LA STANZA  di Camilla De Micheli Consuelos

Camilla De Micheli Consuelos



"Memories of my Childhood"


I was born in Tripoli, Libya, on the 20th of September 1940, during the Second World War, when Libya was still an Italian colony.

Tripoli, because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea, was occupied by the German Army, our allies at that time. For this reason the British and their allies wished to conquer it, and to do so subjected us to heavy aerial and naval bombardment. The sirens sounded frequently to warn the population of impending attacks, forcing them to seek the protection of the bomb shelters.

War time Tripoli 1940  


Many people lost their lives and numerous buildings were destroyed in these raids. These constant bombing raids caused the Italian Government to recommend the evacuation of all Italian women and children from Tripoli. 

My parents never imagined that the war would last five years and thought that the evacuation would not be necessary. However, following an episode during which my mother, Anselmina, and I were miraculously saved from certain death, they were convinced  of the very real necessity to go. It happened in this way. Whilst my mother, with me in her arms, was in the queue at the grocery store waiting to be served, she suddenly had a premonition of danger, and with it an impellent desire to leave the shop immediately. She asked the lady in front if she might be served first. The lady kindly agreed and my mother bought a few things and left the shop as fast as she was able. She had only gone a short distance when she heard an explosion and looking back saw the building where the grocery store had been located crumble to the ground. Without any warning the building had been hit by a bomb.





My mother and I left Tripoli in the August of 1941. I was eleven months old at the time. We left, with many other women and children, on a German Military Air Transport plane. During the flight we were attacked by a British R.A.F. fighter plane and we were shot at with machine guns.

As a result of this attack our plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Castelvetrano, near Trapani ,on the island of Sicily. This had not been our original destination and we were forced to stay overnight. The only place my mother found available was a small space under a stairwell that a kind tavern owner had found for us. The bed had no mattress but my mother made it more comfortable to sleep on by covering it with all the clothes she had packed in our suitcase.

The next morning we resumed our journey northwards by train. My mother’s family lived in Baveno, Lake Maggiore, very close to the Swiss border. The journey was a difficult one for my mother. With an eleven month old baby to nurse and diapers to change she had the added responsibility of our safety.


 My mother Anselmina with me, as a baby.  


In all it took six days to reach our destination, a journey that normally would have taken only a day and a half. Holdups occurred frequently along the track as many of the railway bridges had been destroyed in the air raids. Where a bridge had collapsed we were obliged to get down from the train and be ferried across the river in a small boat. There we had to wait for hours until another train could be brought to pick us up and we could continue our journey.


Baveno is located in the Valle d’Ossola. The town  was very well known at that time not only because it was occupied by the German Army but also because it was the Gestapo’s headquarters in Northern Italy. The Gestapo had requisitioned a very large hotel on the Lungolago, the beautiful promenade situated along the lakeshore.


A panoramic view of Baveno on Lake Maggiore


Those difficult war years were horrible not only for my mother, but also for her sister and her mother. My grandmother and my aunt were also alone as my mother’s three brothers had enlisted in the Army. Her youngest brother was killed in France at the age of 21 and the other two suffered serious injuries, one in Greece and the other in Russia. Both, fortunately, had been hospitalized in Military Hospitals and repatriated at the end of the war.


My mother often remarked that we had fallen “from the frying pan into the fire” and that we might have been better off if we had remained in Tripoli. She suffered greatly because of the separation from my father, Giuseppe. It was two years before she had news of him, but finally, through the Red Cross, she began to receive censored letters, which provided her with a little comfort.


I too was also very sad because I had no personal memory of my father, having been only 11 months old when we left Tripoli. I only knew him through photos my mother showed me and the detailed descriptions she made of him. During the five years of our separation from him I missed his presence greatly and longed to have him near me so that I could hug and kiss him.



Not only were we living in extreme hardship during those years in Baveno but we also witnessed the atrocious events that took place there. The limited amount of food that was available was rationed. There were also the partisans that had taken refuge in the mountains nearby who often carried out raids against the Germans, raids that always ended tragically. We witnessed the total extermination of the Polish and Russian Jews, who had lived for many years in the beautiful houses situated along the lake shore. Our freedom was curtailed by the curfew imposed on us that began at 7pm along with the mandatory blackout from dusk until dawn, and throughout, we endured  continuous raids by the SS. The situation grew worse with the outbreak of the civil war with all its horrors and atrocities.

The memory of  events became impressed more clearly in my mind after my fourth birthday. Three episodes I will never forget.

The first happened one afternoon whilst I was with my mother at the lakeside, near the headquarters of the Gestapo and the Baveno church. We suddenly heard the sound of  gunfire coming from the direction of the church tower. The shots were directed at an open German military jeep that was  coming out of the hotel gates. My mother immediately hid under a camellia bush, protecting me with her body. The German officer sitting in the jeep was killed. Within a few minutes a group of armed German soldiers appeared on the scene. The sniper, who must have been a partisan, was never caught but the Germans randomly arrested 13 people who, by misfortune, just happened to be there, and put them up against a wall and shot them. At that time the rule was that for every German killed thirteen Italians would be shot instantly. These thirteen people were left on the ground for three days and nobody was allowed near them. They were then collected by a bulldozer, the bodies put in a truck, and then buried in a mass grave. This grave was constantly guarded so no one could exhume the bodies until they were unrecognizable.


 The rule was that for every German killed thirteen Italians would be shot instantly.


Baveno ( Lake Maggiore  1943)  –  At  3 years old, near the place  where the Germans shot the 13 Italians



I was the involuntary protagonist in the second event because I inadvertently caused a dangerous reaction from a German soldier. A German patrol had been marching past on the street below our apartment and, with the curiosity of a child, I watched them, peering through  railings of our balcony that overlooked the street. A soldier looked up and saw me. With innocence I smiled at him. A few minutes later, having found out which apartment the balcony belong to , the soldier furiously banged on our door. At that moment my mother and I were alone in the apartment. Shaking, she opened the door. The soldier, his gun aimed at us, shouted in his broken Italian, “You teach little girl mock Germans”. He shoved her aside, entered the apartment and inspected every room . He then seized the food we had jealously stored in the apartment. I was very precocious like all the children of my age who had to grow up quickly because of the war and I felt that we were in imminent danger. Instinctively I caressed his hand and told him, “You do not understand. I was not teasing you. I was smiling at you and when you looked up I was filled with a lot of tenderness because of your beautiful blue eyes”. Stunned, the soldier dropped the food he had stolen and, without a word, turned on his heel and left us.

The third event happened during the chaos and violence of the civil war. The war instigated behavior that owed nothing to the real cause of the war. Inconceivable acts of revenge, recriminations, retaliations and abuse of power were committed.

I was playing in the courtyard with my mother watching me from our balcony. All at once four young partisans, each recognizable by the red scarf he wore, around his neck, ran into the courtyard. They grabbed a young girl who, as everyone knew, was engaged to a fascist. They carried with them a can filled with melted tar , scissors and a razor. Their intention was to shave her head and cover it with tar. I kicked them furiously while my mother shouted as she ran to the aid of the poor girl. Other neighbors, on hearing the screams, ran to help. The partisans panicked, let the girl go and ran away. Many girls were victims of outrageous acts such as this. With their scalps covered in tar they were bald for a long time and so  were easily recognized and teased, as well as being abused, both  verbally and physically.

Baveno 1944 – The court yard  where the partisans tried to kidnap the girl and cover her head in tar



The war finally ended in 1945, but  before that, in 1943, the defeated Italian and German troops had to leave Libya. The Italian jurisdiction of the colony ended and it passed under the British Military Administration. The borders were closed and no one could enter or leave the country. The impatience on the part of the thousands of women and children who wished to join their husband and fathers created a clandestine transportation system using fishing boats  from Siracusa (Sicily) to the coast of Libya.


Baveno 1945 –   At 5 years old, an unhappy child who had  witnessed too many sad moments 


With the aid of coded letters my parents eventually agreed that we should return to Libya using this form of transport . My father paid a huge sum of money for our fare. In the August of 1946 we reached Siracusa and were instructed to stay in a specific hotel. We had to wait there for a night suitable for the trip when the moon was in the right quarter. This night occurred after six days of waiting and  we were woken up at three in the morning of the seventh day and led ,in the dark, to an unknown location. Here there were fishing boats moored and to board the fishing vessel that was to take us we had to pass silently from one moored boat to another.

Here there were fishing boats moored and to board the fishing vessel that was to take us we had to pass silently from one moored boat to another.


My mother panicked when she saw how small our boat was but with courage  did not refuse to board. We went down into the hold where, according to her, we could be more protected from the wind and waves.


At dawn we approached a reef where  many more women with children waited to board our boat. The boat settled  lower in the water as each person boarded. It became so loaded down that the level of the water reached just a meter from the gunwales. During the crossing passengers were drenched by the waves that breached the boat. The Straight s of Malta, where the sea is always very rough , was the most dangerous stretch of all, but the captain was a skilled sailor and the crossing went without mishap. After three dreadful days we approached the shore of Tagiura, on the Libyan coast  some distance from Tripoli. 

Finally we had arrived ,miraculously, safe and sound!


Tagiura 1946 - After three dreadful days we approached the shore of Tagiura, on the Libyan coast  some distance from Tripoli.
Finally we had arrived ,miraculously, safe and sound!


The boat anchored off the beach as there was nowhere to dock and we were all ferried by rowing boat  to the shore. The rowing boat had to make countless trips, but once the transfer was completed the fishing vessel upped anchor and left us all stranded on the beach.  

Within fifteen minutes a British Naval Patrol arrived with armed troops to arrest us for illegal entry into the country. It all seemed as if it had been prearranged. Under threat of their weapons we were ordered to make a line.

Although we were already exhausted we had no choice but to obey. We then had to march under a scorching sun on the soft sand for at least an hour. My mother carried me in her arms whilst also carrying our luggage, and every so often splashed seawater on my face to cool me down. 

We finally arrived at a paved road where there were military trucks that were waiting for us. They transported us to a prison camp in which many other women and children were also held as illegal immigrants.

We were registered and then led to some barracks where we found beds made of steel bars but no mattresses. We were kept constantly under guard by Sudanese troops armed with machine guns. There was one kind and compassionate guard that my mother found and convinced to help us in exchange for one of her precious rings. She asked him to contact my father and let him know where we were. He was so kind that one morning he allowed us to pass several guard posts until we reached the huge rolls of barbed wire  fencing that formed the perimeter of the camp. On the other side of the barbed wire we found my father waiting for us. 

An indescribable emotion came over me when I saw him. It was the first time I had seen him since we left Tripoli five years and one month before. I was now six years old and although we were so near to him I still could not touch or hug him.


Giuseppe De Micheli, my beloved father 


During this occasion my parents planned our next move. They agreed to seek legal help. We remained in the prison camp for an additional 15 days where they fed us something that resembled soup. My father hired an attorney who bailed us out and we were released on probation. My father came to pick us up in his car. Due to the intense emotion of our reunion we found we were unable to talk but through tears and embraces our hearts were filled with immense joy. I shall never forget that extremely emotional reunion. It was one of the most happiest moments of my life.

We were finally reunited!  


Tripoli 1946 - With my mother and my father. Together at last! 


Every morning my mother  had to  report to the police station and sign a register, because legally she was still   on probation.

In the meantime the borders were opened and by the time she had to appear in court  all charges were dropped. If we had known about it earlier we would not have risked our lives and endured so many difficult moments.


* * *


The years that followed from 1946 till 1951, the year we all returned to Italy, were the most carefree and happy of my childhood. It was spent in that wonderful city that Tripoli was at that time, which I have never been able to see again but that I will never forget!


 The Tripoli that I remember!


Camilla De Micheli Consuelos