It was a beautiful day in Portella della Ginestra. It's a beautiful day today too.
On 1 May, in the Palermo hinterland, between Piana degli Albanesi and San Giuseppe Iato. It was really a beautiful day!
Nearly two thousand peasants and laborers, in poor and desperate Sicily in 1947, had arranged to meet on the lawns, at an altitude of eight hundred meters, to celebrate Labor Day, listen to a union rally and, above all, spend a day in joy with a final lunch outside.
For this there were, yes, the inevitable red flags and a large group of trade union representatives, but also many women, children and the elderly. Family groups arrived on foot, by cart or by mule on the first morning.
Girolamo Li Causi, a mirrored politician and historical adversary of the bosses and their lieutenants, should have given the speech but engaged in another demonstration, he was replaced by Giacomo Schirì, secretary of the socialist section of San Giuseppe Iato.
The night before the bandit Salvatore Giuliano had gathered his men and given orders, in Montelepre. Two groups had to reach the Pizzuta and the Cumeta, another relief not far away.
They started at dawn. Fully armed, Giuliano and his family reached the Pizzuta.
The others, under the command of Antonino Terranova, seen in the distance of the "carabinieri": to avoid a clash, which would have blocked the whole operation, this second group of fire gave up and returned back.
Difficult to guess where the shots came from. No chance of escape for the crowd. That as a compact was dispersing in a panic, looking for any shelter. In less than two minutes the massacre was completed. Eleven inanimate bodies remained on the ground. Two were children. More than sixty wounded.
Four hunters had run into Salvatore Giuliano just before the massacre.
Immobilized and blindfolded by the men of the "commando" they had heard the crackling of the blows. Then they had been released. Their testimonies will then put the investigators on the bandit's tracks.
It is in this chaotic agitation of banditry, mafia ties and political pretentiousness that the massacre of Portella della Ginestra, "workers' day" of May 1, 1947, is inserted.
Massacre carried out by Giuliano's men with the usual ferocity and for reasons that today may appear, if the post-war political climate is not taken into account, more than seventy years later and far from the humus of the Sicilian society of the time, rather than mysterious, only trivially inconsistent.
The investigations were immediately directed towards the Turiddu di Montelepre, in the double role of executor and instigator of the massacre.
The question, however, appears already unclear from its beginning.
In the Polizia report, written shortly after the facts and sent to the Ministry of the Interior. It is indicated that Julian is probably the material author and does not completely exclude that "the idea of a criminal action against the parties of the left" had been "inspired and strengthened especially by some isolated element in close unmentionable relations with bandit Giuliano ".
In the report of the Carabinieri are identified, instead as possible principals "reactionary elements in league with the local mafia".
The minister Mario Scelba, answering the day after the events, declared before the constituent assembly that in the current state of affairs, that is twenty-four hours after the shooting, it should not be a political crime.
"It cannot be a political crime - he explained with self-evident syllogism - because no political organization could claim the demonstration and its organization for itself".
Socialists and communists vehemently denounced the opposite view. That is, the principals had to be sought out among the agrarians and the mafia, in league with the political circles of the Sicilian right and members of separatism.
In Viterbo, in 1950 the process will be instructed
In a memorial sent to the judges of the Assize Court, Giuliano gave this explanation:
"The communist leaders gave orders to the peasants to be spies of the bandits, evidently because the bandits seemed and seem to be for the peasants, the invisible force of the mafia [...]
I began to mature my plan of punishment [...] that party I thought the most opportune because they could be participants the principal responsible to whom I aimed ".
Clear for everyone, Giuliano felt the consensus failing, or at least the silence of the peasants, on whom he had built all his power, decided a revenge. A revenge that is also political, because the electoral success of the People's Bloc has taken away the votes of "his" independence movement.
In the almost three years between the massacre and his death (Castelvetrano, 5 July 1950), by the brother-in-law Gaspare Pisciotta in agreement with the police, the bandit of Montelepre returned several times on the subject, with further memorials or letters sent to the newspapers.
He reiterated that he wanted to give a "lesson" to the communists, guilty of wanting a reversal of social relations in Sicily.
He also said that the victims had been a terrible accident on the way, because his men had given available to shoot above the crowd to intimidate.
He exonerated Interior Minister Scelba whose name had been done by some as defendants the hidden instigator.
But two months before he was killed he seemed to change his mind and wrote a letter to "L'Unità" saying that "Scelba wants me killed because I keep him in the nightmare to make him burden great responsibilities that can destroy his entire political career and even his life ".
The process becomes even more muddled due to the call in co-responsibility of Sicilian politicians.
Giuliano by now had passed away and could neither confirm nor deny.
Gaspare Pisciotta spoke of a letter, a sort of pass for Giuliano, signed by Scelba. In the writing, never shown, the interior minister would have asked the bandit to help him defeat communism by shooting at the helpless crowd in Portella della Ginestra.
The thesis or false narrative of the letter, held long discussion and at a certain point was also enriched by the hypothesis that it had not been written by the minister, but by a colonel of the American occupation body in Sicily. Only years later it became clear that it was a resounding forgery.
The problem of the principals returned topically in 1951 with a whirlwind of complaints from regional communist representatives towards some monarchist deputies and the inspector of public security Ettore Messana, the latter guilty of having had among his informants also one of the bandits involved in the shooting.
And again reports from journalists against deputies, senators and ministers for having protected Giuliano's gang in various circumstances.
One thing is for sure. Pisciotta, at the invitation of his lawyer, deliberately gave confusing, conflicting versions, intended to involve as many people as possible to break up the waters better.
Shortly before being killed in the Ucciardone prison in Palermo, on 10 February 1954, with a strychnine coffee, Pisciotta had mentioned new revelations.
Specifically, a series of meetings between the Christian Democrat deputy Mattarella and members of the Mafia.
But he was about to tell the truth. For this he was killed, or was it the umpteenth screening, so the mysterious poisoning is to be attributed to a settling of accounts already established previously?
Thus the facts of Portella della Ginestra, the shooting and the question of occult principals, over the decades have continued to overlap hypotheses, conjectures and reconstructions.
Each with its own truths, the result of passionate, sometimes partial, sometimes interested readings of the facts seen above.
Among the participants in the event for 1 May 1947 there were those who remembered hearing a few days earlier, in the village, murmuring a premonitory phrase: "You will leave singing, you will return crying".
Other reconstructions have hypothesized that the deadly blows were exploded by characters mixed in the crowd and not by the heights surrounding Portella.
Still others have spoken of a series of explosions, which however have never found confirmation in the police surveys. Someone has put forward the hypothesis that in reality the mafia had been the one to shoot to put the blame on Giuliano, who has now become too ambitious and unmanageable. But in the memorials and in the letters written by the bandit the mafia conspiracy is never mentioned.
In particular, the theory of the strategy of tension has found supporters, which in Italy is often appealed in the absence of proven evidence.
Giuseppe Di Lello, magistrate of the anti-mafia pool in Palermo was one of the many spokesmen for the theory of the State massacre.
"There will probably never be a judicial final. We can only say with certainty that it is the same ending that belongs to all the Italian political massacres"
The Viterbo process, which began in the first instance in the early 1950s, only led to the sentencing of material perpetrators to life imprisonment.
Giuseppe Di Lello comments «The most scandalous thing about that trial, started with a legitimate suspicion, was that the judges of Viterbo did everything to avoid identifying the principals.
And they succeeded using a very simple tactic: they excluded the political motive of the massacre ".
The massacre, continues the magistrate, was wanted by monarchists, separatists and Christian Democrats to marginalize the left from power: "In the regional elections of April 1947 the left had reached more than thirty percent of the votes. Too many for the Sicilian powers of that time "After the Portella massacre, a center-right government is formed and the peasant movement will undergo a strong retreat." »
But there's more. In 2003, the film Segreti di Stato was presented in competition at the Venice Film Festival, an adventurous film reconstruction that brought people into play, as well as the inevitable American secret services and the leaders of the Italian State (De Gasperi and Andreotti) and some prominent ecclesiastical offices, including Pope Pius XII.
Everyone would have contributed to detecting and covering the material executors, identified in a handful of mysterious Salò veterans hired for the occasion.
The first instance judgment ended in Viterbo on 3 May 1952 with the sentence to life imprisonment of twelve defendants of Giuliano's band, including Gaspare Pisciotta and Vincenzo Badalamenti.
The final sentence reached in 1960, will identify among the motives of the massacre carried out by Salvatore Giuliano, more than the revenge against the conspiratorial environment that supported the activities of the band (as it was claimed in the memorandum), the desire to restore its authority compromised by the results of the regional elections of April 20, 1947 and the ambition to shed light on a sort of anti-Bolshevist crusade, which, according to the bandit, would later be followed by a general amnesty.
After 72 years, despite areas of shadow and the unclear deaths of Giuliano and Pisciotta, the findings on the events are those offered by the trial. And the responsibilities of the Turiddu of Montelepre are obvious.
And so it remains open space for conjectures and suspicions, but in this case the history ceases to exercise its function and prefers "Pilate" drawn from.
Here we are again at Worker's Day. Happy 1st May 2019!
Painting by Renato Guttuso, "Portella della Ginestra"
- Le faide mafiose nei misteri della Sicilia, di Luca Tescaroli, Rubbettino, 2003
- Da cosa nasce cosa. Storie della mafia dal 1943 a oggi, di Alfio Caruso, Longanesi, 2002
- Mafia, politica e affari 1943-2000, di Nicola Tranfaglia, Laterza, 2001
- Salvatore Giuliano. Morte di un capobanda e dei suoi luogotenenti, di Giuseppe Casarrubea, Franco Angeli, 2001
- Portella della Ginestra, di Angelo La Bella e Rosa Mecarolo, Testi Editore, 2003
- Traduzione: Paolo Molina