Personal account of fascist’s crimes
GIVE General Rodolfo Graziani’s appalling record in Ethiopia in the 1930s, Gaia Pianigiani’s report (International, 2 September) on the unveiling of a statue to him in the village of Affile near Rome strikes a remarkably balanced tone. Pianigiani quotes both those who approve of the statue and those who believe that a war criminal should not be honoured in this way.
Graziani’s war crimes are well documented, but I have heard evidence of them from two eye witnesses: my mother and aunt. They saw lorry loads of corpses being transported past their house during Graziani’s reprisals after the attempt on his life at a public gathering on 19 February 1937 to celebrate the birth of Vittorio Emanuele. My Italian grandfather, Dr Iago Bossi, a communications expert from the First World War, had been called up in 1935 and was subsequently billeted in Addis Ababa.
During the reprisals, Graziani ordered that any Ethiopian male should be rounded up and summarily shot. This included Gutamá, my grandparents’ “houseboy”. Rather than hand him over, they hid him, along with a dozen of his relatives in a shed and clandestinely fed them during the night until the reprisals ended. My mother, who was ten at the time, recounts seeing 12 terrified faces one night when she happened to go into the shed with her father. For this act my grandparents would themselves have been shot. I am inordinately proud of them.
Pianigiani also tells us of Graziani’s use of chemical weapons. These were prohibited by the Geneva Convention and were also used by General Pietro Badoglio in the same campaign. There were international protests against the use of these weapons and the Italian officers themselves registered their strong disagreement with their use.
What Pianigiani does not say was that the Italians’ unjustified use of these weapons was as retaliation for the use by Ethiopian forces of dum-dum bullets, also prohibited by the Geneva Convention.
We Brits supplied the bullets. We could also have stopped the Italian invasion of Ethiopia at a stroke in 1935, by closing the Suez Canal to Italian ships. Instead we simply charged them higher fees payable in gold for using it. My mother still has the iron commemorative wedding band given to her mother in return for contributing her gold wedding ring to “la patria”; gold that most probably found its way into the vaults of the Bank of England.
The British Empire never let principle interfere with profit.
Dr Francis Roberts, Edinburgh
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