Moussia and Alberto Magrini in Venice, 1944

 

After the second World War, Reijnier Flaes visited his friend Gino Antonini in Paris at the first available opportunity.

They had not seen each other since September, 1938. Flaes had lived through turbulent times: interned in the Dutch legation in Peking by the Japanese, then evacuated to Lourenço Marques in an exchange of Western diplomats against their Japanese counterparts,  a brief period in London during the Blitz and then a few years, 1943-1945, in Lisbon, city of spies and of transit for Jewish refugees.

In December 1945, he was transferred to Warsaw, a city in ruins. During his first annual leave he went to Paris, to look for Antonini and Moussia. He noted the following in his diary (which he called : ‘mnemotechnical notes’):

“October 20, 1946. Arrived at at 8 o’clock in Paris, where Gino is waiting for me. Checked into Hotel Bristol, made a long walk with Gino, to the roundabout of the Champs Elysées. Talked and talked,  until 11 o’clock.

“October 21: visited Moussia and Gino at 6, Square Henri Pâté. Moussia in bed with a cold. The two have not changed at all, we have continued our conversation without any rupture, as if we broke it off yesterday. Gino summarizes his adventures since 1938. Stefani until June 1940, a year in Rome, a few months in Berlin, then Rome again, thereafter Paris, until the Armistice [i.e. between Italy and the Allied Powers, 3-8 Sepember 1943]

Internment. Sent to Italy – life in the camps – refoulement [he uses a French word, roughly meaning ‘driven back’] to Venice – return to France after September, 1944. Successive troubles in several French prisons, finally: stabilisation in the spring of 1945. Since then: active in the publishing world; he has become representative in France of a publisher in Milan.  Saw ‘The Condottiere’, hanging on the wall in their dining room. We went out, exhibitions etc.”

“October 23, 1946. Lunch at the Antoninis, joined by  Father Teilhard de Chardin [who befriended Flaes in Peking]. Father T. has returned from China last spring, he will stay in Paris for another year. Beautiful grey-haired old man, very sympathetic, he has has not changed one bit. ‘La vieille France’. More fascinating than ever in his appearance, without saying much. I am unable to explain what makes him so charming. ‘Très homme du monde, très indulgent et large.’ Straightforward, unimposing, full if little jokes, a beautiful phrase, a poetic thought.”

Before continuing, I give a short historical background summary:

{ After the fall of Mussolini in July, 1943, a new Italian goverment started secret negotiations with the Allied Powers who had, after pushing the Italian army out of North Africa, just landed in Sicily. The Armistice, a euphemism for surrender, was agreed on September 3 and made public on September 8. The German army then wasted no time, invading all of Italy very rapidly. Mussolini was liberated by German SS paratroop commandos under Otto Skorzeny on September 12. On September 23, Mussolini proclaimed the neofascist RSI,  La Repubblica Sociale Italiana, the Social Italian Republic, usualy called the  Salò Republic, named after a small town on Lake Garda. This was in fact a puppet regime of Hitler. }

Flaes’s notes were very brief indeed. Antonini gives a more detailed account in the autobiographical notes he dictated a few years before his death in 1983.

In September 1943, following the Italian Armistice, the Germans declared all personnel of the Italian embassy in Paris ‘personae non gratae’. The Antoninis left Paris by train from the Gare de l’Est with a group of other Italian diplomats, and were locked up in Vittel, a notorious concentration camp in the Vosges. From there they left, after a while, probably in an exchange with German diplomats, to Northern Italy and were interned by the  Salò neofascist government in the concentration camp of Salsomaggiore.

In December 1943, a high official of that government let them go to Venice, but with Gino under house arrest, in the home of their friends Dirce and Alberto Magrini. The neofascist official told Antonini that he was on a shortlist of hostages, to be executed if Venice would come under attack.

As soon as the news of the liberation of Paris (August 1944) reached Venice, Antonini and Moussia were again detained and moved to the Stura Valley in Piemonte, close to Cuneo. They were first emprisoned in Vinadio, then in a converted inn at Forte Vinadio, close to the French border.

One may ask why Antonini, who had done his duty as an Italian (from his own point of view) by his work in Paris as Stefani’s correspondent and as Press Attaché of the Italian Embassy, was taken hostage by the Salò government. The reason, I think, is that Mussolini had come to strongly suspect the rather cosmopolitan Stefani Agency. It had always been under the orders of Galeazzo Ciano, the Foreign minister and married to Mussolini’s favourite daughter. In July, 1943, Ciano had voted in favour of ousting Mussolini.

When the Salò republic was proclaimed, on 23 September, the General Director of Stefani, Roberto Suster, Antonini’ close friend and protector, had been taken off the job. He was imprisoned as a hostage in October, in the San Gregorio monastery which had been partly converted into a prison. Both Antonini and Suster had good reasons  to distrust Mussolini; on January 11, 1944,  he had his son-in-law Ciano executed, in a sitting position , tied to a chair, by a bullet in the head.

The Antoninis managed to escape from their captors and crossed the Alps, arriving at the nearby village of Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée. They hitchhiked in military vehicles of the Franco-American forces who had landed in Southern France in the Operation Dragoon, first to Marseille, from there to Lyon and they finally managed to reach their apartment in Paris.

Two days after their homecoming, Antonini was put under arrest by a ‘Comitato italiano di Liberazione’, an Italian Liberation Committee, belonging to a multi-party organization instituted by the post-war Italian government to round up fascist war criminals. He was taken to their Headquarters, a converted clinic in the Rue des Bleuets,  11th Arrondissement. Five ‘judges’ interrogated Antonini in an intimidating manner, by frequently pushing the barrel of  a submachine gun in his back. According to Antonini, his jailers were not just communists, but agents of the NKVD, interested in  his work for Giustizia e Libertà and Carlo Rosselli, intent on finding an excuse to execute him as soon as possible.

Reality is often more improbable than fiction. Here is another example:

Moussia’s seamstress was the mistress of the Chief of Police of the 11th Arrondissement. He called the Italian Liberation Committee by telephone en warned them severely that Antonini was under the protection of the French Government. This caused some confusion between the judges. Then Moussia appeared on the scene and, in a magnificent display of temper, dumbfounded the head judge by telling him that ”not having been afraid of his former boss Yagoda in the Lubyanka in 1927, she was certainly not afraid of him !” (see article 35).

Antonini soon found out what was meant by ‘being under the protection of the French Government’. He was taken, by the French police, to their office in the Rue Saint Ambroise and from there to Drancy, the former transit camp for Jews on their way to Auschwitz and now a detention center for French collaborators, where he  saw many war time friends.

Towards the end ot 1944, he was taken from there  to the notorious prison of Fresnes. His trial took place in January, 1945. Maurice Garçon, a well-known defense lawyer, managed to get him acquitted, justifying his proven contacts with Germans and with the Pétain government by showing that he had been instrumental in saving the lives of two people, one being a Jew, from the hands of the Gestapo (see article 48).

But Antonini’s worries were not over yet.

Since 29 January 1945, a trial was in full swing in Rome, in the High Court for the punishment of fascist crimes, covering many such crimes, including the Rosselli murders. During the trial, witnesses testified  convincingly that the Rosselli murders were indeed ordered by the Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, with the connivance of his Chief of Staff Filippo Anfuso. The verdict was given on March 12 , 1945. All the accused were found guilty.

Filippo Anfuso (see article 48) was sentenced to death in absentia (Ciano was already dead). Anfuso had fled to France and from there to Spain. General Mario Roatta, Colonel Santo Emanuale, and Major Roberto Navale were convicted to lifelong imprisonment. A few year later, all four of them, Anfuso included,  enjoyed total freedom in Italy. Neither the rôle of the OVRA, nor Antonini’s name were mentioned during the trial.

In France, the nine perpetrators of the Rosselli murders were re-arrested (the Pétain government had released them in 1940) and they made full confessions in 1945. The trial took place in october 1948. Jean Filliol was sentenced  to death in absentia (he had fled to Spain) and the others to various punishments. But a few years later, they were all free. Neither the rôle of the OVRA, nor Antonini’s name were mentioned during the trial.

Antonini could breathe a sigh of relief. But not for long. In July 1946, to his utter consternation, his name was included on the list of OVRA informers, fiduciari,  published in the Italian State Gazette (see article 42).

He has maintained until his death that this inclusion was erroneous, the result of manipulation by jealous colleagues who wanted to discredit him with their slander. He probably thought that his reports to the OVRA would never be found. But they were dozing in the Italian State Archive in Rome and would be woken up by  Italian historians some fifteen years after his death. I’ll write a bit more on this subject in the next article.

 

With the help of the notice board on the upper photo, I managed to reconstruct when these pictures were taken. They were taken on 11 september 1951, during the Biennele of Venice , on the evening of the world premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progres, under the baton of the composer, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in one of the roles. Moussia was a close friend of the Stravinskys, with whom she had stayed during several months in the summer of 1940, in Beverly Hills (article 47). Antonini was a great lover and connoisseur of opera. Vera Stravinsky mentions, in a photo diary, pleasant stays with ‘Countess and Count Antonini in their ancestral home in Venice’, without mentioning the dates. This home must have been the house of Dirce and Alberto Magrini, across the water from the San Zanipolo church. One can see that on the back op the lowermost photo, Moussia refers to Dirce and Albetto Magrini, their hosts in 1944. In this series of articles I have published many photos of the beautiful Moussia, of which those taken in the 1920s are probably the most beautiful. But on none of those older pictures does she look as relaxed and happy as on the photo above. At last, the Antoninis were settled and happy.

Towards the end of 1945, Antonini’s pre-war literary efforts and networking bore fruit. A big Milan editor, Valentino Bompiani, engaged him as his literary agent in France, at a fixed salary.

It was a master stroke, for him and Antonini alike.

Bompiani visited Paris in the winter of 1946 and was introduced everywhere –  in the literary world – by Giacomo Antonini. With the help of Antonini, he obtained in 1946 et 1947,  the rights in Italy  of French classics in translation, like those of  Proust, Flaubert, Balzac, Chateaubriand, and , more importantly, the rights to publish in translation, the works of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Giono, André Malraux, Jules Supervielle, Julien Gracq and many other French ‘moderns’. Moreover, Antonini opened for him the French market for Italian literature in French translation.

Already in 1947, Bompiani extended Antonini’s remuneration, by introducing commissions.

The situation of Antonini seemed to have stabilized, indeed.

(to be continued)

 

 

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