It's been more than 75 years since they met, but World War II veteran Martin Adler never forgot the three Italian siblings he saved while they were hiding from the Nazis — and now that they have been reunited, Adler knows they remembered him fondly, too.
Adler, now 97, was just 20 when his company entered the village of Monterenzio in 1944. The Nazis were retreating, and when Adler heard a noise coming from a large wicker basket outside of a house, he believed there was a German soldier inside, he told The Associated Press. He pointed his gun at the basket, and suddenly, a woman threw herself in front of the weapon, shouting, "Bambinis!"
The woman's three children — ages 3 to 6 — were tucked away in the basket, hidden from the Nazis. "The mother was a real hero," Adler said. "Can you imagine you standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming 'Children! No!'" After the kids emerged from the basket, Adler gave them all American chocolate bars, relieved that he hadn't opened fire. His company remained in Monterenzio for some time, and the children — Bruno Naldi, Giuliana Naldi, and Mafalda Naldi — would often play with him. When he returned to the United States, Adler brought back a photo he took with the Naldi children.
Later, Adler shared with his own kids stories about the war, and during quarantine last year, his daughter Rachelle Donley decided she wanted to track down the children in the photo. She started circulating the picture, and an Italian journalist picked up a small detail in the image that led him to believe it was taken in Monterenzio. The photo was published in a local newspaper, and the Naldis — all grandparents themselves now — found out about it.
The siblings and Adler chatted by video in December, but on Monday were able to reunite in person, with Adler flying from his home in Florida to Bologna. They were all delighted to be together again, and their families were also excited to get to know one another. "I am so happy and so proud of him," Donley said of her father. "Because things could have been so different in just a second. Because he hesitated, there have been generations of people."