Father Salvino Darmanin
Camps : Stalags IVA, VIIA
The following are extracts from "Our Father Who is in Heaven, had His Own plans for me: A True life experience of Fr. S. Darmanin S.J., during World War II" by Manuel Darmanin. Copies of this fascinating book cost 5 Euros, to order, contact email@example.com.
Fr.Darmanin was born in Senglea on 31st.October 1919, he is the son of Mr.Carmelo and Victoria nee' Rope. He is the eldest brother of Joseph, Maria (Sister of Charity), France, Theresa (Sister of Charity), Aronne, Carmen (Sister of Charity) and Tony.
While pursuing his studies in Villa San Cataldo in Bagheria (Palermo), Fr.Darmanin was caught in the turmoil caused by the World War II.
Being holder of a Commonwealth passport, Fr.Darmanin, together with other Maltese Jesuits, was interned in Northern Italy. In the meantime, on various fronts in Italy itself, the Germans suffered many losses and faced the need to care without delay for their many wounded soldiers.
In these circumstances they required without hindrance hospitals and care-centers, where to tend their wounded men. Being at their disposal the Germans evacuated all these various establishments and clinics, dispersed the patients to their homes. Fr.Darmanin was one of the patients at S.Pancrazio, who at that time was recovering from pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura membrane that lines the chest cavity and the lung).
On the 30th of September 1943, at 9.30 a.m., before boarding the bus, which had to take all the patients and some of the hospital staff to Brescia Central station, en route to Milan, the Germans found in the Administration Office Fr.Darmanin's passport, showing he was a British subject. He was summoned by the Chief Medical Officer and left the hospital escorted by a German M.O.. On arriving in Milan at dusk, he was accompanied by the German Medical officer to Albergo Eden, which the Germans had occupied and were using as their Command Office.
Fr.Darmanin's protests were in vain and he was ordered to march to the civil prison of San Vittore, Milan, escorted by two armed guards.
Fr.Darmanin arrived at San Vittore at about 10 o'clock in the evening, and after the necessary registration he was escorted to prison cell No:40, on the second floor. The cell, being rather small (eight feet long by six feet wide), dimly lit and gloomy, bore on its walls countless inscriptions of love and hatred, of Christian fortitude and reckless desperation. Furthermore the guards went to check every two hours, waking all the prisoners shouting and swearing at them. This made the night more painful and longer. Fr. Darmanin consumed the soup, saving the slice of bread by soaking half of it in water to serve him for supper and consuming the other half for breakfast the following morning. For two long days Fr. Darmanin was kept in his prison cell without seeing anyone except the guards every now and then.
Early in the afternoon on October 9th Fr.Darmanin was called downstairs together with four other priests (one over 60 yrs). All the prisoners were extremely glad on arrival, as they were packed like sardines.
On 16th of October 1943 the prisoners were called for the usual morning roll-call and were ordered to carry all their possessions with them. The prisoners were ordered to march to the railway station. At the station some German soldiers were taking photographs of Fr.Darmanin since he was a priest. Some prisoners shouted, "Padre, they'll soon be after your autograph next". This made Fr.Darmanin feel rather uneasy.
They were now ready to board the train which was waiting alongside one of the station's platform. The transport to Germany was a freight of train to which a number of cattle-trucks were added. The prisoners were divided into groups of fifty to each cattle-truck in which, traveling three whole nights under those conditions, were beyond description. Fortunately, at many Italian stations, during intermediate stops, food was generously given to them by Italian women. On arriving at the German boundaries they were informed that lately, the German guards deprived the prisoners of their belts, trousers and shoes before leaving the Italian stations to lessen the ever increasing number of escapees from convoys on their way to Germany. At Gratz they were given a thin slice of bread to share between two prisoners and a cup of German tea. They reached Moosburg on the 19th October 1943 and placed in Stalag VIIA, approximately 20 miles north of Munich.
This was one of the largest and oldest P.o.W camps in Germany, having 30,000 prisoners at that time. The huts were overcrowded but warm, three Decker beds with blankets and parcels supplied by the Red Cross were available. Fr.Darmanin was subject to various comments as some prisoners thought he was a soldier disguised in clerical robes. Every morning he attended the 6 o'clock Mass in the camp chapel.
On the 3rd November Fr.Darmanin was ridiculed by a German soldier, when before moving to a Russian compound, he was ordered to strip in front of other prisoners.
Together with other prisoners he was accommodated in huts with broken beds without any light or shutters. Next morning, he was issued a 2 day ration and together with 2400 British P.o.W. spent the whole night in cattle-trucks, unaware of their future destination.
Christmas day was very dull and Fr.Darmanin had dinner with Abbe' Courbon (a French chaplain) and attended a midnight Mass in hospital. Later, in April, more prisoners recaptured in Italy after several months of freedom arrived at the same camp. In the circumstances, the camp was overcrowded and again life became difficult.
On April 19th, some prisoners were sent to Elsterhorst, Reserve Lazarett 742, Stalag IVA, about 25 miles southeast of Dresden. German administration and their medical officers were not always scrupulous in taking all the necessary measures to safeguard the health of the patients. Due to different nationalities of the patients, Fr.Darmanin acted as an interpreter, mostly to the Italian and French P.o.W., whenever they required to be consulted by the English and French M.O.. Drawing and needle-work were the most appreciated occupational therapies. This log-book served as a private diary in which prisoners of war inscribed autobiographical records on a regular, if not daily basis, of their experience while in captivity.
In his log-book Fr.Darmanin recorded his feelings and several events he encountered, wrote prayers, drawn sketches of the prison camp and also addresses of his family, relatives and friends. At Elsterhorst, Fr.Darmanin met Abbe' Ceriser, a French chaplain and was glad to attend Mass daily. This consisted of a type-written sheet with news and items of some interest to the patients. Its publishing was soon frustrated by the splitting of the patients and the editorial staff by their removal to Konigswartha Hospital.
The thought of the approaching winter of 1944, Christmas could not but press heavily on every prisoner's mind. All spare time was to be from then onwards dedicated to the preparation of this big event. Orderlies kept storing carefully all paper bandages and extra orders were placed at the store. Surplus medicines and chemicals were withdrawn from the pharmacy, empty tins and paper-shavings from parcels were set aside. Orderlies kept storing carefully all paper bandages and extra orders were placed at the store. Every night, bathrooms offered the spectacular sight of metres with colored paper hanging out to dry. Patients helped by folding colored bandages into three or four colored streamers, others gave a hand in sewing costumes for the pantomime which was being rehearsed. On the morning of December 22, the Chefartz (the German doctor in charge of the hospital) left for his Christmas vacation. The wards were suddenly transformed into comfortable and nicely decorated wards. A huge Christmas tree occupied the center of every hall.
A group of orderlies toured all the wards singing familiar carols. On Christmas day, everybody woke up exchanging Christmas greetings in English, Italian, Dutch, Serb, Hindi and other different languages. Breakfast which consisted of porridge, a thin slice of bacon and bread was served. Meanwhile doctors were in the wards presenting Christmas cards, hand-drawn or painted by the prisoners themselves.
Dinner consisted of onion soup, a small portion of meat, peas and potatoes, jelly and cookies. On 1st. January 1945, an "Arts and Crafts Exhibition" was successfully held which enlisted 285 exhibits: fretwork, woodwork, silk-work, linocut, straw baskets, fancy work, leather work, sketches, cartoons, paintings and a collection of beetles.
A few days later, rumours spread that another exchange of prisoners of war and civilian internees were officially confirmed on the 13th January 1945.
Although already entitled for repatriation, (following the medical examination), Fr.Darmanin was intentionally excluded from the list by the German officials, without no reason whatsoever.
Patients, mostly stretcher case, suffering from pleurisy, pneumonia and other diseases, had to lie in the cold dark night on a layer of snow, awaiting transport.
For days, long streams of horse-carts carrying children, women and old men passed wearily by the hospital, towards unknown destinations. Then from Oflag IVD, a nearby camp, about 5000 French prisoners marched by, pushing wheelbarrows and carrying their belongings towards central Germany.
In February 1945, with the advance of the Russian armies from the East, the prisoners were ordered to evacuate the camp. Dresden 25 miles to the west, was totally destroyed by 773 RAF Lancasters and 17 American Flying Bombers, 25000 died.
On the 18th of February, a friend of Fr.Darmanin came in the recreation hut, and shouted that orders had been given to evacuate the hospital by 5.00 p.m. Being used to sudden moves, the prisoners hurriedly packed their few belongings. Each took, as many Red Cross parcels one could carry from the store-room, and at 5 o'clock they marched past the camp gate.
This time only horse-carts were available and they were strictly reserved for the most seriously sick patients. The journey of 240 Km was supposed to be covered in three days, but because of the continuous air raids, a great deal of time was spent idling in different stations and so the journey lasted 7 days. At 3a.m. on the 26th February, the train proceeded to Hohenstein-Ernstradt. At the station a lorry was at the disposal of the very sick cases and the rest had to march to the hospital.
The hospital, originally a convent and sanatorium, was overcrowded and before they could set foot in, a German warrant-officer ordered them to stop and turn back. Fr.Darmanin did not stay there very long, but soon discovered what had been going on in the main hospital. The hospital wards were crammed, covered with dust and very unhealthy. After a few days Fr.Darmanin along with a few others, was sent to a small working camp not far away. As the Russian artillery was advancing, the German military vehicles were retreating amidst confusion. Finally the working party settled in an abandoned small paper factory. In those circumstances, they offered to show the prisoners the route to freedom. At about 5 p.m. without hesitation the prisoners collected once more their belongings and started marching to the American zone.
In all, between 20th October 1943 and 5th May 1945, Fr.Darmanin sent 142 letters/postcards of which 27 were returned back whilst the remaining were never traced.
Fr.Darmanin and the other prisoners of war were greeted by a hearty handshake from the American Officers in command; soon afterwards food and clothing were supplied. Shortly after 4 p.m., they were served tea and tasted white bread for the first time since they were taken prisoners. When the war was over, Fr.Darmanin's family were still awaiting for the day of Fr.Salvino return home. On 4th October, 1945, he returned back to Malta.
Following the war Fr.Salvino Darmanin resumed with his studies and on 14th June 1949 was ordained priest. During the years Fr.Salvino sustained several appointments in the Society of Jesus Community. In the year 2000, he retreated at the Jesuits Retreat home at Mt.St.Joseph, Mosta.
After encountering a severe heart attack, on 14th February 2001, he was admitted at St.Lukes Hospital where three days later, died in the presence of his family members.
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