It was in the night between 24 and 25 November 1943 that the seven Cervi brothers and their father Alcide were arrested and imprisoned in the Servi political prison in Reggio Emilia. Partisans, resistant, the day after Mussolini’s resignation as head of government, the previous July, had celebrated by offering the whole town of Gattatico a pasta-based lunch. It was one of their “faults”. They will be shot on December 28 of that same year. Only the dad will be released. Since then their memory has been one of the seeds of our democratic and anti-fascist history
On 26 July 1943, the day after Benito Mussolini’s resignation as head of government, the Cervi family offered the whole town of Gattatico a lunch of pasta to celebrate. Papa Cervi looks at his boys and thinks: “Blessed are they, they are young and will live in a democracy, they will see the state of the people. I am old and for me this is the last Sunday”.
Five months later, however, his seven boys will lose their lives, shot by the fascists and exposed to reprisals by the black shirts, probably also because of that pasta more powerful than a political manifesto.
Arrested in the night between 24 and 25 November (more correctly in the early hours of the morning of 25) and incarcerated in the political prison of the Servites in Reggio Emilia they will remain prisoners until the morning of 28 December, when they will be shot in retaliation.
The father Alcides, their cellmate until December 28, 1943, will remain a prisoner until January of the following year, when the prison will be bombed by the allies. Back home, he will remain unaware of what had happened to his children for all the days of his recovery.
“After I had learned – he said in the volume My seven childrengiven to the press in 1955 – it came to me a big remorse. I hadn’t understood anything and had waved at them the last time, hoping that they were going to the trial and would have done it to the fascists, they were so smart and full of tricks. Instead they were going to die. They knew, but they wanted to let me have the illusion, and greeted me smiling; with that smile they bid me their last farewell”.
Having learned of the massacre, dad Cervi will only be able to find the graves of the seven boys later.
“After one harvest comes another – he said on October 25, 1945, the day of the funeral – we must go on (…) My children have always known that what they were doing was to die for and they continued to do it, just as the sun does the arc his own and does not stop before the night. So the many dead partisans knew it, and they didn’t stop in the face of death. And now they are with us in this land of Emilia where the vines embrace the tombs, where a lamp and a marble is the seed of every field, the light of every road”.
In that October many years ago, Alcide stops being Alcide and becomes a father of Cervi.
Perhaps no one has ever asked him what he thought of this change of public registry – Mirco Zanoni wrote – But he lived it with the same dignity and awareness that allowed him to stand upright in the face of pain. Papa Cervi’s life began at the age of 70. When in October 1945 the history of his family forever crossed the threshold of the Campirossi to become public property. It was another funeral that gave birth to dad Cervi: the delivery of the remains of his seven children to their land, in Campegine. In the place where I am now, next to my father, my mother, my wives. Papà Cervi was born old, with a gray hat and mustache, with the wrinkles of life and fatigue that make him a perfect icon for Italy that seeks unbroken mirrors amidst the rubble of reconstruction. The new Italians look for places, biographies, consciences in which to find themselves. Because politics is not enough, and neither is ideology and faith. It takes the soul to rebuild. He serves the truth of hard work and humility, which can only come from the earth. And the story of Alcide, Genoveffa, her children, their women and their children, is a story of land, horizontal like the plain where it was born and resists, until the end. (…) In his 25 years of life Papa Cervi was dressed in many flags, some sewn especially for him. He was wrapped in a lot of red, in many words. He carried everything with the same dignity as everything else. Like the seven medals on the breasts of his sons; like the “giubèt” with which he received, at any hour, official delegations in the same way as ordinary people who stopped at Casa Cervi.
The seed of the Resistance
For her partisan commitment and that of her children, dad Cervi will be handed over a gold medal created by the sculptor Marino Mazzacurati, which on one side bears the effigy of Alcide and on the other an oak trunk between whose broken branches the seven stars of the Bear shine.
“They have always told me – he said on the occasion of the delivery – ‘You are an oak that has grown seven branches, and those have been cut down, and the oak is not dead’. The figure is beautiful and sometimes I cry. But look at the seed, for the oak will die.” Alcide Cervi died in the night between 26 and 27 March 1970 in the hospital of San Ilario, in the province of Reggio Emilia.
His funeral in Reggio Emilia will be a national event. Over 200,000 people will crowd the streets and square for their last farewell. All the great personalities of politics and institutions linked to anti-fascist history pay homage to him, but also many, many ordinary people. Ferruccio Parri will honor him with a touching funeral oration. A man, dad Deer, an oak tree in whose shade, after all, all of us seek shelter a little. Even today, especially today.