According to the latest figures, three out of every four Catholic Tyrolese under Italian rule have chosen to return to Germany.
The plebiscite took place in accordance with the arrangement made between Italy and Germany for the repatriation of Tyrolese in this disputed territory.
A " Catholic Herald " correspondent has spent Christmas and the New Year among these people.
This tragic story furnishes remarkable evidence of patriotism and the consequent danger to Europe of any peace settlement that would demand such " material " guarantees from Germany as to bring to birth again artificial or strategical divisions and new discontented minorities.
From a Special Correspondent
Christmas, 1939, was for many of the German-speaking people who live between Bolzano and the Brenner Pass the last they will spend on Italian soil. Your correspondent spent Christmas and the New Year with these people, who used to be under Austrian rule and whose simplicity and charm have endeared them to the hearts of all who have met them.
By the end of last December all bad declared officially either that they would go to Germany or that they would stay in Italy and take full part in the Italian national life. This voting arrangement was made by the Italian Government in conjunction with Germany, and all those who voted to go to Germany must leave Italy within two years.
The official result of the poll had not then been published, but it was not difficult to forecast. All except two persons with whom your correspondent spoke declared that they will go to Germany as soon as they can dispose of their property in Italy.
The war with most of them has made no alteration to their plans. They tell you that if Germany is to be defeated in the war they would gladly suffer with their own kin over the border, and when it is pointed out that a man will at once be enrolled as a soldier a gleam of patriotism comes in his eye as he says that he will be proud to fight for the fatherland.
This German-speaking people (among whom are included those who also speak Ladino or Grennerisch—a dialect which sounds Iike a mixture of Italian, French and Spanish) number in all some 250,000. Their rich territory (the province of Bolzano is, after that of Milan, the most lucrative to the National Exchequer) Was ceded to Italy after the war, and the reality of defeat among the men who fought against Italy and among their families has never been removed.
Felt They Were In A Foreign
For some years they had Deputies of their own in the Italian parliament, but one of the first protests which Mussolini made on entering parliament was directed against the activities of these people's political representatives. The people felt that they were In a foreign land, and until Hitler made his appearance as the head of the German Government they saw no hope of their being united with Austria or Germany.
Hopes ran high when Hitler began to look towards the South, but Mussolini's prompt action in sending 500,000 soldiers to guard the Brenner Pass when Dolfuss was murdered dismayed them. But the cafés continued to ring with politics, and strong hopes were always present until the day when Hitler declared in Rome that he regarded the Alps as the German frontier. Some people remarked that Hitler spoke of the Alps and not of the Brenner, and consequently one could at a stretch regard the Alps as including the Dolomites, the hills and valleys of which these people Inhabit. But most of the Tyrolese regarded Hitler's speech in Rome as the death blow to all their hopes of being absorbed by Germany.
80 per cent. to go to Germany
Meanwhile, nearly all of them remained outside the Fascist Party. In fact, when your correspondent asked a group of boys, who were ski-ing on the hills, if they were members of the Balilla organisation, they not only replied in the negative but added that they would consider themselves traitors if they belonged to anything Fascist.
The number of those who are going back to Germany is about 80 per cent. of the people. Some Tyrolese said 97 per cent., and one man was indignant because he said that the B.B.C. in its German-speaking programme had put the figure as low as 50 per cent.
The Tyrolese are splendid Catholics— in fact, they can well be compared with devout Irish Catholics.
On Christmas night the parish church of the village where I stayed was packed to the doors, and the Mass was sung by the choir to the accompaniment of a string orchestra perched up in the organ loft. The priest preached in German, though the next Sunday the sermon was in Italian.
The fact that they are such good Catholics does not deter the Tyrolese from going to live under Hitler. They are aware that there is little freedom in Germany, but they are willing to accept that state of affairs for the benefit of living among their own people where their rights are recognised. They are nearly all going to Austria: Innsbruck is already fully booked up, and those villages which have an established industry such as wood-carving are expecting to receive a valley over the border corresponding to their present one.
Nevertheless, I met nobody who could be called a ifitlerite in the sense of being a supporter of the Nazi Party, and I net nobody who really believed that Germany would win the war. They regard the war, however, not so much Ilitler's war as Germany's war, and their sympathies are therefore with Germany. Most of my adversaries regarded the war as an effort to prevent Germany becoming 'strong.