A Zadar exile in Italy: “Hate the war but not those, who suffer under it!”
Antonio Vatta was born in Zadar in 1935
1944 – his family decided to leave Zadar during the war
after his departure, he spent many years as a refugee in several Italian cities
1951 – he settled in Turin, Italy
He is socially active to help with the rights of the exiled of WWII in Italy
He visits schools to tell his life experience
Antonio Vatta was born in Zadar/Zara, n 24th March 1935, when the city was part of the Kingdom of Italy. His mother, Maria Anastasia, of Slavic ethnicity, was born in Ugljan, an island located in front of Zadar, in 1903, and lived until she was 105 in Turin. His father was born in Ugljan, too, but was then adopted by a couple of Zadar. His father worked at Sapri, a factory of fishing boats, which boxed fish for armies. His mother worked in the countryside in Ugjlan, but at 16 moved to Zadar, to her aunt, and found a job first at Valko, a firm making spirits, and then as a gardener. She was subjected by her family to an arranged marriage with his father.
The province of Zadar had been a free market zonr for a long time. Even after its incorporation in the Kingdom of Italy in 1918, there was great economic well-being and a vibrant culture, as it was also the capital of Dalmatia. The multiculturalism of the city was reflected in its five religious patrons: one for every ethnicity of the people who lived there.
At the beginning of the Second World War, everything changed. Zadar was bombed for the first time in November 1943, and the city started progressively to empty. On October 30, 1944, as quickly as they could, the Vatta family decided to leave Zadar. Antonio was 9 years old. The day after their escape, on 31 October 1944, Yugoslav partisans entered Zadar and, on November 2, the police functionaries who stayed in the city were all killed. Because his father worked in the city prefecture, Antonio and his family could embark on a German military ship evacuating functionaries from the city. Near Pag, the ship engaged in a fire but managed to pass through with no damage. The next morning they arrived in Rijeka, where they received accommodation and stayed for a while. Seven months later, the Vatta family moved to Trieste (Italy), but Antonio’s father, being an Italian prefect, had to remain in Rijeka.
When father tried to enter Trieste illegally, he was brought to Susak, a prison island. Once there, he met a fellow citizen, and she vouched for him, without revealing that he was a prefect (as this would have marked him as fascist). He was let free and reached Trieste. While the rest of the family was there, the 40 days of Yugoslav occupation of Trieste took place, Antonio remembers the violence and the fighting on the streets. After that, the family briefly moved to Padova. There, they could choose between two refugee camps, Tortona and Mantova, and decided for the latter. The children of the family (Antonio, two sisters, and a younger brother) had the chance to enroll in a boarding school. Antonio enrolled as he wished to continue to attend school (his own was destroyed in the first bombing of Zadar) and went to the city of Viadana. After the „threat“ of being moved to Catania, in the southern part of Italy, at the time very rural, the Dalmatian community of the camp rebelled. After 3 years spent there, on the 1 of July 1951, the Vatta family moved to Turin, in the „Casermette“ (barracks): public housings, built by the state in order to close the refugee camps in Italy and give accommodation to the exiles and refugees.
Antonio met his wife, an Istrian from Rijeka, during the years in the refugee camps. She went to live in Turin too and worked at Superga, a firm producing shoes. Shortly before turning 18 years old, Antonio applied to work at FIAT, the biggest Italian industry of cars at the time, to help his family financially . As he was not yet an adult, he was sent to work in „Fonderia Mirafiori“ (a foundry), and later worked in Michelin, a tire firm, for 25 years. He retired at 54, in 1989.
The social activity of Antonio begins with the entrance in the „Associazione inquilini“ (Society of Tenants) of the barracks where he lived, to improve the conditions of life there. When he joined the Unione Regionale Profughi (Regional Union Refugees), they constituted themselves as Unione Regionale profughi e rimpatriati Italiani and were mostly middle/upper-class people, while Antonio and his friends, being workers, were not very welcome. While being a member of the society of tenants, Antonio and others began to study laws concerning their status and found one which stated that refugees and exiled should have been able to buy the accommodations they were renting at a fixed price. They asked for help from a local politician and start an administrative battle to have this right recognized. Finally, their rights were recognized through a new national law and, from 1997, refugees were able to buy the accommodations at a discounted price. Around 14.000 accommodations were sold in Italy thanks to their contribution.
Antonio has been visiting schools in Italy for several years to tell younger generations about his experience and his social activity. His fragmented scholastic carrier marked him emotionally, and this is why he values his work with schools. Antonio’s message is that teachers teach how to live. „There’s no freedom without studying. To live is to understand and to know, to distinguish between good and evil”. He also wants to share a sense of brotherhood and friendship, despite the differences of each individual, in particular during difficult times and circumstances, as the refugee camps.
Antonio returned to Zadar only in 1983, when his two sons asked him to go there. His family land was bought from a cousin of his, who built a cottage there. He also met his uncle who remained there. One of the biggest cravings for Antonio and the other exiles is the sea, a recurring theme of Zadar and Dalmatia, in particular, the scenic twilight onto the Adriatic, nostalgia par excellence of the exiles.
Antonio does not hold grudges for what happened to his family. Despite feeling profoundly Italian, he only blames those who declared the war, the powerful ones who break harmony, against „the people who suffer the consequences”.