Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Oct 2015

Mamma Ciociara   
[pron: chocha'ra - ch as in 'church']
Mamma Ciociara (Mother Ciociara), sculp. F. Andreani     
The town of Castro dei Volsci is 100 km/60 miles NW of Naples and just 25 km/15 miles beyond Monte Cassino on the way to Rome. The battles late in 1943 and early 1944 to overcome German defenses of Mt. Cassino are infamous in the history of warfare and have been the subject of films, books, oral histories —the Allied struggle up the Liri Valley, what the Allied attackers called “Death Valley”.

Lesser known are the atrocities committed against the civilian population by the Allied forces who took Monte Cassino. The Italian word marocchinata* (roughly, "that which was done by the Moroccans" —by extension, an act of similar depraved brutality) was coined to describe the episodes of mass rape, some murder and, in general, incredible cruelty inflicted upon the civilian population of the area known informally as Ciociaria (administratively, it is part of the province of Frosinone) by the Moroccan Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Alphonse Juin. I cite a paragraph from the oral history linked in the first paragraph (under "oral histories). The speaker was a captain in the 2nd Tactical Air Communications Squadron of the US 36th Infantry Division:
We remained in front of Cassino until May of 1944. It was the French army who really were responsible for our breakthrough. They did it by going a route that, as far as the Americans were concerned, was impossible. The Germans thought it was impossible, too. They were North African troops, from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. They thought that the loot belonged to them, including all the women —and they raped like hell. They thought this was the way war was fought. The Italians said, look, if this is what you're going to do, we'd rather be with the Germans. These guys also had their own sheepherders behind them because they were Muslims and couldn't eat pork. All of the fighting troops were Muslims, but the officers and non-coms were all Free French.
The Moroccan troops had been crucial in overcoming German defenses and were given given free reign to the “spoils of war” for a few days after the “Cassino breakout” (May 18, 1944). They raped, pillaged and even killed with impunity among the population just north of Mt. Cassino. The results? The mayor of Esperia, a town near Frosinone, reported that in his town, 700 women out of 2,500 inhabitants were raped, resulting in many deaths. Reliable statistics on total “casualties” from being "Moroccaned" are very hard to come by. It seems to have been tens of thousands, aged 11 to 85, raped, in some cases, killed. At least a few hundred men were murdered for trying to protect their families.

Are these accounts true? Anecdotal? (They can be both.) First, it is attested that the North African troops of the Free French forces were crucial in the taking of Monte Cassino.
The Allied commander, U.S. General Mark Clark, credited them with being "...a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC." [French Expeditionary Corps] Is the rest of it true? I have never read anything that attempts to deny the substance; the quibble is about the precise numbers. Many thousands of witnesses were there and reported essentially the same story. Complaints about the behavior of the Moroccans continued well beyond the immediate few days of "free reign" following the taking of Monte Cassino in May. In October of 1944 the New York Times cited the Vatican Osservatore Romano claims that Moroccans of the Free French were attacking women and children and destroying Italian property in Tuscany and Lombardy (by that date solidly in Allied hands), and pleading with the Allies to remove those forces, saying that "those in change of the Moroccan troops" were unable to curb such behavior. One anecdote (one I cannot substantiate) is this: Moroccan troops were so out of control that the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, sent a ship to ferry Moroccan prostitutes to Italy to keep the Goumiers from going completely crazy. That's the way I heard it from a person who was there. Something that is not an anecdote is that General Juin retired, became the mayor of a town in France and died in 1983.

There are at least two well-known cultural representations of the terror inflicted upon the civilian population of Ciociaria in late May of 1944: one is the 1957 book by Alberto Moravia, La Ciociara [the woman from Ciociaria]; the second is the 1960 film, La Ciociara, (adapted from the book), directed by Vittorio De Sica, with Sophia Loren) [called, in English, Two Women]. There was also a 1988 TV mini-series and a 2015 opera by Marco Tutino. The story is compelling
—as is the monument to Mamma Ciociara shown in the photo at the top of this page. It is lesser known, but very meaningful to the population of the area. It was erected in 1964 on the height of St. Peter's rock in the town of Castro dei Volsci overlooking the Sacco Valley. The work was sculpted in Carrara marble by Fedele Andreani, a prominent sculptor from Carrara. It is a beautiful work and, at the same time, agonizing to look at. The work is part of what was conceived to be a "monument to the Resistance" and there are various inscriptions around the base, some of which, incomprehensibly, have been defaced. (The old Vandals were bad enough; the new ones?...what can I say.) As far as I know, the statue has not been touched, nor has the short inscription put there by the sculptor, himself. It is a biblical reference in Latin: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem,” the beginning of the verse at John 13:34, where Jesus tells his disciples (in the KJV English version), “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."
photo: Pietro Scerato

*marocchinata - the suffix -ata, in this case, is a kind of augmentative, nouns formed on the order of similar constructions in Italian such as fesso-->fessata (a supreme act of stupidity), bravo-->bravata (a feat of extreme courage or virtuosity); beffo--> beffata (a grand scam or con) etc.


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