Tag Archives: world war 2

Ukrainian WW2 Joke

Informant’s Background:

The informant, in this case, is my father, F, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Ukrainian/Scottish family in Canada in 1950. His family was poor and working class, and he lived in Canada for many years before attending schools in England, and eventually moving back to Canada before moving with my mother to Los Angeles, in the United States, so she could take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.


My father told me this joke at dinner once. He asked me if I wanted to hear a Ukrainian joke and I said sure.


F: “You are a Ukrainian soldier in the trenches, the Germans coming from one side, the Russians from the other. Who do you shoot first?
Answer:  The German.  Business before pleasure.”


I think this is probably considered an offensive joke. It has a certain historical context, I suppose, but my father never provided any of his own thoughts on the joke, so all I can really do is to provide the joke in it’s original form. I do not think my father learned this joke from his father, I think he probably picked it up somewhere later in life. I tried to search online for traces of this joke, and I was able to find it but with the Ukrainian soldier replaced with a Polish one, so I guess it is re-told in that way and adopted by different cultures with a similar wartime history.

The Stony House

Main piece:

M.P.: Outside the center of Monghidoro, there is a beautiful big stony house which is constantly in renovation, even if never inhabited. And I’ve never understood why such a beautiful house, which is also in a good position, has always been abandoned. So one day I asked my grandfather, who used to live in a neighboring town, which is something like…I don’t know, something like 3 kilometers away from the village in which the house is found. I asked him if he knew why. He told me that basically that house was a military command occupied by the Nazis during the War and which served as a sort of prison, for people to be “interrogated” [does gestures of quote citation with her hands] by German Soldiers. Obviously, this interrogations were not spoken questionings, but soldiers used to do everything they could to extort confessions from prisoners. And my grand-father told me that he remembers hearing screams from his house, which was located some kilometers away. And everyone knew. So basically this house after the war was never inhabited again, because even if it was restructured etcetera etcetera [does gestures with her hands], no-one has ever wanted to live there. It is said that screams can still be heard inside of it. Besides, people do not want to talk about this. If you ask questions, no one knows anything about it, no one remembers it. Still, even if they claim of not knowing anything, they do not want to go inside of it, so obviously they know. 


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and whose paternal grandfather was born in a village on the Tosco-Emilian Apennines-where the mentioned town of Monghidoro is located-, which was, during World War 2, one of the major Italian war fronts. As a matter of fact, many towns and villages ‘hosted’, or better, were occupied both by German and American troops, and many are the legends, memories, beliefs and events related to war times people of the place remember. 


My grandmother as well was born in those areas, so I got to know some  war-times’ stories myself as well. However, I had never knew about this particular legend, which my informant told me over a lunch.


This legend surly holds a significant value, both historically and folkloristic-ally speaking. It is in my opinion the perfect example of something taken from history and later transomed, for a reason or another, into a folk-piece. The aesthetic of belief plays, here as well, a significant role, it being the engine which makes the legend propagate through time: when people -even people coming from other cities- hear this story and its legendary value from residents of the place or from the surrounding area, they are immediately indirectly warned against buying that house, and this is the reason why it has never been inhabited since the disastrous events of World War 2. Many are, in fact, the people who search vacation houses in that area, and this would be a perfect, beautiful and convenient choice. Yet, still there is, with to tenets or occupants. 

In second place, another interesting point is the emphasis my informant puts on the fact that no one wants to talk about it: there is a sort of code of slice related to it, which, somehow, recalls the concept of homeopathic magic, in the sense that, if you do not talk about this and you completely dissociate yourself from it, you cannot be touched or affected from the bad energies the place emits. Plus, it is also a form of protection against the bed memories the people of the place have related to the war and specifically the Nazi occupation of the territory. 

Oh Bella Ciao

“Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao!
Una mattina mi son svegliato
e ho trovato l’invasor.

O partigiano portami via,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
o partigiano portami via
che mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e se io muoio da partigiano
tu mi devi seppellir

Seppellire lassù in montagna,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
seppellire lassù in montagna
sotto l’ombra di un bel fior.

E le genti che passeranno,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e le genti che passeranno
mi diranno «che bel fior.»

Questo è il fiore del partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
questo è il fiore del partigiano
morto per la libertà”


One morning I awakened,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.

Oh partisan carry me away,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.

And if I die as a partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.

Bury me up in the mountain,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and all those who shall pass
will tell me “what a beautiful flower.”

This is the flower of the partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
this is the flower of the partisan
who died for freedom


L.S: “This was sang by the partisans during the…the time of victory. When American troops arrived and the German occupation ended, partisans and soldiers and…a bit everyone actually sang this song. It represented liberation.”

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. Because of the time and location of her birth, she fully experienced the years of the Second World War, her town and own house being occupied both by German and American troops. This song recalls to her memory that chaotic and intense age, and especially evokes the sensation of freedom, relief and liberation felt when the end of the conflict was announced. Still today, when she is about to turn 90, she perfectly remembers the lyrics of the song, which remains in the collective imaginary as the emblem of resistance and liberty.


My informant and I were having a tea in her living-room and when I asked her if she knew some folk-songs she immediately started to sing it.


This song is a popular Italian hymn to freedom and liberty, known by everyone for its correlation to partisans and World War 2’s cease-fire. However, not many people know that its musicality, its rhythmic organization of verses, and part of its lyrics were taken by more ancient folk-music of the peninsula. The most glaring similarity can be noticed in a song which carries the same title and which was sang by Mondine, rice weeders, who would perform it as work-song during the long hours spent in paddies. 

This song, because of its evolution and its significance, perfectly reflects the definitions of folklore, that is “artistic communication in small groups” and “multiplicity and variation”. While the latter seems quite self-explanatory -especially considering the previously-mentioned past influences and  the various versions existent-, the first one presents itself as more interesting to analyze. In fact, Bella Ciao was transformed, throughout time, from a form of expression between members of a specific and relatively small community, that is rice weeders, into a chant performed by a wider group of people, joined by the same purpose: fighting for the liberation of their country. Later on, it was translated into an actual nationalistic hymn, in which, for a reason or another, the vast majority of Italians recognized a sense of identity. This last affirmation is further confirmed by a more recent factor, which is due to the mash-ups and remixes done after its usage in the famous tv series Money Heist. As a matter of fact, after its utilization in the television drama, the folk-song began to be played in major clubs, discos and musical events worldwide, being continuously remixed and modified depending on the DJ’s tastes and the audience’s ‘satisfaction index’. 

A question now naturally arises: considering the original meaning, isn’t its usage in a Spanish series a sort of cultural appropriation, or better, distortion?