The trains don’t run to San Marino any longer, the world’s oldest and smallest republic, and even if they did my great uncle wouldn’t have needed to get there. Though worrying close to the action for much of 1944, and receiving a bombing that same year that destroyed its only rail line, it remained neutral throughout World War II. It’s really all a microstate like San Marino can do.
The main route in and out, whether by rail or road, is via Rimini, an Adriatic Sea beach resort now swarming again with Germans and Englishmen. You can tell who is who by their skin: the Germans are a healthy bronze colour, the English pink. I am most generally taken to be local thanks to my month of tanning; I have been stopped by Jehovah’s Witnesses five times in as many days.
Having visited the obvious tourist attractions: the first tower, the second tower and the third tower, so important to the history of San Marino that they appear on its flag above the word ‘Libertas’, I wandered the tourist-free backstreets. They exist even in somewhere as small as San Marino. It was there that I stumbled upon the Emigration Museum. It was empty, and the lady at the desk seemed rather startled – though pleased – to see me.
The story of citizens leaving San Marino doesn’t sound particularly interesting, and to be fair, had the museum not been free to enter I wouldn’t have gone in. However, every story has a thread of interest in it somewhere.
This museum’s is the graph showing the number of passport applications made each year in the early part of the twentieth century. Essentially it is a low, flat line, indicating the statistician’s equivalent of a handful. But there are two exceptions. The first is immediately after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, when there is a spike in applications as citizens sought to leave the backward agrarian culture of the time for better lives elsewhere. Unfortunately, many headed for Germany, and had to turn back the other way less than a decade later with the outbreak of war.
And therein lies the secret of the second exception to the graph. It’s such a large exception that the museum has had trouble getting the bar in the same scale as the rest of the graph. As fascist Italy entered the war on the side of the Nazi regime, citizens of San Marino became rather eager to prove they weren’t Italians – facing conscription or imprisonment depending on how the war was going for each side – but citizens of a neutral, if tiny state.
It didn’t stop their only railway being bombed, but it does make for an interesting thread to a largely unknown history.