Buildings destroyed by bombs, faces filled with despair, stoic soldiers, a worn-out Benito Mussolini, Pope Pius XII wading into a crowd of Allied troops, and a glamorous Marlene Dietrich performing atop a piano in a military hospital: these are only a few of the 140 photos showing the long, difficult process of liberating Italy from fascist rule.
The photos are part of the exhibition "War Is Over!," which runs until April 10 at the Forma Meravigli center in Milan, Italy. Their visual narrative begins in July 1943, with the arrival of Allied troops in Sicily, and ends on April 25, 1945, the official date of the liberation.
By the time the Allies landed, Italy was a country torn apart. Its people were exhausted, gripped by both fear and hope.
"The story of Italy that emerges from this dual viewpoint is both tragic and glorious. It is a story filled with courage and defeat, fear and joy, desperate violence and the overwhelming desire to live. It is the story of a country that is preparing for the best post-war years, marked by the triumph of democracy, the incredible movie industry, reconstruction, and the quest for wealth," write the exhibit's curators Gabriele D'Autilia and Enrico Menduni.
Through black-and-white images gathered by the Istituto Luce and color images from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, visitors can see both sides of World War II's devastating effects. The exhibit also contains photos and film clips that had previously been censored.
The photos taken by the U.S. Army, which are normally housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, portray an Italy beginning to transform, swept by the breath of fresh air that was the "American way of life." A renewed vitality can be seen in the images of soldiers smiling at children, well-dressed women, views of the horizon and faces full of hope.
At the other end of the spectrum are the photos of the Istituto Luce, once the official photographic instrument of the fascist regime and still an important source of historical documentation. In shades of gray, they show fascism's decline and the ruins of war.
Photo captions have been translated and presented as they appear in the exhibit.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.