The Station Master

January 28, 2016 / Local Interest
Tradate, Lombardia

Andrea Albisetti, born in 1885 and station master of Tradate (a town between Varese and Milan), was a model government employee like many others, as per the image of him that remains. Yet he wouldn’t have held on to his job (or life) long, had the authorities known back then what was just uncovered three days ago. In a nutshell, one of Albisetti’s job responsibilities as station master was to receive the mail that came in from Rome and Milan everyday. During WWII however, the mail happened to also contain the secret arrest orders for dissidents and Jews. Albisetti would simply back light the envelopes by holding them up against a lightbulb, read the names they contained, and simply tip-off those people that same evening before the mail was opened and read by the authorities the following morning, thereby giving those to be arrested the time to leave town and go into hiding.


Albisetti “took his history with him” when he died, so to speak. So how do we know the above? Well, in cases such as these the history is usually lost but it can occasionally be pieced back together by those willing to look at the echoes and ripples which past events always leave behind. (Bravo Federico Colombo!) And those pieces are…

1) Like so many other young Italian men at the time, two brothers from Tradate, Dorligo and Serajevo, were sent off to the Eastern Front in Russia in World War Two. (A heart-wrenching, tangentially-related local story holds that the person who blew the whistle sending the train of the two conscripted brothers off to war was their father.) Only Serajevo returned; Dorligo was decorated posthumously and has been commemorated every year since then by the Tradate Chapter of the National Alpini Association.

2) The incredible story (like all the others) of a “Shoah Violin” found by Carlo Alberto Cerutti, a collector in Turin years ago. The violin’s original owners, siblings Maria and Enzo Segre Levi, were in hiding in a country villa near Tradate during World War Two. Tragically, Maria was caught, deported, and killed at Auschwitz, while Enzo managed to escape but committed suicide after the war. Their father however survived, and many years later he told a group of friends how “a station master read my name through a back lit envelope, and instead of putting me on a train for Milan (which meant San Vittore – the prison – and deportation) he put me on a train in the opposite direction.”

Fact n.3) Alberto Gagliardo was a history teacher twenty years ago at Marie Curie High School in Tradate with a deep interest in local stories such as the one above. He would give his students the task of researching and finding other similar stories, which as energetic and enthusiastic teenagers they promptly did! And lo and behold, a few of these stories contain the mention of a mysterious station master, nameless in all cases, such as the story told by Oscar Stenfeld, an elderly gentleman, to Federico Colombo, the student who conducted the interview as part of his history class assignment. “However, like all the others, Stenfeld too couldn’t remember the name of the station master,” recalls Colombo. The stories simply ended up in a book by Prof. Gagliardo, Jews in the Province of Varese.

Fast forward twenty years to now… Federico Colombo, former student, now 34 years old with a BA in History, teacher at l’Aquilone, a non-profit for disadvantaged youth, as well as current president of the Tradatese Historical Society, receives a request from the Tradate mayor, Laura Cavallotti. She asks him if he would help her with the Tradate Shoah Violin Commemoration planned for February 20th, and so he begins digging through archives and putting material together, including information about the station master whose name nobody remembers.

Nobody remembers the name, Colombo says, “…because nobody had ever made the connection! Anyone who knew the story of the WWII Alpini Albisetti brothers didn’t know about their father or what he had done. And those who knew the stories about the nameless station master, such as the surviving Jews, didn’t know that he was father of the two Albisetti brothers from Tradate who went off to the Russian front.”

So how did Colombo figure it out? “My father was an Alpino,” he says, “and he shared the story of the Albisetti brothers with me. So when I began researching the story of the Shoah Violin for the upcoming commemoration, I remembered that old interview of Stenfeld I had done for Prof.Gagliardo’s assignment, and I simply put the pieces together.”

Image and fascinating story covered by Paolo Foschini e Roberto Rotondo of the Corriere dell Sera.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

24 Responses to “The Station Master”

  1. Taube Ponce

    Beautiful and inspiring story of yet another unsung hero. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Many many thanks GB for this post and your research. We so need stories about “ordinary people” doing the right thing!

  3. Bravo! Wonderful research, excellent presentation, nondramatic consolidation!
    When to school in Rome from 1955 to 1959 – and still miss it.

  4. David Bridgs

    Wonderful, very moving story of a true hero! Bravo for his legacy and thank you, GB, for including it in the Italian Notebook.

  5. Linda Boccia

    Thank goodness there were and are now (whistle blowers) people who alert others to potential impending disasters. We would not have had the legacy of Anne Frank or the survivors of Schindler’s List had they not had the courage of their convictions.

  6. What incredible stories!!! Here’s another: Arnold Wininger was put on one of the kinder -transport trains by his mother (who died in a concentration camp) He and many other Jewish boys found their way to Villa Emma near Modena (in Nantola). Now in his late 80’s Arnoldo (as we call him) remains eternally grateful to the Italians who saved him. He is a member of our Italian Conversation group which meets in Sun City, AZ You can google Vila Emma to find this story.

  7. Suzanne Giordano Ferris

    Thank you for this article, obviously these men are such heroes, so proud of them and so proud to be an Italian .

  8. Kim Abelman

    What an incredible story. Thank you for posting it here. Colombo’s book really needs to be put out there as much as possible before stories like these get lost in future generations.

  9. Shirley Fedeli

    What a wonderful set of stories…being a retired history teacher this would be an excellent (primary source) historical story! Thanks for the info!
    Cav. S. Fedeli

  10. Anstell Ricossa

    Thank you for sharing such heroism ! This certainly needs to be circulated !

  11. This is one of my favorite articles now! Thanks for the detailed information about this amazing man!

  12. Mary Ann Zeppetello

    Another example of extraordinary courage. People are taught to fear and hate the “other”. It is far easier to love and accept all, despite differences. I am certain that history is full of these stories of exceptional bravery. Thanks for finding this one.

  13. Maria Barbosa

    Thank you Federico Colombo for beeing a curious and resourceful student! I know for a fact that you are a great teacher. I hope your students follow your steps and bring us more inspiring stories like this one. Bravo!

  14. Marianna Raccuglia

    Thank you for enlightening your readers with this interesting article.

  15. I enjoy these stories very much and I am interested in finding any books that may have covered more of these stories; namely the Italians that helped the Jews before during and after the 2nd world war. Thank you , MR

  16. Mr. Colombo: Have you submitted this account to YAD VASHEM, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem? The Station Master sounds as if he should be noted as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.


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