Italian POWs and a Texas Church

The Murals of St. Mary's

By Donald Mace Williams
(Texas Tech University Press, Paperback, 9780896724709, 192pp.)

Publication Date: January 2001

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Description

While the tragedy of World War II played itself out in the cities and across the countrysides of Europe, a different drama took place in the Texas Panhandle, where three thousand Italian prisoners of war were interned in a camp at Hereford. In the last year of the war, the prisoners suffered a siege of hunger dictated by government-ordered cutbacks in rations. Only a handful of prisoners found a way to supplement their meager meals. Franco Di Bello, an Italian officer who spoke English, and a small band of fellow artists agreed to decorate St. Mary’s Church in the nearby town of Umbarger. There, amid the small farms and the hard-working German immigrants who had settled the area, the Italian POWs painted murals and carved figures reminiscent of the Renaissance. The good people of St. Mary’s provided the artistic Italians with a hearty meal each noon—feeding their thin bodies with an abundance of home-cooking and nourishing their souls with simple respect and friendship. This compassionate story of courage and kindliness is as enduring as the art work that still graces the walls of a modest Catholic church in a Panhandle town. This new edition of the book formerly titled Interlude in Umbarger has been released to coincide with the presentation of a musical drama, Bellini’s War, adapted from the story in these pages, with score by Steven Paxton and words by William Wenthe. “[This] story of Italian artists, U.S. prisoners of war, is a reminder that the truths in war lie in the human spirit. It is a must read for all who are on the path to peace.” —L. T. Matthiesen, Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Amarillo

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