The Italian-Canadian daughter arrested during World War II said Trudeau’s apology brought closure


Joan Vistarchi stands outside the house her father built in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce) in Montreal’s west end.

On her terrace, in front of her are a hand-carved heart and a boat, a love letter to her mother and a black and white photo of a man in formal clothes. The souvenirs are all from her father, Salvatore Vistarchi, who spent nearly three years in two detention camps in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will issue a formal apology on Thursday, Detention of Italian Canadians during World War II. Of the 600 detainees, more than 200 were arrested in Montreal.

Trudeau said in a recent statement: “For a long time, Italian-Canadian society has been burdened by the unjust detention policy during World War II.”

Not a single detainee is alive today and no apology has been heard, but Joan Vistarchi and other descendants are listening.

Ottawa moved quickly to arrest

On June 10, 1940, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, causing Canada (as part of the British Empire) to declare war on Italy on the same day.

Within hours, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King invoked the “Measures of War Act” and suspended the right to a fair trial. The Canadian government then referred to 31,000 Italian Canadians as “enemy foreigners.” The Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved quickly and arrested him based on the list of suspected fascist sympathizers provided by the informant.

Salvatore Vistarchi has just married Jean Reddy. After his fiancee laid down in her apartment, he went home to sleep. Later that night, there was a knock on the door.

Joan Vistarchi lives with her husband in a Montreal house built by her father. She said that if he was still alive, he would be “unwilling to hear” the prime minister’s clear name after an apology. (Finn Mays/CBC)

Joan said: “The RCMP arrested him without giving any reason.” Joan said that her father had never participated in fascism.

“He did have a feeling for someone pointing his finger at him, and he was very frustrated about it.”

Vistarchi spent the night in a crowded cell at the Little Italy Police Station in Montreal. He was then taken by train to Fredericton, where he was briefly detained before finally landing at Camp 33 in Petawawa, Ontario, Ottawa Valley.

Imprisonment of Petawawa

Vistarchi is wearing a blue jumpsuit with big red circles on the front and back. If he runs, the guards will not miss any shots.

During the day, most of the detainees repaired roads, bridges or cut down planks. Vistarchi, who has received medical training, works in the military hospital in the camp.

At Joan Vistarchi’s home in Montreal, there is a box of letters, a wooden boat and a box carved by his father during his internship in Petawawa, Ontario. After working during the day, trained Italian Canadians can sing and carve wooden objects. (Finn Mays/CBC)

In the evening, these people were engaged in woodcarving work, and they also sang Italian operas such as Puccini. Turandot, Tells the story of Nicholas Di Pietro (Nicholas Di Pietro), the descendants of two detainees.

Prisoners range from laborers to lawyers. Relatives of Di Pietro own a high-end shoe factory that produced a pair of jewelry shoes for the Queen (the wife of King George VI and the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth) in 1937.

The detainees wrote letters back to their country and brought stationery provided by the government. Postcards with “War Mail Prisoners” are limited to seven lines, with a maximum of 21 letters per letter.

Each letter Vistarchi wrote to his fiancee contained the following lines: I don’t know why I am here. I am a good citizen. I don’t know if and when it will be released. What did i do wrong? I love this country. Justice will prevail.

During his detention, Vistarchi sent a letter to his fiancé Reddy. (Finn Mays/CBC)

The grandfather of Joyce Pillarella, an oral historian in Montreal, was detained. He spent more than 20 years recording the stories of the families of the detainees.

She told CBC News that in the 1930s, Italian-Canadians had to “play” with the Italian government. For example, if a restaurant owner wants to import wine or oil, he needs to maintain a close relationship with the Italian consulate.

She said that veterans must receive their pensions through the consulate, and the informant used photos of community members of Italian officials at the Montreal banquet to prove “close ties” with the fascist regime.

Pilarella said: “You don’t appear to be anti-fascism just because you have a business.”

Evidence of their relationship with Italian officials put these people on the list of suspects.

She said: “Anyone who represented the Italian government in the 1930s represented the government of the fascist regime.”

Mussolini’s Montreal

Filippo Salvatore, Professor Emeritus of Classics and Modern Languages ??at Concordia University in Montreal, said that the apology in the House of Commons has a strong symbolic meaning because it was an accusation against the Italian community more than 80 years ago. Gathering place.

He said: “Canadians do not distinguish between fascists and Italians.”

In his book Fascism and the Italians in MontrealSalvatore traced Quebec’s initial obsession with Mussolini, who was “the man who saved Italy by Divine Providence during the two wars”. Those who support dictators in the province include the government, prominent politicians, the Roman Catholic Church and the French media.

Watch | The daughter of a detention camp prisoner apologizes to the Italian Canadians:

Joan Vistarchi’s father spent nearly three years in a detention facility in Canada without knowing why. She shared the story of her father, the impact of the story on her father and the importance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology. 8:12

In the early 1930s, Ottawa, including King, had a positive attitude towards Mussolini. At the time, the true enemy of Western democracy was regarded as communism.

In Montreal, a Mussolini fresco was commissioned on horseback in La Difesa, a Catholic church in Little Italy. Newspapers supporting fascism are distributed. The Casa d’Italia community center was built with the support of the Italian director Tied up foreign. In 1933, when Mussolini’s deputy Italo Balbo crossed the Atlantic in 24 “flying boats”, nearly 50,000 people came to Longueuil, Quebec, to watch the spectacle.

Salvador said: “At the time, fascism was the official term.” “It was sanctioned at all levels.”

Mussolini conquered Ethiopia in 1936, which was a turning point in public opinion in Quebec (especially the English-language media). After Italy participated in the Spanish Civil War and signed the Steel Pact with Adolf Hitler in 1939, the dictator’s reputation continued to deteriorate.

Salvatore said that when Italy declared war, the Canadian Parliament was worried about the emergence of a so-called “fifth column,” an organized group attempting to destroy a country that favors external enemies. This was “hysterical in the Canadian Parliament.” “.

He said: “Canadians from Italy have no threat to Canada.” “The arrested people have never committed terrorist acts.”

After Vistarchi and Reddy are released, they will share their first dinner together. (Submitted by Joan Vistarchi)

Return home

Vistarchi was sentenced to 33 months in prison. After his release, he was given a handbag and a train ticket.

He went on to found his own construction company and became a famous philanthropist in Montreal.

Joan, the only child of her parents, described Vistarchi as a helpful man, “everyone is joking.”

But she said that because of fear of being re-detained, he never said much about his imprisonment.

She said: “Every June 10th, he will be dead.”

“Apologizing is really important. This is the opposite of what happened in 1940, because they had no say at that time. This is moral justice.”

She said she was not interested in financial compensation from the federal government.

She said: “The biggest compensation is an apology.” “The apology says that these people are not guilty, and all families are closed.

“My father’s ears will love to hear this.”



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