Proni Digital Library
Collection 4: History

© Amy Proni, 2005-2006

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Collection 1: in Italy
Collection 2: in the United States
Collection 3: Documents
Collection 4: History

Italy and the Proni Family during World War I

Platone dei voluntari Triestine


Captain Zampieri


Felice Zampieri and Giovanni Proni both served in the Italian Army during the First World War. Felice was an officer who served in the Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions. Giovanni never spoke much about the war, but Oscar said that he believed his father served in the east, in Yugoslavia or Greece.

Italy and America: the Proni Family between the wars

Giovanni Proni emigrated to the United States in 1923. According to passenger manifests on file with The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, Giovanni left Italy from the Port of Trieste and sailed to the United States on the Presidente Wilson, arriving at Ellis Island on November 20.

He moved to Massachusetts, near a sister who had immigrated some years before. The family received only sporadic news (and financial support) from him for the first five years, but then did not hear from him again until after the war ended.

Luigia did not remarry, but she did share a home and had two children (Nevio, in 1934, and Giuliana, in 1937) with Giuseppe Birsa.
Giovanni met a young French-Canadian woman named Alice Letourneau from San Justin, Quebec, in 1933, whom he later married. Their son, John Robert was born in 1941. Giovanni eventually retired and moved to a place where he would never have to shovel snow again: South Florida.

Click on the image to see a larger version of the manifest, a photograph of the ship that Giovanni sailed on, and information about the ship (which, coincidentally, was built at Fincantieneri, in Monfalcone!).

Italy and the Proni Family during World War II


Oscar's military discharge certificate.


Maria Zampieri's "permission to travel" document.

The Proni family during the Second World War consisted of Oscar, an engineering student at the University of Padua, his brother Sergio, their mother Luigia Delcot, stepfather Giuseppe Birsa, and younger half-siblings Nevio and Giuliana.

Oscar Proni was drafted into the Italian Royal Army on 8 February 1943. His brother Sergio and friend Maria Zampieri accompanied him to the train station, on what he remembers was a very cold day. Oscar served with an artillery unit in Trento, then was transferred to Lazio, near Rome. The artillery guns were so loud that his hearing was permanently damaged. He said that it felt like needles being pushed into his ears. In September 1943, the Italian government fell, and the soldiers were discharged from the Army. (See Oscar's military discharge paper, above.) Most Italian soldiers did their best to return home before being conscripted by the occupying German forces. Oscar was fortunate: he had a set of civilian clothes to wear. He rode on a very crowded train from Rome all the way back to Monfalcone. It was a two-day journey; he arrived home on 15 September. For the next year and a half, he hid in the attic of the family home from the occupying Nazi forces, who were eager to conscript and send able-bodied young men to the Eastern Front.

Oscar's brother Sergio Proni did not join the Italian Resistance Movement, better known as "i partigiani" or the partisans, but he did meet regularly with Slovenian partisans (against the advice of his close friend Maria Zampieri). Sadly, Sergio was with these partisans when they were engaged in battle with Nazi soldiers near Rifembergo, Slovenia, on 26 September August 1943. All of the partisans, and Sergio, were captured, then shot, and their bodies dumped in a nearby well. The family was devastated by this. Many years later Nevio Birsa honored his half-brother Sergio, and his wife Loredana's deceased brother Livio, by naming their first-born son Sergio Livio. Giuliana Birsa, who married Giorgio Sorgo (brother of Loredana), remembered her half-brother and her husband's brother by naming her son Livio Sergio. Yes, it is a little bit confusing, but it is also nice to know that Oscar's dear brother Sergio, a young man who loved to play soccer, is gone but has not been forgotten.

Maria Zampieri was a high school student during the war. She lived with her parents in an apartment building near the shipyard in Monfalcone and traveled by train to school in Trieste. (See Maria's school pass, above.) At one point during the war a bridge over a ravine between the two cities was bombed; for many months the schoolchildren had to exit one train, cross the ravine on foot, then enter a train on the other side to continue their journey. The Zampieri apartment was also damaged during an air raid. (Fincantieri Monfalcone, and an Italian Naval Base located in Monfalcone, were frequent bombing targets of the British RAF.) Oscar and Maria had been friends at school, and when he learned of her family's misfortune he invited the Zampieri family to move into a small apartment at the back of the Proni family home. This was a very generous, and shrewd, move by Oscar, as Maria kept him company and helped him with his engineering studies during the months when he could not leave the house.

Many of Maria's aunts, uncles, and cousins were forced into hiding during the summer of 1943. The Tedeschi family was Jewish, and a Nazi concentration camp opened near Udine, less than 45 miles from Trieste. Annie Tedeschi Minchew, a daughter of Mercede Zampieri's brother Giuseppe Amadeo Tedeschi, recalled 60 years later that "it was not a happy time." Annie went with her parents, sister Lea, aunts Nelda Tedeschi and Adda Tedeschi, and Adda's son Paolo to Fabriano, a small village in Le Marche (The Marches), a region in central Italy that was considerably safer than Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. This was safer because the family was able to keep a very low profile, the villages were small and isolated and there were fewer Nazis in the area.

Maria Zampieri had a cousin (whose name Oscar could not recall in 2005) who was a daughter of Giusto Zampieri (older brother of Felice). This cousin was married to a man who became part of the CSIR (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia) when the unit was formed in 1941. The CSIR were Italian troops sent to the eastern front – Moldavia and Ukraine – by Mussolini in the summer of 1941. Maria's cousin's husband, like nearly 100,000 other Italian soldiers, never returned. It is safe to say that the Proni, Zampieri, and Tedeschi families were not alone in their suffering during the war years, 1939–1945.

According to Italian custom, a child is raised in the faith of its father. Because Maria Zampieri was baptized in the religion of her father, a Catholic, prior to 1938, she was not singled out as a Jew by the Nazis.

Oscar and Maria were married 30 May 1945, three weeks after V-E day, when the war in Europe finally ended. Click here to see their marriage certificate.

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Historical background on migration patterns (Italy – United States)

The Library of Congress offers extensive information on Italian immigration. Start your research here.

Oscar and Maria Proni immigrated to the U.S. in June of 1954 with their young sons, Tullio and Lucio. Click here to see an image of Lucio's landing card from the S.S. Independence. Tullio remembers passing the Rock of Gibraltar, and an encounter with a hurricane enroute to New York City. The children and Oscar were allowed to disembark in New York, but Maria was quarantined on Ellis Island for a few days before their new life in America began.

Life in the United States post-World War II

Oscar and Maria Z. Proni returned to Italy with Tullio and Lucio in 1960, via Alitalia. Lunch and afternoon tea were served on the flight back to the United States. Pictured below are scanned images of the menu that Tullio kept as a souvenir. (Click on any of the images to see a larger version).

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[United States] Selective Service System form 110 (front)
Click on the image to see a larger view, and more images of the Selective Service System forms and classifications.

Both Tullio and Lucio registered for the draft in the United States. Each received high lottery numbers, so were not selected for military service. Following graduation from Nova High School in 1966, Tullio attended college in Miami, then moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan for graduate studies in Psychology. Lucio attended college in Gainesville, Florida, before starting JL Audio, Inc., on the back porch of the family home. Lucio's only brush with military service came during a visit to Italy in 1983, when the Monfalcone police department learned that he was staying in a local hotel. They arrested him in the middle of the night, and said that he was on a list of Italian draft-dodgers. (Italy requires all male citizens to perform military or civic service.) Maria Z.  Proni spent several hours convincing the police that Lucio had become an American citizen nearly 30 years before, and should therefore not be subject to forced conscription.

Oscar Proni worked for Coulter Electronics, Inc., for many years. Tullio also worked at Coulter, but for a much shorter time, following graduation from the University of Miami. Tullio's ID card for the company is pictured below. Oscar started Proni Industries after his retirement from Coulter, in the late 1980s. Oscar's business card is shown below. Click on either image to go to a larger view.

Coulter Electronics ID card


Proni Industries business card


The Proni Family grew in 1965, with the addition of Duilio. (See Duilio's baby picture, below left, and an image of Maria Z. Proni holding her youngest child, below right).


Look at this beautiful baby!

Maria adored this baby.

John Proni married Maria-Elena Miquel in 1965. Maria-Elena had come to the U.S. with her younger brother as part of "Operation Pedro Pan" in April, 1961, just 10 days before the Bay of Pigs fiasco. This branch of the Proni family expanded in the later 1960s with Anna-Marie, Yvonne, and John Robert.

South Florida in the 1950s did not have an abundance of Italian immigrants. The Proni Family were among the first, but today there is a large Italian-American community. Oscar and Maria were involved with an Italian Club there for many years. They made friends with many people, not just from Italy, but from Mexico, Cuba, and Brazil. Through their friend Mario Zomaro, who was originally from Vittorio Veneto, in the Veneto Region of Italy, they became acquainted with his wife Catalina (Garcia), and her family, who emigrated to the United States from Mexico City. They have remained close to the Garcia family.

Each of the children of Oscar and Maria achieved the American dreams of entrepreneurship, home ownership, and a happy marriage. Their lives in Italy would not necessarily have been worse, but would have been significantly different from what they experienced in the U.S.

Maria Zampieri Proni died in 1984. Oscar married Yara Sabino, a lady from Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1987. Giovanni Proni died in 1989, followed in 1993 by his wife Alice. Oscar Proni passed away on July 26, 2006. We celebrated his life a few days later; Oscar is mourned by many people around the world. Here is a link to the obituary we wrote for the Miami Herald and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and to the guestbook where people may leave their thoughts of Oscar. Duilio created a photographic memorial for his father.

Lucio Proni married a sister of Catalina Zomaro, Maria Garcia, in 1978. They have worked hard and built a company that is highly respected in the industry. Their home is filled with Maria's art, and the laughter of family and friends.

pdlfps0041 Maria G. Proni, 2004.

Duilio Proni married Karen Aziz in 1990. Their daughter Becky was born on Oscar's 72nd birthday, in 1994. Alex followed in 2001, and Nicky was born at the end of 2003. The Proni line will continue!

Tullio Proni married Amy Bollinger in 1991. They live in a house filled with books, computers, and two beautiful cats. Oh, and there's a machine shop in the basement and an electronics lab in the attic... because Tullio, like his brothers, comes from a long line of engineers and self-made men.

Amy Proni, holding one of the beautiful cats.

  Tullio Proni, working at the lathe.

Tullio Proni, working in the lab.

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Questions? Contact Amy Proni.
Last updated 2006-08-12. AP.

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