Rocco Pugliese

Rocco Pugliese was a young militant of the Communist Party of Italy (see his portrait and photo), from the Italian region of Calabria. In 1930 he was assassinated by the fascist jailers in the penitentiary of Santo Stefano island, in Pontine archipelago, where he had been deported as a result of the fascist "special court" sentence in 1928.
Rocco was born on January 27
th 1903 in Palmi, in the province of Reggio Calabria, from Giuseppe Pugliese and Maria Polimeni, and since his earliest age he was a Socialist Party militant, being in 1921 amongst the founders of the Palmi cell of Communist Party of Italy, becoming then its secretary at the age of eighteen.
Rocco had a decisive revolutionary political training during his the required military service, performed in Turin, a working-class city, where the revolutionary movement was very strong and active. The military service period was a proper school for executive cadres, and the young man who came back to Palmi after being discharged was a mature and conscious Communist executive
(Pugliese L.).
In 1925, the year of the facts which led him to be a victim of the fascist murderers, Rocco was a student of accounting. In città Rocco era conosciuto anche con i soprannomi di .In the town Rocco was also known by the nicknames of "Chiacchiarella" ("chatty") and "Mussuni" ("big face").

The premises for Palmi events
Palmi, a town of southern Italy, in the region Calabria, at that time had about 15,000 inhabitants (today counts 19,000), it was a red stronghold, center of an intense socialist and later communist political activity in a territory with large estates (mainly citrus and olive plantations) with a heavy exploitation of day labourers' manpower (Pugliese L.). The Palmi Socialist Party cell was established soon after the devastating earthquake of Messina and Reggio Calabria of December 28th 1908, which caused victims and damages in the town. The Socialist Party Youth Club had 80 members, and 78 of them voted in 1921 for the communist motion. (Bongiorno)
One of the most significant battle of the revolutionary movement in Palmi was the winning one against the unreasonable rent imposed by Palmi municipality to the people who dwelled the hovels built for the homeless after the earthquake, and left in use for twenty years, until 1928.
(Pugliese L.)
On June 27
th, 1924 to protest the assassination of the Socialist member of parliament Giacomo Matteotti, the General Confederation of Labor proclaimed a symbolic strike of ten minutes, which the Communist Party invited to extend throughout the day, as happened in Palmi (Bongiorno), where it remained memorable the march, when five thousand anti-fascists paraded reaching then the town cemetary to lay wreaths and flowers (Spezzano, 1975).
The strong anti-fascist presence in Palmi made it the target of violent assaults by fascist gangs, particularly numerous, since Palmi fighters fasces (the fascist party cell) was one of the first to be founded in the province of Reggio Calabria.
On November 4
th, 1920, the second anniversary of the victory in the World War I, a group of fascists, which included two mafiosi, hired by the fascists to oppose the left, one of whom was the convict Santo Scidone, attacked the Chamber of Labor of Palmi, devastating it. (Bongiorno)
In the elections of April 6
th, 1924, the Communists presented one of their candidates, the lawyer Diomede Marvasi, in the college of Palmi. Two evenings before the elections the Communists were putting up their electoral posters when they were harassed by a team of mafia headed by Scidone, and Rocco Pugliese came up to them with a gun in his hand, started talking to the attackers and convinced them to desist from provocation. (Bongiorno)
Marvasi came very close to being elected: he obtained 929 votes, missing the quorum for a short delay, in return Fausto Gullo was elected.
(Bongiorno) The party cell counted three hundred members, and one hundred and eighty were the members of the juvenile circle, being mainly peasants and labourers, besides professionals and students.
The strength of the anti-fascist movement in Palmi manifested itself in a continuous contrast to the expansion of the emerging regime, as when the fascist top dog Michele Bianchi was twice prevented from giving a speech in Palmi, causing a short circuit on the power grid and pushing him first to to stop outside the city and then to to give up the event for safety reasons.
(Pugliese L., Bongiorno)
In 1923 the leader of the fascist squads, Roberto Farinacci, came to Palmi to defend in the Court of Assizes the fascists accused for a clash that took place in Maropati, a town 35 km from Palmi, where the fascists had murdered the mayor's brother while a rich financier of the squads had been killed
In view of the Labor Day of May 1
st, 1925, on the night between 29th and 30th April, to prevent the celebrations, ten anti-fascist leaders were arrested on pretexts, among them Giuseppe Florio, and the brothers Giuseppe and Antonino Bongiorno. These latter shouted conventional yells in the street while the police arrested them, and in this way Rocco Pugliese and Giuseppe Marafioti, who lived near them, managed to slip away. (Bongiorno)
The reaction was a general strike, held on 2
nd and 3rd May, with street demonstrations that had a so big attendance, that the authorities did not dare to counter them. The fascists planned to disrupt the protest by attacking the communist section, but the Palmese communists, led by Rocco Pugliese, prevented them by devastating the local headquarters of the fascist party, destroying the insulting cartels against the strikers and slapping the fascists and forcing them to keep off the town. (Bongiorno, Pugliese L.)

On 20th July in Palmi the feast of Sant'Elia Profeta was celebrated, with traditional jaunts and songs and dances on the mountain of the same name. The young communists of the city gathered to sing socialist anthems, but were the target of the aggression of the fascist Francesco Saffioti, who fired a shot at the group, without hitting anyone. Chased through the woods, Saffioti managed to escape, but the same night the police arrested thirteen communists for attempted murder, in the person of Saffioti himself. After thirteen days in prison, the arrested were released, without even being questioned, thanks to the numerous testimonies that cleared them. (Bongiorno)
On August 15
th of the same year a squadron of fascists from neighbouring villages camped in the night at the gates of the town, near the Agricultural Institute, to attack and set fire to the shacks of the leaders of the left parties of Palmi, but they were put on the run by a hundred men, led by Rocco and Giuseppe Pugliese and Antonino Bongiorno, who broke into the fascist camp. Rocco ordered the leader of the fascists to leave Palmi immediately, otherwise they would have been attacked, and the fascists accomplished. (Bongiorno)
The ground which caused the events of August 30
th, 1925 were the repeated humiliations suffered by the fascists in Palmi, all the more harsh since they endorsed an ideology based on arrogance and overman ideology, while in many other parts of Italy Fascist gangs dominated uncontested.

The events of the Varia
On August 27
th, 1925 the religious celebrations of the Virgin of the Letter began in the town, with the traditional festivity of the Varia, a great votive chariot symbolizing the Assumption, dragged in procession by 200-300 faithfuls (the "mbuttaturi") in the streets of the town, with the accompaniment of the band (since 2013 the feast, together with three other similar Italian celebrations, is inscribed in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, see link). In 1925 the fascists imposed that during the festivity the Frigento band, one out of two involved in the feast, played their anthem "Giovinezza" (meaning "youth"), and the (fascist) president of the celebration commitee, supported this abuse.
The fascists wanted then to impose their anthem was played also during the procession, instead of the traditional march composed by Rosario Jonata, and the Palmi people rebelled to this overbearingness, requiring the restitution of the contributions payed and boycotting the transport of the Varia, considering also that the bearers by tradition belonged to the five corporations: carters, sailors, butchers, artisans and farmers, who mainly were Communist and Socialist.
The leftist militants, first of all Rocco Pugliese, engaged in a capillary work of persuasion to push the porters to boycott the transport.
(Bongiorno) Actually just five sailors and five carters offered themselves for the transport of the chariot, and the procession, turned into a fascist political parade, was boycotted even by the priests: indeed just one of them took part in the procession. The fascists were forced to improvise bearers to complete the procession. (Bongiorno)
The fascist gangs' provocations went on, even with insults and threats to left-wing militants in the streets of Palmi, and the tension reached its maximum at midnight of August 30
th, while the town population was gathering in the main square, piazza Vittorio Emanuele, currently piazza 1° maggio, to watch the fireworks. Antonino Bongiorno, Rocco Pugliese and Giuseppe Marafioti also were going to see the launch of balloons in praise of the Soviet revolution, which they had made prepare. (Bongiorno)
The fascists burst into the De Rosa café, which lied besides the fascist party headquarters, but whose tables were as usual crowded by Communists and Socialists, insulting them and starting to sing once more "Giovinezza". Rocco Pugliese summoned to stop provocation, beginning to sing the Communist anthem “Bandiera Rossa" (Red Flag), but he was assaulted with a stick by the fascist Rocco Gerocarni and reacted throwing him a chair. During the brawl some gunshots were fired, and two fascists were wounded: Rocco Gerocarni, that died the following day, and Rosario Privitera, besides to two passers-by (see the news on the Communist Party's newspaper "l'Unità" of September 2
nd 1925 and the fictional version of the official Press Agency Stefani, drawn by the Turin newspaper "La Stampa" of September 1st, 1925).
According to the author Leonida Repaci (see below) who was a witness of the events, the actual target of the shots was he himself, who was scratched by two bullets, while the third one killed Gerocarni. The shots were fired from above to below from the terrace of Sambiase family, facing the café, by the same fascists, who by mistake shot their companion Gerocarni. The motive of the ambush should be included in the framework of the sudden rise of violence by the hard-liner wing of fascism, leaded by the fascist beaters' boss Farinacci, in order to break the deadlock in which Mussolini had fallen after Matteotti's murder and the consequent reactions by the antifascists. The target of Palmi assault was anyway a town with steady antifascist principles, who was therefore punished for its refuse to submit to fascist hooligan's violence.
The reaction of the recent fascist regimen was very tough: a real manhunt began and the police commissioner Francesco Cavalieri arrested many antifascists of the region, accusing them of organizing a subversive conspiracy; the same Cavalieri later admitted, during the trial, that the arrests were due to political reasons instead to the homicide (see the news on "l'Unità" of September 8
th, 1925).
Farinacci sent a telegram spurring them to the revenge ("I can assure you that fascist blood shedding these days will be avenged in due time")
(Bongiorno) and the September 15th the fascist gangs devastated the circle "Unione e Progresso" and the house of the communist laborer Managò, who was later arrested by the police. The fascists also assaulted the house of Leonida Repaci's brother where they stole objects and money, and tried to burst into the Palmi jail, in order to lynch the antifascists arrested for the Varia events. According to Antonino Bongiorno and Leonida Repaci, a prisoner linked to the mafia, a certain Giovanni Campanella, allegedly foiled the fascist assault, perhaps out of a desire for personal redemption, dissuading the fascists, also thanks to large quantities of weapons hidden in the prison. (Bongiorno)
The journalist Giuseppe Dato, correspondent of the newspaper "Gazzetta di Messina e delle Calabrie", even being a fascist too, was assaulted and thrown in a basin full of water, because he had criticized in a correspondence the fascist gangs' violences.
In the following days the fascists impeached, as a matter of fact, the access to everybody they didn't agree, including the prisoners' lawyers (see "l'Unità" of September 15
th 1925).

The "trial"
The dead of Gerocarni was attributed to the communists as a preconception and preliminary investigation was conducted in an extremely partial way: many witnesses who had given depositions for the prosecution, retracted, reporting they had been threatened by the fascists. In the same year, in October, two of the witnesses killed themselves, and one of them left a message explaining his suicide was due to the remorse for wrongly accusing Leonida Repaci, Giuseppe Pugliese and Giuseppe Marazzita, but the court did not consider this.
Some of the accusations brought against the anti-fascists were grotesque: a witness, a certain Giuseppe Vizzari, claimed "to have recognized the brothers Bongiorno, Carbone and Marazzita by the flames of their guns". Even the victim, Rocco Gerocarni, was among the witnesses: despite being dying he would have indicated the names of five shooters, all Communists, including Rocco Pugliese. It later turned out that he would only nod his head when one of them was named, perhaps aided by someone holding his head with his hand.
On December 5
th, 1925 Barone Ferrara, the Attorney general by the Court of Appeal of Catanzaro, asked to commit thirty-one persons to trial for complicity in premeditated homicide and missed premeditated homicide. The prosecution section of the Court of Appeal of Catanzaro on March 29th, 1926 committed 15 persons to trial by the Court of Assizes of Palmi, while the others were acquitted with the formula of "not guilty" or on the grounds of insufficient evidence, like in the case of Leonida Repaci (see "l'Unità" of April 3rd, 1926).
The trial began on October 26
th, 1926 at 9:30pm by the Court of Assizes of Nicastro, where it was remitted for legitimate suspicion. With an abuse that anticipated the future management of justice by the part of the fascist regimen, three out of four defence attorneys appointed by the communist defendants, Francesco Lo Sardo, Fausto Gullo and Ezio Riboldi, all Members of the Parliament, were arrested and sent to the confinement, while Nicola Zupo alone remained in the defense (Bongiorno); on November 30th, 1926 the trial was then remitted since the Attorney general asked to commit four witnesses to trial because they retracted their accusatory depositions. In the same year 1926, following the attack of the fifteen-years-old Anteo Zamboni, who tried to kill Mussolini, with the emergency laws of November 26th 1926 the special court for the defence of the State was established. The name of "court" was absolutely unjustified, inasmuch as it was not constituted by judges, but rather by militants of the fascist party, and in particular by consuls of the MVSN (National Security Voluntary Militia).
On March 12
th 1928 the Court of Cassation declared with a sentence that the process had to be assigned to the special court, where the November 27th of the same year the trial began. The fifteen antifascist defendants, who had spent more than three years in preventive imprisonment, were charged of "homicide, attempted murder, actions aimed to stir a civil war up, insurrection against the State".
Between the defendants there was Rocco Pugliese, who had before the court a not at all submissive behaviour, coherently with his intransigence in the antifascist struggle. Public Prosecutor Isgrò defined the defendants as "the group of communists who, led by Rocco Pugliese, in the square of Palmi, on the evening of August 30, shot"
(Bongiorno) and asked for Rocco Pugliese for a life imprisonment, for other eight defendants the term of imprisonment proposed was of 30 years, while the "lighter" sentence asked was of 12 years, and for just one defendant the acquittal on the grounds of insufficient evidence was asked. Death penalty had been abolished in Italy in 1889 (de facto since 1877) and was restored by the fascist regime in 1930.
On December 5
th, 1928, at 8:30pm, just eight days after the beginning of the trial, the court (President Antonino Tringali Casanuova, rapporteur Presti), issued Sentence No 145, that inflicted very tough convictions: the heaviest, of 24 years and 7 months, was received just by Rocco Pugliese, while Natale Borgese and Vincenzo Pugliese were sentenced to 10 years and 8 months, Giuseppe Florio and Gregorio Grasso to 10 years and 7 months, Giuseppe and Antonino Bongiorno to 8 years and 7 months. This latter was tried again by the special court in 1935, for organization and participation to the Communist Party, and was sentenced to 12 years more.
The sentence of Rocco was the hardest issued by the special court up to that moment, except for those against Gino Lucetti and Tito Zaniboni, who had tried to kill the duce.
The others six antifascists were acquitted, between them Francesco Carbone, Antonio Sambiase, Giuseppe Pugliese, Pasquale Carella and Giuseppe de Salvo, besides the Socialist lawyer Giuseppe Marazzita, which years after was elected in the Senate of the Republic, which anyway was repeatedy imprisoned in the remaining years of the fascist dictature.
It must also remember that Fortunato, Rocco's elder brother, born on May 7
th, 1891, cabman by trade, married with eight children, was arrested on November 30th, 1926 for demonstrating solidarity with Rocco, and was assigned to confinement in Lampedusa and then to Ustica island. Despite the death of a daughter and although he was suffering of exuding trachoma that made him nearly blind, he was kept in detention and released only in March 1929.

The Repaci affair
Another antifascist of Palmi involved in the events of the Varia was Leonida Rèpaci (1898-1985), writer and later on also painter, who conceived the Viareggio Literary Prize and was a lawyer too. According to Francesco Spezzano, senator of the Communist Party in the post-war period, was the real target, with Rocco Pugliese, of the punitive expedition of the fascist gang.
Repaci was emprisoned but, as previously mentioned, was then acquitted during the preliminary investigation and wasn't submitted to the special Court. His acquittal, like that of other defendant, was attributed to interventions of men of position, in the case of Repaci to that of Arnaldo Mussolini, brother of the "duce", besides the counsel for the defence constituted by big shots of the regimen. In any case Repaci benefitted of numerous witnessings of personages well agreed to the fascist regimen. His elder brother Gaetano was moreover Mussolini's family physician.
While Rèpaci was in jail wrote "In fondo al pozzo" ("In the bottom of the well"), a novel with many autobiographic references, even to the Varia events of 1925.
Anyway Repaci, after some more than a month after his acquittal, resigned from the Communist Party with a letter, published by the Party's newspaper "l'Unità" on May 6
th 1926, in which he claimed his political position was marginal and sideward to that of the Party and announced his own return to privacy. Repaci wrote. "The latest painful events in Palmi (...) force me, for the necessities of life that unfortunately we must live every day, for that minimum of peace that I owe to my troubled spirit and above all for a promise made to my mother in front of the his bed of pain, to ask you for complete freedom of action towards the Party in whose ranks I always held a place as a loner and as an artist. (...) today, as I leave your ranks to take refuge totally in myself and attend to my art, welcome my heartfelt greetings dear friends".
L'Unità answered the letter of Repaci in a very polemic way, with an unisigned article, although attribuited to Antonio Gramsci, which compared Repaci's calling himself out to the suffering of the communist political prisoners who didn't renounce their own political choices. L'Unità wrote : "Alas, it is not easy for a petty-bourgeois intellectual to pass through the fire of workers' ideology and communist discipline!" and about the letter: "The workers will read it with interest, but they must not be saddened beyond the limit marked by the consideration of a man who did not have the courage to follow them in the very difficult path of the class struggle". It seems that the reply infuriated Repaci, who threatened to challenge Gramsci to a duel, who replied to accept the duel, but adopting potatoes as a weapon.
The controversy continued also in 1944, after the liberation of Rome, between "l'Unità" and the reactionary newspaper "Il Tempo". On "l'Unità" the editor Celeste Negarville and Lucio Lombardo Radice reminded Repaci of the way in which he had been acquitted by the special fascist court, by intervention of the regime, and Repaci defended himself on "Il Tempo" with violent insults, trying to pass the attacks on him as attacks on the freedom of the press.
At this point, "l'Unità" published a letter from Antonino and Giuseppe Bongiorno which reported many facts that confirmed the interventions in its favor by big shots of the regime. At first Repaci denied its authenticity, stating that the Bongiorno brothers could not have been in Rome, and indeed it ssemed to him that they were dead. However, when the two brothers visited him at the newspaper's seat, Repaci dropped the controversy, and published a very brief acknowledgment of the visit by the two Bongiornos.

The murder
Rocco Pugliese was secluded on January 19th, 1929 in Santo Stefano penitentiary (see my webpage on it) which was used by the fascist regimen in order to deport the more dangerous opposers, with the purpose of bending their will with the hardest conditions of detainment. The political prisoners sentenced by the special court were afflicted by a particularly hard treatment, with the isolation from the common prisoners, in order to avoid that their charisma could have grip on them. They were also submitted to a more stringent surveillance, urged to the jailers with a notice fixed to their cell's doors, warning: "dangerous prisoner to be carefully guarded".
Rocco was locked in the fourth section, those of the "incorrigibles" created experimentally, and named "teratocomium", that is monsters' shelter, where the political prisoners most dangerous for the fascism were imprisoned.
In Santo Stefano Rocco maintained his fierce behaviour ("an exemple of resistance and pride", according to Vico Faggi), and refused to submit himself to the fascist jail machine, that made him pay dearly, at first with continuous vexations and tortures, and finally with the dead, which occurred on October 17
th, 1930.
According to the official version Pugliese commited suicide hanging himself, while another version, poorly credible, maintains he died suffocated while two jailers tried to force-feed him with a probe, while he was tied in restraints at his bed. The force-feeding would have been decided as a result of a supposed hunger strike of Rocco.
In reality several affordable sources maintain that Pugliese was strangled or hit to death by the jailers: according to Francesco Spezzano "after having thrown a blanket on his head (...) they beated him to death" and moreover "his desperate screams were heard for long by his companions of imprisonment (...) that, locked in the other cells, couldn't do anything to help him" and then "the emotion for the barbarous murder was enormous between the prisoners who made a collection to send a wreath to his funeral".
The above described treatment was called by the guards the "Sant'Antonio", with a term derived from the Naples mafia slang: it consisted in bursting unexpectedly in the cell, covering the victim with a blanket, and then hitting him hardly with kicks, punchs, cudgels or with the heavy cell's keys. The blanket was used in order to allow the aggressors not to be recognized, to suffocate the screams of the victims and impeach them to react, and also for not leaving traces on the body of the target of the beating, that could testify about the aggression. According to the Ligurian anarchist Giuseppe Mariani, once imprisoned in Santo Stefano, in the penitentiary during the beatings the blanket was not used, since the guards, being certain of their impunity, didn't think they need any precaution.
According to Mariani the "Santantonio" against Rocco was performed by guard corporal Barbara and by sickroom warden Giacobbo, by command of head guard Luigi Porta, in the utmost indifference of penitentiary's manager Russo, who was there.
The communist Giovanni Pianezza, cellmate of Rocco, obtained the permission to keep watch beside the corpse in the mortuary, declaring to be his cousin. In a moment of inattention of the guards succeeded to to raise the sheet that covered the body and saw the face was leaden, like for a death for asphyxia. Taken by surprise by the guards, he was threatened to die in the same way of Rocco, if he had spoken, and then he was immediately transferred.

The socialist leader Sandro Pertini, who was president of the Italian Republic from 1978 to 1985, was secluded in Santo Stefano from 1929 to 1930, and many years later, in 1947, once elected deputy of the Constituent Assembly, reminded in a speech before the assembly that "Rocco Pugliese was dispatched in the prison of Santo Stefano when I was there, in restraints".
The speech of Pertini was a reply to the answer given by the Minister of Justice Giuseppe Grassi to a question he made about the thrashing made by the jailers of some prisoners of Poggioreale jail in Naples, followed by the death of one of them.
Pertini was very clear: "... I speak for personal experience (...). In jail, Honourable Minister, it happens this: a prisoner is struck; in consequence of the blows the prisoner dies, and then everybody worries, and not only the jailers who stroke the prisoner worry, but also the director, the doctor, the chaplain and all the prison crew do it. And then they make this: they lay the prisoner bare, they hang him to the window's grating and they let him be found hanging this way. The doctor comes and he draws up a medical report of suicide. This was the end of Bresci. Bresci has been struck to death, then they hung the corpse to the window's grating of his cell at Santo Stefano, where I have been a year and half".
Pertini referred to the death of Gaetano Bresci, the anarchist from Prato, near Florence, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of the king Umberto I (see my webpage about him), but died in 1901, after few months from his transfer to Santo Stefano.
Ugoberto Alfassio Grimaldi, quoting testimonies of political prisoners, writes of Bresci: "That May 22
nd three guards made him the "Santantonio": that is covering somebody with blankets and sheets and then beating him until his death; his corpse had been buried, in a place of which remained no trace in Santo Stefano archives, by two lifers who were sent purposely there from an other jail, and then immediately away; the penitentiary's commander had been promoted and the three jailers had been rewarded".
The communist Girolamo Li Causi, later senator of the Republic, wrote in his autobiography: "The news that Pugliese himself had died caused me great pain. Our companion, suffering from the mistreatment and abuse to which he was subjected, had decided to go on hunger strike: in an attempt to force him to gulp down the food, the custody only succeeded in strangling him. He was a great fighter, full of vitality and spirit of sacrifice; another comrade leaving ...".
Moreover Pertini, in a testimony reported in a book edited by Vico Faggi, relates: "One night I was awaken by a choked cry «mummy, mummy!». The day after somebody spread the rumour that Rocco Pugliese hanged himself; but the suicide was nothing more than an act. Pugliese had been killed by the jailers."
In the same work is reminded that the murder of political prisoners in the fascist jails wasn't un uncommon case, how testified by the cases of Gastone Sozzi in Perugia jail and Romolo Tranquilli, the brother of the writer Ignazio Silone, in Procida jail. The January 1
st , 1929 clandestine edition of l'Unità reported the names of Communist prisoner dead or anyway sick in the fascist jails.
Rocco's death was immediately perceived as a murder and the news came to the anti-Fascist circles in Italy and in exile. The French Communist Party's newspaper "L'Humanité" published on December 21
st, 1930 an article by Gabriel Péri, who was later a Communist member of parliament and a victim of the Nazis, entitled: "Comment périrent à San Stefano les communistes Castellano et Pugliesi" ("How the Communist militants Castellano and Pugliesi died in Santo Stefano") (Pugliese L.), which denounced the death of two Communist prisoners, Castellano and Rocco Pugliese, (erroneously referred to as "Pugliesi"), and the serious health condition of the communist militant Emmanuelli and of Sandro Pertini, ill with tuberculosis. The article attributed the death of Rocco to a reprisal by the guards for refusing their sexual advances, shouting instead aloud to fight them off. Later Rocco would have been harassed by providing him uneatable food, which he refused, triggering segregation and fasting at the "enclosure bed", with subsequent death.
Péri's article and the spread of the news by the exiled antifascists embarassed the fascist regime, and Mussolini established a farcical commission of inquiry into the conditions of inmates in prisons, chaired by the Deputy Attorney General Claudio Rizzo, who already on January 19
th concluded his work by writing : "at the beginning of last October (...), together with a more notable state of organic decay, a real form of psychopathy began to manifest itself in Mr. Pugliese, manifested in violent excesses and in a characteristic delirium of persecution, which led him to consider any food poisoned, and therefore to refuse to ingest it (...). On October 12th, he was hospitalized in the sick bay, diagnosed with strophobia, persecution mania, apical phlegm, T.B. and cardiac neurosis, and, by prescription from the doctor, he had to be secured to the enclosure bed and subjected to artificial nutrition." On October 15th, according to the report, the director of the penitentiary proposed the transfer of Rocco to the criminalal asylum in Naples, which could not happen because "the prisoner died of cardiac paralysis in the afternoon of the 17th". (Bongiorno). The commission predictably gave no results, except for a temporary alleviation of the brutish prison treatment.
Rocco's family knew of his death almost by chance and the corpse was never given back.
(Cordova, 1965) The police headquarters in Reggio Calabria took measures to prevent Rocco's funeral from generating demonstrations against the regime and gave instructions for the funeral "not to take place in public form and for the body to be transported overnight from the Palmi railway station to the cemetery", but actually Rocco's body never arrived in Palmi and it was probably destroyed in Santo Stefano (Bongiorno, Pugliese L.) like probably it happened to Gaetano Bresci's body.

A theatrical work and six books
The theatrical company Teatridelsud of Palmi staged a play called "L’Arrobbafumu" a work by Francesco Suriano, interpreted by Peppino Mazzotta, taken by a book by the same author, taking a hint from the events of Palmi to tell about the Calabria and its delays of development.
The Calabrian writer Domenico Gangemi published in 2004 a novel freely inspired from the events of the Varia of 1925 entitled "'25 nero", published by Pellegrini Editore. Besides Natale Pace, a moderate representative and deputy mayor of Palmi, in his essay "Il debito" ("The Debt"), published in 2006 by Laruffa Editore, tells Rocco's vicissitude from the point of view of Leonida Repaci, who was a close friend with the author.
In 2008 Giuseppe (Pino) Bongiorno, son of Antonino, published the book "Una vita da comunista" ("A life as a Communist") for the publisher L'Albatros of Rome, dedicated to the life of his father, which gives wide room to the events of the Varia of 1925 and to the legal proceedings of his father, of Rocco and of all the other defendants.
In 2015 the publisher Annales of Rome edited "Rocco Pugliese: un Comunista di Calabria" a nice book by Lorenzo Pugliese, a relative of Rocco, which reports with passion and involvement the outcome of a 18 years research, performed by the author through archives, journals, libraries and witnesses' stories. This book entirely fulfils Sandro Pertini's wish, expressed to a Rocco's niece, so that the sacrifice of this young man from Palmi was never forgotten.
In 2017, the journalist Pier Vittorio Buffa issued the book "Non volevo morire così" ("I didn't want to die like this"), published by Nutrimenti of Rome, which tells the stories of Santo Stefano prisoners and Ventotene confinees, collected largely from their dossiers kept in the archives, including those of Santo Stefano. A chapter is dedicated to Rocco Pugliese.
The city of Palmi named a street after Rocco Pugliese and on April 25
th, 2018 placed a plaque in viale Rimembranze, 20, in the place where his house once stood:
For everlasting memory, here stood the native home of
Rocco Pugliese 1903-1930
A Palmese Communist who with other young antifascists established the cell of the Communist Party of Italy in Palmi.
Innocent and Condemned by the Special Court for the "facts of the Varia" of 30
th August, 1925 killed by the Fascist brutality in Santo Stefano Penitentiary.
"One night I was awaken by a choked cry «mummy, mummy!». The day after somebody spread the rumour that Rocco Pugliese hanged himself; but the suicide was nothing more than an act. Pugliese had been killed by the jailers."
Sandro Pertini.
April 25
th, 2018.

Rocco Pugliese nowadays
In spite of his seclusion, murder and concealment of his corpse, though more than ninety years went by from his death and maybe noone of those who knew Rocco is still alive, that 27 years old young man from Calabria is still living in memory, his sacrifice still arouses gratitude and his brutal murder still inspires horror and indignation.

Thanks Stefania Marino and Lorenzo and Giuseppe Pugliese for the precious information

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- CORDOVA Ferdinando (1994) Un originale documento sui fatti di Palmi dell'estate del 1925, Historica, XLVII-4, pag. 157-167.
- DA PASSANO Mario Il «delitto di Regina Cœli» (
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- FAGGI Vico (edited by) (1970) Sandro Pertini: sei condanne due evasioni. Mondadori, Milano.
- GALZERANO Giuseppe (1988) Gaetano Bresci: la vita, l' attentato, il processo e la morte del regicida anarchico. Galzerano editore - Atti e memorie del popolo - Casalvelino Scalo (Salerno). tel. and fax: +39.0974.62028 e-mail:
- GANGEMI Domenico (2004) '25 nero. Luigi Pellegrini Editore, Cosenza.
- GHINI Celso, DAL PONT Adriano (1971) Antifascisti al confino 1926-1943. Editori Riuniti, Roma.
- LI CAUSI Girolamo (1974) Il lungo cammino : autobiografia 1906-1944. Editori Riuniti, Roma. p. 151-152
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- MARIANI Giuseppe (1954) Nel mondo degli ergastoli, S.n., Torino..
- PACE Natale (2006) Il debito. Leonida Repaci nella storia. Laruffa Editore, Reggio Calabria.
- PERTINI Sandro (1947) in "Atti dell’Assemblea Costituente. Discussioni", IX, 19 novembre 1947, 2179-2180.
- PUGLIESE Amelia (s.a.) Viaggio nella casa di correzione penale di Santo Stefano.
- PUGLIESE Lorenzo (2015) Rocco Pugliese: un Comunista di Calabria). Annales, Roma.
- SPEZZANO Francesco (1968) La lotta politica in Calabria: (1861-1925). Lacaita, Manduria.
- SPEZZANO Francesco (1975) Fascismo e antifascismo in Calabria. Lacaita, Manduria.
- SPEZZANO Francesco (1984) Item "Pugliese, Rocco" in "Enciclopedia dell’antifascismo e della Resistenza". La Pietra-Walk Over, Milano. IV: p. 813-814.
- SPRIANO Paolo (1969) Storia del Partito Comunista Italiano. Einaudi, Torino.

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Page created on: March 1st, 2009 and last updated: November 22nd, 2022