“The little girl with the suitcase is me, it’s a photo that has been around for many years and has become a symbol for representing the Julian-Dalmatian exodus with images. It’s me, and the one told in the book is my story. And I don’t want it to be exploited ”. Egea Haffner is determined, protagonist of the book “The girl with the suitcase” written with Gigliola Alvisi, for Piemme. Ms. Egea is the last descendant of a family from Pula, a city that was once Italian and now belongs to Croatia.
Egea Haffner is therefore an exile, one of the many people who had to choose, so to speak, whether to stay and live in a territory that is no longer Italian or to leave. Except that leaving meant really losing everything: home, work, friends … everything. And start from scratch, perhaps with the horror behind us like the one experienced by Egea that one evening in May 1945, she was deprived of her father.
“There was a knock on the door, three sharp hits. Mom was cooking. Three more hits and she made up her mind to open it. Where’s Kurt Haffner? I’m here, my father said. He has to follow us in command. Just a check.” And the father put a checkered blue silk scarf around his neck, greeted his wife and little Aegea and went. But he never came back. “And dad was not a fascist – Mrs. Haffner tells AGI – he hadn’t collaborated with fascism. I never understood why they took him. What they wanted from him. Maybe, but it’s just a mere hypothesis, he had come to know of something. He was often called to act as a translator by the German command since he knew the language. And who knows what he came to know … “.
The fact is that Egea’s father has disappeared. Her daughter does not even know where his body is, probably in one of those fissures in the Karst where so many people ended up: a foiba. The family understood that they would never see Kurt Haffner again, when one day Egea’s mother and her sister-in-law walking around Pola saw a group of Titini, men under the orders of Marshal TIito: one of them had that silk scarf around his neck. … From that moment on, the whole story of Egea and her family began: the farewell to Pola, the transfer to Cagliari, to Bolzano, up to now in Rovereto where she lives.
The story of the “Girl with a suitcase” is written in simple, direct language. Like that of a grandmother who tells her life to her grandchildren. In fact, the book is aimed at young people with the aim of making them participate, without ideologies, in a story that was not talked about until a few years ago: that of the Italian eastern border and the exodus of those populations.
“We had to contextualize the facts with historical reconstructions – Gigliola Alvisi tells AGI – otherwise we couldn’t understand the reason for the Egea affair. But we voluntarily excluded any political partisan reference. And this was a pact between me and Egea that has accepted to tell me about his life only under these conditions “.
Egea Haffner, as Gigliola Alvisi explains, “is a woman forged in steel. Our meeting took place by my will. I wanted to shed a light on this piece of Italian history beyond the current borders and I wanted the boys to read and know. My eye fell on Egea’s photo and I contacted her. I thought I would find an elderly person lost among the memories, perhaps unreliable, and distrustful. But instead I found a formidable person with very vivid memories whose only fear, today , is to be exploited. Our pact was that she would have total control of her story which is not well known. At the end of the conflict – Alvisi continues – a sort of ‘war between the poor’ broke out and it depended on the fact that the country was exhausted and moreover, the refugees were considered fascists because they had left the Yugoslav communist regime. But she was very small, she certainly could not take sides and her father was not a fascist. she because she doesn’t want to become someone’s flag. Her story is clear, crystalline. I think a good children’s book has come out of it that raises questions without giving packaged answers. The aim is to make young people curious and to turn on a light “.
All true, because Egea Haffner, at the beginning of our chat, is immediately keen to clarify one thing: “I’m not right-wing and I’m not even left-wing. I refused the honorary citizenship of a city that wanted to give it to Liliana Segre too. and for a level playing field to me too. They are two different stories, different situations. Even if the dead are all the same. But it seemed that Signora Segre was the symbol of the left and I of the right. No, I’m not interested in that. so then. I have citizenship and it is the Italian one. I don’t want to be pulled by the jacket “.
And why? “Because what interests me – said Egea Haffner – is only that my story can reach many and that it is not forgotten. For too long the question of the eastern border has been ignored and it is time for the boys to also know Our stories. There has never been clarity on the question of the border, it is not yet known how many were the dead. Dead who, I repeat, are all the same. It has been said that the Italians of the Julian lands were all fascists. But no, absolutely not. My father wasn’t. Yet it ended that way. I just want my story to be as available as other exiles to make it clear what happened. My family made it through strong determination . That determination typical of our personality, of our being. It is true, at the end of the war all of Italy was in disastrous conditions, they looked at us badly, they treated us like refugees. Many of us were in refugee camps and certainly not well. M. everything must be contextualized to the difficult period that Italy lived and that we had lived in the Julian lands. Only we didn’t talk about us, we didn’t want to talk about it. There is no doubt that the situation was dramatic for everyone but our story has been kept silent for too long. We paid for historical errors
Like all of Italy after all … “Exactly – added Haffner – we have all paid. But we have received little state aid. We have been forgotten for a long time. And in any case – Mrs Egea is keen to underline – we have not lost heart. We rolled up our sleeves, my family hadn’t had a home for a long time. In Bolzano they slept in a shop then slowly, we managed to get accommodation, I went to school. go ahead, with good education and culture. I just don’t know where my father is. And like me, there are so many other people who don’t know where their loved ones have gone. We closed the houses, left everything there. And it’s not easy. Not at all. ”
She tells her story as a child Egea Haffner, with pride and determination, and explains how that photograph was born in which she is portrayed with the suitcase in her hand, the cute dress, the ‘curled’ hair, the umbrella and the writing: Julian exile ” . “The story ends – he concludes – and I make it available. As I did with that photo when I was asked at an exhibition. The image is liked and has become the emblem of an unspoken historical period. Okay so, I will continue to tell who I am and what happened to me without being exploited. This will never happen “