Laura d’Oriano - further images

The fake identity paper used by Laura d’Oriano in wartime Italy. Laura d’Oriano was a spy during World War 2 and was executed by the fascist government. She was born in Istanbul in 1911, daughter of Polycarpo d’Oriano (born in Izmir in 1886) and Aida Caruana (born in Malta in 1890). She was a naturalized Swiss Italian secret agent, collaborator of the Allies during the Second World War. She was the only woman to have been sentenced to death in Italy, whose judgment was then performed (other women have suffered the same sentence, but then their lives were spared).

A lady of considerable beauty, charm and intelligence, she used her feminity as a seduction technique in order to obtain information and to enter circles that would otherwise have been inaccessible. And yet, in contrast to other “Mata Hari” figures of the time, hers is a not a story of high society and romance, so much as one of real danger and incompatible contradictions. Driven by financial problems and by an insatiable spirit of adventure, as well as a desire for liberty that led her to abandon her husband and two young daughters, Laura D’Oriano was sentenced to death at the age of 30, She was executed at Forte Bravetta in Rome in January 1943, carrying her mysterious and fascinating story to the grave.

Laura was the first of five children of the couple. Given the father’s occupation as a musician, the D’Oriano family was forced to travel a lot, and through that managed to escape to the various conflicts that erupted in Europe at the time. At the end of the 1920s Polycarp d’Oriano decided to start a business importing and exporting musical instruments at the port of Marseilles. In this way the family was no longer forced to travel. But Laura, aged 17 years and having acquired the knowledge of five languages, wanted to leave for Paris for a career as a singer.

Attempts to become a singer did not achieve the expected success. Back in Marseille, Laura d’Oriano met a Swiss citizen, Emil Fraunholz, a man fled from Switzerland to avoid military service. The two married in Marseille on 18 August 1931: by doing so, Laura automatically acquired Swiss citizenship. Fraunholz was an enigmatic figure: he was always seeking ways to make money, such as taking money to sort letters from soldiers who fought on the African front. Later the couple moved to Grasse, Alpes-Maritimes, where they opened a grocery store. The following year, they had their first daughter, Renee, a year later laura gave birth to another daughter, Anna.

The family environment became gradually more and more heavy and Fraunholz proved too jealous and possessive, D’Oriano was also uncomfortable with her role as mother and eventually convinced herself not to be brought to the duties that this entails. Not only that but she persuaded her husband and her parents to move to Nice. However, the burdensome weight of a family business became untenable and in 1935 on a spring night and secretly, D’Oriano left the marital home. She would never see her daughters again. At that point Fraunholz, desperate and furious at the choice of his wife, returned to his native Switzerland, in Bottighofen, the country where he grew up.

In 1938, D’Oriano went back to Paris in search of work, hoping to earn enough money even to continue singing lessons. She found a job as a representative of ladies’ hats, and as a typist at a construction company. However, the situation was still difficult as the war approached: it turned only a little money, also D’Oriano, being a foreign citizen, began to have problems with residence permits.

With the war once again forced to flee the recently occupied Paris in August 1940, D’Oriano went back to Nice. The residence permit had expired and was in serious danger as it would be enough for a routine check of police for her to be arrested. He met a certain Daniel Petard who gave her work as a typist in his business. One evening Petard, who went to the house of D’Oriano, he peppered with questions about her life. It was actually a sort of "test", so that eventually he did sign a document in which she undertook to pay a "little help" if needed.

It is believed that thi was when D’Oriano became a spy, when she was introduced to Simon Cotton as part of the "Défense du territoire" (the police) and British intelligence secretly infiltrated. Cottons subjected her to a sort of interrogation: D’Oriano appeared rather agitated. Cotton asked how many languages?she spoke, for example, and if among them there was German, but the D’Oriano could not speak this language. Cotton then asked her if she had enough food for their livelihood, gave her 300 francs, and said that he would take care of preparing all the documents. She had to apply for a visa to go to Italy, but in the end the visa was denied.

From January 1941, according to reports in the Italian archives, D’Oriano was sent to Paris on a mission to try to try to steal information from the German officers.

In the spring of 1941, D’Oriano left for Bordeaux. Indeed, it was there that she accepted his first real mission. D’Oriano was appointed to monitor the movements of Italian submarines in the Italian base Betasom. To carry out the assigned task, D’Oriano sent postcards periodically to the Little Hotel in Toulouse by writing sentences seemingly innocent, but which in reality was a code. The recipient was a certain Monsieur Sabloirolle, who also arranged for D’Oriano the documents for her new identity, namely that of Louise Fremont called "Loulou", a professional singer and dancer. Betasom was impossible to enter as a base, however it was very easy to meet the soldiers in the city. The mission lasted a total of two months.

In September 1941, D’Oriano was back to Nice where he met for the second time Cottons, who declared himself satisfied with her work and rewarded her with 4,000 francs. In early October the Cottons proposed to D’Oriano a broader mission in Italy. In this regard, she was conducted to Marseille where she was introduced to Cosik, a British secret agent who was in charge of recruiting spies in the local area of ??Marseille. Cosik wanted D’Oriano signal the location of ships and what happened in the construction of the ports of Genoa and Naples and also to describe the damage caused by Allied bombing. D’Oriano accepted the mission. Cosik accompanied D’Oriano to Briancon, near the Italian border, waiting for the person who should lead her to Italy. Cosik gave her a manual to study the distinctive signs of conventional ships and submarines. Moreover, the D’Oriano was provided with another false identity set of documents, namely that of Laura Fantini.

On the night between 11 and 12 December 1941 D’Oriano crossed the French-Italian border by foot at the Montgenevre pass. She rested in Cesana Torinese, then from there took a bus to Sauze d’Oulx which went to Turin and then to Genoa. There she stayed at a private home: D’Oriano had a letter to be delivered to a certain Mary Tallentire. The first mission only served to inform her arrival smoothly. The next day he went to the harbour, from which he could see the cruiser Bolzano and the battleship Littorio moored.

On December 14 she sent her first letter report. As directed, D’Oriano had to prepare standard letters written in Italian, which also required written reports in French with invisible ink from one line to another. Then she had bagged the message in an envelope addressed to Aldo Rossetti, a stockbroker of Modane. That same bag was then be placed in another envelope addressed to Emilio Brayda, another broker, but in Turin. Brayda provided by railway staff would be complacent to deliver the letter to Rossetti, who then would be sent to Marseilles to Cosik. In all, the D’Oriano stayed in Genoa two days, then departed by train to Naples.

D’Oriano and other people involved, however, suspected that an informant active in France had already warned the Italian counter-espionage of a spy from France in Genoa. Therefore, the Carabinieri, with the arrival of D’Oriano in town, were ready shadowing her. However, they did not yet know her true identity and limitd themselves to follow her every step. In any case, all messages that D’Oriano sent from Italy were intercepted, deciphered and altered.

The key figure of the Italian counter-intelligence to France at the time was the captain of the carabinieri Saraco Hector. He had not the wish to stop enemy agents as soon as they were identified, but was limited initially to follow the tracks to spy on their behavior and get more information. Then, at the appropriate time, the victim was caught and was given two options: either act as a double agent, or was arrested and sentenced to death. Saraco for a couple of months was aware of the Brayda Rossetti thanks to the arrest of another agent who worked for them in Italy.

On the morning of December 15, 1941 D’Oriano reached Naples then taking a room in a boarding house. The next day she thought of her mission, observing the port, but to which there were severe restrictions on access. To avoid any suspicion, D’Oriano boarded a tram where a young man boarded the train and then began a conversation. Towards the evening, always keeping the mission as a main goal, they met in a cinema, a noncommissioned officer of the Navy at the end they parted promising to meet again. The next day at dawn D’Oriano departed by train to Rome, still unaware of having the counter at her heels.

On 17 December the D’Oriano by necessity made an unforgivable mistake for a spy: she went to the house of her mother. With this move, (this was necessary because she had no money for train tickets), at which point the counter had no doubts about the true identity of the spy he trailed.

She remained with her mother for a period so serene that you nearly convinced to drop everything to return to France. On 19 December D’Oriano sent another letter to Brayda. This letter was intercepted and deciphered by the police; the letter contained information on the naval presence in Genoa and Naples. On 26 December the D’Oriano went by train to Naples, a city which she never reached. D’Oriano was arrested without resistance, and sent down to Littoria (modern Latin) station. The next day she was incarcarated at the Mantellate women’s prison in Rome and was found in possession of several forged documents on behalf of Laura Fantini, money and notes. She was later transferred to Turin to be questioned.

After the arrest of D’Oriano Brayda was also arrested, as well as others. But Rossetti was able to remain in hiding for almost a year before being arrested himself. D’Oriano remained in custody for more than a year. The father Polycarp, who meanwhile had separated from his wife, tried to free her daughter in every way, even ex-husband Emil and even writing to the Swiss government, but no one lifted a finger. Polycarp could not even see his daughter.

The trial took place in Rome January 15, 1943. The court was instructed to judge as a Special Court for defending the state. The court first requested an expert to give an estimate of the level of hazard of the information that D’Oriano had passed to the enemy. Polycarp could not afford a lawyer. The Special Court for defending the state, was in fact a political court. The trials held by the court were show trials: the sessions were not public, the judges were fascists in black shirts and the president of the court, who by 1932 was Antonino Tringali Casanova, agreed in advance the judgment with the Duce. Not surprisingly, therefore, that the judgment of the trial came after a single day. Emilio Brayda was acquitted (later accepted the counter-recruitment in Italian intelligence). Rossetti was sentenced to fifteen years in prison (thanks Bruno Cassinelli lawyer who actually was an influential member of the Fascist party and a spy for OVRA). On the other hand Oriano was sentenced to death by firing squad.

At 6.15 am on 16 January 1943, D’Oriano met a priest to whom she confessed. A few minutes later she was brought before a firing squad, a department of the Voluntary Militia for National Security. The commander Mario De Mari read aloud the sentence. At 7:07 the shooting was done. D’Oriano was buried in a mass grave. Only in 1958 was her father Polycarp found it and re-interred her in the Verano cemetery in Rome, where he was buried himself in 1962, beside his daughter.

This story for this Levantine woman was filmed as a documentary in Italy.