JOHN VALENTINO - CID Agent - V° Army 1945
ALTOONA - PENNSYLVANIA -
by Brunella Lanaro, Osvaldo Croci
I am John Valentino, In July 1945 I was located about one hundred miles away from Vicenza. On July 11th I was assigned to my Commanding Officer to report to Vicenza and to see Colonel Lollar, pertaining to the Schio massacre. I arrived in Vicenza and reported to Colonel Lollar on July 12th, and between July 12th to July 29th, together with Agent Snyder, we investigated, we interrogated, we talked to many of the people who were in the prison at the time of the massacre, especially the wounded, some of the survivors, as well as the parents and relatives of these people.
With all this accumulation of information that we had, we later planned a mass raid. However, before the planning of this raid, we, together with agent Snyder, made numerous trips to Schio, without identifying ourselves. We talked to many people, in the street, in some of the business places, and we found it very very difficult to get much of anything from these people that we were talking to.
On some occasions, we tried a little ploy. Agent Snyder was very dark complected, dark eyes, dark hair, looked just like a real Italian. Me, on the other hand, an Italian, was blond, blue eyed and very light complected, and so we would approach some of these people and then ask a few questione. We were getting little or nothing out of them, so Agent Snyder would walk away and I would linger around these people, and as a result we were able to pick up much-needed information as well by listening in, and they didn't realize that I was able to understand Italian.
After comparing much of this information that we needed, we decided that we would have a mass raid with the participation of the American Army. This took place on July 29th and it happened sometime after midnight to the early hours of the morning. And through this raid we arrested approximately sixty-six suspects. These people were interrogated, many of them were released, and some were retained for some time. Out of this group of the sixty - six , one turned out to be the real... one of the suspects that we arrested and later brought to trial.
During the month of August we continued with many more smaller raids and arrests. On and about August 4th, we were fortunate to get additional information from Franceschino Renzo. At the time he was in jail. During my many visits to the jail we became sort of friendly, and as a result I received much great information pertaining to his participation in the Schio massacre, as well as the participation of some of the others. As a result, we were able to continue with the investigation, the arrest, the raids which followed throughout the month of August, and as a result, seven people were arrested and brought to trial. The trial took place in the early part of September. Of the people that were arrested, two were found not guilty, three were committed to the death sentence, and two to life sentence.
Shortly after the trial was completed, I was reassigned to Florence, Italy, and there I was under the command of Colonel Macmillan, and I was there until about the last part of November, at which time I received my orders to come back home to America.
While I was with Colonel Macmillan he suggested that possibly a letter should be written to the Italian government for some recognition on behalf of myself and Agent Snyder, for the work that had taken place in Schio. However, to this date, we were never acknowledged or received a thank you from the Italian government.
1) You said that on the 29th of July you organized the first raid in which 66 people were stopped. On which piece of evidence did you decide their arrest?
The leads came from the various people, the people who were in prison during the massacre, some of the wounded, some of the relatives, and a few civilians, however, little or no response from civilians, mostly from the prisoners that were able to live through that night. We had many many of these leads through them.
2) The documentation relating to the inquiry says that a deposition gave the start to the investigation. But we have the inpression that you worked with no collaboration and inside an environment clearly hostile.
Well, we have to keep in mind that this was a time when the war had just ended, these people had gone through all kinds of problems, they had problems with the Fascist side, accusations, torture, and now shortly thereafter, here we come along and do they really trust us, I don't think they were really sure of us, and as a result it wasn't easy at all to get their full cooperation with us.
3) That is because you were American?
Definitely, I' m referring to myself and Agent Snyder.
4) Could you please talk about your task when you were sent to Vicenza by the Colonel Lollar?
The main assignment at the time was a massacre that has taken place between Italians. This did not involve the Americans or the British in any way whatsoever. Our main purpose was to investigate, interrogate, and bring these suspects to trial.
5) Could you say something about the trial in Vicenza after the end of the inquiry?
There seemed to be a lot of interest when this trial came out. There were many people from some of the surrounding communities, especially Schio, who were there. During the early phase of this trial, being a participant, I was not permitted to be involved or sit in the courtroom at the time, not until I was called upon. But the situation was calm.
6) Were the judges American? Was it a military tribunal?
This was a military court and we had an interpreter to conduct some of the translation.
7) You said that the investigation changed direction...
Franceschini was a joung man and he hoped that one day he would come to America and settle in America and as a result, each time I would go and visit him, we participated in many conversations but it always went back to America and the opportunities in America and that he someday may have the same opportunities, and we became sort of friendly and in so doing, I asked him, "Just tell me the whole truth, Franceschino, just what was your part in the Schio massacre ?", and it was at this time that he started talking and telling me about some of his participation, and this took place about August 4th,
8) What did people say during the questioning?
When I talked with the people, the suspects we arrested, many of them felt that they had been given orders to do, accomplish a job which included the massacre, and they felt that they'd followed the orders and the orders, to their concern, was the right thing to do at the time. There wasn't much remorse pertaining to the poor unfortunate who were killed or wounded.
9) Did the population side someway?
The population of Schio, in the early phase, were very cold and uncooperative. However, after the first raid on July 29th, when they saw that we'd brought in American soldiers, many of them were involved, the raid was immense, they began to realize the Americans meant business, something was going to take place, and sure enough they became a little bit more cooperative from that point on.
10) Did you receive any help from the local police in Schio?
The relation with the Schio Carabinieri was not very cooperative. On one particular evening we received a telephone call, while we were in Vicenza, from the people of Schio, and we immediately contacted the Schio Carabinieri, and we asked them if they would go and apprehend this man, and we would be there just as soon as possible. However, by the time we got there, the Carabinieri had done absolutely nothing and of course Attila had disappeared.
Of the thirteen suspects, approximately seven that were captured and brought to trial, for some reason
they probably felt they where free, they will be free, that nothing was going to happen until we began our raids. And even then, possibly, after the first raid on July 29th they still were in the area. Now, many of them were well-concealed, some of them were sleeping in the homes of relatives, rather than their own homes, some of them were hiding in the tunnels whenever some of us approached. However, with our informers, and some of the information we received, on several occasions we were able to capture two of these suspects that were in the tunnel.
11) Do you believe that those people who were able to escape, received any kind of protection?
I'm not exactly sure what may have taken place, whether they were helped financially or otherwise, to get away and stay away as long as they possibly could.
The organizers were three people, and our knowledge of these three people came through the interrogation of those that we arrested. So we knew who they were but we could not reach them.
We were told by the prisoners, both women and men, that some of these partisans came in, made their plans, they knew their plans, also there was a lot of confusion that was going on, they separated the different groups, they had the women, I believe, on the second floor, and the men on the first floor, they moved them around, some of them, some of these prisoners were very good friends of the suspects. They in turn pulled their "compari" and good friends out of the crowd so that they would not get killed, but the plan was to kill each and every one, men, women, and young people and old people as well.
The killers had planned a time for a signal, because the shooting began at the same time, on the second as well as on the first floor, so it had to be with a signal.
12) How did the people from Schio behave after that time?
At no time while I was on the job did I receive any death threats. I participated with some of these people in Schio, became friends with some of them. On one occasion I was invited to a picnic that took place on the outskirts of Schio. Unfortunately, returning back, I had a flat tyre on the outskirts of Schio, and I didn't get back to Vicenza. Colonel Lollar became very worried, he, together with the group of American soldiers, came to Schio, so there was fear that possibly something had happened to me, but at no time did I have any threats or bodily harm to myself
13) What happened at the end of the trial in Vicenza?
The suspects arrested were found guilty after I left Vicenza and was assigned to Florence and from that time on I had no knowledge that the things changed as far as being retried or being set free, up until recently I had no idea what had happened to them. I had no knowledge. Oh, I understand there was a Milan trial afterwards, however, to my knowledge I never knew that this took place, I didn't correspond with anyone in Schio or the government of Italy at no time.
As to the Milan trial, of course this took place after we were discharged and we were home. At no time was I contacted for any information or participation to be a witness at this trial.
14) Why American authorities did not listen to prisoners requests about getting more protection inside the jail?
From the American point of view, they didn't feel, as far as the protection of the prison was concerned, that it was their responsibility. This was an Italian problem they should have had better security for their own, and at no time in our discussion was it ever raised as to why the Amerícans didn't participate in protecting these prisoners. It was more of an Italian problem they had the Carabinieri there, they had the security people, more of them could have been taken place here, and possibly speedier action should have been taken. There were some people in that prison that should never have been there, they should have been out much long before and yet they happened to be in this group, and many of them died or were wounded as a result.
Altoona, november 1994