‘That was a real hero, the mother, not me. The mother was a real hero. Can you imagine you standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming,’ says veteran
Martin Adler, 97, travelled from Boca Raton in Florida to Bologna to see Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana Naldi, who he had not seen since 1944. Just like he did in their village of Monterenzio in the 1940s, he handed out bars of chocolate during his visit.
The last time the four were all together was during the war. The first time they met was after the children’s mother had hidden them in a wicker basket, trying not to be detected by the German army.
As they took cover, Mr Adler entered their home, believing it was abandoned, and that the basket was holding a German soldier. There was almost was an heartbreaking end to their story as Mr Adler heard a noise from the basket, he aimed his gun towards it. Egter, luckily, their mother was lurking nearby.
“The mother, Mamma, came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me (van) skiet,’’ Mr Adler told the AP. “She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest.’’
Mr Adler attributed to the happy ending to the Naldi children’s mother.
“That was a real hero, the mother, not me. The mother was a real hero. Can you imagine you standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming ‘Children No!’” he told the AP.
Mr Adler appeared shaken when he remembered that he was so close to shooting into the basket. According to his daughter Rachelle Adler Donley, who accompanied him on his trip to Italy, he still has nightmares from his experiences from the war.
At the time of their meeting, the childrens’ ages ranged from 3 aan 6 and his knowing them remained a happy memory for Mr Adler. Afterwards, they remained in the village for a time, and he would come often and visit them.
The youngest Giuliana Naldi, 80, is the only one with any memory of this. She said she remembers clambering out of the basket and seeing Mr Adler and another solider, who since has passed away, standing there.
“They were laughing,’’ Ms Naldi told the AP. “They were happy they didn’t shoot.”
“We weren’t afraid for anything,’’ she said, before recalling the chocolate given out by the US military forces.
“We ate so much of that chocolate,’’ she laughed.
In the coronavirus lockdown, Ms Adler Donley used social media to try to track down the children in the old black and white photo. She began her search with veterans’ groups. An Italian journalist got involved and was able to figure out where Mr Adler’s regiment had been stationed due other elements in the picture. Na hierdie, the photo was published in a local newspaper, which led to the discovery of the identities of the children.
In December, they had a video reunion and now that pandemic travel rules have eased, an in-person meet up was able to take place.
“I am so happy and so proud of him. Because things could have been so different in just a second. Because he hesitated, there have been generations of people,’’ Ms Adler Donley said.
Roberta Fontana, Ms Naldi’s 30-year-old granddaughter, found the moment significant too.
“Knowing that Martin could have shot and that none of my family would exist is something very big,” Ms Fontana said. “It is very emotional.”
During his stay in Italy, Mr Adler will spend some time in the village where he was stationed, before traveling on to Florence, Naples and Rome, where he hopes to meet Pope Francis.
“My dad really wants to meet the pope,” Ms Adler Donley said. “He wants to share his message of peace and love. My dad is all about peace.”