Tuesday, 10 July 2018

List of living traditions in Switzerland

With the ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage on October 16, 2008, Switzerland started to develop, maintain and periodically update an inventory of its intangible cultural heritage.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» was created as a part of the implementation of this UNESCO Convention. The list is conducted in cooperation and with the support of the cantonal cultural institutions.

The list is available in the form of a comprehensive documentation of the intangible cultural heritage of Switzerland in word, picture and sound on www.lebendige-traditionen.ch. It currently comprises 165 traditions selected by experts, representatives of the cantonal cultural institutions and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO under the direction of the Federal Office of Culture on the basis of proposals by the cantons.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» forms the basis and prerequisite for nominations of living traditions for the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The nomination process will be based on the tried and tested example of world heritage.

The Federal Office of Culture envisages various measures to publicize the list and keep the traditions alive. An increase in funding for organizations of culturally active lay people and the possibility of supporting events in the field of lay and popular culture have already been realized. The plan is to cooperate with the open-air museum and Kurszentrum Ballenberg on the topic of handicrafts as well as with Switzerland Tourism on the topic of culturally sustainable offer design.

  • Alphorn- und Büchelspiel
  • Alpinismus
  • Blasmusik
  • Decken und Reparieren von Dächern
  • Eidgenössisches Feldschiessen
  • Fondue
  • Grafik-Design und Typografie
  • Historische Milizen
  • Jassen
  • Kastanienanbau, Kastanien und Marroniverkäufer
  • Konsenskultur und direkte Demokratie
  • Martinimarkt und Jahrmarkt zu Ehren von San Provino
  • Prozessionen der Karwoche in Mendrisio
  • Rabadan und Fasnacht im Tessin
  • Schwingen
  • Sternsingen
  • Trockenmauern bauen

Read more »

Friday, 6 July 2018

Gordola: artillery fort and barrack of the First World War in Ticino

It is symmetrically positioned in the front line of the defence artillery zone of Magadino Superiore (see the article). As a matter of fact, the Swiss military forces built in the Valle Verzasca a series of corresponding forts and bunkers just before the beginning of the First World War.  The idea behind the defence elements was to block any possible route from the South (Lake Maggiore) leading to Bellinzona and further to the North to the massive of Sankt Gotthard.

It is the most easily accessible work which is a sort of the long fort, coloured in red, appropriately named today La Casa Rossa (in English: the red house), and situated above the village of Gordola. It is an infantry barrack built on the top of the hill, from where opens a spectacular view on the northern part of Lake Maggiore and Gambarogno. The number of canons originally installed is unknown till today. 

From the northern side, there is also an artillery fort built on the rock in 1913 which had the same layout of the one in Magadino Superiore which was conceived for approx. 70 soldiers. Originally, there should have been four canons of 7.5 cm firing toward Magadino, two headlights and at least two emplacements for heavy machine guns. The fort was somehow upgraded in 1941 as there has been since that date situated on the top of the Eastern entrance.

Further to the South, alongside the rail bridge, there are also two bunkers and one trench line.

  • Monumenti Militari nel Ticino (Link), pages 16-17 for Gordola artillery fort
  • Schweizer Festungen - Fortifications in Switzerland (Link)
  • Werner Rutschmann, "Befestigtes Tessin: Burgen, Schanzen, Werke, Stände", Verlag NZZ Zürich, p.115-124

  • Two objects mentioned in this article, La Casa Rossa and the artillery fort can be easily accessed as it is showed on Google Map below. The artillery fort access is protected by a gate and barbed wire.

Read more »

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Tool: Allied aerial pictures of Insubrica region

We already wrote about online resources related to the aerial photography of the Insubrica region, particularly the resources offered by geo.admin.ch and many other examples found on the website Smapshot. While preparing the article on the bombardment of the Verbania area during 25-26.9.1944 we stumbled on a new resource.

Milan city center on 16 August 1944
The British National Collection of Aerial Photography offers a large database of aerial pictures taken during the Second World War over Europe. To access the site, simply follow the above URL. Once on the website, click for Browse NCAP, and then select the feature Map. You can then use the zoomable map to find images related to the particular region that you look for. 

Click then further on the markers to open the images or view Finding Aids for a selected area. The pictures can be downloaded for personal use or posted on a blog, as it is  the case for Insubrica Historica, as long as the publication is freely available. The pictures can also be bought.

There are surprisingly few pictures related directly to the Insubrica region. There are a couple of pictures for the area surrounding Varese, particularly Cislago, and few others around Chiavenna.

Nevertheless, NCAP remains an interesting online website and resource that gives rare views of an Europe torn apart by the conflict of the Second World War.

  • The National Collection of Aerial Photography:https://ncap.org.uk/frame-download/1-1-216-1-227
Read more »

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Louis Favre: dynamite and human costs for the first major Gotthard tunnel

Louis Favre (1826-1879) was born on January 28, 1826, in Chêne Thonex (Canton of Geneva). He studied as a carpenter in Neully-sur-Marne (near Paris) and followed courses of architecture and engineering.

The epoch of the first industrialization in the first half of the 19th century  shaped innovative transport means as the railway. In a few years after the first test of the steam locomotive (1804) and the first railway sections (1825-1829), the railway spread throughout the continent. Among the works of the Railway Construction Company, where Favre worked after the graduation, there were the railway lines of Charenton (1846-1851) and Montbart-Dijon (1852-1853).

After passing through the tunnels of Augné (1855), Crédo (1856-1858), Grandvaux and Cornallaz (1858-1860), Creuzot (1863-1865) in 1871, Favre won the tender for the Gotthardbahn tunnel and started to work hardly. The work began in September 1872 and was completed ten years later in January 1882. Favre, overruned by the difficulties of the company, died on July 19, 1879, of a heart attack in Göschenen and could no longer see the opening ceremony of the tunnel.

The Gotthard Railway Tunnel (1872-1882)
The objective in the construction of the railway lines were very large, they were built for commercial or military-strategic purposes at that time. Soon, the question arose of a transalpine railway; already in 1838 people thought about the distance from Chiavenna to Chur.

At first, in 1845, a railway over the Lukmanier, was built, then in 1852, it was finally built over the Gotthard. After the innoguration of the Suez Canal (1869) and the Frejus Tunnel (1871), a project for a railway through the Gotthard and its associated costs were approved by the Confederation as well as by Germany and Italy.

In 1872 construction began. In 1882, after many technical difficulties and financial crises, the work was completed. The opening ceremony of the railway tunnel which had the length of 15 kilometres between Göschenen and Airolo opens up completely new and previously unknown traffic opportunities for Europe.

  • The best sightseeing - albeit outside the Insubrica region - can be done from the Göschenen station, which alone has made history. From here you follow the information signs with the "G" and comes to 14 distinctive points of the village Göschenen, which shows the prehistory of the base tunnel. This tour is called "Gotthardtunneldorf Göschenen" and has been in operation since 2016. The tourist office Göschenen gives you more information.
  • On the south side at the station Airolo is another important example. The Monument to the Victims of Labor, created by Vincenzo Vela (Ticinese sculptor 1820-1891) on his own initiative and without payment. At the Gotthard tunnel construction, 177 dead and 403 seriously injured were killed.
Read more »

Friday, 22 June 2018

Bombardments on Lake Maggiore: commonly unknown history

A commonly unknown chapter of the final phase of the Second World War in the Insubrica region is related to the bombardment of two hamlets and the sinking of three ships in two days. And all of this happened precisely on Monday, 25 September 1944, and the next day on Tuesday, 26 September, between Luino and Baveno-Intra in Italy.

In order to efficiently understand the dynamics of the events, it is necessary to see the bigger picture of what was happening:

At the beginning of September 1944, the Allied military forces advanced rapidly in the Italian peninsula. The North of Italy (the area adjacent to Lake Maggiore) was occupied by the German military forces and was politically administered by the Neo-Fascist government called "la Repubblica Sociale Italiana" (RSI). An increased aerial activity was observed over Lake Maggiore, precisely in the regions of Ossola and Mottarone. This activity was mostly associated with allied transport airplanes that were used for intelligence missions in order to help the guerrilla movements fighting against Germans and Fascists.

The combat missions took place predominately in the dead of night. The military pilots, who helped the partisans, had Polish nationality. They departed usually from Brindisi, Southern Italy, heading towards the North. Their flying course was over the Adriatic See situated between Italy and the Balkans. Once, they used to reach Trieste, they turned to the west, taking 270' degrees course, over the Italian alps. As a matter of fact, this indirect path allowed them to avoid the German and Fascist anti-aerial artillery. And at the end of September 1944, the allied forces occupied the town of Pisa, so fighter storms began to operate with superior potential despite the limited autonomy of the airplanes like Spitfires.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the results of two bombardment days in September 1944 on Lake Maggiore will be seen in detail below. These days created an unprecedented panic wave among the civil population, especially in Luino, Baveno and Intra-Verbania in Italy. The civil population in Baveno and Intra was terrified the next days after the air strikes, being afraid of all aviation related activities.

Bombardment of Fondotoce on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
The fighter storm composed of six Spitfire airplanes arrived from the South, across the lake, in Verbania-Fondotoce. Two aircrafts bombed a house in Fondotoce. To date, it has been impossible to ascertain with confidence which house was touched.

Bombardment of Intra-Alta on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
Four airplanes attacked Fondotoce, bombing in this case a large civilian workers' house called "il Cassinone" in the region of Intra-Alta. The bombardment of the house caused the death of 9 civilians (according to other sources 11 civilians were killed) and several civilians were wounded. 

Air strike of Baveno and sinking of the boat "Genova" on 25 September 1944 at 15:30 in the afternoon:
The locality of Baveno was attacked with six military airplanes. The air attack resulted in the sinking of the boat called "Genova" that carried apparently only civilians: 34 passengers were killed. The boat "Genova" was builded in 1912 by Bacigalupo, and it was 43.3 meters long. Like similar ships "Milano" and "Torino", it could transport 500 persons on board. The boat sank near the lakeshore. To date, it is unclear if the wrecks have been still laying on the lake floor, or if they have been scrapped after the war. No official documents have been released concerning this matter. 

Air attack of Luino and sinking of the boat "Torino" on 25 September 1944 at 16:00 in the afternoon:
The aerial intervention on Lake Maggiore on Monday, 25 September, culminated with the sinking of the second boat called "Torino" which went down in the port of Luino.

Air attack of Intra and sinking of the boat "Milano" on 26 September 1944 at 9:30 in the morning:
In the the morning, on Tuesday, 26 September 1944, ignoring the precedent air attacks, the battalion commander, Major Giovanni Ledo (1907 - n.a.), of the Fascist unit "Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana" (GNR) of the stormtroopers "Venezia Giulia", decided to sail from Laveno to Intra. He ordered to load ammunition and other military goods on board of the ship "Milano". The board carried also 40 soldiers and 30 civilians. Once the board was in the middle of the lake sailing to its destination, it was attacked by fighter aircrafts. Officially 12 civilians and 14 soldiers were reported killed, but most likely, there was a greater number of victims. As a matter of fact, historians have been debating on the subject. Major Ledo survived but was heavily wounded and did not return to his post.

Air attack of Intra on 26 September 1944 at 10:00 in the morning:
Following the sinking of the third boat called "Milano", the aircrafts persisted their activity on the lakefront and at the port of Intra, albeit without dreadful consequences. 

Even to date, there are blindspots concerning these events: 
  • It is not clear which aircraft type was involved in the actions. 
  • On 26 September 1944, later in the night, there were two spy missions (Mangosteen and Chrysler) in the regions of Mottarone-Coiromonte, only 5km away from Intra. It is likely that the bombardments created the premises for their successful launch.
  • The precise number of victims, particularly those on the boat "Milano", is still unclear even after more than 70 years. The events related to the sunk boards "Genova" and "Milano" have been still commemorated in Italy, albeit only by the organisations of the right political spectrum.
  • The newspapers of the Canton Ticino like "Popolo e Libertà" and "Libera Stampa" reported with confidence in 1944 that the aircrafts departed from the airfield of Domodossola and were directly involved with the partisan operations (eg. "Popolo e Libertà", edition Friday 29 September 1944, article: "La Divisione Piave libera Cannobio").
The boat "Milano" has been finally found by the team of international divers, among them there was a Dutch professional diver, Pim van der Horst.

The boat was located at the depth about 236 meters underground. The highly complex immersion required the team composed of 40 divers and the helicopter surveillance. It was authenticated by the South African Nuno Gomes (world depth record holder) and included in the "World Guinness Book of Records".  

The wrecks of the board "Torino" were found in 1945 as the ship had sunk in the shallow water. The engine was replaced, and the boat was transformed into a motor vessel; its superstructures were completely rebuilt.  Some necessary uplifting was done in 1969 that gave to the board its current appearance, which made it look similar to the other 50-year-old motorboats, albeit with a slimmer hull. The vessel has been still today in the use on Lake Maggiore.

  • The boat Torino has been still sailing today on Lake Maggiore.
  • The victims of the sunk boats "Genova" and "Milano" are still officially remembered in Northern Italy. Every year, there is a ceremony that commemorates the victims.

Read more »

Friday, 15 June 2018

Picturesque route in Ticino: Tremola and its engineer

Francesco Meschini was born in Piazzogna (today the municipality of Gambarogno) on 4 August 1762. He was educated at the Academy of Brera in Milan. Becoming a young engineer and architect, he got his first assignment in 1790 in the context of the renovation project related to the church San Nazzaro built in the Neo-classic style in Gambarogno. Later, he led other reconstruction projects such as the parish church of Gordola (1829).

Chiesa San Nazzaro
@Voce del Gambarogno
During the period of the Helvetic Republic, he was a member of the administrative chamber of the Canton of Lugano in 1801-1803. As an inspector of the bridges and roads of Bellinzona and Lugano, he drew up an extensive series of plans for local road connections.

It is worth mentioning the following Meschini's major works: The road of the Leventina situated between Biasca and Airolo (1813-1821), the ramps of the Gotthard pass (1827-1832), and the bridge across the river Maggia in Ascona (1818). Meschini was also a member of:  the Grand Council of Ticino (1813-1830), the Government Council (1815-1827), and the Landammann (in English: chief magistrate) of the Canton Ticino (1825). He died at the age of 78, on 3 December 1840 in Piazzogna.

The Ramps of the scenic alpine road Tremola (1827-1832)
The Canton Ticino was created in 1803 as a fully-fledged state within the Swiss Confederation. The problematic of the necessary infrastructures in the canton appeared soon. The engineers asked themselves to what extend the existing roads could be renovated in order to meet new requirements, but it should be also outlined that the Canton Ticino had no modern road connections at that time.

As a result, the first phase consisted of widening and repairing the old main road that run from Chiasso and Magadino to Airolo. The objective was to allow a transit of wagons drawn by horses. The goal was achieved after more than 15 years of work (1804-1821).

While the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia - Piedmont - decided to support the construction of trade routes across Splügen and San Bernardino in 1818, it was difficult to reach an agreement between the Canton Uri and the Canton Ticino, promoting the modernisation of the old road across the Gotthard pass. Nevertheless, the 17-kilometre-long Tremola project delighted Francesco Meschini who finished a spectacular roadway in five years (1827-1832). This part of the old alpine road across the Gotthard pass has been still a beautiful example of the old time engineering that was already advanced in the first half of the 19th century.

  • You can travel across the Gotthard mountain by car which is really breathtaking; the drive across the cobblestoned Tremola runs through breakneck serpentine from Airolo and is considered to be one of the longest and prodigious roads in Switzerland. The road Tremola is largely preserved in its original eco-system, but during 1937-1941, the natural gravel coating was replaced by a granite pavement. As a result, the engineering artwork can be captured and experienced entirely. Unfortunately, various original components were replaced over the time, for example, many of the wegbegrenzenden stone steles were set new in a concrete cordon.

Read more »

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Neuroni family from Lugano: battles against Turks

We saw earlier the mercenaries from the Insubrica region in the service of the Venice Republic, notably we wrote, last May 2018, about Bernardino Checco from Locarno. We wish to go further and to explore more in details mercenary connections between Ticino - Venice. Consequently, there is another family from Ticino that served the Venice Republic.

Neuroni family crest
@Patriziato Riva S.Vitale
The illustrious Neuroni family, from Riva San Vitale, Ticino, has been among the numerous names that drew our attention. This family was very devout, dedicated to the Church as well as to the military service.

According to Oldelli, Neuroni had an ancient family background: it originated from the name Nubiloni and thereafter Nuironi. The family had already established itself  in  Riva San Vitale, near Lugano, before 1290.

In 1400, the family core moved to Lugano, but other members were dispersed throughout various parts of Ticino. It is interesting to introduce the courageous members of this lineage who died on duty for the Venice Republic fighting against Turks. 

Siege of Candia 1648-1669
@Learning History
Captain Antonio Neuroni with his two brothers Fabrizio and Gian Pietro were killed in 1669 defending the walls of Candia. The Siege of Candia (modern Heraklion, Crete) was a military conflict in which the Ottoman forces besieged the city led by the Venetians.

The siege lasted more than 21 years from 1648 to 1669, becoming the second longest siege in the human history after the siege of Ceuta. The Ottoman soldiers were finally victorious despite the unprecedented resistance and struggle of Candia.

Colonel and general commander of the militia of the Venetian Republic, Gian-Maria Neuroni, was, according to Oldelli, in Corfu when Ottomans attacked the city. As a matter of fact, on 8 July 1716, the Ottoman army comprising of 33'000 soldiers began the assault of Corfu, the most important of the Ionian islands. Despite the indecisive naval battle, the Ottoman overland army continued that day its advancement towards the city.

On 19 July, after capturing outlying forts, the Ottomans started  the siege of Corfu. The defence was led by Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, who had in his disposition 8'000 men. The extensive fortifications and the determination of the defenders withstood several assaults. A great weather storm on 9 August 1716 —which the defenders attributed to the divine intervention of Corfu's patron saint called Saint Spyridon—caused numerous casualties among the besiegers, forcing the Ottoman army to brake off the siege, retreating from the outskirts of the city.

The heroic defence of Corfu inspired composer Antonio Vivaldi who wrote the allegorical oratorio called Juditha Triumphans, the Baroque masterpiece. Vivaldi's Venetian Juditha is like a symbol of triumph of the Venetian defence and victory of Corfu in August 1716. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Pietro Antonio Neuroni, the brother of Gian-Maria Neuroni who has been mentioned before in the article, served like his brother the militia of the Venetian Republic. According to Oldelli, he was on duty in Navarre Spain. Few details are known in fact about his service, except that he died in Pamplona.

There had been another "Ticinese" soldier who was most likely active in Pamplona during 1569-1570: his name was Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino (1520–1586) known as El Fratin  (in English: The Little Friar).  Paleari Fratino was from Morcote, situated near Lugano.

He was a military engineer who served the Spanish Emperor, Charles V, and then, to his son Philip II of Spain. He is known for having designed the first Martello tower as well as many other fortifications. IH will necessarily write about Paleari Fratino because Dr. Marino Vigano, our friend and the honoured history researcher, has published Paleari's biography.

  • Oldelli, Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del canton ticino, Veladini Lugano, 1807 pages 121-122
  • G. Martinola, La Compagnia Neuroni, Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, Band 22, 1950
Read more »

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Smapshot: impressive research tool for aerial photography

IH continues to support the discovery quest of the Insubrica region heritage. We would like to introduce to our readers another new tool, following our article on geo.admin.ch.  It is like a "participative time machine" which can help volunteers to geolocate historical images of Switzerland, taken in the time when GPS and other aviation aids did not exist. This article will also be about Walter Mittelholzer who was a fervent aviator. Besides, he was the co-founder of the famous airplane company Swissair. As we will see, he was an avid aerial photographer and had a penchant for the Middle East, particularly Persia, and for African cities beginning from Cairo to Casablanca.

Mittelholzer over Locarno in 1919
The website https://smapshot.heig-vd.ch/ is a joint project done by la Haute Ecole d'Ingéniere et de Gestion du Canton Vaud, Hasler Foundation, ETH and Migros Shtiftung. 

You have to access the website, choose the given collection for eg. Walter Mittelholzer and start to browse. It seems that the graphical plugins best work with Microsoft than Apple even if all the pictures are still accessible with a Mac Book Pro.

We appreciate this application as it allowed IH to determine with accuracy when Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937) flew above the Insubrica region and specifically above Locarno. 

As a matter of fact, Mittelholzer was a notable Swiss aviation pioneer. Most likely, he was the person who contributed most to aviation in Switzerland; if the company Swissair came into being, it was all thanks to Mittelholzer. He was a pilot, photographer, travelling writer, and also the one who became the first aviation entrepreneur. Mittelholzer supported his activities by selling photographs and receiving donations from patrons. 

Mittelholzer picture of Ascona in 1929
He created a great collection of pictures, combined together from his flights that was more than 9`000 copies in black and white. His pictures were taken at different altitudes, even the low ones. According to Smapshot, a rough distribution for the Insubrica region pictures done by  Mittelholzer's could be the following: 43 pictures in Valle Leventina, 31 around Bellinzona, 60 in the region of Locarno and 112 in the region of Lugano. 

For obvious reasons, as Mittelholzer was also an official Swiss Air Force pilot, he could not do pictures of the Italian part of the Insubrica region. It was not uncommon to have Mittelholzer flying around 300m to snap a picture of the beneath landscape. 

Mittelholzer flew above the Insubrica region already in 1919, taking pictures of Locarno and Lugano. In 1924-1925, he did a historic flight from Zurich to Persia which was from Zürichhorn to Pisa Marittima. 

Mittelholzer returned to the Insubrica region in 1929, at the end of April. He continued to fly over the Canton Ticino till 1933. He used essentially a Swiss aircraft Häfeli DH 3M, taking a wealth of pictures according to the Smapshot website. He died in 1937 in the climbing accident, being a member of the expedition in the Hochschwab massif in Styria, Austria.

  • Flieger Museum Dübendorf is well worth a visit if you want to admire the last Häfeli DH 3M in display. The museum itself is very interesting and worth a visit.
Read more »

Monday, 4 June 2018

Long gone castle in Ascona: San Michele

The castle of San Michele was located in the south-west of the town centre of Ascona, on a steep rocky promontory. The castle possessed a relevant extent of a rectangular shape with nine floors. The parameters of the caste were approximately the following: 130m by 50m which is about 6'500 m2. But all just part of the assumption! The true dimensions of the castle have been gone with the wind of the centuries. At present, at this historic place, private homes and the Church of Ascona have been built. The old church still has some parts of the fundaments based on the former walls of the castle. Sadly, for many tourists and history enthusiasts, there is almost nothing left to see today from the original castle of Ascona.

Sunset in Ascona. On the left: Brissago Islands. On the right: former castle and church San Michele
@Insubrica Historica

Nevertheless, the historians agreed that the castle of Ascona existed. As a matter of fact, it was mentioned for the first time in 1189. It belonged to the Duni family. The castle had been offered by the Bishop of Como, Anselmo Raimondi, to Pietro Duni who was a notable military commander. To date, it is not possible to say with confidence wether the castle was involved in the harsh war between the Guelfs and Ghibellines, or wether it was attacked by the Swiss Confederate troops around 1500. But most likely, it was simply abandoned at the time when the Duni's lineage stopped. The last member of the Duni clan was Giovanni Pietro Duni who died in 1690 and was buried at the Church of Saints Fabiano and Sebastiano in Ascona. Beginning from that year, the Duni family was extinguished.

To date, the primary architectural structures of the castle can been observed in the underground parts of the San Michele Church, which are situated in the Eastern part of the church. 

Like many for other castles in Ticino (for example, the one of Tegna on which we have already written), it seems that the Castle of San Michele could be founded before the Middle Ages. In fact, it could have rather a strategic position being situated at the entrance of a picturesque town of Ascona, above the lake, on steep slopes. This suggests that the castle could be settled and be used from the military point of view already from the Neolithic times (around approx. 3300 B. C). 

Many studies held by Johann Rudolf Rahn 1890, Giorgio Simona 1914, Emilio Clemente 1974 were done on this castle. They attempted to investigate and determine the size of the castle. The most pertinent study was done by Max Alioth in 1949. He used sketches and paints of the past in order to suggest a visual reconstruction of the castle. Max Alioth (1883-1968) was originally from Basle but lived in St. Moritz, Switzerland, being well known for his research skills. Alioth's drawings of 1949 showed a fairly big castle that was as large as the castle Montebello in Bellinzona. 

Castle San Michele according Max Alioth (1949)
@S. Lehman (2004)

It is interesting to note that the Castle of San Michele was one of the four medieval settlements of the town of Ascona. Let us name them all: San Michele,  San Materno, Griglioni and Carcano. 

  • S. Lehman, Ascona TI, Castello di San Michele : Quellen, Archäologie, Baubeschreibung, Mittelalter : Zeitschrift des Schweizerischen Burgenvereins, Band 9, 2004, pages 106-120
  • Gian-Alfonso Oldelli, Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino, Francesco Veladini e Comp., 1807, page 18
  • The promontory of San Michele is accessible only on foot in the town of Ascona. The church of San Michele (rarely open) was conceived by Giovanni Battista Serodine and erected in the mid-17th century. We should say that the church was builded on the foundations of one of the corner towers of the ancient castle.
Read more »

Friday, 1 June 2018

First engineer of Gotthard: Pietro Morettini

Pietro Morettini was born in 1660 in Camanoglio, near Cerentino, in the Canton Ticino. Cerentino is still a tiny hamlet situated in the remote Valley of Rovana which is a part of the Valley Maggia, in the North-Eastern part of the Canton Ticino.

Camanoglio near Cerentino, birthplace of Pietro Morettini

Morettini's biography can be divided into five major periods:
  1. The apprenticeship with Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban who was one of the greatest French military engineers; his first military works were done in Besançon (1677-1687) and Landau (1688-1691) when he served, among other engineers, Louis XIV of France.
  2. Building of fortresses in Namur (1692-1696), in Bergen of Zoom, Grave, Njmegen and Steenbergen (1697-1702), when he worked for William III of Orange.
  3. His waterworks, bridges and roads done in the regions of Locarno, Bellinzona, Lugano and Gotthard (1703-08);
  4. Building of fortresses, military buildings and waterworks in the Catholic cantons of the Swiss Confederation (1708-1717) in Freiburg, Solothurn, Rapperswil, Bremgarten, Baden, Lucerne (1708-1914) as well as the Urnerloch (see below);
  5. Numerous roads constructed in the Republic of Genoa and Corsica, especially in Savona, La Spezia, Novi Ligure, Gavi, Sestri, Bonifacio, Ajaccio, and Calvi (1717-1736) (1717-1737).
Coming back in his home for a short vacation, he died at the age of 77 on 15 March 1737, in Locarno.

The "Urnerloch", built in 1707-1708, probably the first alpine tunnel 

Lithography portraying the
In the summer of 1707, when the old bridge called Twärrenbrücke was destroyed, a loud, terrible sound resonated over the mountains like the "anger of the water".

The old bridge was a transition way made of wood, which was freely suspended over the river on the slippery mounting wall. The idea was to create a direct path through the mounting from the direction of the Devil's Bridge, built in 1595, connecting the regions of Andermatt and Urserental.

The passage, called via Gotthard, had to become a link point between the Mediterranean and the Central-Nordic continent that was interrupted with great economic damages for the valley, which lived exclusively from the mule service and the customs duty.

With this new contract, signed on 20 September 1707, the Ursern corporation gave to Pietro Morettini, the military engineer from Insubrica region, the order to open the "Urnerloch".

A tunnel was drilled through the projecting rock and was inaugurated on 15 August 1708. The Urnerloch was the first Alpine tunnel and one of the oldest on the European continent.

  • Today, the original structure of the "Urnerloch" is characterized by the step-by-step developed modern street and in its original dimension and forms are no longer perceptible. Starting from the parking space of the restaurant Teufelsbrücke, you can approach the Urnerloch on foot.
Read more »

Monday, 28 May 2018

Via delle Vose: great stroll in Onsernone, Ticino

We have written about the hamlet of Loco, situated in the Valley Onsernone, when we spoke about astronaut Walter Schira whose family roots were from there. Today, we would like to describe once again this beautiful valley in order to introduce one of the most wonderful and scenic walks that exist in the Insubrica region.
The discovery journey will plunge you into a peasant hard life which has been associated with an ancient mule-track road since the Middle-Ages, called in Ticino the "Via delle Vose". The aim for local peasants was to reach the valley floor, notably the  market and the harbour of the town of Locarno. This long way was indeed a principal communication road between the Locarnese region and the Valley Onsernone in the ancient times.

Via delle Vose
The "Via delle Vose" is an indexed road within the Swiss Federal Inventory of Historical traffic routes. It is about 6.5 km long unveiling a remarkable heritage of the region to tourists who are eager to experience the surroundings on foot. 

IH suggests to reach the village of Loco (686 masl) in Onsernone as the starting point. It is possible with a postal coach service from Locarno that has hourly departures, stopping right at the beginning of the "Via delle Vose", which is situated in the North of the village Loco. While being in Loco, it is wise to pay a visit to a small local museum called Museo Onsernonese with its ethnographic, historical and artistic collection related to the valley. 

The initial part of the trek is fairly steep, falling sharply and bringing you to the bottom of the Isorno valley (406 masl) in which the river Isorno flows.  

The original bridge was completely destroyed by the floods of 1978. It has been replaced in 2016 by a new construction conceived by a well-reputed bridge architect, Ing. Prof. Christian Menn (1927-). It has recreated the small bridge yet with a great aesthetic appeal that integrates itself perfectly in the wild surroundings of this remote part of the road.

Christian Menn bridge on Isorno river
Christian Menn is known for having designed bridges all over the world; notably, just to mention few works: the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston, Sunniberg Bridge near Klosters/Graubünden and many other bridges in Switzerland and abroad.

After having left the brigde, you ascend and cross the small hamlets of Niva and Vosa, walking alongside traditional dry-stone walled terraces and three beautiful chapels that create an ensemble of an old Via Crucis, that are pure testimonials showing to us how this stroll was difficult as a journey in the past. 

In Niva, above the Isorno river, you can also admire a wine-press from the sixteenth century used to press the grapes. The two hamlets represents also an unique setting for Canton Ticino, since in the late Middle-Age, belonged politically to Losone situated next to Locarno.The hamlets were thus used as a summer pasture land for the peasants of Losone.

Vosa di Dentro
After Vosa, the path continues alongside of the valley descending toward the hamlet of Pila (590 masl) another beautiful mountain village. You will be surprised by the old school situated at the entrance of the village coming from Loco. Pila deserves a stop because it's a traditional hamlet of Ticino where the houses are made of ancient stones, standing on a sunny green hill with a pretty view over the town of Intragna, the gateway to Centovalli.

From Pila, the road descends to Intragna (339 masl). Your long walk can end in Intragna as the village is rich in hidden treasures, for example, the renowned San Gottardo church bell tower which is 65m height also the tallest tower in the Canton Ticino.

  • Via delle Vose is a nice track about 6.5 km. From Locarno main train station, you will need to have at least 4 hours of walk, and it can be a little more if you use the public transportation to Loco and from Intragna. 

Read more »

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Andrea Brilli: Ticino officer for the Russian Empire

The "Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino", written by Gian Alfonso Oldelli, is a sort of encyclopedia of 1807 where Andrea Brilli is mentioned. It should be noted that all famous people ("uomini illustri") mentioned in this encyclopedia were indeed, according to the author, exclusively men. 

The original note on Andrea Brilli
@Gian Alfonso Oldelli, 1807
A quick search in the Internet concerning Andrea Brilli didn't give much information on his personality, but IH has managed to find out that he served for the Russian Zarist Empire, particularly under Peter the Great and Empress Anna Ioanovna. 

We decided to contact the Russlandschweizer-Archiv RSA (Russian-Swiss Archive) in Zürich in order to learn what was known about Andrea Brilli. Indeed, the archive had some information on him, albeit there were only few pages of a correspondence that dated to 1983 between Professor Carsten Goehrke and Mr. Luigi F.C. Naef of Lugano interested in Andrea Brilli. 

For sure, Andrea Brilli was born in Cureglia near Lugano on 12 September 1682. His father was Carlo Simone Brilli married to Anna Maria Soroli; they both were from Cureglia. Andrea's parents married in Cureglia on 24 January 1666. According to the Russian Biographic Dictionary of 1908, Andrea Brilli (in Russian: Andrej Brill or Andrej de Brill or in some sources even Andrej Brilly) had a military background gained in France, Sweden and Prussia. He was in Berlin in 1701 where he met the Russian Ambassador, Izmajlov. 

Brilli accepted his proposition to serve for the Zarist Empire and went to Moscow where he had to pass a professional exam on his military skills before entering the service. The exam was delivered by a French officer named Lambert. Brilli passed the examen successfully so that he was promoted to the rank of captain in the Engineering Corp. Brilli's previous military rank remains unknown, but most likely, he was ranking officer while serving the French, Swedish and Prussian armies.

Brilli managed to accomplish a brilliant military career in the Zarist Russia. In 1723, he was promoted to the rank of colonel. At the age of 43, he became a general in 1725. In 1731, he was then assigned to Eastern Ukraine where he was tasked to reorganise the militia of Malorossia.

The term Malorossia is formed originated from two Russian words: Malinki and Russia, meaning in English Little Russia. This term traced in fact its origin back to the medieval times and was widely used of that time as the name for a geographic territory that was much similar to our Insubrica region, meaning a vast territory but not referring particular to a single place. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the word Ukraine (in Russian: Ukrayina)  was used sporadically, until it was reintroduced in the nineteenth century by the conscious effort of several writers who wanted to awake the Ukrainian national conscience. It was not until the twentieth century when the term "Ukraine" started to prevail substituting completely the term "Little Russia" that fell out of use.

Surrender of Azov in 1736
During the period of 1736-1739, Brilli participated in several military campaigns against the Turks and Tatars, notably in the Russian armies of Count Burkhard Christoph von Münnich (1683 – 1767) and Count Peter von Lacy (aka Pyotr Petrovich Lacy (1678 – 1751). 

In 1736, Brilli fought in the Don Army which took the key citadel of Azov and, next year, crossed the Syvash marshes into Crimea, where Russians were forced to fight against 15'000 men during two battles on 12 and 14 June. In 1738, Brilli won Crimea taking the fortress of Çufut Qale near the Khan's capital, Bakhchisaray, defeating definitely (it would be more correct to write exterminating) the Tatars hordes out of Crimea.

Brilli left Crimea for Latvia, as he was apparently tasked to become a Governor of the city of Riga. The Swiss sources reported on this fact, however there has been no other trace that Brilli was ever a Governor of Riga. For sure, he was promoted in 1741 to a Lieutenant-General in Riga. 

On 30 August 1744, he was decorated with the Order of St. Alexander Nevskij; at that time, it was  one of the greatest military medals in the Russian Zarist Empire. The medal was a direct consequence of Brilli's role with the army commanded by General von Lacy during the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-1743. Brilli took part in the military attack of the Swedish city Villmanstrand (at present, Lappeenranta in Finland).

It is likely that Andrea Brilli stayed in Riga at least till 1751. On this date, the Münchner Zeitung wrote that Brilli together with Scottish General Maier Broune (most likely, General Browne) and German General Friderici were seeking to leave the Russian Zarist Empire other assignments.

In 1751, Andrea Brilli had to be 69 years old. But, the sources vary. For example, according to the Russian Biographic Dictionary of 1908, Andrea Brilli died already in 1746 or 1747. But it is somehow most likely that Andrea Brilli died later in 1762. This is possible because he was cited by Münchner Zeitung in 1762, and it makes us to believe that plausibly, he lived till 1762. It is not known whether Andrea Brilli was married or had children.

  • Gian Alfonso Oldelli, "Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del Canton Ticino" 1807
  • For more information about Andrea Brilli serving for von Lacy, consult: "Contemporary Memoirs of Russia" written in 1856 by Cristof Hermann Manstein

Read more »

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Typical Swiss business: Pellegrini's mercenary career for the French and Dutch Empires

One of the less described chapters related to the military history of the Insubrica region is the mercenary service of Ticino people carried out in behalf of other military powers. IH has already written about Generals Mainoni, Remonda and soon will about Andrea Brilli an officer in Russian service, but there are more personalities who are interesting to commemorate.

For example, Bernardo Pellegrini (1776-?) born on 18 August 1776 in Ponte Tresa, son of Francesco and Maddalena Scolari. He spent most of his life in the military, leading Napoleon and Dutch troops.

At the age of 21, he became a Lieutenant in the "Città di Lugano" (in English: city of Lugano).  Following examples of other Ticino natives, Bernardo was soon enrolled as a Lieutenant in the French Napoleon Army. Pellegrini fought in First Swiss Regiment which was created by merging together survivors of thirty three Swiss battalions of the old Confederacy. He spent 14 years in the military service under Napoleon, fighting in the campaigns of Danube and Russia, during 1803-1806 in Corsica, being later enrolled in the "Armata d'Italia". 

When Napoleon's army was defeated after the Russian campaign of 1812, Pellegrini returned in Metz in 1813 together with Captain Giovanni Maria Magatti, born also in Lugano, who had distinguished himself during the Russian campaign at the battle of Berezina. Consequently, Magatti was awarded in 1815 with the Swiss medal  of "Treue und Ehre" (in English: Honour and Fidelity).

As for Bernardo Pellegrini, he briefly joined the Swiss military service where he became on 2 June 1815 Lieutenant-Colonel of the "Ticinesi militia". He was used to a nomadic military life outside his homeland region and didn't stay quietly for a long time in Ticino as on 15 October 1815, he joined the Dutch military service in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, becoming a commander of Swiss Regiment 32 under General Auf der Mauer. Pellegrini hired for his unit several servicemen from Ticino, particularly natives from Ponte Tresa, Magliaso and Lugano.

The Wien Congress of 1815 reshaped the frontiers of Europe with a new emerging Dutch state that needed an experienced army. Renewing the tradition related to the engagement of Swiss natives in the military service for the Dutch Empire (see also our future article on military architect Pietro Morettini), King Wilhelm VI started in 1814 to recruit extensively Swiss natives, creating four Swiss Regiments for a total of approx. 10'000 men. For example, Fourth Regiment was composed of natives coming from the Roman-Catholic Swiss Cantons, Central Switzerland and Ticino.

The Swiss regiment was initially stationed in the garrison of Antwerp, later it was moved to a number of cities in the Netherlands, most likely in Louvain (Leuven), Mechlin (Mechelen), Bergen op Zoom, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Gorinchem, Dordrecht, Gouda, Brill (Brielle) and Hellevoetsluis. To be noted that the regiment never executed its military service abroad.

Swiss Regiment uniform in the Dutch Army
As a matter of fact, enrolling volunteers on mercenary service was a lucrative business of that time, and frauds were inevitably committed which affected particularly Fourth Regiment. The scam was related to an agreement called "Militärkapitulation", signed by several Swiss Cantons in order to provide human resources for the Dutch Empire. The terms of the agreement stipulated to select servicemen only of the Swiss nationality, but the Canton Ticino started also to sign up Italians from Insubrica.

Dutches were furious and reacted harshly between 1819 and 1821 checking scrupulously every single serviceman's origin. Consequently, the investigation resulted in 1821 in the dismissal of Commander Ludwig Auf der Maur (1779-1836) as well as in purging entirely Swiss Regiment 32. Most likely, the issue related to the abuse of the agreement was not only limited to the servicemen from Ticino as 15-25% of the overall military forces were dismissed from the Dutch service.  

Swiss Regiment uniform during the Dutch service
Bernardo Pellegrini was affected by the Dutch investigation and was forced to leave the Dutch service on 1 September 1821. The true reasons for his dismissal are unknown, but he was replaced by Colonel Göldlin von Tiefenau, a native from Lucerne. The Swiss engagement with the Dutch army ended in 1828 merely for financial reasons as keeping mercenary regiments became too costly for the Dutch Kingdom.  The last Swiss remaining unit was merged finally with the National Dutch Army.

The whereabouts of Bernardo Pellegrini after his dismissal from the Dutch service are unknown. Most likely he returned to the Canton Ticino to his native hamlet of Ponte Tresa.

  • G. Beretta, "Ticinesi al servizio mercenario dell'Olanda", Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, 28 - 1956, pages 308-318
  • G. Beretta, " I Ticinesi nella campagna di Russia 1812", Istituto Editoriale Ticinese, Bellinzona 1937
  • Wagenbuur Website: http://www.wagenbuur.nl/pozzi/service.htm

Read more »

Thursday, 17 May 2018

SS-Police crimes in Ossola and Lake Maggiore: unpublished facts

Our presentation on Saturday 12 May 2018, at Spalavera Bookshop in Pallanza, attracted interest of a major regional Italian newspaper. La Stampa Verbania Cusio Ossola presented in its Tuesday edition a long article in Italian that IH has translated in English for our readers.  

La Stampa, Italy

The name of the Nazi soldier who killed captain Beltrami, the hero of the Italian Resistance in the region of Ossola, has been discovered after 70 years. Unpublished facts, based on archive materials related to the SS-Police operating on Lake Maggiore, have become public.
by Teresio Valsesia - Edition 15 May 2018, Verbania

Unlike other reprisals committed by Germans during the Italian Resistance, those perpetrated in the regions of Verbania and Ossola have never been prosecuted by the Italian magistrate. In fact, an investigation was opened in 1966, but the Military Court of Torino classified it due to the impossibility to ascertain the precise identity of the responsible people. It seems incredible, but no one (investigators, historians or Italian researchers) has ever thought about viewing the German archives.

Presentation on 12.5.18 in Pallanza
@Insubrica Historica
Instead, Raphael Rues (Swiss-Ticinese, language expert and passionate researcher), has rigorously analysed the primary sources related to the war operations of the SS-Police, the German military body, that conducted activities against the partisans in the regions of Ossola and Lake Maggiore from the end of 1943 till the spring of 1945. 

The names of all German officers emerged from his research, being strictly codified in the documents and preserved not only in Germany but also in Switzerland and in England.

So, after more than twenty years of work, he must be credited for having reconstructed meticulously the events that have remained unpublished until now. In short, it is a real story, not just news.

One of his contributions has been included in the latest issue of "Verbanus"; the magazine has been directed by Vittorio Grassi, and his presentation was reported by Leonardo Parachini in the Spalavera bookshop in Pallanza. The work of Raphael Rues will be also presented as a book, published in Italian, German and English, that will be introduced on 21 June 2018 at the Casa della Resistenza in Fondotoce.

SS-Police Presentation 12.5.18
@Insubrica Historica
The documents have confirmed that battalions of the SS-Police intervened in the autumn of 1943 trying to cease the insurrection of Villadossola. In February 1944, Captain Ernst Simon left Varallo for Omegna with the task to eliminate the formation of Filippo Maria Beltrami. 

The unpublished fact is that the heroic «captain» of the Resistance was killed by soldier Heino Almstädt from Hamburg. Later, Simon left the area to move to Verona organising the convoys that brought Jews to the extermination camps.

Moreover - Rues pointed out - these battalions were itinerant across Europe and Italy; they arrived directly from Norway, but the bloodiest massacres took place in Eastern Europe where the victims were much more numerous than those of the regions of Verbania, Cusio and Ossola: the relationship was 1,500 against 1. 

As for the figures of the SS battalions and losses, the numbers have always been overestimated. For example, it was thought over 200 dead partisans and Germans during the roundup in the Val Grande; in reality, a dozen of casualties could be proved, especially in Miazzina and in the bloody battle in the area of Laurasca.

The terrible raid of the Val Grande was directed by two colonels of the SS-Police: Ludwig Buch and Ernst Weiss. The latter celebrated his 50 years birthday on 20 June 1944 in the Villa Caramora, where at the same time 43 partisans where executed massively in nearby Fondotoce. 

As for Colonel Buch, it has been claimed that he committed a suicide in Novara on 28 April 1945, when the Nazi-Fascist troops surrendered. In reality, Buch died in his bed after the war, as did Weiss who died in 1964 in West Germany, waiting for his trial for the crimes committed against Jews. Other SS officers, who operated in the region, were hired in the post-war period as police officers in Germany.

After the re-occupation of Ossola, in October 1944, the SS-Police stopped once in Stresa as it appeared in one of the unpublished photos retrieved by Raphael Rues. They went then to Lake Garda where they were honoured by Benito Mussolini. The epilogue of the war led to the abandonment of the Nazi-Fascist garrisons in the region of Ossola and Lake Maggiore, when the troops merged with the column commanded by captain Ludwig Stamm: there were about 300 men, attacked constantly by the partisans of Vergante.

Stamm, like several other German officers, reappeared after the war in Baveno, in the same hotel that Germans had occupied during the war. It was in 1954, and he was immediately recognised by the owner who did not report him to the authorities. The following morning, he resumed his journey to Florence. Stamm died in his bed in Argentina few years later.

Read more »

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Soviet Maps of Switzerland: case of Locarno

The most striking feature of Soviet General Military Staff maps for a Western European person is that all places and rivers are written in Cyrillic letters. It isn't surprising that familiar appellations look suddenly so different on Soviet maps. Many designations, especially those related to Swiss German locations, were transliterated phonetically in Russian, allowing thus an easy pronunciation to a Russian native speaker.
Soviet map of Zurich in 1952, with interesting colour sets
 As a matter of fact, reading and understanding a Soviet map requires some exercise, and it becomes much easier if you have some basic padronance of the cyrillic alphabet.

1:500'000 Soviet map related to Locarno, Insubrica region
@Insubrica Historica
For example, Ascona was written on Soviet maps as "ACKOHA". There was an exceptional specification of topographic symbols related to industrial and military assets. Bridges had also a very specific mention indicating which specific military tank could pass over a bridge.

Available Soviet maps for Ticino
@Insubrica Historica
IH has recently acquired two Soviet maps edited by "Voenno-topograficheskoe upravlenie General'nogo shtaba" (in English: General Military Staff); both maps are in Gauss Kruger Projection.

The first map is on a 1:500'000 scale with the reference L32-A, entitled in Cyrillic Bern. There are five maps which cover partially Switzerland, thus the most central is L32-A which however doesn't show the eastern part of Switzerland.

The contours on the map are placed at 50 meters intervals. A large amount of details can be observed related to roads, railways (even the one going in the Valle Maggia which had been dismantled  since 1920 canals, lakes, airports, airfields and etc. Transcriptions of the towns are written in different sizes related to the amount of respective inhabitants. 

The second set of maps in our possession is on a 1:50'000 scale map, L-32-66-4 Lugano and L-32-66-2 Locarno, the size of 1:1, with the dimensions 42 x 45 cm. There are at least 157 maps on a 1:50'000 scale covering Switzerland and bordering regions, all indexed under series L-32.

It is hard to discern which kind of sources the Soviets used in drawing these maps. The map "Bern" on a 1:500'000 scale is dated 1976, and despite this fact, it had already some major flaws that would not have been discovered with a simple field inspection or a plagiarism :( of a Swiss made map

The final results leave some room for doubts whether Soviets were ready to a potential invasion of Switzerland using these maps. In any case, the Soviet maps are a piece of history of the world torn apart by the Cold War, and for IH, they still contribute to our beautiful collection of historical maps.

  • Loadmap gives you the easiest possibility to access online to Soviet maps about Switzerland in scale 1:500'000. It is the most user-friendly among various download sites, since it shows the available maps overlaid on Google Maps. It makes it easy to identify maps you could possibly need. The lowest accessible scale for Switzerland is 1:500'000 (1cm to 5 km)

Read more »

Friday, 11 May 2018

SS-Obergruppenführer Conti: native of Lugano and fierce opponent of Crystal Meth drug in the Third Reich

IH learned about Leonardo Conti (1900-1945) while reading the monumental work of Robert Jay Lifton  called "The Nazi Doctors", an essential study related to human genocide in the field of jewish survivors and doctor perpetrators. 

Leonardi Conti born in Lugano, Switzerland
@Eco di Locarno
The book was written by Lifton, and at first sight, it was not that easy to grasp, going beyond a simple description of the facts, analysing the psychological component of the nazi doctors involved in the genocide. A sort of "anatomy of human destructiveness", if we paraphrase a famous title used in Erich Fromm's book.

What is interesting about Leonardo Conti is that he was from the Insubria region, being born in Lugano, more precisely in Castello Monteggio, on 24 August 1900, as Leonardo Ambrogio Giorgio Giovanni Conti. Our attentive reader will remember another personality from Lugano Joseph Mainoni  who was a general under Napoleon. If we look for similarities between two men, it is possible to confirm that Leonardo Conti was by far more extreme "butcher" than Mainoni.

Conti's mother Anna born Pauli (according to some sources her first name was Nanna)  - later a convinced Nazi party member - divorced quickly moving back to Germany in 1903, together with her second son, Silvio Carlo Paolo Clement Conti (1893-1938). Conti grew up in South Berlin around Schönenfeld, keeping the name of his father Silvio, a post service director, working in Lugano, who remarried having four children. Most likely, Leonardo Conti had never learned Italian or the dialect of the Insubrica region, and he had no contact during and after the war with his father in Lugano.

Leonardo Conti went to school in Berlin, studied at the University in Berlin and Erlangen, north of Nuremberg. Already in early years and as a student, he was involved in extremists actions, participating in few Freikorps. In 1925, Conti married a noble lady, Elfriede Freiin von Meerscheidt-Hullessem (1902-2002) who gave birth to a son and two daughters. 

Conti with Italian Fascist Dott. Giovanni
General Director of Public
Health  in 
1941 in Berlin @Gettyimages
Leonardo Conti became in 1944 an "SS-Obergruppenführer" (equivalent to a lieutenant general - three-star general), inferior only to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945). Conti had been already from 1939 "Reichsgesundheitsführer" (in English: Reich Health Leader) and State Secretary in the Interior Ministry. Despite being promoted to a SS-Obergruppenführer, his influence diminished considerably in 1944, and he resigned from his position as a "Reichsgesundheitsführer" on 16 August 1944.

According to Lifton, despite being a technocrat, Conti was among few Nazi leaders who pushed extensively forward forced sterilisation programs and involuntary euthanasia. Unfortunately, his huge involvement with Jewish genocide was not put on trial because he hanged himself on 6 October 1945 before the Nuremberg trail.

IH has decided to write about Leonardo Conti, not only because he was from the Insubrica region but because of his standpoint on drugs in the Third Reich. What follows below has a direct connection to the content of a German book, appeared in 2015 and entitled: "Der Totale Rausch - Drogen im Dritten Reich".  The book is written by Norman Ohler putting emphasis on the consumption of drugs during the Nazi regime. 

As a matter of fact, Ohler's book brings up a different aspect of Conti's personality. It's interesting to note how Conti appears to be, from the one side, a fiercest opponent of the drug use in the Third Reich (specifically of Pervitin) and, from the other side, an active ideological inspirer of a massive extermination of Jews and war prisoneers.

During the early stages of Second World War in Germany, methamphetamine was sold in a tablet form under the brand Pervitin, produced by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company. Pervitin was used extensively by all branches of the combined Wehrmacht armed forces and was popular in particular with Luftwaffe pilots for its performance-enhancing stimulant effects inducing extended wakefulness.

Ohler doesn't sustain and document too much his argument, but he makes reference to Pervitin as being the additive that most allowed German army to lead famous "Blitz-krieg" as a rapid offensive in 1940 against France. 

Conti was successful as in 1941 he was promoted to a "Reichsmeldestelle für Suchtgiftbekämpfung" responsible to register all German soldiers being drug-addicted but also to prevent any addiction, not only related to drugs. Always according to Ohler, the Nazi regime changed radically their permissive approach on drug consumption in 1943, even if being on the verge of losing the conflict with Soviet Russia.

By the end of the war, there were at least twenty-four "Meldestelle" (Contact Points), all distributed throughout the Third Reich, engaged in controlling the abuse of drug substances. The Third Reich was somehow consequent in the fight against drugs, as Pervitin (which, in fact, was a predecessor of Crystal Meth) became indeed, by the end of the war, "Mangelware" (meaning in English: scarce commodity).

  • F. Maggi, "Un medico ticinese alla corte di Hitler", Armando Dadò Editore, Locarno, 1999
  • N. Ohler, "Der Totale Rausch - Drogen im Dritten Reich", Kiepenhauer&Witsch, Köln, 2015
  • R.J. Lifton, "The Nazi Doctors", Basic Books, News York 1986
  • Aldo Battaglia, Eco di Locarno, "La brutalità di un ticinese alla corte di Adolf Hitler", 12.11.1988, special edition Saturday.
  • Dr. Conti der Schweizer Nazi, Antifa.ch

Read more »