By Theo Cronin
“Something a nine year old boy never forgets,” sobbed 77 year old Vincenzo Laporta, recounting an atrocity he witnessed as a child, the memories still raw and painful.
A resident of Cowfold for the past 30 years, the native Italian is keeping a pledge he made a lifetime ago not to let his secret history be lost to time.
“Every page and every line I have cried,” he said of ‘Untold Tragedy’ - the working title of a book he is writing.
“If you don’t believe me you can see the tears on drafts,” he added, before breaking down once more as the memories that haunt his existence again pricked his composure.
In 1943 Vincenzo was a nine-year-old boy, living with an aristocratic family in a grand castle in Campania, Italy. He was treated like a prince by the family.
But far from being a fairy-tale, his story is one of war, torture and murder. The Lord of the household was a commander of a large swathe of the Italian resistance at the same time the Nazis were forced to retreat chased by the Allied advance from Africa.
Retribution and vindictiveness characterised the Nazi withdrawal. Rumours of boys being killed had reached the castle before the German tanks finally arrived.
Vincenzo was whisked from the scene and hidden in a grand larder abutting the dining hall just before the soldiers burst in and started to devour the family’s mutton ‘like pigs’.
“I dragged a sack of potatoes to the door, so quietly, because they told me one sound and you are dead. I looked through a hole in the door,” said Vincenzo, his quivering voice betraying the pain of the brutal attack.
The nine year old boy witnessed a protracted Nazi interrogation which left family members dead, their daughters abused and terrorised, and blood flowing freely.
“I cannot find the words for human beings doing that,” said Vincenzo, “that they could commit that atrocity and it was to the whole family, everyone suffered there.
“Lord Alonso let them take his life rather than tell where they were hiding in his thousands of acres of woodland, because he knew that if he would have told them they would kill him in any case and Italy would have lost the resistance.”
Vincenzo, who had wet himself and fainted while in hiding, eventually saved some of the family by going to fetch help after the Nazis had left. Afraid of the dark, he had taken a revolver.
The truth of the tragedy was never revealed by the family - rumours crushed - their 10,000 employees sworn to secrecy in a bid to preserve family honour and pride. It is a story that has never been told.
So why reveal the details now, nearly 70 years later? “At 77, He could take me any time, and if I go the story is untold,” said Vincenzo. “And a member of the family I loved so much made me promise I would tell the story one day.”
‘Untold Tragedy’ will be published in 2014 with a substantial share of the royalties benefitting charities.
Vincenzo meanwhile is acting out of duty and said: “I will never be glorified. I just don’t want any glory from it.”