فصل 09

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER NINE

Autumn 1943: Betrayal

The Allies invaded Sicily, Italy’s southern island, and so they betrayed their most loyal and courageous friend, Greece, and did not come to its aid. The angry Greeks demanded to know why their country, which was occupied by the Italians, had been ignored, and received no answers. The Allies had abandoned Greece, the little nation that had given Europe its culture and its heart. To make matters worse, during this period the Greek Communists were committing unimaginably vicious acts, but for a long time the world did not believe it.

On Cephallonia, the Italian soldiers listened to their radios and followed the course of Allied progress up Italy, their homeland, while the German soldiers were angered and disgusted by the Italian army’s lack of resistance to the Allies. Corelli and his brother officers sensed ice in the air, and visits between the Germans and the Italians became less frequent. When Weber turned up at meetings of La Scala, he seemed quiet and distant.

‘What happens,’ Corelli asked Pelagia with a troubled look, ‘when we have to surrender before the Germans do?’

‘We’ll get married.’

He shook his head sadly. ‘It’s going to be a complete mess. There’s no chance of the British coming. They’re going straight for Rome. No one will save us unless we save ourselves. We should attack the Germans on the island now, while there aren’t many of them, but our generals don’t do anything. They say we should trust the Germans.’

‘Don’t you trust them?’

‘I’m not stupid.’

‘Come inside,’ she said, ‘my father’s out.’

‘There’s no point. My mind is just a blank that’s filled with worry.’

Corelli came to the doctor’s house less often, and day and night he trained his men, working them hard in the terrible August heat, so that the sweat ran down their faces and arms, and the sun burned the flesh of their shoulders. They did not complain. They knew that the captain was right to prepare them.

He himself stopped playing the mandolin; there was so little time for it that when he picked it up it felt foreign in his fingers in comparison with a gun. He went home to Pelagia on his motorbike at times when her father was likely to be out, and he brought her bread, honey, bottles of wine, a photograph signed on the back with the words ‘After the War…’ written on it in his elegant, foreign-looking handwriting, and he brought her his tired, grey face, and his saddened eyes.

‘My poor darling,’ she would say, her arms about his neck, ‘don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry,’ and he would move back a little and say, ‘Koritsimou, let me just look at you.’

And then came the time when Carlo was listening to the radio, trying to find a signal. It was 8 September, and the evenings had become much cooler than they had been before. Carlo had recently been thinking about Francesco and about the horror of Albania, and now more than ever he knew that it had all been a waste, and that his time in Cephallonia had been a holiday from a war that was going to destroy his life once more, perhaps forever. He found a voice and turned up the volume: ‘… all aggressive acts by Italian Armed Forces against the forces of the British and the Americans will cease at once, everywhere.’ The Italians had formally surrendered to the Allies.

Outside, the bells of the island began to ring; they rang all over the island in the towns of Argostoli, Lixouri, Soulari, Dorizata. On the radio there was a message from Eisenhower, the American president: ‘… All Italians who take steps to rid themselves of the German presence in their country will have the assistance and support of the Allies…’

Carlo ran out and found Corelli just arriving on his bike, a great cloud of blue smoke behind him. ‘Antonio, Antonio, it’s all over, and the Allies have promised to help us,’ he cried. He threw his enormous arms around the man he loved and picked him up, dancing in a circle. ‘Carlo, Carlo,’ the captain cried, ‘put me down. Don’t get so excited. The Allies don’t care about us. We’re in Greece, remember. Carlo, you don’t know your own strength. You half killed me.’

‘They’ll help us,’ said Carlo, but Corelli shook his head. ‘If we don’t act now, we’re finished. We’ve got to get the Germans on the island to surrender to us.’

That night the Italian warships in the harbours of the island sailed for home, without informing anyone they were going, or taking with them a single Italian soldier. In a terrible act of cowardice, the warships withdrew their protection from the soldiers on the island, so that the German soldiers laughed and Corelli’s men smelled betrayal. Corelli waited at the telephone for orders, and when none came he fell asleep in his chair.

Carlo, now realizing that Corelli’s pessimistic predictions were probably correct, wrote his captain a long letter in which he declared his undying love for him and also his unselfish hope that Corelli would find true happiness with Pelagia. Strangely convinced that he was going to die soon, Carlo added this letter to his other writings and brought them to the doctor’s house, with the request that his papers should be placed in the hiding-hole under the trapdoor and only opened and read in the event of his death.

Like Corelli, Gunter Weber also slept from time to time in his chair, waiting for orders, desperately tired and with all his confidence gone. He missed his Italian friends, but worse than that, his country was losing and he no longer felt proud and full of strength. He felt inferior and so betrayed by his country’s allies, the Italians, that if he had been a woman he would have wept. He tried to pray but the words turned bitter in his mouth.

Corelli stopped his motorcycle on his way back to camp and beneath the shade of a tree, by a ruined wall, he sat and thought about going back to Italy, about surviving, about Pelagia. The truth was that he had no home and that was why he never talked about it. Mussolini had forced his family to move to Libya, and there they had been attacked by rebels and had died, while he lay in hospital with a high fever.

Of all the relatives’ houses where he had stayed, which one was home? He had no family except his soldiers and his mandolin, and his heart was there in Greece. Had he suffered so much pain, so much loneliness, had he finally found a place to be, only to have it torn away? His memories of his parents were as thin and indefinite as those of a ghost, and for the first time he began to feel as if Pelagia already belonged to his past. He thought about dying and wondered how long Pelagia would weep, and what a shame it would be to spoil her lovely flesh with tears; it broke his heart to imagine it. He wanted to reach out from beyond the grave and comfort her, even though he was not yet dead.

He went to the doctor’s house and asked them to look after his mandolin, and Pelagia wrapped it in a blanket and put it under the hole in the floor. They told him about Carlo’s visit, and how he had left a thick pile of papers with them. The captain had not known that Carlo had ambitions to be a writer and was curious about the content of the big man’s papers. He thought that Pelagia looked very thin and almost ill, and when she sadly stroked his cheek, he almost did not know how to prevent his tears.

After Italy’s surrender to the Allies, General Gandin, leader of the Italian troops on Cephallonia, suffered terrible indecision about the course of action he should take. He had two choices. Compared to the number of Italian soldiers on the island, there were many fewer German troops, and he could insist that the German soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to the superior Italian forces. If the Germans rejected this, then the Italian troops could theoretically attack and overcome them. But Gandin knew that he would receive no support from the Allies, and moreover, that he would have neither air nor sea support from his own country. He knew that the Germans still had a large number of bomber planes based in mainland Greece, and the thought of those death machines screaming over the island as they dropped their bombs filled him with horror.

These thoughts led the General to the second option, which was to surrender to the Germans, on condition that the latter gave written guarantees of the safety of the Italian soldiers on the island. This would mean trusting the Germans not to break their promises and attack the Italians. It was this second route that Gandin was tempted to take. He was, in a strange way, a man of honour, and still considered the Germans to be his allies.

Unlike General Gandin, the Italian troops on Cephallonia knew exactly what should be done. They heard from the radio that the Germans, as they withdrew in Italy, were killing and looting along the way and they could see no reason why the Germans would not do the same in Cephallonia, given the chance. While Gandin delayed, unable to make up his mind, and his soldiers became almost crazy with anger and fear, the Germans quietly flew more arms and troops to the island.

Finally General Gandin came to a decision. Despite the universal demand of his men that the Germans should be forced to surrender, the General agreed with the German leaders on the island that the Italians should be allowed to keep their weapons and peacefully leave Cephallonia. There were no ships, however, to take the Italians away, a point which did not seem significant to Gandin. Some of the Italian troops, guessing what was likely to happen, became deeply depressed, while others, like Corelli, developed an iron determination and prepared their men to the last degree for the terrible battle that they were certain lay ahead of them.

When the German bomber planes arrived, early in the afternoon, tipping their wings, it was almost a relief to the waiting Italians. Now everything was clear; it was at last obvious that the Germans had betrayed them and that every Italian soldier would have to fight for his life. Gunter Weber knew that he would have to turn his weapons on his friends. Corelli knew that his musician’s fingers, so well accustomed to the arts of peace, must now tighten around a gun. General Gandin knew too late that he had made the wrong decision and that, as a result, his men were going to die. Pelagia knew that a war that had always been somewhere else would now settle upon her home and turn its stones to dust.

The German planes attacked Argostoli first because that was where most Italian troops were concentrated. Gandin made the foolish mistake of bringing his troops into the town in increasing numbers, and this made it easier for the Germans to isolate and cut them down. Houses were crushed by the bombs and soldiers and islanders died in large numbers. More and more German soldiers were flown in, and spread all over the island, killing as they went. Everyone knew that no ships or planes would come to aid an island of Cephallonia’s insignificance. On a hillside, Bunny Warren sat by his radio and tried to persuade his superiors that they should provide the Italians with air and sea support, but without success.

Dr Iannis and his daughter sat side by side at their kitchen table, unable to sleep, holding each others’ hands. Pelagia was weeping. The doctor wanted to relight his pipe, but out of respect for his daughter’s feelings he allowed his hands to stay in hers, and he repeated, ‘Koritsimou, I am sure he is all right.’

‘But we haven’t seen him for days,’ she cried. ‘I just know he’s dead.’

‘If he was dead someone would have told us, someone from La Scala. They were all nice boys, they would let us know.’

‘Were?’ she repeated. ‘You think they’re all dead? You think they’re dead too, don’t you?’

‘Oh God,’ the doctor sighed.

It was on the morning of 22 September that Captain Antonio Corelli, knowing that his leaders were planning to surrender to the Germans, having had no sleep for three days, climbed on his motorcycle and sped towards Pelagia’s house. He threw himself into her arms, resting his burning eyes upon her shoulder, and told her, ‘We are lost. The British have betrayed us.’

She begged him to stay, to hide in the house, in the hole in the floor, with his mandolin and Carlo’s papers, but he took her face in his hands, kissed her without the tears that he was too tired to weep, and then rocked her in his arms, squeezing her so tightly that she thought that her bones would crack. He kissed her again and said, ‘Koritsimou, this is the last time I shall ever see you. There has been no honour in this war, but I have to be with my boys.’ With his head hanging down, he told her, ‘Koritsimou, I am going to die. Remember me to your father. And I thank God I have lived long enough to love you.’

She watched him go as he drove away on his motorcycle, the dust cloud surrounding his head, then she went inside and sat at the kitchen table, terror gripping her heart.

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