When Hitler declared war on the Sovjet Union and began his invasion, Mussolini followed him.The idea for the Italian invasion was to conquer the Caucasus and go via there to the Middle East, so they could diminish British influence there.
Unfortunately, the invasion came to a halt at Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-1943 was a turning point; the Russians eventually won and the Germans, Hungarians and Italians were forced to retreat from that moment.
The Italian troops were at the Don since the beginning of the Battle, surrounded by Russian troops and this is where we find sergeant-major Mario Rigoni. He and the other Alpini were in the trenches they dug to defend themselves against the Russians. It is cold, but there is still some food and the soldiers try to keep moral high by thinking about Christmas, their girl at home or the pasta their mothers make.
Then the Russians break through the lines and the Italians have to flee, just like the Germans and Hungarian. It is a horrible journey, in the freezing cold Russian winter with forty degrees centigrade below zero, no food and absolute chaos everywhere.
When the war ended Mario Rigoni returned to his homevillage and he wrote down his memories. The sergeant in the snow is the result. It is written in a very direct way, no embellishments in style or extra words to make it prettier. Rigoni was there in the cold and while you read, you are there with him.
Very beautifully written is how the Italians deal with their homesickness and how the love for their country is clear in everything, although they are surrounded by the Russian steppe.
Mario Rigoni joined the Italian army in 1938, but he has little love for Mussolini. This is made visible in a beautiful scene when a father of a killed soldier comes to Rigoni to hear what happened to his son. When Rigoni tells him, the father looks at the portrait of Mussolini that hangs from the wall of the café, and clenched his fists.
Rigoni also thinks the Russians fight for what is right, since they fight for their country. He also finds many kind people amongst the Russian peasants he encounters.
The sergeant in the snow has become a WWII classic in Italy since it was first published in 1953.Praise well deserved for this very special story.
Original Italian title: Il sergente nella nevePublished in 1953