To my grandfather Armin, who I never met, but from whom I inherited a watch

M(ilan) 10 Aug. 1943 My dear ones

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M(ilan) 10 Aug. 1943

My dear ones

We are safe. All the patients of the Neurological Hospital were moved to Vaprio d’Adda on Sunday – because the Istitute are damaged – now I am left to be fixed up – a more harder case. Ernesto weren’t frightened at all and to tell the truth neither was I.
Beds for the patients coming from the Neurological Hospital were temporarily found in the medicine ward of Vaprio hospital, and my father was given a wheelchair which he would never be parted from for the rest of his life.

But dangers for him and our country were certainly not over after Mussolini’s downfall: the ambiguous policy of Badoglio, who was reluctant to accept an immediate armistice for fear of German reaction, ended up giving the Nazis enough time to triple their forces, blocking the Anglo-American offensive and establishing a new Fascist government, the Republic of Salò, in the Italian territories they had freshly occupied. They would soon begin a Jew-hunt all over Northern Italy and not even an invalid could consider himself safe.


Milan, 21 October 1940

Bernardo never heard anything about his petition, but my father’s arrest in July, besides filling him with dismay, alarmed him with regard to his own position. But what could he do? Emigration, now that war had broken out, and with his invalid mother-in-law among his suite, was out of question. He could do nothing else but wait.

His waiting came to an end on October 21th , when he was summoned at the Magenta district police station in via Panizza, provisionally arrested and moved to the judicial prison in via Filangieri, where he remained until the 16th of November. The incomparable prefect Marziali informed the Ministry of the Interior about my uncle’s arrest by means of a telegram dated 24 October, suggesting that he should be interned:

Never had there been a more improbable justification: in the case of my uncle, his loyalty and his near attachment to the regime were beyond dispute and proved by his recent behaviour.

But the petition which he immediately submitted from the prison, in which he pointed out that he hadn't even been given the time to settle business and accounts with two Italian firms, was of no avail: on November 4th , he was assigned to the concentration camp in Nereto, in the province of Teramo, where he was transferred on the 16th of the same month. Elena and my grandmother remained in Milan undisturbed: for the time being, restrictive measures only affected men, and besides, as I have already said, seventy-year-old grandmother was not liable for expulsion.

On the 13th of December 1940 my uncle sent the Ministry of Interior a further, more substantiated request to revoke his internment order, enclosing a photocopy of the certificate he had been awarded with one of the four medals gained in the war and so naively offered to the Duce four years earlier. In his petition he specially emphasised the financial harm which his forced absence caused not only to his family, but also to the firms he was in business with:

The applicant’s forced absence has caused serious detriment to the two above mentioned firms, specially to the Degli Angeli company, which had already equipped a warehouse on its Cesenatico premises and furthermore had employed specialized technicians for the production of steam-curved wooden chairs, under the direction of the undersigned, who has a deep knowledge of this technique, having learnt it in the factories of the Thonet-Mundus syndicate, where he was employed since the age of eighteen…
Bernardo also made reference to the “serious chronic illness” of his mother-in-law who lived with him, and for the first time referred to the partial deafness of his wife, who “more than once couldn’t hear the air-raid warnings” and was therefore unable to take cover in the shelter with her mother, who was almost completely deaf. Many certificates were attached to the petition, including a letter from Augusto Degli Angeli, the first of a long series, whereby the industrialist confirmed Brumer’s words and declared he was essential to his firm.

To suppose that these practical and humanitarian reasons could move the prefect’s heart would mean not doing justice to the prefecture’s consistent dullness: the answer was the usual “no” which arrived just after Christmas.

But on the 14th of January, generous Degli Angeli had another go, this time with a petition which he personally wrote to the direction of Nereto’s camp. My uncle’s absence had obliged him to interrupt production; he was afraid he would have to dismiss the newly employed staff. He therefore demanded that Bernardo Brumer should be granted a four or five week leave in order “to deal with setting-up and starting the production under discussion”.

Besides the reasons given, Degli Angeli had launched, body and soul, into the attempt to help my uncle, and in his difficult dialogue with the Ministry he found a somewhat unexpected ally in the Forlì prefecture, which held authority over Cesenatico’s local government. The prefect of the Romagna town, less deaf and short-sighted than his colleague in Milan, warranted that “the reasons put forward by the ADAC Company [Adamo Degli Angeli Cesenatico] were in accordance with the truth” and that through internment “Brumer had not only left outstanding bills, but had also caused, as a consequence, the non-development of the promising industry” dealing with the production of wooden curved chairs and toys.

Setting aside the phrasing, which ironically blamed the internee for his absence from work, the prefect’s positive opinion smoothed the way for the Ministry of the Interior’s favourable decision, which however was not made quickly: only on the 13th of May 1941, four months after the beginning of the procedure, did my uncle arrive in Cesenatico. Instead of the four weeks he had asked for, he was given a leave of fifteen days only. But at least it was something!

At the end of the two weeks, Bernardo returned to Nereto, but in the meantime, on the 25th of May, his guardian angel had sent an employée to Rome, to inform the Ministry of the Interior about the dramatic outcome of the matter: the factory manager, Luigi Mombelli, due to a serious nervous breakdown, according to his doctor’s prescription, had to leave his position for no less than three months. Since Brumer was the only individual capable of replacing him for his competence and technical skill, Degli Angeli asked the Ministry to grant him an extension of his leave until Mombelli’s recovery, “in order that he shouldn’t find himself in the sorrowful need of closing down his important factory”.

It was undoubtedly a huge pretence devised by Degli Angeli, which required the collaboration of all persons interested not to be exposed. The fact that it was successful throws positive light on the attitude of many Italians regarding racial persecution. People of all social classes and of all political and religious opinions, often loyal supporters of the Fascist regime, such as Degli Angeli himself, refused to follow the policy of racial hatred and helped the Jews, thus contributing to limiting the number of the victims of the Holocaust in our country.

Incredibly enough, Degli Angeli’s plan worked. The Fascist regime didn’t want to take responsibility for the closure of a profit-yielding factory at such a difficult time.

Therefore, on the 31st of May, Bernardo obtained a ten day extension and left again for Cesenatico, where he took on the position of manager of ADAC. On the 10th of June he was sent back to the concentration camp, but at the end of the month, putting an end to the exasperating coming and going, he was finally granted a three month leave, which would expire on the 29th of September, 1941.

Fortune finally seemed to smile on my uncle, who had got a job which kept him away from the concentration camp and enabled him to support his family decorously. In August he sent his wife a photograph of himself in the factory courtyard with a fellow worker, with the following inscription in Italian: “To my beloved wife, in hard times, during an interval between forced inactivity and free activity. ADAC factory. Cesenatico, August 1941”:

Degli Angeli didn’t limit himself to getting Bernardo a job and pleading his cause, but also offered hospitality to his wife and mother-in-law, who had joined him in Cesenatico in the month of September, as it clearly emerges from a new petition, submitted on September 2nd :

Mr. Brumer…is now staying with his wife and her 72-year-old mother in a small two-roomed flat which is my property and is located in the factory precinct, which he almost never leaves, has no relations, and enjoys in Cesenatico no more freedom than in Nereto (since he devotes himself to work all day). He therefore, in the opinion of the undersigned, is leading in Cesenatico the internee’s life as he did in Nereto, with the only difference that in Cesenatico he is useful to my factory, which, since Mr. Bernardo Brumer was allowed to look after it by this Ministry, is making quick progress, has increased the numbers of its personnel by 60 workers, improved its products and commercial relationships and become one of the main social factors for Cesenatico and surroundings…

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