Volume 11 Number 6
'So You are the One Who Destroyed My Village'
01 December 1998
One day the Italian Air Force bombed and strafed his village, Bashagia in Wallo Province. Wudneh's mother and most of his relatives were killed. 'I remember running with the other children to hide in the river banks and the surrounding jungle,' he says. 'I can still see one plane now, which flew particularly low and bombed our house.
Mammo Wudneh, now a noted journalist and President of the Ethiopian Writers' Association, was just four years old when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia just before the Second World War.
One day the Italian Air Force bombed and strafed his village, Bashagia in Wallo Province. Wudneh's mother and most of his relatives were killed. 'I remember running with the other children to hide in the river banks and the surrounding jungle,' he says. 'I can still see one plane now, which flew particularly low and bombed our house. It's an image I will never forget.'
From 1966-70 Wudneh was head of the Government Press Department in what was then the Ethiopian province of Eritrea but is now an independent country. He had a room reserved for his use at the naval base at Embatikala. On the base was a bar owned by an Italian couple. It was a popular meeting place for officers and visiting officials. The husband, in his seventies, had been partly paralyzed and walked with a stick.
'One day, when I was visiting the base, I went to the bar as usual with my friends,' Wudneh recalls. 'The old man was reading a newspaper and we began discussing the Middle East War of 1967. From there the conversation switched to the Second World War.'
The owner began recounting his feats as a pilot with the Italian Air Force. He was particularly proud that he had served in the same squadron as Mussolini's son. As he talked about their missions in Ethiopia, Wudneh suddenly realized to his horror that this man had been part of the devastating raid on his village that had left him an orphan. 'I was so furious that my whole body started to shiver. I couldn't control my feelings and I had to get up and leave before he had finished the story.'
Wudneh headed straight back to his room. 'I had a pistol and also a rifle and I knew how to use them. I could think of nothing else than taking vengeance on the old fascist pilot.'
Once in his room, his conscience started to speak to him. He got on his knees and asked God to 'stabilize' him and give him direction. He felt that God was answering: 'If you kill him, will that bring your parents and your relatives back to life? Won't you just be repeating the wrongs done by Mussolini? And where will taking vengeance leave your own family?'
The next morning he went to find the old man. It was a Sunday and no one else was about. He ordered tea and bread, and when the Italian brought them, Wudneh said, 'You told us a fascinating story yesterday.' When the old man started nodding in agreement, Wudneh went on, 'So you are the one who destroyed my village, killed my mother and left me an orphan?'
The man turned white and became very agitated, thinking that Wudneh was going to attack him. Instead, Wudneh said that he forgave him. 'There were tears in his eyes and he embraced and kissed me,' recalls Wudneh. Later the man told his wife, and whenever Wudneh called after that he was given very special treatment.
Six years later, when Wudneh was again in Eritrea and went to see the old man, he learned that he was in hospital in the capital, Asmara. He died shortly afterwards, caught in cross-fire between Ethiopian government troops and Eritreans fighting for independence.
Now that there has been fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Wudneh is actively involved as a peacemaker. This includes working on an interfaith committee chaired by Abuna Paolos, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church. Wudneh says his long association with Eritrea lends a personal note of urgency to the task; and that his experience at the airforce base 'was certainly a preparation' for it.