maria pasquinelli

Obit of the Day: Revenge for Istria

For 700 years, the region of Istria was tossed back and forth between European powers. It bean in 1267 when it was annexed as part of the Republic of Venice. Over the next six centuries, as the continent evolved the rulers of Istria would change: Austria, Napoleon, and Austro-Hungary.

At the end of World War I during the infamous Paris negotiations, Italy was awarded the region, which did have a large ethnic Italian population who shared the area with ethnic Slavs.

During World War II, things changed dramatically - and horrifically. While Italy joined Germany and Japan as part of the “Axis” powers, neighboring Yugoslavia joined the Allies. As Italy began to weaken, the Yugoslavians in Istria took advantage and began an ethnic cleansing of the region.

The murders of Italians by the Slavic population were called the “Foiba” killings. “Foiba” was the native word for the sinkholes that dotted the Istrian landscape. The sinkholes made for convenient mass graves.

Maria Pasquinelli was one of numerous Italian residents of Istria who helped to dig up the dead  - at one point she discovered a grave filled with the bodies of 200 soldiers - and give them a proper reburial. 

Many Italians fled the region and then when the second treaty of Paris was signed following World War II, even more left as it was determined that Istria would be handed over to Yugoslavia. The official hand over took place on February 10, 1947*.

The ceremony was to be presided over by Brigadier-General Robert de Winton of the United Kingdom. On that day in February, General Robert de Winton drove to the ceremony and as he got out of his car, Maria Pasquinelli, furious that Yugoslavia was rewarded for their actions, came up behind him and shot three times. The general was hit in the heart and died instantly.

Mrs. Pasquinelli was immediately arrested and charged with the murder. She was sentenced to death. Pressure from Italians forced the sentence to be commuted to life in prison. Even that was reduced.

Having become a folk hero in northern Italy, Mrs. Pasquinelli was pardoned  in 1964. She would spend the rest of her life in Trieste, located a few miles north of her beloved Istria, feted until the end of her days.

Maria Pasquinelli died on July 3, 2013 at the age of 100.

Sources: Telegraph and Wikipedia

(Image fo Maria Pasquinelli, circa 1953, is courtesy of

* When Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991 Istria became a point of political conflict between the newly formed countries of Slovenia and Croatia.