Lulù: the inconvenient rebel

By now, more than seventy years have passed since the end of the Second World War, but in Langa, the memory of that period is still alive. While thinking about the set-up of a small cave dug out of the Lirano marl, stories of war the come to mind, passed down by grandfathers, family members and the local older generation. The damp chill of this cave makes these thoughts still more vivid, who knows how many partisans took refuge in these hidden chambers…

The high-profile figure that immediately springs to mind is Lulù, a young, fascinating, courageous partisan, a lover of risk and disguises, a romantic hero who carried out a personal form of resistance to Nazi-fascism. Luis Chabas, known as Lulù, was captured by the fascists, tried in the Special Tribunal and imprisoned in Fossano. He escaped 11 September 1943 along with other French partisans. He then arrived in Langhe where, on the Dogliani hills, he constructed the “Lulù Team”.

His activities, hoaxes carried out under the most varied disguises – his favourite was that as a German Official, being perfectly fluent in the language – became legendary. He was killed on 9 February 1945 in Bene Vagienna, in a tragic misunderstanding, by G.L. (Justice and Liberty) partisans. Meeting him in the dark under the arcades of the town, disguised as a German official, the partisans did not hesitate to open fire, in spite of his attempts to make his real identity clear.

The following is a fascinating discussion of Lulù by Mario Marengo, a family friend and Langa history enthusiast:

The Lulù Mystery

His myth is still fully alive in Langa. Of course you have to find someone with white hair if you want to talk about this mythical figure from the resistance, his activities – which sometimes seem beyond belief –  and, especially, his death, which is still shrouded in doubts. This, which happened in a strange way, coming from friendly fire, from the beginning made one think of a conspiracy, of envy for such a famous person, surrounded by beautiful women and the palpable halo of a living legend perceivable when in his presence.  He was almost a mythological hero. But how did Lulù die that cold February night in 1945 in Benevagienna?  The official historiography records his death as a tragic mistake, that in any case he and his team were disguised as German soldiers, which could justify the error. There are however some aspects of the situation that remain unclear and cast doubt on the official version of events. Let’s analyse the facts: Lulù had an important meeting at 9 PM at a restaurant under the arcades. But no one ever arrived. Lulù heard some footsteps, took a flashlight and went to see if they belonged to the people he was waiting for, calling out: “it’s me, Lulù”, a round of machine gun fire was shot and Lulù died with a bullet hole in his forehead and another in his neck. The event was considered a fatal accident caused by partisans from Giorgio Bocca’s mountains.  They could justify themselves confirming that they did not know Lulù. But the partisans from the mountains had arrived in Monchiero in early January. Is it really possible that over more than a month they didn’t hear anything about Lulù, the partisan known by everyone for feats that continually fed people’s conversation? Giorgio Bocca himself admitted that he heard about Lulù while still in the mountains. Could there have been a good reason for killing him? Lulù was apolitical, and an apolitical leader was not very welcome, if not even considered dangerous during that phase of the politicalization of the Resistance. We know that Garibaldi’s Brigades followed a political school alongside their commissioner. The blue “fazzoletti” (literally, handkerchiefs) did not declare themselves politically but nor did they hide their loyalty to the King and their sympathy for the liberal party.  Each and every partisan formation pursued a political credo. An extremely popular mythical figure would have been an inconvenience. His audacity, his anarchy, his maverick behaviour could have all become embarrassing in a later phase of normalization. Could this man, once the war was over, have been an irritation and disrupt the politicians’ cards?  Would envy of his fame have been enough to lead to engineering the fatal ambush? One thing for certain is that Lulù fired his gun, but it got jammed. Perhaps Lulù knew who it was in front of him, perhaps he knew he had fallen into a trap. Maybe it is destiny that a mythical figure should encounter a tragically unexplainable death in his youth and at the height of his fame. For the people of Langa, the Langa of Dogliani, Lulù remains an icon, a story told by grandparents to their grandchildren, a story forever fascinating for its adventure and mystery. In this way keeping alive the deeds of a young, twenty-two year old Frenchman, one who kept the German army in check, operating in Langa, for more than twenty months. Commander Enrico Martini “Mauri” wrote of him:  “even Lulù died: the uncatchable, omnipresent, legendary Lulù. But it wasn’t the Germans, and nor the fascists, who struck him down.” Lulù was buried in France but his spirit continues to hover in the air of our Langhe, and when the wind blows strong it seems you can hear, far off in the air, the roar of his motorcycle.