Iris Origo was a wealthy American who married an Italian aristocrat in 1923. They bought nearly 9000 acres in the Val d’Orcia and began a 20th century version of a feudal relationship with their 57 farms. When war came she was, surprisingly, left untouched by Mussolini’s fascist government.
During the war they kept their heads down, doing minor acts of resistance such as listening to the BBC’s broadcasts. The Germans weren’t involved in Italy in 1943 but when Mussolini began to lose his grip they were more in evidence. Throughout the two years the family were a focal point for the welfare of their tenants. Once Italy was invaded by the Allies Iris’s involvement massively increased. Refugees from northern Italian cities, escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Italian men who were trying to avoid conscription became the stuff of daily life. All of which was incredibly dangerous. Their wealth was liberally used to help these people, which meant Iris’s house became famous. Not every one thought they were wonderful and so they worried constantly of betrayal and became cunning to survive. Below is a wonderful quotation from the diary, which is full of colour and intimate detail whilst giving a vivid insight into the reality of occupation by Nazi Germany.
“One little boy of twelve, who had helped his mother in guiding the prisoners in the hills, on going one day to his aunt’s house, opened the door to find an S.S. man standing there, who pointed his revolver at him, and took him in charge. Eventually he was allowed to go home, where he reported all that had occurred, and his aunt’s arrest, with complete self control and clarity—only that night, as he was going to bed, his mother noticed that his pants were moist. He blushed. ‘When that man pointed his revolver at me, I couldn’t help it!’ Origo, Iris. War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944 (Kindle Locations 1721-1725). Pushkin Press. Kindle Edition.
Why you should read this book: It’s a vivid, unsentimental insight into how war effected one community in Italy.
Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t like diaries