Wednesday, February 24, 2016

General Domenico Mondelli (1886 - 1974)

                                                                     General Domenico Mondelli

          Domenico Mondelli: Eritrean-Italian General and a Grand Master Mason


                                                 Issayas Tesfamariam

The history of Eritrea (ancient & modern) and its people (inside & the diaspora) never cease to fascinate and amaze me. Without an exaggeration, I can confidently say that the more I do research on the aforementioned, the more I realize that I know so little. Mind you, it is not because I just started, but the sheer volume and depth of the research to be done (and yet to be discovered) is so vast, it is scarcely touched.

Six months ago, I started working on a fascinating story that I first heard from an Eritrean family. Since the research is still on-going, I will write more on this, in due time. While looking for a cross reference for the above story, a friend (thank you) alerted me to another incredible story.

The timing could not have come at a better moment for two reasons. First, in the story that I am working on, in the absence of documentation, the rough time reference given to me by the family was a challenge, therefore, the following story makes the time reference a possibility; and the timeline not totally off. Second, it was only last week that I watched the screening of “Blaxpoitalian: 100 Years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema” by Fred Kudjo Kuwornu at Stanford University. Eritrean actresses Zewdi Araia and Ines Pellegrini are briefly featured in the not yet released movie. It is a documentary about the black image on Italian Cinema. In other words, racism on Italian reel, hence a perfect segue to the following real story (also a victim of racism).

Professor Mauro Valeri is a sociologist at La Sapienza University who specializes in racism in Italy (sports, second generation immigrants, ethnic relationship and etc.). He wrote a 276-page biography (published by Odradek Edizioni in December 2015) entitled, IL GENERALE NERO Domenico Mondelli: bersagliere, aviatore e ardito (a rough google translation gives: THE BLACK GENERAL Domenico Mondelli: soldier, airman and bold).       

                                                     The front cover of Prof. Valeri's book

According to Professor Valeri, Domenico Mondelli (born Wolde Selassie) was born in Eritrea in 1886 and came to Italy with Lt. Colonel Attilo Mondello in 1891. Domenico came to Italy when he was 5 years old. That is, only one year after Eritrea officially became Italy’s “primo genita”. Domenico grew up in Italy and later became an aviator and a soldier. He fought in World War I and in Libya.

In a recent article by Gazzetta de Parma, Domenico Mondelli [during that time] had received two silver medals and two bronze medals won by fighting as an airman, soldier and commander of assault troops, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Only after the end of World War II did he manage to reach the rank of General of the Army Corps (With the rise and for the duration of fascism, Domenico Mondelli was discriminated against. The image of a black officer commanding white troops was just too much for fascism)

(Note: Domenico Mondelli was the first black aviator in Italy. My great uncle, Fessehatsion Beyene, had his pilot’s license in 1928, a little more than 10 years later)

During this period, according to the Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of Italy in Palazzo Giustiniani, Domenico Mondelli had joined the Freemasons in 1912 and by 1919, he had become a Master Free Mason. In 1956 Domenico Mondelli had become 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite (the highest degree).

Finally the Gazzetta informed its readers that Professor Mauro Valeri had presented his book to the public at the Governor’s Palace of Parma and that the extraordinary story of Domenico Mondelli was reconstructed through the examination of the original documents thanks to two grandchildren who have recovered several news about him.

Kudos to Professor Valeri, the librarians at Parma and Domenico Mondelli’s grandchildren for letting the world know about this extraordinary story of the human resilience.

Check out the video link on General Domenico Mondelli (and the website of Blaxpoitalian) at the end of this article. The still shots are from the video from TG Parma.

                                                   Domenico Mondelli during WWI

Captain Domenico Mondelli (Aviator)

1927. Lt. Colonel Domenico Mondelli

On December 4, 1968 Domenico Mondelli 
was awarded the rank of General