Forgiving your Executioners: the Story of Don Aldo Mei

Fiano is a village in the comune of Pescaglia that lies half way, in a beautifully scenic position, on the road going from Val Pedogna to Val Freddana.

I’d visited Fiano before during its delightful Christmas market (one of the best in the area – well worth going to) and found it an attractive, if not especially notable, place stretching into three well-defined sections with a height differential of over three hundred feet from upper to lower “frazioni”.

Fiano has a big church (probably too big for today’s needs) built by the efforts of the then parish priest Don Quilici between 1912 and 1923, and replacing the original one which was collapsing. I have been unable to find out more information about the original church but the present building, although not exactly to my taste, built in a pseudo-Romanesque style, has, at least, a fantastic panoramic position over the whole area.

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The church has a single nave with a transept.

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The bell tower is much older and one can spot medieval stone work in its lower section.

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 In the church, a victim of Nazi-fascism, Don Aldo Mei (parish priest here from 1935 to 1944) is buried. This is his tomb.

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In a nearby glass case, are displayed the glasses and clothes (stained with blood) Don Mei wore when he was executed by the Nazis in 1944.

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But who was Don Mei?

I managed to get his story as follows: On August 2 1944, shortly after celebrating Mass in Fiano’s parish church, Don Mei was arrested by the SS on the charge that he had given refuge to Jews, fascist regime deserters and partisans. He was taken to Lucca and sentenced to death. Lucca’s archbishop, Monsignor Torrini, was unable to save him and on August 4th Don Mei was taken by the walls of Lucca just outside Porta Elisa.

“I’m dying because of hate’s dark storm, I, who only wanted to live for love”, he declared . Don Mei was forced to dig his own grave and then killed with twenty-eight gunshots by the SS firing squad. Poignantly, before the execution he forgave and blessed his murderers.

Here is Don Mei’s memorial on the spot in Lucca he was executed:

 

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This is the last view Don Mei saw before he died:

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Fiano’s parishioners did not forget Don Mei’s heroic action and they have unveiled a memorial to him opposite the parish church.

I only discovered the story of Don Mei because I finally decided to stop at the statue I’d spotted. It’s a good thing if one decides to stop and look instead of saying, “Ah well, next time”, or declaring, “It’s not important enough for me to stop.”

In 1997 I visited various war cemeteries and was completely overwhelmed by the numbers of young men fallen. In particular, at Verdun, where the majority of victims remain unknown by name, I met a nice English lady who said she was doing her “holocaust” tour. I feel there is enough around Lucca province to merit a similar kind of tour.

After all, through the strong socialist leanings of such workers as the marble quarries of Massa and Carrara and the independent spirit of the people of this region, there has always been a strong opposition to fascism, even during the period when it was most rampant. Indeed, the area of Carrara was awarded the Cross of Valour of the Italian republic, much like the inhabitants of Malta were awarded the George Cross, the highest honour for civilian valour.

Lucca is not only about wonderful olive oil, great wines, fine dining, courteous people, amazing heritage, seductive music and beautiful scenery; it is also about strength and determination in the face of overwhelming odds and a robust stand against oppression an inhumanity. This is, I feel, fully personified in such people as Don Mei who was killed when he was just thirty-two, but whose altruistic life is remembered today by those who care about life’s greatest values.

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4 thoughts on “Forgiving your Executioners: the Story of Don Aldo Mei

  1. Thank you for this Francis, a very moving article. What a dreadful atrocity; one of many committed by the Nazis in occupation or during retreat from Italy. Don Aldo’s courage in doing the right thing in helping others whilst jeopardising his own safety can be an inspiration to young Italians today and to all of us. Each time I visit Bagni I hear more of the fabric of society there. I hear these accounts of terrible suffering of Italians either at the hands of the Germans, or from Italian Fascist to Italian, they are truly awful, and even now many years later the scars are visible in the accounts of the war which are told and re-told. Italy has given the world some great men and women of Art and Culture. It has also given us great men of courage and conviction. We need to add the name of Aldo Mei to that list.

    On a separate but related point, the SS regiment (whether Waffen SS or SS) guilty of his murder will have had a full regimental number and possibly its own individual insignia.
    The record of the men who “served” in it will be a matter of public record in Germany. It is ironic and shocking that there appears (please correct me if i’m wrong on this) to have been no attempt to trace those men after the war. Murder is murder, whether it is committed in a uniform or not.

  2. Thanks Chris for your much appreciated comment on this post. I sometimes think that posts should be light and airy but, as you quite rightly say, one can’t understand the Italy of today without knowing something of its past – especially recent past. Thanks again! With regard to prosecutions – that has been a very difficult thing and has in many cases not been pursued for a variety of “diplomatic” reasons..

  3. You are absolutely right about the “diplomatic” situation this is often the reason,
    post-conflict. Lots of compromises are being made in Northern Ireland and in the former Yugoslavia in the name of peace. Its just the thought of those guilty young men, many of whom by May 1945 would be back with their families in Germany, living their lives while Aldo Mei and others were denied theirs. I think it is important to forgive but not forget.
    Don’t worry about posts that are’nt airy fairy – we’re only here once and its important to understand the world around us!

  4. It will be difficult not to remember Aldo Mei the brave young priest as one goes past the Porta Elisa what a shocking story again man’s inhumanity to man rears itself and this is still continuing today in various countries for the sake of different religious beliefs or political tendencies so it is so important not to forget, as it is stated that history repeats itself, lest we should forget! History often hides the truth about these awful atrocities for one reason or another it is often the case that it may well be difficult to relate the facts as they are but it is often with the aide of these memorials that these terrible events are brought to our attention so that one can quietly be reminded and pray that these events never repeat.again. On a different note today 6 ladies from the UK have written to Pope Francis announcing that they are in love with 6 priests so maybe now is the time to allow Catholic priests to marry as with Anglican priests and create a new order of married priests also this may well interest more people to enter into the religious orders and way of life.I look forward to seeing what response the Holy Father will give maybe too a lay army of married people could be included.

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