Collection 4: History
Amy Proni, 2005-2006
Italy and the Proni Family during World War I
dei voluntari Triestine
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
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
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
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
Maria Zampieri's "permission to travel"
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:
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
August 1943. All of the partisans, and Sergio, were captured, then
their bodies dumped in a nearby well. The family was devastated by
this. Many years later Nevio Birsa honored his half-brother Sergio, and
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
Life in the United States post-World
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).
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
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.
Electronics ID 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.
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.
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.
Last updated 2006-08-12. AP.
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