Peppo Coppula - 4317
This is a tribute to Callogero Marrone. A Catholic life-long anti-fascist, born of a middle class Sicilian family, he was the Head of the Varese Registry Office, and from there he issued a large number of false identity cards to Jews and to anti-fascists; indeed, it was his office that issued both my mother's and my ID card in 1944, obtained by my father, and, although we were British the cards certified that we were Italian. A minor detail, compared with the hundreds of Jewish lives he saved.
He was betrayed (it is believed by a fascist empoyed in his office) and arrested by the SS on 4 January 1944. He was held for nine months in a succession of prisons, first in Varese, where he was badly tortured in an effort to get him to reveal the National Liberation Committee network, but he refused to say a word. Then he was taken to a prison in Como for daily interrogation; then after a failed attempt by partisans to free him, to the notorious San Vittore prison in Milan.
After this the SS seem to have given up interrogating him and he was sent to the Bolsano-Gries transit-concentration camp, run by the Butcher of Trieste, Odilo Globocnik. There he managed to get a letter smuggled out, on a scrap of paper writing in tiny letters, to his 17 year old son, who had joined the partisans:
Here I am in my new residence, still as always in the best of health and high morale. I'm in a concentration camp for political prisoners where there is no lack of cool fresh mountain air to fill my lungs. There is a problem with not having woollen clothes, but you can't have everything, and I'll get used to it. Don't worry about me, I can truthfully say that the past nine months have strengthened my character. Suffice it to say I can now adapt myself to any kind of labour. I shall return with callouses that would honour any man. I've a ravenous appetite and the tar-black bread they give us seems like cake to me. ... If you could see how I'm now dressed you would burst out laughing: sheared like a sheep, a self-made paper hat on my head against the cold and the sun, a sort of overall with a large cross on the back and a red triangle on the front, the sign of a political prisoner, and underneath the number 4317, dirty shoes, and so on. But what is important is this: excellent health and morale as high as ever. I'm called 'the Philosopher'. Have courage and be constant. ... On Monday or Tuesday we shall be taken further north. Do not worry about me for wherever I go I shall know how to survive this foul bestial existence.
For safety reasons, he signed smuggled notes with the pseudonym Peppo Coppula.
Transferred to the extermination camp at Dachau, he died there of typhus on 10 February 1945.
In happier times with his family in the 1930s. Callogero with his wife, Giuseppina. Their four children from left to right: Dina, Domenico (youngest), Salvatore, and Filippina. The elder son, Salvatore, seated with legs crossed, could not join the partisans so as not to compromise his father. When called up in 1944 he was smuggled to Switzeland. Domenico, 16 when his father was arrested, joined the “Poldo Gasparotto” partisan brigade, commanded by Luciano Comolli.
This is a marble plaque on the Varese Registry Office in his memory and honour put up jointly by the Jewish community, the National Association of Partisans, and the Varese municipality. It reads:
At this site Callogero Marrone, Head of the Registry Office of Varese, operated clandestinely to save our Jewish brothers from the Nazi-Fascist ferrocity. Betrayed and arrested on 4 January 1944 he was deported to Germany to the extermination camp of Dachau where he died just as the dawn of liberty was breaking. May the name of this righteous man be blessed for all Eternity.
Favara, Agrigento, 8 May 1889
Dachau, February 1945