Italy posthumously bestows medal of honor on two local Italian Americans for suffering nazi internment in World War II

Jul 06, 2022 936

Fabrizio Di Michele, Consul General of Italy in New York, will posthumously bestow Italy’s Medal of Honor on Rosario Castronovo of North Bergen, NJ, and Giuseppe Maurantonio of Bronxville, NY, on Monday, July 11.

Castronovo’s widow, Paola, 96, and daughters, Pietra Carboneri and Mary Ann Fusco, will accept his medal. Maurantonio’s medal will be received by his children, Nicholas, Catherine Blanco, Michael, and Joe. All live in the New York-metropolitan area. The presentations will begin at 10:30 am at the Consulate General of Italy, 690 Park Avenue, New York, NY. 

Since 2006, the Medal of Honor has been issued to Italian Military Internees (IMIs), servicemen who had been deported to and interned in Nazi prison camps between 1943 and 1945. “It was belatedly instituted by the Italian authorities as a moral recognition of the sacrifices suffered by civilians and military personnel in the concentration camps,” explains retired Gen. Maurizio Lenzi, son of a former IMI and director of the National Internment Museum in Padua, Italy.* Yet the IMI story is still “virtually unknown,” according to the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Center in Berlin-Schöneweide.

After Italy’s September 8, 1943, armistice with the Allies, 650,000 Italian soldiers were imprisoned in Germany and its occupied territories for refusing to collaborate with the Wehrmacht. Labeled IMIs, they were denied Geneva Convention rights and Red Cross assistance afforded POWs, starved, and put to hard labor. Estimates of the number of IMIs who died in captivity range from 40,000 to 50,000. At war’s end, survivors were largely left to find their own way home.

A native of Sicily, Rosario Castronovo was imprisoned at Stalag IVB outside Dresden, Germany. A native of Puglia, Giuseppe Maurantonio was imprisoned in the Ludwigshafen area of Germany. Both were subjected to forced labor. They eventually emigrated and became U.S. citizens. Maurantonio operated a successful shoe repair enterprise in the Bronx and Yonkers. Castronovo was a longtime employee of L & L Painting of Hicksville, N.Y.

American descendants of IMIs struggle to explain a WWII experience not mentioned in textbooks. Mary Ann Fusco learned of the Medal of Honor while interviewing more than 20 descendants of IMIs in the United States, Canada, and Italy seeking to piece together the puzzle of their relative’s wartime experience. There are still ex-IMIs living in Italy, and she continues to search for survivors here.

“The IMIs were repeatedly tempted with promises of food and freedom in exchange for collaboration, but they persevered in their unarmed resistance,” says Fusco. “Those who survived eventually were liberated from captivity; now their story needs to be rescued from oblivion.”

*Original statement in Italian: “Fu istituita tardivamente dalle autorità italiane come riconoscimento morale dei sacrifici patiti da chi civile o militare fu deportato/internato nei Lager, anche per ‘compensare’ i mancati indennizzi a chi fu costretto all’internamento e al lavoro coatto.”

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