By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos submitted by John Mingo and Dustin Lawson and used by permission
Between 13 and 22 September 1943, on the island of Kefalonia, the Germans fought the Italians of the 33rd “Acqui” Infantry Division.
A total of 1315 were killed in battle, 3,000 were drowned when the German ships taking them to concentration camps were sunk and 5,155 were executed by 26 September 1943, one of many atrocities committed by the 1. Gebirgs-Division.
Mr. John Mingo, in his book “The Girl From Greece” co-authored with Mr. Dustin Lawson, offers a first-hand account of his grandfather’s experience in Kefalonia, as a sergeant of the Italian Army.
Alessandro Rasile survived the massacre and is 97 years old today. One of the most striking events related to his wartime experience is the meeting with a girl, whose family sheltered him from the Germans.
Please tell us about your motive to write about your grandfather Alessandro Rasile.
I grew up hearing my grandfather’s story.
As I got older I would do more and more research into the history of the 33rd Acqui Division, and the Massacre on Kefalonia and found great difficulty in finding much information here in the United States.
The history of it was not very well known in the US and I strongly felt the sacrifices of the men of the 33rd Acqui Division needed to be recognized.
What was the key moment you decided to keep his war memories alive and share them with the world?
My grandfather is soon to be 97 years old.
The later he got in years, the more he talked about his wartime experiences. He had written down everything soon after the war in a journal, and several years ago had gotten to the point that he felt comfortable with it being published.
When he had first written it he kept it hidden out of fear that people might still do him harm for what he had written down. The journal was first translated from Italian into English by my uncle.
He gave me a copy of it to read. The real point at which we decided to publish it was my meeting of the now co author Dustin Lawson. We are both army reservists and were being mobilized for a peace keeping mission to Kosovo.
I learned that Dustin himself was an author and I showed him a copy of the journal. Dustin graciously offered to help put it into a book format and publish it. His offer really sparked the whole project.
Your grand father served with the Acqui Division and his war experiences caused him nightmares for decades; Was this book a sort of redemption for him?
He had lost so much during the war. One of the saddest things is that he came home to learn that he parents had been killed in Italy while he was still missing in action.
They died not knowing he was still alive. After getting back to Italy he couldn’t let go of the trauma and the the anger.
He had a friend named Tomaso that was imprisoned with him who first suggested he write everything down.
Putting his experiences down on paper was a way for him to finally deal with his experiences and move past what had happened to him.
Finally facing the trauma ultimately saved his life.
The massacre of the Acqui Division in Kefalonia is one of the war crimes that still echo to this day; What did Alessandro remember the most from these events and why?
From all the stories he has shared with me over the years and from what is in the book one in particular stands out to me.
After the fighting was over, after all the mass executions stopped, they began loading all the Italians onto cargo ships.
My grandfather was standing on a dock with a bunch of other prisoners, and the Germans brought around pots of cooking macaroni.
A German officer began to talk to the group and offered all these hungry Italians to the opportunity to enjoy this fresh pasta.
All they needed to do was agree to join the German army and they would be taken care of.
The Italians all sat in silence. My grandfather soon started to feel the eyes of all the other Italians on him. He soon realized that as a sergeant, and barely 21 years old he was the highest ranking Italian soldier there.
All the other soldiers were looking to him to lead. So he walked up to the German officer and told him “you killed all our officers, you murdered our brothers, and now you want to fight for you.”
None of us will join you go fuck yourself!”
The German officer became so enraged that he drew his pistol and fired some bullets at my grandfather’s feet, then ordered all the pasta dumped in the sea.
Meeting with the young girl turned into a nurse in 1968 must have surely been like an apocalypse to Alessandro Rasile; What are your thoughts on that?
The meeting of the little girl in New York in 1968 is just simply amazing to me. The odds seem astronomical.
It adds to my belief that there is some higher power that has a plan for us all. The book as a whole is a collection of stories where my grandfather should have died, shouldn’t have survived, but yet does.
My grandfather didn’t suffer for no reason. In a way meeting someone that was able to survive all that horror and thrive because tyranny was not allowed to prevail showed something tangible and good that came our of all his suffering.
Your book “The girl from Greece” is a deeply human story; how important is it to make sure those decades old memories stay with us and the younger generations?
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Nazis still exist in this world today. The events that occurred during the second world war have happened time and again since then.
We must continue to keep these memories alive as our best defense to keep these tragedies from happening again.
If you could tell us of one key lesson learned from these events Alessandro experienced, which one would that be and why?
The immense power of the human spirit to me is the most important message of the story.
The men of the Acqui division had everything taken away from them, but the continued to fight any way they could.
Even long after the were taken from Kefalonia and sent to prison camps.
They continued to resist and even committed acts of sabotage to hinder the Nazi war effort.
The ability for these men to fight with every fiber of their being no matter what, is admirable and should be emulated.