouldn’t tempt to escape : the sentinels received the order to shoot at any sign.
We had been temporarily closed in the infirmary. My first attention was to inspect our new prison. I saw that the infirmary was in front of a gym with the windows at a high of five or six metres from the ground. There I saw my salvation, but I couldn’t follow my plan at once for the prayers of Tenant Schenone who now was afraid of everything and invocated also the memory of his old mother to avoid our new crazy plans which could compromise more and more our sad condition.
He persuaded chief Rago and we decided to postpone the escape.
I saved from the perquisition 2000 korone which I had : the others had nothing : so I was the stronger, and I could impose my will.
The next day, in the morning, I managed to enter in the gym: I took a bench and clinging at every projection I could find I managed to reach the window and, at the right time, I threw myself in the middle of nothing.

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Some young Rumens who we had the fortune to meet gave us precious indications about how avoid the places controlled by the German sentinels.
We crossed the track of a railway and in a few minutes we saw a city.
We proceeded watchful and in silence, in single file, through a path : I was first and with the ears tight and the eye fix, immobile, blocked, I watched those lights which was meaning salvation, freedom and this tension of all my being, made me weak, it seemed that on my shoulders I had all the pains of the two years of imprisonment.
The obstacles I had, and surpassed, always found me strong, ready to challenge them; the idea of being free instead of giving me that joy and proud which I deserved, made me weak.
I stopped for a while to rest : Tenant Schenone passed first. Was he feeling my same sensations? Or maybe he was so tired that was proceeding only by force of habit? He wasn’t careful and we met a German sentinel.
He gave the alarm ! I tried to go back : hiding in a bush : I was caught; we were caught, conducted in the middle of Boches ; arrested and closed in a shed with other Rumen prisoners.
In the morning, at 9 a.m., we had the first interrogation. We said that we were from Moldavia

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and that we were going to find a job. We knew that there was the << Aussweiss >> and that he hadn’t it should have been send again to Moldavia. It was what we were desiring.
But it didn’t happen : they didn’t trust us and they sent us to the military tribunal of Toscani for the identification.
Things were not working well.
Escorted by an officer and eight soldiers we had been sent to the station.
The building was German for a half and Rumen for the other half : well, the line of the armistice divided the station and was signed by a reticulate.
Freedom was near. A furious storm broke : the overseeing was less.

FREE !...

A major officer passed.
The strong discipline of those men, extremely admirable, enviable, the only fight we won, was what save us, more than the genius of their generals.
When they saw their Major, those marmots with the walk as a goose, sprang, erected, to attention, immobile as statues.
I caught that moment : in silence I went along the wall : I passed the corner of the station, then as a lamp I ran towards the line of delimitation.
Who gave me the wings? I don’t know, I passed it : I don’t know how, but I was to the opposite side in a deep ditch full of water and mug. I was unrecognizable, but free.
After a half I was on the train travelling to Jassy.

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Memories of imprisonment
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