Earth Day is approaching, April 22. We are asking for your stories about what you love about nature and this earth we all share.


Sergio Ciriani was born in Sequals, province of Udine, in the North-East of Italy on April 29, 1914. In 1943 he was drafted into the Italian Mountain troops (Alpini), and his division was sent to the Balkans, all the way down to Montenegro, Albania and Greece, alongside German troops. On September 8, 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies, and those Italian troops who had fought alongside German troops took flight, were taken as prisoners by the Germans, or were killed.

Sergio was loaded on a train and sent to a chemical plant near the village of Leuna, some 30 km west of Leipzig. One of the largest of its kind in Germany at the time, the plant covered 3 square miles and belonged to the chemical giant IG Farben. This plant had been converted for the production of synthetic oil to support the war effort and was a prime target for Allied bombardments, a strategy to weaken German infrastructure.

Hundreds of Italian troops were used as indentured laborers in the plant (the English Wikipedia article quotes 900 between Italians and Hungarians, however, the German article reports that 2000 were Italians). The plant endured 22 allied bombardments during the rest of the war, but it was so heavily defended by FLAK (Fliegerabwehrkanone, anti-aircraft cannon) that the number of human casualties suffered at the plant was smaller than the number of aviators that died during the bombardment missions themselves. Nevertheless the repeated bombardments caused PTSD in many of the people subject to the bombardments. In the meantime Hitler was able to change the judicial status of the indentured laborers from prisoners to interned, thereby avoiding Red Cross international treaties that would have allowed some support and rights to be granted to the captives.

Living conditions were abysmal; food was very scarce. From the few anecdotes that Sergio told his family, the laborers would dig potatoes that others had planted out at night from the fields inside the plant, eat them, and put the stem and leaves back in the ground to make it seem that the tuber was still there; they would eat even the peel. By Sergio's account, he and other laborers would lick dew from rocks in the morning to quench their thirst. Altogether, during the time he spent there he lost 25 kg (over 55 pounds), from a healthy weight of 80 kg (176 lbs) to around 55 kg (121 lbs). Eventually the Allies advanced all over Germany and in April 1945 freed the prisoners at Leuna Works.

The indentured soldiers were given a pass with their name to allow them to return to their homes. Sergio traveled to the South of Germany to go back to Italy. For unknown reasons he stopped for sometime in the town of Rosenheim, in Bavaria, not far from Munich. He had learned some German during the time spent as a prisoner, and became romantically involved with a local young woman. At that time, because many young German men had died and others were displaced, the ratio between women and men of marrying age was very unbalanced and favored a social dynamic that made men very sought after. Sergio stayed for some time, but when his German girlfriend marched him to Townhall to get married, he decided he was not ready, and continued his trip home to Italy.

One year later he met the love of his life Maria Antonia, and the rest is another story. However, his children remember that a loud noise would make him jump on his seat, and he would shout, "Don't make loud noises! I've been through bombings!" He died on August 13, 1998, in Padua, Italy, at the age of 84.

Want to Share This Story with Friends?
September 1943-April 1945


To leave a comment, please Signin or Register.