Horst Fantazzini

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Horst Biography
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fantazzini family
Fantazzini Family, 1940

Horst was born in Altenkessel in the Saar region of Germany on 4th March 1939, son of Alfonso "Libero" Fantazzini, a Bolognese anarchist partisan and bricklayer, and Bertha Heinz, a factory worker.

The name Horst means "refuge" and this was the name chosen by his father who was himself a political refugee.

Libero barely managed to provide for his family as he was forced to be forever on the run, having robbed a bank in order to finance the Resistance and being hunted by the fascist police all over Europe, including the Gestapo.

His elder sister, Pauline, was sent to live with relatives in Bologna before the end of the war.

Bertha struggled to survive and provide for the young Horst by working at the fruit and vegetable market by day and sewing bags by night.

horst at 18 years old
Horst at 18 years old

Horst spent the early years of his life under the bombardments and in 1945 came back to Italy. Bologna was destroyed. This devastating experience was to mark him for his whole life.

He tried his hand at boxing and at cycling, something he was quite successful at, even winning regional competitions.

Due to the extremely difficult conditions which affected his family, he left school and started work at an early age as a porter, or working in factories or offices. But his miserly wages and the humiliating work conditions led him to abandon the life of a wage slave. Before making his big leap, he carried out a series of small thefts, of bicycles and morotbikes, and then cars.

When he was 18 worked as barman and married a very young girl, Anna, who - two years later - was pregnant with their first child. In order to provide a decent standard of living for his young family, he carried out his first robbery with a toy pistol at the Corticella post office. He was arrested in a stolen car and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. That was 1960.

In 1965, while out on leave, his second child was conceived, but due to the adverse conditions Anna was suffering from health problems and left Horst in order to go back to her home town, Naples, where she received hospital treatment.

Free once again, Horst worked for a while as a pizza chef and barman, but then went back to robbing banks, this time a bank in Genoa. However, he was unsiccessful and was arrested even before he got into the bank.

He spent a few months in prison, during which he learnt that his mother had died from a heart attack, but he was not allowed to go to her funeral. Horst decided to escape for the first time, using that most classic of methods - bedsheets tied together.

It was 1967 and Horst had been on the run for months. He carried out several robberies in northern Italy. During one of these, he became known as the "kind bandit" - one of the cashiers fainted during the robbery, and the next day he sent her a bunch of roses. After that, he decided to leave the country and went to stay with relatives in Germany.

Between 1967 and 1968 he wrote a series of mocking letters to the Italian police and he was labelled the "Red Pimpernel". And what was this dangerous criminal wanted by half the police in Europe doing? As soon as he reached Paris he went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. He lived in a luxury villa in Mannheim with his young partner... a refined dandy, the height of elegance, driving sports cars, hopping between France, Germany and Italy acquiring millions which he carried around with him on his first-class air flights.

In 1968 he was again arrested while trying to rob a bank in Saint-Tropez. After several years of turture and harassment in French prisons (which were particularly inhuman - after one prison revolt in Clairveaux, several detainees were guillotined) he attempted once again to escape to Aix-en-Provence with his wrists still chained together. After that, Van Gogh's little brother didn't run for quite some time. From that moment on the doors to his cage were closed for ever: he was never again to be quite free.

Horst continued to jeer the judges, calling them "guard-weasels" (a reference to their ermine robes) during hearings, something which was to win him (many) more years in prison.

In 1972, thanks to a lawyer, Leone, he was extradited to Italy where he once again say Anna and his children. Them in 1973 he made an attempted escape from Fossano prison, near Cuneo, injuring three guards and keeping another two pinned down, but it was just a bluff: he was armed only with a small-calibre Mauser and had only a couple of bullets left after injuring the other guards. All hell broke loose: as he was leaving the prison with the two hostages, just before he got to the car which would drive him out the prison gates he was attacked by the guard dogs and almost killed when marksmen opened fire on him. In fact, it was only thanks to one of the dogs that he wasn't hit fatally. After the incident he became deaf in one ear and the aneurism that eventually killed him was probably also a result of this incident.

He was operated on but the doctors failed to remove all the bullets, some of which remained in his body for years. He then began a long series of visits to half the prisons in Italy: he would be held in one prison infirmary only to be released and sent to a different infirmary in a different prison, and so on for months, without ever receiving the proper treatment and without his family or even his lawyers ever knowing where he was.

In Sulmona in 1974 he once more tried to escape. He climbed over the 5-metre-high boundary wall and with both feet broken he managed to crawl to the nearest church, holding the priest as hostage in exchange for agreement by the authorities that he could have the operation he needed.

horst at sulmona
Horst at Sulmona in 1974

In 1975, the Verona publisher, Giorgio Bertani, published Horst's book, "Ormai è fatta", a detailed recounting of his escape from prison on 23rd July 1973 from Fossano prison, which Horst took 48 hours to write on a small typewriter. The book was recently re-published by El-Paso/Nautilus.

Back in Bologna, Libero Fantazzini led his own battle against the journalists and once occupied the Torre degli Asinelli to protest against State repression of comrades.

They were intense times, the years of solidarity with prisoners which saw anarchists and many communists mobilizing for Fantazzini. His partner at the time, Valeria Vecchi, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for attempting to free him. Even the anarchist tennis player, Monica Giorgi, was subjected to fierce repression, accused of being a member of Azione Rivoluzionaria.

In the mid-'70s, thanks to General Dalla Chiesa, the Fornelli dell'Asinara bunker was inaugurated and was where all the rebels, communists and anarchists were sent. This led to the beginning of a collaboration between all the comrades, including the Brigate Rosse and Prima Linea, based on friendship and prisoner solidarity. But the legend as reported in the newspapers about Horst being a Brigate Rosse sympathiser was rubbish: he was close to some of its members, as people, but ideologically he was too distant from them and never embraced their cause. He always considered himself and individualist anarchist.

In 1978, following a serious beating at the hands of the police which left him nearly in a coma, he managed to smuggle out (against the advice of the Brigate Rosse) a document on the Asinara Revolt which was later published by Anarchismo under the title "Speciale Asinara" successively "L'ipotesi armata".

There followed years of prison with periodic hard revolts in penitentiaries all over Italy, from Trani to Termini Imerese, from Palmi to Varese. Things were only to improve slightly over after the abolition in 1985 of the "special regime".

Widespread grassing by convicts and heroin were to lead to a decade where the struggles fell apart with a loss of all the drive, communication and passion where turned out to be far more deadly that any cruel coercive method.

Horst spoke out against the grass system and those who turned (with a series of wonderful satirical poems, many of which have unfortunately been lost) and re-worked an old prison saying: "As long as a man does not give up, he can still be won back".

In 1985, his eldest son was imprisoned for nearly two years on the word of an idiot. The grand old man Libero Fantazzini couldn't withstand the shock and died (the cruelty of the repressive system would not allow Horst even to go to the funeral), followed in 1993 by his anarchist partner from Piacenza, Maria Zazzi, who had fought in the war in Spain.

bologna, during a license, 1989
Bologna, during a license, 1989

In 1989, Horst had still not lost heart nor the will to live. He studied while in prison in Busto Arsizio and was close to getting his degree in literature from the University of Bologna when his old fondness for escape got the better of the books and led him to escape while out on leave. He would stay on the run for a year during which he carried out three more robberies, until he was re-captured in 1991 not far from Rome (despite not offering any resistence at his arrest - he was walking his dog at the time - the Messaggero newspaper described him as a dangerous terrorist) and transferred to Alessandria prison where he would remain for 10 years.

In Alessandria, he worked and dreamt at his computer that he was able to buy with the prize money from a literary competition in 1993, which he had won with a short story entitled "L'uomo cancellato" (The man who was wiped out). He worked as an advertising graphic designer for the Alessandria City Council and produced some excellent posters, designs and pamphlets, but above all many wonderful paintings which were also exhibited.

In 1999 he was moved to Bologna. Freedom was getting nearer thanks to a film called "Ormai è fatta", directed by Enzo Monteleone and inspired by Horst's book. Horst himself enthusiastically approved the screenplay for the film. A campaign was also launched for his release by his last partner, Pralina, and his eldest son, a campaign which atracted the whole anarchist movement and brought a great deal of attention to Horst's story. But at the Dozza prison too, his conditions were difficult and he was subjected to many arbitrary decisions, such as being refused a job. For a while, Horst agreed to be a part of the editorial committee of "May day" and thanks to his experience in graphic design he produced some magnificent works for the prison printing room, such as a book of recipes. On the request of Horst, his lawyer Luca Petrucci lodged an appeal for a pardon. Horst was then interviewed by various newspapers and television channels and there were two parliamentary interrogations. He received his first leaves and later semi-freedom.

horst in bologna
Bologna, March 2001

He was living with Pralina and surrounded by his friends in the house in Via Roncrio that his father Libero had built. He found it very difficult to find a job as he was considered by many to be "untrustworthy", even by some fellow anarchists who treated him with a certain amount of diffidence, despite liking him.

pralina & horst
Pralina & Horst, May 2001

At any event, in 2001 he got a job thanks to some "communist comrades" working in the stockroom at the Altercoop, which deals with recycled paper. It was a job for which he was paid not by the Altercoop (because of its regulations), but by the prison service, which often made him wait a long time before actually paying him. And the job was also unsuited to his physical condition and to his character, where something requiring more imagination and technical skill - remember, he was very skilled in the use of computers. However, it was the only job available and, more importantly, the only way he was able to get out of prison.

On 19th December 2001, with his accomplice and long-time friend C. T., he tried to rob his last bank - a bank which had in reality been one of his first, the Agricola e Mantovana Bank. He was arrested before going in and he desperately tried to flee on his bicycle. Unfortunately out of his pocket fell a paper-cutter and a stocking and so in the space of a few short hours the fragile dream he had was shattered with unimaginable violence. His house was searched and he was sent back to prison, this time suspected of "terrorist activities". Apart from the enormous shock, his partner, Pralina, (they were not officially married) was also faced with the insurmountable problem of getting to speak to Horst.

Bologna 2001, 19th December

Although Horst was not beaten up (the bruises on his body were the result of the fragility of his minor blood vessels), his health took a turn for the worst due to the stress caused by the arrest and his condition quickly worsened. He died in the hospital wing of Dozza prison on 24th December at 7.30pm. The cause of death was given as an "abdominal aortic aneurism".

During the arraignment to confirm his arrest, knowing that he was nearing the end of his life Horst told his lawyer that he wanted to "leave the house to Pralina", but there wasn't enough time for the lawyer to visit him again with a new will.

A non-religious funeral for Horst was held in Bologna on 29th December 2001 while at the same time there was a demonstration held outside Dozza prison.

Horst was cremated. At least this wish was respected.

For all the complicated legal goings-on, the various charges against him made somewhat worse by the acusation of "terrorism", meant that Horst would probably have spent years and years in prison (according to Home Affairs Ministry papers that Enzo Monteleone managed to obtain in 1999, Horst was destined for release in February 2017). Adding to that the other recent charges, it seems that Horst could have been in prison until 2024, but he mamanged to escape for good... one last time.

traduzione di Nestor McNab