My Nonna And The Nazi
Growing up, there was a story I heard my Nonna tell often, and one I always was proud to retell.
The Nazi’s were occupying the hills of Tuscany, looking for partisans. They came and took everything they needed to survive — food, animals, clothing, and anything they could think of that would help them keep fighting.
Nonna had a pet mule named Gina, who was also a part of their livelihood. Gina helped transport the chestnut flour that they milled back to the house.
The Nazi’s took Gina and then asked Nonna what was in the cellar, the pseudo pantry below her home.
She refused to answer.
Her silence incurred a gunshot.
The gunshot incurred her rage, and she yelled at the Nazi a slew of expletives in Italian.
My great grandmother, Cesira, pulled her into the house to save her. Decades later, when my cousins and I would ask her why she did such a thing when she clearly could’ve been killed, she would say, “I was so mad that I didn’t care if I died.”
As a kid, hearing that story always struck me with awe and wonder. Was my grandmother a Nazi hunter? Wasn’t she terrified of being killed? How did she manage to have the courage to yell at someone who she knew could kill her just as easily as he killer her precious mule?
The older I got, the more I realized that Nonna was built with a fearlessness that ran through her veins alongside her blood.
She stamped on wasps with her bare feet.
She got cuts and scrapes and bruises without shedding a tear.
And she yelled at Nazi’s when they came to her home to threaten her family
Learning to stand up against hatred is part of being a good human, an integral part of being led by love, justice, and honesty. It’s easy to tell people what they must do in theory — to stand against what is wrong, and stand for what is right — but to put it into practice is a little bit harder, for standing for something oftentimes means that you’re standing against something.
And standing against something can be quite terrifying if you’re met with something like a Nazi.
But Nonna didn’t care — wrong was wrong. For her, it was that simple. For her, it was that clear.
Years later, Nonna told me about when a friend of hers was killed right in front of her face at the hands of a Nazi.
I had always heard about the stories of Gina the Donkey, but never her friend.
I’m not sure why she spoke of Gina’s story more than her friend.
I can only think that it’s hard to talk about ghosts. Perhaps some pain never really fades; perhaps you get used to living with the hurt.
I wonder how many ghosts stick with her from that time. I can’t imagine what she went through, and I hope we never see dark days like that ever again.
But I know that hope will not always be enough. Words are beautiful, words have meaning, but words of love and justice met with action — that’s what matters. That’s what counts. That’s what prevents the history books from flipping the pages backward and reliving the darkest times all over again.
So stand up and show up and speak up when you see hatred and bigotry.
Make sure love is a louder voice on your screens.
Take the time to educate people about what they do not understand, for hatred and prejudice feed on fear and ignorance.
The time in which we live allows all of us to have a platform, and I hope you think about how you will use yours.
Love is always a choice.
Hate is always a choice.
Inaction is always a choice, too.
The life that stretches before you is made up of a billion and one choices — some big, some small — all with meaning. All there for you to take.
You just have to choose.