The Omission of the Oaks and German Responsibilities: Another Page of a Forgotten History

(To Marco Valerio Verni)

The Italian occupation of Greece during the Second World War remains to this day one of the least known periods of our history: if the memorialistic production presents numerous gaps (the published one, in fact, is very limited, while the unpublished one, besides having limits of consultation, is constituted in a special way by memorials written many years later), even historiographical works are very rare and not exhaustive. As a result, this occupation ends up presenting itself as a sort of "memory bracket, compressed between the war: 28 October 1940-23 April 1941, and what happens on horseback and following the 8 September 1943. If we exclude the sensation caused by the trial of Renzo Renzi and Guido Aristarco for contempt of the armed forces, in the 1953, we can say that the entire period of occupation lies comfortably forgotten in one of the many basements of national history "1.

In this context, one of the episodes that, for a long time, remained forgotten, even at home, is that of which, precisely in recent days, the anniversary was celebrated, concerning the sinking of the Norwegian steamer Oria and the over 4000 Italian soldiers who lost their lives, despite the denunciation made by the various, albeit few, survivors who, however, managed to save themselves and who were able to tell one of the worst seas disasters ever occurred.

The facts

L'Oria it was a Norwegian cargo steamer, weighing just over two thousand tons, built in 1920 at the Osbourne, Graham & Co shipyards in Sunderland, and owned by the Oslo shipping company Fearnley & Eger.

At the beginning of the second world war, it was part of some convoys sent to North Africa, and, in June of the 1940, in Casablanca, it was interned shortly after the German occupation of Norway; later, the following year, it was requisitioned by the French forces of Vichy and, renamed with the name of "Sainte Julienne", was given to the management of the Société Nationale d'Affrètements of Rouen, starting to sail in the Mediterranean; in November of the 1942 it was formally returned to the owner and, again renamed, with the name "Oria", it was, immediately afterwards, entrusted to the German company Mittelmeer Reederei GmbH of Hamburg and, therefore, of the Third Reich.

In the autumn of the 1943, after the Italian surrender in Greece, the Germans decided to transfer the tens of thousands of prisoners in their possession by sea, often using dilapidated boats, often overloaded with people and outside any safety norm (tant 'is that several of them sank, either by attack of the Allies or by accident, with the death of thousands of men).

Just theOria was among the ships chosen for the transport of the Italians, who, guilty of having chosen not to fight alongside the Germans - and therefore considered traitors - were not recognized the status of "prisoners of war", with all the consequences of case: one of them, which cost them their lives, concerned precisely the loading conditions in which the steamer, the 11 of 1944, was forced from Rhodes to Piraeus.

Escorted by some torpedo boats, in fact, it had on board 4046 military inmates (official 43, 118 non-commissioned officers, 3885 soldiers), German 90 guard or passing, and the crew, together with a load of bins of mineral oil and tires from truck.

Almost inevitable, in these conditions, what happened the following day: caught in a storm, after getting stuck in the shallow waters overlooking the island of Patroklos, theOria sank at Cape Sounion, at 25 miles from the final destination.

The rescue operations, hampered by the bad weather conditions, allowed to save only Italian 37, German 6, a Greek, 5 crewmen, including Commander Bearne Rasmussen and the first engineer officer2.

In the 1955 the wreckage was dismembered by Greek divers to recover the iron, while the corpses of about 250 shipwrecked, dragged along the coast by the storm and buried in mass graves, were later transferred to the small cemeteries of the Apulian coast and subsequently , in the Shrine of the Overseas fallen of Bari. The remains of all the other dead, however, still lie at the bottom of the sea.

The commemoration

The 11 last February, two commemorative ceremonies were held, in video connection between them: one, just in Cape Sounion, in Greece; the other in the municipality of Seravezza, in the province of Lucca (many, among the fallen, came from Tuscany).

The first, organized by the Attica Region and the Municipalities of Saronico and Lavrio, saw the participation not only of the representatives of these local bodies but also of the representative of the Greek Ministry of Defense, of the Italian ambassador, if Efisio Luigi Marras, of general Vittorio Antonio Stella, current italian senior representative at NATO Rapid Deployable Corps - Greece (Rapid Reaction Body NATO NRDC-GR) of Thessaloniki, gods defense attaché of Germany, Iran, Russia, UK and USA, as well as representatives of Italian committees present in Greece.

The second, however, was attended by numerous civil and military authorities, representatives of some Tuscan and Apulian municipalities, the Defense Officer in Greece, col. Antonio Albanese but, above all, in connection with Greece, the Greek diver, Aristotelis Zervoudis, protagonist, at the time, of the discovery of the wreck.

The hope is that this tragic event will be more and more remembered, in the future, even if, in our country, it is often complicated to look at history with a critical eye and equidistant from possible party conditioning: the equally recent anniversary dedicated to the commemoration of the Foibe martyrs , at the center, still, of numerous criticisms, it is a dramatic and disconcerting proof.

Often, at best, we prefer to hide many events that could, for some reason, be inconvenient: that ofOriacertainly does not give credit to Germany, today increasingly at the center of the criticisms of some European countries harassed by the economic policies dictated by its chancellor, and which - needlessly - never miss an opportunity to claim (also and above all in terms of possible monetary compensation ) the crimes suffered by it during the Second World War (including Greece).

After so many years since then, leaving to the relatives of the victims, where one day it was possible, the choice whether to proceed with the recovery of what may remain of their loved ones at the bottom of the sea, or to leave everything as it is, would still be interesting to investigate also the juridical responsibilities of the time (as, moreover, it happened for other and equally tragic events, not only in the aftermath of the end of the conflict, but also subsequently to it), to render honor - even so - to the men who , aware of the consequences they would face, however, they preferred to remain loyal to their military duties: which, in principle, wherever they found themselves operating, were always, on the Italian side, soldiers and not criminals.

1 - See the link:

2 - See the link: