Last veteran of Kefalonia remembers soldier who spared him

Bruno Bertoldi, a survivor of the 1943 massacre on the Greek island tells how he escaped death

“When I saw the Germans I put up my hands; I didn’t try and escape, but walked towards them. When I was about ten metres away, one of the three soldiers, who was pointing a machine pistol at me, recognized me. We had known each other for some time and he didn’t shoot. I can only remember his surname, Koffler. He had joined the army with me in 1937. He was from Alto Adige, and after the outbreak of the war decided to enlist in the Wehrmacht, instead of fighting in Italy’s grey-green uniform. We never met again until that day. His two companions insisted they should shoot me but Koffler kicked me and shouted: “Italian pig, get out of here”. I backed away, disappearing among the olive groves, and the three of them resumed their massacre of our soldiers.”

Slaughter of Italians

On the Greek island of Cephalonia, on 18 September 1943, German troops began their slaughter of Italian soldiers. After violent fighting and the Italian surrender, an estimated 5,000 soldiers from the Acqui Division were executed. Very few survived. Bruno Bertoldi – who turned 100 on 23 October – is the last of them still alive. After the war, this great-grandfather and widower from Trento settled in Bolzano, where he was a factory worker. He is still sprightly and full of energy, and cooks for himself. His story is like that of many others, a combination of small acts of cowardice, dignity and courage. When he joined up he was not yet eighteen – it was his mother who insisted, not wanting him to work himself to death in the fields like her other children – and was sent to the Aegean as head of the Acqui Division’s mechanized unit. In the beginning at least, he watched the conflict from a safe distance: “Life in Cephalonia was quiet; we ate and drank and had loads of girlfriends …”

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