Adele Zampolin was born on October 3, 1922 in the hamlet of Baseglia on the outskirts of the larger town of Spilimbergo, commune of Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy. Her family, the Zampolins, had resided there in since at least, per documentary evidence, the early 1700s.
Her parents were Luigi Zampolin of Baseglia and Teresa Sclippa of Casarsa Della Delizia. Her father was a civil engineer who, over the course of his career, helped to build countless bridges and other pieces of infrastructure throughout central Europe. Her mother was a homemaker and practitioner of herbal medicine. They together had 13 children. Adele was the last of the thirteen. The age difference between the children was so great, that the children of her eldest brothers, her nieces and nephews, were actually older than her.
The family resided on a family farm in the countryside of Baseglia. Being a girl in fascist Italy in the 1920s and 1930s meant her educational opportunities were limited. Though she loved school, she was continually taken away from it to support farming operations, mostly by bringing the workers food and water. What schooling she was able to get was at seamstress school. By such training and persistence, she eventually became a master seamstress and eventually would work in a silk factory.
The late 1930s and war years are perhaps the most consequential and complex of her life. Indeed, when World War Two commenced on September 1, 1939 she was only 16 years old – and residing in an Axis country; a point brought home by her briefly meeting Benito Mussolini and shaking his hand while he was touring Italy with the then great Italian boxer Primo Carnera, who came from Sequals, a town not far from Baseglia.
Following the surrender of Italy and the deposing of Benito Mussolino in 1943, the Germans moved to seize Italy and re-establish Benito Mussolino as the leader of the Italian Social Republic, better known as the Salò Republic. As part of this reorganization, Friuli was de-facto incorporated into the Nazi Reich. This generally meant that far from being part of Italy, Friuli was now German land and shortly to be full of Germans.
One of these Germans was Erwin Scheiwe. He was, as best as we can tell, a Feldwebel or technical sergeant in the Luftwaffe (German Airforce). Little of what he actually did is known, but it is known that he frequented the same cafe as Adele’s father, Luigi, in Spilimbergo. Luigi, owing to his career across central Europe, was fluent in German, the lingua franca of central Europe, and, as a consequence, was apparently on somewhat friendly terms with the new German occupiers.
As all of this upheaval was happening, Adele had her first child. Loretta was born in 1943. Loretta’s father was no where to be found, and Adele was looking at life as an unwed mother residing with her aging parents.
How or why Luigi ultimately invited Erwin to come to the family home in Baseglia is unknown. How or why Adele and Erwin came to be married, for the first time in 1944 (the marriage would be reconfirmed after the war), is unknown. But this is precisely what happened.
Matters became considerably more complicated when the Germans lost the war. With partisans, both local and those ranging in from Yugoslavia, patrolling the countryside, and Allied forces pushing north, it was a bad time to be a German. Erwin figured some way of escaping, surrendering his uniform, and running north with Adele to the unoccupied zone in Austria, presumably through the Brenner Pass. How this was accomplished through unfriendly territory is lost to history. Loretta, a child not more than two years old, remained in Baseglia with Luigi and Teresa.
The years after the war saw Adele and Erwin living in post-war Germany, in the area of Cologne. The post war years in Germany were brutal, and Adele experienced true privation and hunger. It was here in 1946 that her second child, Renate (Italianized to Renata), was born. Kept in a German sanitarium, Adele and Renata survived by way of care packages received from Adele’s siblings living in Canada.
Ultimately, they moved back to Italy where Erwin found work as a clerk for a mining operation in the small alpine town of Cave Del Predil. It was there that Adele’s third child was born – Vilma, later anglicized to Wilma – on a day in late February 1951, when the alpine snow was meters deep and the rest of the world walled off by the Alps and walls of ice. Wilma was born was pneumonia. She was quickly baptized and given last rites, to make her ready for what seemed to be imminent death. This was not to occur. Through the meters of snow, through the alpine passes, somehow Adele’s mother Teresa brought some medicinal concoction that cured Wilma.
Not long thereafter Erwin left for work in the United States. Adele and her three girls remained behind in Italy until 1958 when, following petitions and sponsorship by her brother Ray who was already US citizen, the family landed in Brooklyn on a dark and rainy March day. Seeing the gray, drab outline of New York that day, Adele wanted to go back; she had known the Alps! A priest onboard dissuaded her. She would never regret her decision. She would become a US Citizen at her first opportunity in 1965.
Erwin had been working in a delicatessen in Queens. Upon Adele and the rest of the family arriving, the former owners of the deli sold it to Erwin, and the deli was rechristened as Erwin’s Delicatessen. Adele and the family would work in the deli until 1970, when the deli was lost because the landlord refused to renew their lease.
It was after the loss of the deli that Adele found new work with Marriott In-Flight. This had her preparing meals for airlines to be served usually in first class. It was also at this time that, through and with her daughters Renata and Wilma, she traveled the world seeing much of Europe, Africa and the Far East (where, unknowingly, she once ate snake soup to her subsequent horror).
Adele finally retired in the late 1980s. After retiring much of her life was taken up with her many hobbies of cooking, crocheting, and gardening (she loved flowers), and tending to her many friends and grandchildren, being an almost permanent fixture in the life of her youngest grandson, Daniel. One of her greatest works would be Wilma’s wedding dress in 1985, made from scratch with silk and lace from Delancey Street in Manhattan. Erwin, however, would no longer be present. The marriage that came about for unknown reasons at a very complicated time came to an end in 1988.
As the years caught up to her the world that had once been so enormous began to shrink. Her longevity meant she outlived most of her contemporaries, her friends, and most of her family. She was indeed, the last of the 13.
Always close to her children, she became closest to Wilma. As her mind slipped, and the years weighed, her final residence was with Wilma at her home. She passed away shortly before 5PM on November 8, 2023, aged 101 years, one month and five days. Wilma was present to the end with her husband Anthony, and Adele’s home help aide, Veronica.
She is survived by her three daughters Loretta Ferraioli, Renata Corcoran and Wilma Mazzella;
Her six grandchildren, Francesca Ferraioli, Adele Kalter, Amanda Ferraioli, John Corcoran, Phillip Corcoran and Daniel Mazzella;
Her three great-grandchildren, Gemma Corcoran, James Corcoran, and Tonino (Anthony) Mazzella.
Requiscat in Pace, Nonni.