ROME – Many of the mourners at the wake and funeral of Mario Fiorentini – Italy’s most decorated resistance fighter, who died Tuesday at the age of 103 – had stories to tell.
Among them was the gracefully aging 102-year-old partisan, as the World War II freedom fighters in Italy are known, who met “Mario” in 1944, when they helped liberate Rome from the Nazi occupiers and never lost touch. And the math teacher in awe of Mr. Fiorentini, who became a math prodigy and professor after the war because he could make math fun even for the youngest minds.
And the postman who casually befriended Mr. Fiorentini and ended up writing a biography to coincide with his 100th birthday. “He was a life teacher who changed mine,” said the author, Mirko Bettazzi, who was still amazed that they had become friends. “I was nobody,” he said – they had nothing in common, but that was Mario. “Open to meet all people”, and an inspiration to many.
Hundreds of people came to a wake on Wednesday and a funeral with full military honors on Thursday to celebrate Mr Fiorentini and his heroic resistance to the fascist dictatorship.
To some, Mr Fiorentini’s acts of war resounded in the run-up to next month’s national elections, which polls say will be won by a center-right coalition whose main candidate for prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, is the descendant of Italy’s post-fascist parties.
Those who knew Mr Fiorentini remembered his courage, his unwavering faith in and willingness to fight for the right to liberty, his insatiable curiosity about all kinds of things.
And they talked about his two great passions: mathematics, “which he studied in a maniacal way,” said his son Giancarlo on Thursday at Mr Fiorentini’s funeral, and his love for his wife, Lucia Ottobrini, who fought with him for Rome. to liberate. They shared 70 years of marriage until her death in 2015.
“He was able to do what he did thanks to Lucia,” their grandson, Suriel Capodacqua, said during the public viewing. A photo of the couple, taken in Paris in 1946, rested against the rim of the coffin. They had been married a year earlier, in August 1945, at the City Hall of Rome, where the public display of Mr. Fiorentini was held. His grandmother’s wedding dress was made from a parachute, Mr. Capodacqua said, because “it was the only white fabric available at the time.”
Medals, including medals of bravery, were laid out on a blue cushion on Mr Fiorentini’s coffin, next to an Italian flag embossed with the logo of the National Association of Italian Partisans, or ANPI, of which Mr Fiorentini had been an active member .
After Rome was liberated from the Nazis in June 1944, Mr Fiorentini asked to be parachuted to northern Italy to continue fighting. His family said he was awarded the Donovan Medal for his work as a liaison officer with the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, as well as a British Special Forces medal.
Fiorentini, whose father was Jewish, was one of the last survivors of the resistance groups fighting the German forces that had taken control of northern and central Italy in 1943. About 2,000 partisans who fought in the war are still alive, said Fabrizio De Sanctis, the chairman of a local branch of ANPI, “but the pandemic and the heat have dealt hard blows this summer,” he added.
On Wednesday evening, two partisans and old friends of Mr Fiorentini – Gastone Malaguti and Iole Mancini – paid their respects and stood silent guard next to his coffin for minutes.
Like Mr Fiorentini, Mr Malaguti, 96, originally a member of a partisan group in Bologna, regularly visited schools before the pandemic to explain the resistance to students. Sometimes he spoke so much that he lost his voice, he said, adding, “They wanted to know so many things — the details, my first actions, how I found the courage when I was 17.”
Earlier this year, Ms. Mancini, 102, published a book about her experience in the resistance fighting Mr Fiorentini and Ms Ottobrini. Mr Fiorentini had witnessed her wedding to another fighter, Ernesto Borghesi. “So many memories, a lifetime – we’ve always been in touch,” she said.
It became increasingly difficult to keep the memory of the resistance alive. “Young people today don’t understand the meaning of this simple word freedom,” she said. “But then they have never experienced a dictatorship.”
“Our resistance was born to liberate Italy from fascism,” she said. “We succeeded with many deaths – the best friends, comrades died for this ideal: freedom of thought, freedom of action.”
She continued sadly: ‘Then, unfortunately, life taught me that there are no common interests. Everyone thinks of themselves.” Italian politicians, she said, had forgotten what it was like to “fight for an ideal, for the common good.”
Recalling the many headlines that marked his death – calling him “the last great partisan”, “a symbol of the resistance”, “a great Italian” or “the partisan professor” – Gianfranco Pagliarulo, president of ANPI, said that all of them where were .
But he added that he preferred to see him through a lens Mr Fiorentini had used on himself: an ordinary person who had brought out extraordinary will and passion when the moment demanded it.
And while his status as a resistance hero had made him famous nationally, Mr. Fiorentini was much prouder of his more tenuous status as a remarkable mathematician. “Remember,” he told Mr De Sanctis, the local ANPI official, “the resistance to Nazi fascism is the most beautiful page of our history, but math is more important.”
Mr. Fiorentini’s collected papers were compiled by Paulo Ribenboim, a Brazilian-Canadian mathematician who specializes in number theory.
At the funeral, some speakers warned that freedom and democracy are hard-won values that should not be taken for granted.
Mr. Capodacqua, the grandson who had lived with Mr. Fiorentini for 26 years, warned that fascism could still rear its ugly head in Italy. “Let’s never forget who Mario Fiorentini was and what was in his heart,” he said.