Monday, 2 January 2012

Edda Mussolini Ciano –the tragic dénoument

 (A truth stranger than fiction)
Hildegarde (Felicitas) Beetz
On his return to Italy Ciano was taken to Verona prison; where Edda visited him on the 21st assuring him that the diaries were safe. Mussolini, now based at Gargano on Lake Garda, had reluctantly given permission for the visit the day before. Edda sent Vittorio to collect her children from her mother’s care in Germany and then set about organising a haven for them in Switzerland & in the middle of December Edda’s former lover, Emilio Pucci, took the children across the border to safety[i].

Edda was able to visit Ciano in prison three times, the final time on the 12th December when she informed her husband that the children were safe in Switzerland. Her visits were assisted by Hildegarde (Felicitas) Beetz, who had come with Ciano to Italy, as part of her work with the SS. Felicitas appears to have fallen in love with Ciano. On Marzio’s birthday Ciano wrote to Edda saying how much he missed them all. On the 23rd he wrote an introduction to his diary which was smuggled out of the prison by Felicitas.

On Christmas Day the prison governor refused Edda permission to visit her husband. He informed her that Ciano’s trial was to take place on 28th & that all defendants were to be shot 2 hours later. Felicitas gave Galeazzo the few things Edda had been able to buy; a box of sweets, a bouquet of flowers & a bottle of cologne. Ciano, a committed Christian, was allowed to attend mass sitting in his cell with the door open, although the chaplain was not allowed to enter his cell.

The following day Edda saw her father, pleading in vain for her husband’s life – their last meeting, as an understandably upset Edda railed at her father ‘Between us it is finished, finished forever, and if you knelt before me dying of thirst, and asked me for a glass of water, I would throw it on the ground before your eyes’. She then handed over Ciano’s notebooks to Pucci to hide, while Mussolini ordered a watch kept on his daughter[ii].

It seems as though Galeazzo Ciano grew up during his stay in prison – helping his fellow prisoners; rediscovering his love for his wife, who made another unsuccessful attempt to see him on 27th December. Edda & Emilio Pucci planned to leave Italy that day, but stopped for a meeting with Felicitas Beetz, who told them of a plan, approved by Himmler, to rescue Ciano. On the 3rd Felicitas again brought Edda 2 letters from Galeazzo. Edda was to meet Ciano on January 7th on the road outside Brescia. Emilio Pucci, on Edda’s behalf, then spent the next 2 days collecting Ciano’s papers, only part of which were to be handed over to the Germans. The Gestapo car he was travelling in broke down in a snow storm & he only arrived back in Verona on the night of the 6th.

Pucci & Edda set off to keep the rendezvous with Ciano the next day. But two tires on their car burst & Edda was reduced to begging a ride from two government ministers, who agreed to take her to Brescia. After further lifts from a German military convoy & a cyclist Edda arrived at the meeting place two hours late. Because of a curfew she huddled in a ditch until 5am, before getting a lift from 2 men who agreed to take her to Verona, where Edda met with Obergruppenfuhrer Harster, SS & Polizei Fuhrer for northern Italy. Harster informed her that Hitler, having finally being informed of the escape plan, had vetoed it. Edda returned to the clinic in Ramiola in despair[iii].

Execution of the 'traitors'
The trial of Ciano & other ‘traitors’ was held on 8th January – all defendants were found guilty on 10th January & all but one condemned to death. Ciano & his co-defendants were executed on 11th January, despite an appeal to Mussolini by the condemned including his son-in-law. Mussolini was afraid that Hitler would consider him weak. Before he died Ciano was informed that his wife & family were safe in Switzerland[iv].

On the 9th Emilio Pucci & Edda left for the Swiss border. Edda was disguised as a pregnant peasant woman, with Ciano’s papers under her dress;, having evaded the SS guard on the clinic - leaving via the cellar. The local guide, on discovering who he was to escort over the border, demanded a sack of rice in addition to the monies already received – fortunately this was available. Edda gave Pucci letters for her father, Hitler & Obergruppenfuhrer Harster; she then crossed the border to be re-united with her children[v].

Marquis Emilio Pucci in later life
Pucci then returned to Verona to hand Edda’s letters to Felicitas Beetz, who informed Harster that Edda had escaped. The letter to Mussolini was couriered to him, while Edda’s letter to Hitler was phoned through to Berlin. Pucci was arrested and taken to the Gestapo HQ in Verona. There he was tortured for the next two days, while refusing to tell of Edda’s whereabouts. He released by Felicitas, who had persuaded her bosses that Pucci might be able to stop Edda doing anything stupid with the diaries. Emilio agreed & was taken to Switzerland, where hemade an unsuccessful attempt to interest the British in Ciano’s diaries. He collapsed & was taken to hospital, where it was discovered that his skull was fractured in several places[vi].

Sometime in mid-January 1945 Edda gave a copy of the diary to the American OSS and on 10th April 1945 sold the newspaper rights to the Chicago Daily News, for $25,000. On 27th August 1945 she was deported by the Swiss authorities to Italy. Edda Ciano was interned on the island of Lipari for two years, but was released after only one year on 2nd July 1946. The children were handed over to Carolina Ciano by the Swiss, after Edda’s release.  Edda then sorted out the family finances, taking a trip to Argentina in the process (possibly collecting monies that Galeazzo Ciano had secreted there). She lived privately until her death in 1995, never remarrying. She allowed her flat became a refuge for stray cats[vii].

[i] My Truth - Ciano
[ii] My Truth – Ciano, Diary 1937-1943 by Galeazzo Ciano 2002, Enigma Books, Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[iii] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth - Ciano
[iv] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[v] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth - Ciano
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm lovely people; he will be tried and then executed. As can happen Ciano appears to have risen above himself with great dignity at the end.
    The Italians as allies to the Germans have always seemed such unlikely bedfellows. One can't help but think of the old British joke that the Germans had to have the Italians, fair's fair, we had them in the last war... there seems to have been a complete lack of cohesion.