As this story circulated on social media and in newspapers and television throughout the world in December 2020, it was dubbed “the Christmas miracle.” It is the story of the reunion of an American soldier stationed in Italy during World War II and the three Italian children that he saved.
In October 1944, 20-year old Martin Adler was among the United States troops liberating from the Nazis the area surrounding Monterenzio, a village in the Apennines near Bologna. He entered a cottage in Monterenzio hoping it did not hide German soldiers. But when he heard a noise coming from a large wicker basket, he was prepared to shoot. A panicked mother ran into the room shouting, “Don’t shoot…children, children!” Three siblings, about 3 to 6 years old, jumped out of the basket. Relieved, Adler asked if he could have a photo taken with the children using a camera he had with him. Their mother agreed, provided that she could dress them in their best clothes.
After the war, Adler suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He received a bronze medal for saving wounded people, but he also saw a lot of people die. Over the years, Adler jealously guarded the photo taken with the children as a precious memento of the war. He often wondered who they were and where they lived.
Now 96 years of age and living in Boca Raton, Florida, Adler asked his daughter, Rachelle, if she could find them. On December 12, she posted a message and the photo on a Facebook page for veteran soldiers who had been stationed in Italy. The message was seen by Matteo Incerti, a writer and journalist from the Emilia-Romagna region who has written a book on the Second World War. Incerti re-posted the message and photo and shared them with both local and national newspapers and television.
The next day, on the Feast of Santa Lucia, a woman notified Incerti on Facebook that an 83-year old man needed to talk with him about the photograph. Incerti recalls, “I took a deep breath and, moved, I called the phone number of a Mr. Bruno Naldi, born in 1937. Excited, he tells he that he recognized himself in the photo and that he remembers Americans in his house, in a hamlet of Monterenzio, in the Bolognese Apennines.” Bruno tells him that the two girls in the photo with him are his sisters Mafalda and Giuliana, born in 1938 and 1941. They are all three alive and live in Castel San Pietro, in the province of Bologna. While “the children” don’t remember taking the photograph that day, they never forgot the basket that they hid in and the chocolate that American soldiers had given to them.
Incerti immediately set up a video call between Adler and the three siblings. Recalling a few Italian words that he had learned during the war, the first thing Adler said to them was: “Hello children. Would you like some chocolate?” It was as if time had stopped. Bruno recalled that during the war he had gone to take refuge with his grandfather. Finally, he was able to reunite with his mother and sisters, and it was at this point that their lives crossed with Martin’s. In an emotional reunion, Adler said he would like to live to be 100 so that he can come to Italy to hug Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana when the pandemic is over. Adler said that he was “extremely happy…that photo reminds me of a very happy day, the happiest of the war. Finding them is the greatest gift for a soldier.” That night Bruno saw the images on the news again…and he cried.
For Incerti, who has solved similar cases in the past, this story will be the start of a new book. “Everyone is calling it a Christmas miracle,” he said. “It’s a fairy tale…a fable of life born in the darkness of war. In these dark moments of our time, we all need to find human warmth and love.”