Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Dear Ines: Sacco And Vanzetti

This Information Age that we live in can make the simplest things in life seem like an act of God.  Yesterday I picked up a book and was moved to almost tears while reading a father's letters to his children, written as he sat in a cold cement cell awaiting the hour of his electrocution.  In his letters the father poured out all that was left him; his soulful, heartfelt love for his family.  He gave encouragement and instruction to the fourteen year old boy and devout love and affection to his six year old little girl Ines.  This condemned father knew that only through his writings could his children possibly one day know the true man that he'd been in life.  

He wanted them to know that he was a loving, caring and honest human being who believed in justice and equality for all. He wanted his son Dante to be strong and comfort his mother, sharing with him how he used to comfort her with long walks in the quiet country, gathering flowers, resting under the shade of trees near vivid streams, enjoying the harmony and gentle tranquility of mother nature.

While reading this condemned man's love letters to his son and daughter, I couldn't help but think of the times I've written to my sons and daughter. Though I'd written not from a condemned man's viewpoint, still I found myself similarly pouring out my heart in trying to convey exactly how "dear they are to their father's soul." I suppose all father's want their children to love and understand him, regardless of his failings or shortcomings as a father.  The fact that this father had spent seven years in jail for a crime he may not have committed makes his plea to his children for love and understanding that much more longing.

The condemned father used his last words to them to teach about the ugliness and beauty of the world they'd someday inherit and to drive home the fact that they were "the greatest and sweetest treasure" his struggling life ever produced. His attempt to instill in Dante the will to do right and help others in their fight for freedom reflects that fatherly action of bestowing on his son what little wisdom he may have attained in such a short life with limited time left. 

The father does not try to instruct his son in any religious enlightenment or vengeful vendetta he may hold for or against God or Man. He simply asks that the boy look after his mother and continue in the fight that he and his fellow anarchist comrade, Bartolo Vanzetti, fought and will likely die for, "freedom for all and the poor workers."

"Yes, Dante, they can crucify our bodies today as they are doing, but they cannot destroy our ideas, that will remain for the youth of the future to come."

The father who I talk of above is no other than Nicola Sacco, a shoe worker, who along with an anarchist comrade, fish peddler Bartolomeo Vanzetti, was arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death for a robbery that resulted in the death of a paymaster and a payroll guard in South  Braintree, Massachusetts on April 15th, 1920.  What made their story so mesmerizing wasn't the crime itself, but the "unscrupulous, unethical and diabolically skillful" way by which the Massachusetts legal system prosecuted the men.  

Their story lives today as a symbol for all who fight against injustices of any kind. There's been books, songs, movies and murals dedicated to these men and their fight for justice on American soil. They may not have been the first martyrs in America, nor the last, but their story is easily one of the most lasting and memorable that's stood the test of time. 

I was curious after reading of the children of Nicola Sacco, how their lives turned out and if possibly they were still alive today.  The irony in it all is that his daughter, who his letter was addressed to as My Dear Ines, just passed away earlier this month. Dante, his son died in 1971.  There are grandchildren and probably by now great-grandchildren who still live in the Boston area.  Sacco's wife Rosa (Rosina) did remarry but forbid the family from talking about it at all and carried the scars it inflicted on her to her grave in the early 1990's.

This is my second book on the sad story of the two Italian immigrants and their unsuccessful fight for justice against a prejudiced, paranoid post WWI America. But unlike the other book that focused on the trial and evidence against them, this book "The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti: A New England Legend, written by Howard Fast 1953, looks at the last hours of the pair, of how a terrible sentence was passed upon them and carried out, and of what this sentence meant to millions of people the world over.

For me, a loving father living with the hopes and fears that life impregnates such a one with, I hold empathy and praise for the courage it took for Sacco to lay bare his soul to his children in those final moments of his life.  

Whether he and his compadre were guilty or innocent of the crimes they were accused of is still being debated today and will most likely continue to be so. What was declared, proclaimed and issued in a 1977 report to the Massachusetts Governor's Office was that "Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted" and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names." The Governor at that time was Michael Dukakis who said he did not pardon them, because that would imply they were guilty. Neither did he assert their innocence."

And so we are left with the story of a family's tragedy, A country's shame and a world's martyrs for freedom and justice.  And with the recent passing of Ines (Sacco) Talmo, we should pray that Sacco's descendants, as well as Vanzetti's, have found peace in their hearts for a country that failed them miserably. 

Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders and The Judgment of Mankind

Amazon Reviews

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