Giovanni Pesce was born in France to a family of anti-fascist Italian emigres working as miners. He joined the Communist Party and fought in the Spanish Civil War for the International Brigades.
Returning to France after the German occupation in June 1940 he was handed over to the Italian dictatorship by the pro-Nazi puppet regime running southern France. In July 1943 he was released from detention after Mussolini’s fall from power. He travelled north and became a partisan fighter. In January 1944 he wrote in his diary:
“I come out of the bar and start walking along the street. I wait. I see lots of vehicles full of German soldiers drive along the street with their machine guns pointing at pedestrians. They don’t look confident but frightened, like hunted animals. (The following day I found out that they were returning from attacking partisans.)
“All these Germans and fascists are passing by me very closely — they could recognise me. Finally they’re here, the two German army officers I’ve got to kill. They’ve got a nasty and arrogant look to them. One of them has got the Iron Cross on his breast, a recognition for crimes committed in other military campaigns.
“When they’re right in front of me I aim my revolvers and fire 15 shots. The officers fall down one on top of the other. Just as I’m about to fire my last shot I saw another two German officers running out of a bar. I thought if I run away I’ll be hit by their automatic pistols. So I start running backwards as quick as I can, keeping my pistols aimed. I move back like this for 15 yards, until I’m at a street corner.
“Then I throw myself to the ground, changing the cartridge clip on one of my revolvers. As they turn the corner I greet them by opening fire. The first one falls down immediately, the second drops his machine pistol, and shouts out as he slowly bends down to pick it up. I shoot him with my last bullet and he falls down on his side.”
On Liberation Day Giovanni walked out into the streets of Milan: “There are people, there are armed workers, groups of young people running towards the barracks the fascists had left overnight. Finally I feel I’m living in a world which is complete, full, alive. For months I moved around like a shadow, isolated. Now, in the midst of all these people—workers, young people, women—I feel immersed in a huge sea of affection.
“Today, I’m confused in this friendly crowd. It’s like waking up from a nightmare. Then I realise that the houses are lovely houses, that the streets are wide, and that above there’s the sky.”
Giovanni was awarded a Gold Medal for his resistance activities. Today, he is a member of Rifondazione Comunista.
Quotes taken from Giovanni Pesce’s book Senza Tregua/No Quarter