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Life in World War II Naples Italy

During my reasearch for this book I came up with many interesting stories and facts about life in Naples, Italy both before and during the World War II. For one reason or another, I needed to remove them from the book but I still find them fascinating.

Even the Wealthy Struggle (Excerpt)

Sitting next to us in the bomb shelter, I overheard the wealthy older couple. It seemed they had struggled to survive since the war had begun. They lost all their servants—their male servant enlisted and their two female servants returned to their families in the South. The couple didn't even know how to start a fire. Wealthy from birth, neither of them knew how to cook a meal and they lacked the cunning to buy food on the Black Market which now served as the primary source of supplies in Napoli. This left them with only rationed food, portions so small no one could survive on them very long. The couple's assets invested in France, England, and the Netherlands before the war had been confiscated or frozen and they had run out of money.

The Cost of War (Excerpt)

Carina overhears two Italian officers talking about the Allied invasion:

We took a seat by two Italian Army Majors. They were discussing the Allied attack on Italy, and, evidently, they had been privy to some information that was no longer classified. Evidently, the three major Allied powers found it difficult to agree on a plan to attack Germany. Churchill urged expansion of Allied operations in the Mediterranean to keep the Germans away from British soil. Roosevelt wanted to undertake a massive buildup of men and equipment for a cross-Channel invasion of France. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, preoccupied with the battle for Stalingrad, demanded an immediate military assault to draw German forces out of Russia.

Thus, for political, strategic, operational, and logistical reasons, the Allied leaders had agreed to invade Sicily (Operation HUSKY) in order to secure the Mediterranean, obtain uninterrupted lines of communications and supply, as well as acquire a base to launch bombers for any Mediterranean strike point. 'Husky' would also divert German forces from the Russian front and drive Italy out of the war. The Sicily invasion exceeded expectations. It had been a perfect plan, the Italian officers agreed.

"I overheard my American commander quoting a writer named Ernie Pyle," said one of the officers. "He talked about how much it costs to kill one German soldier with their artillery. With the great price of big modern guns, training the men, shipping the supplies, and the big shells costing $50 each, they figured it cost $25,000 for every German killed by an American ordinance. He suggested offering the Germans $25,000 apiece to surrender-save all the in-between process. I'd be happy with $1,000 at this point. I bet the Germans would take even less."

Italian Army

Naples harbor after the Nazi retreat

American Ingenuity? (Excerpt)

In addition to the lack of food, looting continued to plague Napoli. To discourage the plunderers, the Americans placed signs around bombed out buildings, 'DANGER: POISON GAS.' I also learned that the American soldiers set off stink bombs to discourage people from entering these areas.

Refound Virginity

One doctor in Napoli specialized in restoring virginity. For 10,000 liras, he made the most hardened prostitute a fresh virgin. As poor as people were his business boomed during and after the war. He became one of the wealthiest physicians in the city.

Justice During World War II in Naples, Italy (Excerpt)

One time I was in court waiting for the trial of one of our guys. In the case prior to ours I watched a man defend himself on charges for collecting scrap telephone cable to resell. The cable had been left behind by the German's. The prosecutor for the Allies contended that all supplies and equipment abandoned by the German's was, by right, theirs. The judge asked the man if he had anything to say before he pronounced sentence. The weary man told him, "When the Germans occupied Naples we ate once per day. The American's have rescued us and now we may eat once per week. Americans, Germans, it feels the same when you're being screwed." Then in typical Neapolitan style, he ended by smiling at the judge and saying with a genuine sincerity, "All good wishes to you, your honor. May you have a most pleasant day." The judge had him return the wire he had collected to the Americans and sentenced the man to one day in jail.

Other horrors of injustice included stories of mistaken identity. Commonly, people erroneously ended up on military black lists mistaken as Fascists, Communists or criminals. Sometimes just having a similar name to an outlaw placed you on the list. Sometimes someone wanted you out of the way and falsely accused you. One thing remained certain, once on the military black list your name stayed there forever.

Anything to Eat (Excerpt)

With food so valued, people went to extraordinary means to find some. At the docks one day, I noticed three fishermen setting off into the harbor with their gear. The unusual part was their vessel, a raft built from salvaged doors tied together with rope, wire and rubber tubing. Although no boats survived the Nazi retreat, the Allies imposed a ban on boats in the port. Presumably, makeshift rafts were excluded from the injunction.

1 of 1,000s of Naples underground tunnels used as bombshelters during WWII.
Copyright Ron Russell 2011

Spaghetti Eating Contest, a Naples Tradition

A poster plastered to a wall by the Piazza Dante promoted another spaghetti-eating competition. Carlo and I had passed one such competition during the Feast of San Gennaro festival back in September. Twelve large men guzzled down plate after plate until competitors began dropping out one by one with looks of distress on their face. As contestants ate, each portion of spaghetti was weighed on a scale before handing it to them. For serious competitors, the classic method involved lifting forkfuls of pasta above their open gullets and drop it down their throats, thus avoiding the chewing process altogether. The winner of this competition managed five and a half huge platefuls weighing more than five pounds. In addition to a rousing acclaim of applause and cheers, he received a large bowl to vomit in. (pre-WWII)

Food of Naples

Many of Italy's most famous food dishes came from Naples. When you think Italian food most people think of pizza, cannoli, biscotti, mozzarella cheese, and spaghetti. All of these were developed in Naples, although there is controversy about where spaghetti originated. Most likely it was the Arabs who populated Southern Italy (around the 12th Century) that first developed spaghetti from grain.

Before and during WWII, fresh made pasta was found hanging outside restaurants on wooden racks to dry in sun, a questionable practice considering the sanitation level of Naples.