|In his book, Italian POWs and a Texas Church, Donald Mace Williams wrote, "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 seige of hunger dictated by government-ordered cutbacks in rations. The men called this episode la fame, and 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 nearby Umbarger. There, amid the small farms and hard-working German immigrants..., 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 friendship. This compassionate story of courage and kindliness is as enduring as the artwork that still graces the walls of a modest Catholic church in a Panhandle town."|
According to an article written by Anne Marie Kilday in the April 2002 Texas Co-Op Power, "the painted and carved murals of St. Mary's Church are the work of seven Italian prisoners. Their three paintings of the Virgin Mary and a wood-carving of the Last Supper were completed in only 41 days as World War II came to an end.
" ...the men who decorated the church refused to denounce Mussolini and declare allegiance to the king of Italy, and thereby to the Allied Forces. They agreed to do the art at the church 'on condition that our efforts should be considered as a personal performance for the sake of Christian brotherhood and of mutual comprehension.' However, the artists soon became enthusiastic about the project when the parish families began providing them with hearty noontime lunches and respect."
|St. Mary's in Umbarger, Texas, beneficiary of the Italian artists' painting and carving skills.|
|One of the twelve Stations of the Cross, left. When the Italians arrived at St. Mary's Church, all twelve were unpainted. They, along with numerous icons, borders, and backgrounds such as the one below, were painted during the 41-day "Interlude in Umbarger," as Donald Mace Williams titled the first edition of his book, Italian POWs and a Texas Church.|
Canvas of the Assumption of Mary, centerpiece of the art works left in St. Mary's Church at Umbarger by Italian prisoners of war.
|Some of the twelve stained glass windows donated by church families and installed by two of the Italian POWs. Each unique window was donated by a different parish family whose name can be found near the bottom of their window.|