Thursday, May 28, 2009

Should July 20th, 1944 be re-enacted in Italy?

I found out some rather strange information the other day. It appears that a fellow by the name of Robert Bernardis is a distant relative of my grandfather, whose name was Vittorio Bernardis (my mom’s dad). Some believe that he was the cousin of my grandfather’s grandfather.

Robert Bernardis was born in Innsbruck, Austria, on August 7, 1908 and was executed in Berlin on August 8, 1944. And why pray tell was he executed? Because he was a lieutenant and a resistance fighter who had been involved in the failed assassination attempt on July 20th, 1944 against Adolf Hitler along with Claus von Stauffenberg (the very same of Tom Cruise fame and the recent movie “Operation Valkyrie”. I saw a similar movie on the same topic years ago but it was a German production, and quite better than the American version actually).

After the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, Bernardis accepted the new régime, but critically. Once the Second World War had begun, experiences at the front such as witnessing the murder of civilians changed his mind and he became involved in the resistance movement of the Third Reich. By 1944 he held the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel. He was not stationed near Hitler’s headquarter Wolfsschanze near Rastenburg, but in Berlin, when the July 20 assassination attempt was carried out. Unaware that the bomb had failed to kill Hitler, Bernadis was responsible for the order that set “Operation Valkyrie” in motion. That same evening, he was arrested by the Gestapo. He was sentenced to death by the German "People's Court" and executed the same day.

Von Stauffenberg instead went ahead with the attempt at Wolfsschanze on 20 July, 1944. He entered the briefing room carrying a briefcase containing two small bombs. The location had unexpectedly been changed from the subterranean Führerbunker to Speer's wooden barrack/hut. He left the room to arm the first bomb with specially-adapted pliers (a task made difficult because he had lost his left eye, his right hand and two fingers on his left hand during an attack by British fighter-bombers on 7 April, 1943 in Africa. He spent three months in hospital in Munich). A guard knocked and opened the door, urging him to hurry as the meeting was about to begin. As a result, von Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the bombs. He left the second bomb with his aide-de-camp and returned to the briefing room, where he placed the briefcase under the conference table, as close as he could to Hitler. Some minutes later, he excused himself and left the room. After his exit, the briefcase was moved by Colonel Heinz Brandt. When the explosion tore through the hut, von Stauffenberg was convinced that no one in the room could have survived. Although four people were killed and almost all survivors were injured, Hitler himself was shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table and was only slightly wounded.

Von Stauffenberg was executed in July, 1944 for, as he himself said, HIGH TREASON. This interesting bit of information surfaced recently as von Stauffenberg’s son, Franz Ludwig Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, was invited on May 24th, 2009 to a literary event in the town of Gorizia which is located about 30 kms from Udine. A cousin of mine did some research on the subject and came up with the news that amongst the conspirators there was also Robert Bernardis.

With that said and if this story is true, does that mean, given my family background, that quite possibly I have assassination attempts in my DNA? If that were indeed the case, Mr. Berlusconi, how do you sleep at night?????

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poor Silvio, he (still) doesn’t get any respect!

A REAL treat and an honour for me last weekend as here in Udine we had during the literary encounter, “Vicino/Lontano”, none other than my second “God” (the first one being MIT’s Noam Chomsky, the so-called “greatest living intellectual” around): The Economist’s former editor, Bill Emmott (in the picture, the man with glasses and goatee beard). A treat because for the last 20 years or so, I’ve been subscribing to what many call “the finest magazine written in the English language”!

As question time fast approached, mine was actually the first. A few years ago, when Emmott was the magazine’s editor, The Economist blasted our Great Leader, Silvio Berlusconi, with the following title (under his picture): “Why this man is unfit to govern Italy”. I asked Emmott if he still believed that statement was true. “Yes, I STILL believe that Berlusconi is unfit to govern Italy”. At which point I clapped VERY loudly (I wasn’t the only one in the hall, thank God!).

Reading the May 2nd edition of The Economist, in the Leaders section, we come across the following title: “Regrettable Berlusconi: What a pity Italy’s prime minister does not use his political muscle to reform his country”. The article starts off with the following statements: “This newspaper has never thought much of Italy’s prime minister. In 1994, during Silvio Berlusconi’s first brief stint in the job, we called on him to resign. In 2001, before his second, we declared that his frequent brushes with the law and the conflict of interest inherent in his ownership of almost all the country’s commercial television channels made him unfit to lead Italy. A year ago, as he campaigned for the job of prime minister for a third time, we advised Italian voters to back his main opponent, Walter Veltroni. Yet Mr Berlusconi has gone from strength to strength, even as his country has not”.

Inside the magazine we see instead a cartoon of good’ol Silvio decked out in the colours of his beloved Milan soccer team (he owns it) and with one of his legs which depicts the geographical configuration of Italy, the famous “boot”, as the heel part is kicking a ball with Italy’s national flag colours. The caption underneath the sarcastic cartoon (see below for other sarcastic remarks on Berlusconi by The Economist) says: “The Berlusconisation of Italy”.

But the “let’s poke fun again at good’ol Silvio” doesn’t end there! No siree. In today’s International Herald Tribune (May 13th, 2009), we have in Celestine Bohlen’s editorial, “Boorishness works for Berlusconi”, the following comment on Silvio’s treatment and would-be divorce from his wife, Veronica Lario: “How can anyone be shocked anymore by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s top entertainer and its longest-serving prime minister since World War II?....Mr. Berlusconi, a former cruise-ship crooner, makes a point of going public with all his sexual innuendos. It’s like the face-lift and the hair implants (my note: scroll down to see what The Economist had to say on hair plants vis-à-vis Silvio’s head!): He’s ready to do anything to prove that he is still a sexy beast…At a city hall event in Rome this week, he tried joking about the charge that he was pursuing underage girls: “I like Finland and Finnish women, as long as they are of age”!

And then many Italians STILL today get offended when they hear that foreigners believe that Italian males still go around pinching the behinds of Italian women? Can’t expect much with the likes of good’ol Silvio and his 72 year-old sexual escapades, can we (pic by M. Rimati)?