On Monday Martin Adler, 97, returned to the European country and was able to hug the three Italian siblings that he nearly mistook for hiding German soldiers in the Apennine Mountains 77 years ago.
This week the group was reunited at Bologna airport, northern Italy — fulfilling Adler’s dream.
Adler, who lives in Miami, Florida, said he was delighted to see the siblings again, Matteo Incerti, author of a book on the story of the veteran who helped to organize the trip, told CNN.
In December, Adler’s daughter, Rachelle Adler Donley, told the story of the wartime encounter on a Facebook page set up as part of efforts to raise funds for her father’s trip to Italy.
“While searching for hiding Germans, my father Martin Adler and John Bronsky (deceased), saw a large closed basket moving and making noise. No one came out even after they were warned,” her Facebook post reads.
“It was just at that moment a woman came running into the room shouting ‘Children, children, children.'”
“She put her stomach against my father’s thomson sub machine gun. Then three small beautiful children emerged from that basket. They were just seconds away from a tragedy of taking young, innocent lives. Relieved and overcome with joy, my father hugged the children.”
Adler asked the woman if he could take a photo of her children, according to his daughter’s post.
“Their mother agreed, but only after they changed into their Sunday best clothes,” Donley wrote. “For seventy-seven years, Martin has cherished that photo and always wondered about them.”
In December, Donley posted the photograph on the internet asking various World War II veterans groups to help identify the children.
Incerti helped to amplify the appeal and, “by the magic of social media,” the three “bambini” — children — from the photo were found living just miles from the old house they were hiding in when Adler found them, in the village of Monterenzio, near Bologna.
The three Naldi siblings, Bruno, 83, Giuliana, 82 and Mafalda, 79, welcomed Adler and are planning to spend some time with him in their village. Like Adler, they are now grandparents and great-grandparents.
Bruno Naldi was 7 years old when the picture was taken. In a phone interview with CNN on Tuesday he described the recent encounter with Adler as “beautiful,” and confessed he got emotional when Adler gave each of them a chocolate bar, as US soldiers used to do during World War II.
He and his sisters weren’t aware of the existence of the original picture until last December, when his niece saw the photo on the evening TV news bulletin, Bruno Naldi told CNN. It was followed by Donley’s appeal for help to identify the “bambini” and Bruno Naldi’s niece recognized her mother, uncle, and aunt.
Adler is an American Jew of Hungarian origins. He was raised in the Bronx and at the age of 20 flew to Italy to fight the Nazis as part of the 85th Infantry Division.
During his time in Italy he made dozens of photos and drawings which have been collected by Incerti in his book, “Martin’s Children.”
Adler will spend almost two weeks in Italy, visiting Bologna, Monterenzio, Florence, Rome, and Naples. In each place he will make drawings for charity.