Born in 1907, Giuseppe (Beppe) Petacchi became a favourite target for local fascists from 1922 onwards; they drove him out of premises in Avenza with punches and kicks. From then on, and partly also because of his entire family’s being antifascist, life was a series of harassments and threats; it was not so much that Beppe went out looking for fascists in order to avenge the kickings he received, but the fact is that when he ran into them he did nothing to avoid a fight and thus, from time to time, he wound up getting his head kicked in.
In Avenza in those days, such things were daily fare for antifascists; republicans and socialists were also knocked about but the anarchists were the main targets and Petacchi was one of these. This situation carried on up until 1933 when, things having become even more unbearable, Beppe decided to quit Italy, along with his comrades Ercole Pisani, Pilade Menconi, Ciro Sparano and the republican Roberto Briganti. Petacchi was forced to leave behind his heavily pregnant wife, with no means of support. On reaching Marseilles he found work and was able to send money to his wife, but these monies were regularly seized by the police.
In France he was in touch with Camillo and Giovanna Berneri, Emilio Lussu, Randolfo Pacciardi, Aldo Garosci, Umberto Marzocchi, Pio Turroni, Carlo Persici and the Rosselli brothers, particularly Carlo Rosselli, but there was not a single antifascist, from the least famous and educationally and politically enlightened among them, whom Petacchi did not try to contact in his attempts to add bite to the battle against fascism.
When the revolution broke out in Spain, Petacchi immediately made his way to Barcelona; what was going on in Spain he considered too important for him to miss. He fought in the battle of Monte Pelado alongside Rosselli, Angeloni and Aldo Garosci. Angeloni died in that battle, Rosselli was wounded and Petacchi was only just saved from the burning wreckage of his armoured car when it was hit by a Francoist artillery shell. He managed to fight his way out but he his clothes were on fire. Some comrades helped him and he was moved to a hospital in the rear. Later, as soon as he was back on his feet, he returned to the front. Where he watched in fury the Stalinists’ counter-revolutionary activities. In 1938 he made his way back to France, to Paris where his wife and son were finally able to rejoin him and he was taken into the home of Professor Monti. However, he was deported by the French police a short time later for his antifascist activities and moved to Belgium.
When Belgium was occupied by the Germans, he smuggled himself back to Marseilles and his home in the Casbah down by the old port became an open house for all antifascists in need of shelter, especially the ones returned from Spain which had now been overrun by the Francoists and for Jews and gypsies whose very survival was at risk from the French police. Lussu and his wife who was particularity skilled as a forger, spend days on end in Petacchi’s house forging documents and passports. In so doing they helped out of the country many of the antifascists of every nationality who made contact with Petacchi. When war with France broke out, Petacchi managed to get out just ahead of the Germans, as did Lussu, his wife and Pacciardi. They sailed for Casablanca. There Petacchi met up with Pio Turroni and they caught a Swedish ship to Mexico where they worked as bricklayers in the housing trade before moving on to Canada, having learned from some comrades that it was possible to get back to Europe from there to resume the fight against the Nazis and fascists.
Boarding a ship, they landed in Liverpool, but, due to a clerical error, they were exchanged for some fascists and placed in a concentration camp. Their continual skirmishes with the real fascists locked up with them persuaded the British authorities that they had been mistakenly classified and they were released. They were sent to North Africa where Petacchi took a short parachute training course and was dropped over Italy near Empoli to set about raising partisan units. He stayed for a short time in Avenza before moving on to Florence to the Antifascist Centre there and made contact with many comrades, working with Carlo Lodovico Ragghianti, Carlo Cassola, Adriano Milani (Don Milani’s brother) and others. And in Florence he ran into Gino Menconi, who came from his home district.
He was very active in the fighting that led up to the Liberation.
After the Liberation, Beppe made his way back to Avenza to take his place again among his comrades and in the fight against fascism which was still oppressing Spain and many another nation around the globe.
He sought no decorations or rewards for his antifascist activities and resistance service, nor did he try to build a political career upon them, but any comrade arriving in Carrara could always find hospitality at Petacchi’s home and was offered shelter, a place to sleep and help. In the years after the war Petacchi regularly risked jail for sheltering someone in a safe house in Avenza or having supplied papers and help to comrades sought by the police and by Interpol; often these were Spanish comrades, wanted in Spain as well as in Italy.
From: Adapted from A Rivista Anarchica, No 163, April 1989. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.