There’s no way you can look at the word, prisoner, and not think of an unfortunate or evil connotation.
I imagine most people immediately think of a prisoner in a cell. They have been found guilty, by the rules of the land, for some misdeed, and they are now paying the price: their freedom has been taken away and possibly a long stretch of detention yawns ahead of them.
Unless we’ve been hiding from social media, we all know that a prisoner can be of a self-made status too, or that a state of affairs is thrust upon them.
My father, Eugenio Piergiovanni, as a Prisoner of War
People may scoff when someone says they feel like a prisoner in their body or in a situation … why not just get out of it?! But, if it were that easy there wouldn’t be so many that are trapped or new stories about such situations that come to light, on a daily basis.
And of course, there is a prisoner status in a war. The Ukrainian conflict has stirred up anxieties for many of the older generation that lived through WW2.
My father, Eugenio, was a prisoner of war in a South African POW camp for six years. He was captured very early on in the play, and for him, it was a devastating blow. He would rather have been out fighting even if it meant dying honourably for his country (Italy).
The photo is of my dad in the camp; one of the last prisoners to be released at the beginning of 1946. The excerpt below is from Goodbye to Italia and is translated from my father’s diaries. It isn’t word-for-word but it is a close rendition. There is talk of the prisoners being released but my father wonders if it is a trap … will they actually be killed after having spent all this time in a war camp?
‘You are thinking on this too much, Eugenio,’ Ronzoni’s voice rasps out as a smoke stream twirls out of his mouth from a cigarette he has just inhaled. ‘We should accept this armistice. They will not punish us. We were just doing our job, our duty. Everyone was just following orders.’
I don’t know so much. I look at him. ‘They are wanting us to state that our political affiliations have changed. That all that we stood for is just … just washed away, as if it never existed.’
‘No. They want us to accept that everything has changed and that we know that the Axis parties are defeated. You know that much is true. It means that by signing we can go home to a peaceful Italy.’
Doubts still fill me. What if he is wrong? Of course, I know we have lost the war. Of course, I want more than anything to go back home. But will they truly allow us to go back without any further punishment? Ronzoni just seems to be accepting this as if he hasn’t a care in the world. How can he be so calm when I have all this churning inside of me? Is it better to try and escape now or to trust in the hands of God and hope that the victors will be as generous?