PLEASE READ AND THEN SIGN THE PETITION
WAR VETERANS ENRAGED BY FATHER CHRISTMAS VILLAGE ON THE EDGE OF MONTE CASSINO
Nick Squires, Rome Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph December 2015
A row has broken out in Italy over the building of a “Father Christmas Village” complete with fake snow and plastic penguins, on the flanks of Monte Cassino, where thousands of British and Allied soldiers' lost their lives during one of the toughest battles of the Second World War.
Veterans' groups say the tourist attraction, which includes a Santa's Grotto, a sleigh pulled by reindeer figures and a forlorn-looking donkey, is dis-respectful to the soldiers who fought and died at Monte Cassino in 1944 as they tried to dislodge German forces from the ancient abbey on top of the hill.
Protesters say the attraction, which includes an “enchanted wood”, may even be dangerous with the possibility that there is unexploded ordnance still buried in the ground.
“It's as if someone started putting up stalls, selling sausages and laying on games on the sands of Omaha Beach in Normandy”, a coalition of local protesters said in a statement.
The Christmas village was built by a local businessman this month on a flat piece of land close to the Polish Cemetery of Monte Cassino, where more than 1,000 Polish soldiers who took part in the battle are buried. It is also close to a track known as Cavendish Road, a path that was widened by Indian and New Zealand troops in order to allow Allied tanks to attack German positions during the campaign to take the hill.
The land is owned by the Abbey of Monte Cassino, the 6 th century retreat founded by St Benedict. It was a key strategic objective for the Allies as they advanced north towards Rome. An obelisk marking the sacrifice made by the Polish troops looms over the Christmas Village, which includes an archery range, drinks stands and a sign proclaiming “Polo Nord” – the North Pole. “This is a sacred place and should not be used for any commercial activities,” Salvatore Avella, the President of a local heritage group, told the Daily Telegraph. “It should be respected. The men who fought here came from Britain, India, America, New Zealand, France, Morocco and elsewhere.” The Christmas Village had blocked many war monuments, he said.
The Polish Embassy in Rome had sent a formal letter of complaint to the Italian Foreign Ministry. The attraction offended “the dignity of the most important Polish monuments in Italy”, it said.
The Abbott of the monastery, Donato Ogliari, said he could see no harm in the area being used for an attraction that brought joy to children and their parents.
Thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers died during the campaign but their cemetery is in the valley below Monte Cassino, further away from the Christmas Village.
The following notice was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of The Monte Cassino Association's Newsletter and I thank Judith Coote, Secretary of the Association for her kind permission to reprint the article below.
Judith writes “The previous evening (17 th December 2015) I had been contacted by a reporter and gave the society's stance on this terribly upsetting development. I had been warned of it, initially by our own Terry Rowe and at his request had drafted a letter to Cassino Town Council and the British Embassy in Rome.
Subsequently I was contacted by Damaiano Parravano from the Gustav Line Association – he requested that I sign a petition against the development, which I duly did on behalf of the Monte Cassino Society. The development was closed down on 21 st December after the Polish Embassy protested to the Italian Foreign Ministry. This is, however, not the end of the story.
The developers were forced to dismantle their Santa Village because the township of Cassino ordered them to open the road to the Albaneta monastery. In fact, they closed the road from the Polish War Cemetery by a gate and the western and northern access to the area by other barrages. Obviously, opening the road they cannot ask people to pay. In their articles they say that they understood the importance of the area and they decided to dismantle Santa's Village leaving just a crib. However, they still want to build a brewery, a B/B, a cafeteria and some sort of farm house”.
More information can be found on the Gustav Line website - (google THE MEMORIAL PLACES OF MONTE CASSINO HAVE BEEN DESECRATED)
I would urge everyone to sign the petition – salviamo l' albeneta do Montecassino (Save Albeneta on Montecassino)