Auronzo Emigrants

During 1987-88-89 I traveled across the United States of America, where I met hundreds of Americans with origins in Auronzo. I spoke the Ladin of Auronzo with them and ate the typical polenta feast; now I have come to the conclusion that I could do the same in Argentina, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium, although I would never have imagined that people from Auronzo would have gone even to China and Siberia (see photographs 479 and 480), to Hungary, ex-Yugoslavia, Rumania, New Zealand, and who knows where else. As I continue my research new information surfaces every day and if I succeed in preparing a volume on the emigrants from Auronzo around the world, as I intend to do soon, I am sure that I shall come across surprising stories.

On the 21 and 22 of September 1857, John Ball, an Irishman from Dublin, the first president of the Alpine Club, editor of the journal Peaks, Passes and Glaciers,editor of the first and most important Guide to the Alps(1863-1868), great botanist, Liberal Deputy for the County of Carlow, and Undersecretary for the Colonies, after having visited a great part of Alpine locales including those in France, Switzerland, and Austria, and three days after having climbed Monte Pelmo, visited Auronzo, and then went on via Misurina to Cortina. In his book, A Guide to the Eastern Alps,published in London in 1868, Ball gives an extensive description of Auronzo and of its mountains, and on page 518 he writes: "The exquisitely beautiful valley of Auronzo lies in the direct way for a traveller approaching Cortina from the head of the valley of the Piave; but it has such powerful attractions, and is so easy of access, that no traveller will regret making the slight detour necessary to reach Cortina this way from the high-road at Tai di Cadore, the excursion being easily completed in a single day. Many travellers, besides the present writer, have experienced the difficulty of avoiding the use of superlatives in describing this region; but it is not too much to say, with the images of many other glorious scenes present to his memory, that he seeks in vain for any valley offering more exquisite combinations of the grand, the beautiful, and the fantastic, than are here found in favourable weather".

I have searched in vain in the many guides to the Alps for a similar description of another mountain locale. For John Ball and for his circle of fellow travelers, Auronzo was the place that most enchanted them because of the richness of its natural beauty. And so why did hundreds, even thousands of peopIe from Auronzo leave it and its peaks golden with dawn and dusk in order to go far away, even to lost and inhospitable places, there to die of hard work? The reasons are many, and not all are fully understandable, but certainly numerous natural disasters were one of the causes. In fact, after the great landslide of rocks and mud that buried Paìs and Riva Da Corte on the 5th of august 1635, many people left Auronzo for good.

One of these emigrants, Nicolò Corte, after having wandered through Italy, arrived in Paris where he made his fortune; the 8th of November 1661 he sent a letter, identifying him self as the son of Giobatta Corte, in which he proposed to give a sum of money for the creation of an institute for the benefit of all the "REGOLIERI" (officerswho dealt with the division of lands and borders) of Auronzo's Villagrande. In one of those twists of fate that life holds, in 1981 I met one of Corte's descendants (Patrizio Courtij) on the peaks of Perù, where he was carrying out a mission for Unicef.

During the night between April 30 and May 1, 1694 a terrible fire destroyed least 300 houses in Villagrande. Only one woman and one boy died, but over 1000 people remained without a roof over their heads and another 500 left Auronzo because of their desperation at having lost everything. They went toward eastern Friuli, and into Slovenia, Croatia, and east Europe.

Centuries before, specifically on the 21st of ApriI 1336, we know that a certain Giovanni Agorijani of Auronzo obtained permission from the Patriarch Aquileia, Bertrando, to open a saw-mill at Sterpenizza d'Isonzo, and on the 25th of January 1348 a great earthquake caused rocks to fall on Villagrande, destroying some houses, so that ten families left Auronzo for unknown destinations. From the documents so far consulted, it emerges that already from 1550 on was customary for the citizens of Auronzo to emigrate temporarily. Window-workers, tinkers, grinders, they all wandered around Europe offering their services. There is a tradition of nomadism handed down from father to son over the centuries: the nomadism of shepherds and the nomadism of tradesmen and artisans. For example, in the Historia della Provincia del Cadore(a history of Cadore) written between 1729 and 1732 by Giovanni Barnabò and preserved in the Cadorine Library in Vigo, it is written that no people of the Cadore wander around the world as much as those from Auronzo, rich in pastures, animals, and craftsmen.

Elena De Filippo Roia (Comater) and Carmela Zandegiacomo Bianco, both over ninety years old, still remember when emigrants, having said farewell their families and friends, would sling over their shoulders poles with bundles of their few personal belongings attached, andwould head off in the direction of Austria on foot where they would then separate and go their different ways.
Every family in Auronzo has some story about more or less recent emigration; I personally have discovered that my great-great-grandfather Giovanni Battista traveled around Europe as a windowmaker, that my great-grandfather Liberale preferred being a shepherd and wandering with his flocks on the mountain pastures around Misurina and Auronzo, and that my grandfather Giovanni spent more than twenty years in the forests of Pennsylvania. My father Emanuele emigrated to Africa as a mason and was involved in World War II, ending up a prisoner in Scotland; my brothers have worked in Iran, Yugoslavia, and Germany, and I myself have worked in Valle d'Aosta and in Germany.

But the great exodus happened after 1850 when a rapid increase in population and a serious economic crisis forced hundreds of people from Auronzo to set off for the Americas. Many, too many, have never returned to their native town. Some died of illnesses or of hardship, others committed suicide out of desperation. Some succeeded in going on, and a very few became rich.
The exodus continued even after World War I, often to Australia and New Zealand.
In 1921 Auronzo had 4496 inhabitants, with 200 persons who had emigrated temporarily to other parts of Italy, 220 to foreign lands; 1600 people emigrated permanently and there were 500 unemployed citizens.
Even today, many young people, even if not as many as in the past because of employment in Auronzo in eyeglass factories or in tourism trades, are forced to look outside of Auronzo for work that is suitable to their specializations.

The very children and grandchildren of the first emigrants, because of the irony of fate, must themselves move from one state to another, in the United States and in Argentina, in search of work.
I conclude with the touching words written in the diary of an emigrant from Auronzo who died in the state of Michigan in the United States I promised his daughter, herself now quite advanced in years, that I would not identify him.
The following words, written with a shaky hand, are on the last page of the diary:

October 23, 1928.

I said goodby to my sisters, embraced my mother, and then climbed up onto the wagon. While the horses pulled the wagon away, I almost wanted to get off.
The wagon stopped every once in awhile so that
fellow citizens who were going to America with me could get on.
"Nene Bepa"
was at her window whence she waved her hands and shouted
"Sane fiol,
sane" (goodby, son, goodby).
At the edge of town, at Cella, I turned around to
look at my hometown and at the peaks for the last time.
Then I turned away
in order to hide my tears.
Goodby, Auronzo, the ship awaits me; goodby mama.

How many times I have thought of those moments, with so much nostalgia, so great a desire to return! But now I am too old and perhaps nobody would even remember me.
They have written to me that everything is changed,
that the wooden houses have been burned down, that now they build them in stone and I would probably not even recognize my own neighborhood.

But I shall die with a great regret deep in my heart, that I never returned to the peaks that watched me grow up.

Yet I have worked hard for so many years with the hope of returning, at least one time, at least to put edelweiss flowers on my mother's grave.
But I did
not succeed in doing so.
Farewell, Auronzo, farewell forever. (Sane, Auronzo,
sane por sempro).

Write out from the volume "Auronzo so as Not To Forget", written by Gianni Pais Becher on 1965, translated into English by Professor Rebecca West, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago, Chicago Illinois U.S.A.

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