Soaring Food Prices on Italian Black Market
Present Difficult Problem for AMG Officials
By THOMAS R. HENRY,
Stir Stiff Correspondent.
AMG HEADQUARTERS, Italy
(By Aerial Courier).—Beyond ques
tion, lota of Italians are hungry.
In the cities the long bread lines
before bakeries start forming at
daybreak. Ragged, shivering house
wives stand in the cold dawn, ration
cards in hand. Each is sustained
by the hope that at last she will gel
a break of luck and be able to buy
a single loaf of bread for her hungry
children for 3 cents.
The chances are against her. The
probability is that when she gets to
the counter she will be told that
the day's supply is all sold. But
perhaps the baker's clerk will wink
c t her when he says "finite." She
knows what that means and groans
at the harsh alternative it offers.
It means that, if she steals fur
tively into the squalid back alley
• behind the bakery, knocks three
. times on the door or gives some
similar accepted signal, the clerk
will slip her a loaf of bread for 20
times the official price—her hus
band's wages for at least one and
nrobabl.v two days. Otherwise the
kids can go hungry.
Maybe this particular clerk Is an
honest fellow. But she knows a
"bootlegger'’ up some other alley.
Everybody knows a "bootlegger." I
myself am stopped on the street
four or five times a day bv "beef
who want to sell a dinner for $4 or
$">. They overrun the hotels with
loaves of bread in their black bags.
Everybody in this particular city,
it would seem, is either a bootleg
ger or a bootlegger's victim. How
clean and decent was the prohibi
tion era in the United States com
pared to this? The back alley hip
pocket merchant of the lawless
1920s was relatively an honorable!
gentleman. But there can no longer'
pe any question as to where he got
tne techniques of his trade, for this
has been the condition in Italy for
s long time.
This is the "black market.” It is
the hydra-headed monster with
which AMG officers must cope and
for whose sins it sometimes must:
take the blame in the minds of
Italians eager for a scapegoat. Here
it is the accepted order, and lias
hern for a long time. Folks accept
it as a matter of course.
The bootlegger hauled before an
AMG court and given a stiff sen
tence is righteously indignant.'
Hasn't he paid his protection money
to tlie police? What more should
be required of an honest black mar
ket operator growing rich off swol
lien-bellied, rickety children?
One of the loudest protesters the
other day was a fellow who had a
record of 60 convictions for bread
bootlegging in the last few years.
Each time he had pleaded guilty,
paid n fine of 50 or 60 lire, and gone
on operating. This time he got a
year in jail.
Hundreds Complain to AMG.
Such has been the morality of
Fascism. Hundreds complain to
AMG of the extortions of their boot
leggers. When asked to make spe
cific complaints they draw back in
terror. Of course, they don't want
their own bootlegger arrested. If
he goes to jail, where will they get
bread? No other bootlegger will
take a chance dealing with an in
Besides even the victims who com
plain of the system seem to think
it is the individual's right to graft
if he pleases. They want the black
market eliminated, but not the
black marketeers. Twenty or 30
bootleggers may be arrested every
day. Twenty or 30 others who have
been awaiting an opening will at
once take their places.
Elimination of bootlegging by
jailing bootleggers probably would
mean eventually supporting about
half the population in jail. Honest
citizens, of whom there are a few',
openly advocate a much more stren
Black market conditions at least
would be ameliorated slightly, they
say, if every bootlegger caught were
given an immediate trial without
too much regard for fine points of
the law' and shot the same day.
The methods of AMG drawn from
the traditions of democracies never
will work with their own graft-con
ditioned people, they believe.
Hungry Expected Utopia.
There is a general impression that
conditions have grown worse since
the armistice and that the allied
military authorities are in some way
to blame. Apparently the only basis
for this is that hungry people ex
pected Utopia at once and are ill
naturedly disappointed that they
haven't gotten it.
Despite the complaints of mal
nutrition of which one can see signs
everywhere, surveys show that un
der AMG the general health of the
people of Sicily is better than it
has been for years—a result partly
due to sanitary measures adopted
by the armies for their own pro
tection and partly to British and
American military doctors who. in
keeping with the traditions of their,
profession, have ministered to the
poor entirely outside the line of
Bread is truly the staff of life
in Sicily and much of Southern
Italy. Ordinarily the wheat crop
is just about sufficient for the pop
ulace. Conditions began to get bad,
it appears, in 1942 when there was
a poor wheat crop. The Fascist
government subsidized bread so that
it could eventually be sold to the
populace for about two cents a loaf.
This had kept down much popular
But with a wheat scarcity, the
farmers began concealing wheat
from the government inspectors. It
apparently wasn’t difficult to hide
a barn full of wheat standing by
the side of the road. The bread
black market got under way with
a vengeance. It became worse this
year with another poor wheat crop,
being harvested at just about the
time of the invasion. Apparently
the only way to break It is to root
out all the enormous quantities of
wheat hidden away—this would re
quire a lot of soldiers—and bring in
enough more from abroad to flood
One Shipload Received.
Thus far one shipload has been
brought in by AmG. It was placed
on the market under such restric
tions that it would reach the hungry
public in the form of 3-cent bread.
Every miller or wholesaler to whom
the wheat was distributed had to
make a strict accounting. But after
a few days it was apparent that a
lot of this wheat, brought in for hu
manitarian reasons at the cost of
shipping space badly needed for mil
itary supplies, was finding its way
on the black market.
Some of the facts revealed by the
investigation have sadly shaken the
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faith of AMO officers In human
nature. One miller, for example,
deliberately had disposed of half
the supply he received to the boot
leggers. He had covered up the
deficiency which an inspection was
bound to expose by mixing with the
half he retained an equal quantity
of the flour-like white dust which
is thick over everything in Sicily
in the fall. It didn't make very
good bread. Another had mixed
his supply half and half with fine
sawdust. Soth these men were
righteously indignant when they
went to Jail. How’ was business to
continue, they, asked, with such
The lialian army collapsed in
Sicily. This was partly due to the
fact that the soldiers of some regi
ments literally were starving. Fair
ly adequate rations, from Italian
standards, had been furnished for
them. The quartermasters had de
liberately slipped a good share of
these rations on the black market.
The quartermasters stood high in
the party. The soldier paid 3 cents
a day couldn't deal with the boot
leggers. He could become a boot
If he stood well with the party
organization of the regiment he got
away with it. No wonder most of
them were eager to surrender for a
square meal. It would have required
a patriot indeed to have fought for
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ifflcers whose main concern was i
cheating him out of hii miserable,
There is, of course, the possibility
of Importing wheat and having it
milled by soldiers, baked by soldiers,
and distributed to a hungry popu
lace by soldiers at the points of
bayonets in readinesa to Jab the
numerous bootleggers who would be
bound to sneak into line. This is
what many Italians advocate. They
say it is what they expected when
the armistice was signed and is why
they hailed the Allied armies as
deliverers. But, say AMG officers
It is not their function to protect
Italians citizens from each other
The job would require more division!
than now are fighting the Germans
for win# brings folks
good choor... ond
those days that's
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that’s doubly welcome. A cheering
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simple wartime meals taste better. Ask
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fornia. Your friends will praise your choice.
Wine Advisory Board, San Francisco.
J THESE ARE
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