Special thanks to Rachel McNamara for the linguistic review and translation

For Part 1 of the series see –


Part 2 concentrates on Grazia’s first, the ‘black’ album dedicated to her figure-skating career

Title page of the Black Album
“Grazia the ice-skater – From 1938 to 1950”


Grazia started to skate at Palazzo del Ghiaccio, located in via Piranesi, near Grazia’s home, established in 1923, it was one of the very few ice rinks in Italy in the 1930s. Someone, perhaps a school teacher advised Giuseppe and Giovanna to introduce their frail daughter to skating, which was considered to be a good sport for a girl. In a short period of time, Grazia grew to love it …


Carlo “Carl” Fassi’s photos [1939]
with dedications
In the 1st photo, he calls her “my [skating] partner”
The caption says: “The Carlino I knew ..


Carlo & Grazia

After the first few pages of photos, Grazia is then photographed with Carlo “Carlino” Fassi [Milan, 1929 – Lausanne, 1997], her long-time pairs skating partner. After his retirement in 1954, Carlo embarked on a career as a trainer and in 1961, after the Sabena Flight 548 crash, in which the entire USA Figure Skating team died, Carlo moved to the States, where he trained many Olympic stars.



Of  course, growing up in early 1940s’ Milan meant growing up under the Fascist regime, which regulated all sports activities, as such Grazia joined the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio [GIL] ‘Fascist Youth’ as a “Piccola Italiana”.  Corriere della Sera wrote that during a 1941 GIL skating meeting in Milan the audience was captured by the 12-year old skaters Grazia and Carlo …




Grazia is the shortest girl, on the extreme right, close to her teacher Anna Dubini Cattaneo

All of the girls have the letter “M” on their tops, as a symbol of Milan




ONB creating a circle




During the Fascist regime, female sport, where possible [ie gymnastics and dance] has a strong preference on collective choreographic activities




Meanwhile, in May 1940, Mussolini declared war against the Allies. During 1942, Grazia was sent with the Italian National skating team to the Independent State of Croatia [NDH], the puppet state ruled by Axis, firstly, they went to Karlovac, then to Zagreb. They probably joined in with some Axis sports meeting, such as the friendly football match in Genoa between Italy and Croatia  on 5 April 1942, or the Campionati Sportivi della Gioventù Europea ‘Sports Championships of European Youth’, held in September 1942 in Milan [see ]. As the Corriere della Sera wrote on 29 March 1942, the Circolo Pattinatori di Milano, the skating club which Grazia and Carlo were members of, held a skate meet in Milan with Stranch and Noach, pairs skaters from Berlin, Marta Musilek [Vienna] and Erich Zeller [Berlin].

Grazia told me that they travelled by train, although the war was almost lost [Mussolini would lose his power in Summer 1943], the regime sent the two skating teenagers and their team-mates abroad, in order to “represent Italy”

Leaving for Croatia

Grazia is wearing the Italian National Team tracksuit.

In the team photos, Grazia and Carlo are the shortest ones.







Representing Italy in Karlovac




Note that Grazia [the 1st from the left] and her female mates are not wearing a dress with “Italia” written on it, but “Italia GIL”; the female roller skaters wore a similar dress at the Campionati Sportivi della Gioventù Europea. see


Note the Italian Flag in the third picture taken at the railway station

The Roman salute before the performance

Turin, 1942
“Ready to compete”

Turin, 1942
Carlo [3rd] and Grazia [4th] chatting as they fasten their skates

The Croatian adventure wasn’t the only sports propaganda in which Grazia and Carlo were involved. Since, in Italy there were so few ice rinks, the couple were sent all along Northern Italy (Bologna and Turin) to show the beautiful sport to the local audience, because there were no ice rinks, they had to skate on frozen ponds, in city parks …

















Despite the widespread nationalism in Fascist Italy, Grazia had foreign skating coaches. This can be easily explained, Milanese boys and girls were not from Italian Alps, such as Paula Wiesinger, the most important Italian skier of that time, and the country needed someone coming the region … In addition,  the Austrian Anschluss and the alliance with Nazi Germany surely helped this sporting connection in the early 1940s.

Harry Mayer Burghardt was a German or perhaps Austrian skater, who came from the Munich skating school and moved to Milan in 1938 to teach figure skating at Palazzo del Ghiaccio, for his biography, see , Thea Frenssen [Hamburg, 1895 – Oberammergau, 1980] 4 times German national figure skating champion [1913, 1914, 1917, 1918] trained a lot of skaters after her competitive career was over, including Gundi Busch and Ina Bauer. Gundi Busch [born in Milan, 1935] who may in fact be one of the younger girls in the photo, as Corriere della Sera wrote on 5 March 1954, Gundi started to take lessons with Thea Frenssen at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan in 1940 …




Seefeld [1942, or 1943]
“First lesson with Mrs. Frenssen








The handwritten dedication by Burghardt says:
“Cortina, 11 February 1943.
[You have to do] this jump 20, 30, 40 and more times every day; and you will inevitably succeed.
The same applies to everything in life!”.




Because of the war, which reached Northern Italy in 1943, Grazia stopped her training sessions in Milan, and moved to the frozen lakes of North Lombardy, such as Lake Maggiore.

Gravellona Toce or Stresa 1944

Grazia skating on ice, carving some figures
Gravellona Toce 1944

Source: Del Marco, Il pattinaggio e l’hockey sul ghiaccio (Milan, 1935), p. 42














Some mid-1930s’

compulsory figures





Grazia skating with a few Milanese girls, such as Costanza ‘Ciacia’ Vigorelli, and Aquilano sisters







The Black Album contains no photos from 1945, which was the worst but final war year for the Milanese people. In 1946, life could begin again …








A moment of fun between the mixed figure skating team and the male-only speed skating team: let’s play ice hockey! I asked Grazia about playing hockey; she said: “You know, it’s a quite mess, playing with that stick …” [Milan 1946]


In October 1948, after their Olympic adventure, Grazia and Carlo flew to London, where they had the chance to skate with many European champions, at Wembley Stadium [Empire Pool]. They didn’t speak any English: at that time, the main language taught in Italian school [Grazia was attending a Classical High School, in Milan] was French. Luckily, a pair of Swedes were going to help them …

The adventures of Grazia and Carlo in London, according to Wembley Presents.

‘Wembley Presents’ issue about Grazia and Carlo

“October 1948. London, Wembley Stadium”
Please note the coordination of Grazia and Carlo’s outfits!


The Wembley meeting was a big occasion to collect autographed photos from foreign colleagues:  in fact Grazia’s photo albums contains many such pictures,  that provide us with proof of the contacts that sportsmen and sportswomen forged during international meetings. In fact they worked as a sort of calling card. Perhaps someone today could reconstruct this sporting network, are there any autographed Grazia’s photos in a photo album in Sweden, England or Germany? Which language was used the most? Which kind of messages did the skaters share the most? Almost a social media of the day!

Carlo [far left] & Grazia [far right] with their skating friends in London 1948, among them is Czech skater Alena Vrzáňová, the caption suggests it to be the World Champions, but not at that time [1949 /50]. Notice the short, black-haired Grazia wearing trousers, looking different from her European colleagues! The first of the two autographs is Swedish skater Torgill Rosenberg, the second is not “Margareta Carlson” but rather another Swedish skater. NB in giving this photo to their new Italian friends, they wrote their country name [Suède)]in French, not English.

Autographed photos by English skater Daphne Walker & Swiss [not German as in original caption] skater Hans Gerschwiler, 1947 World Figure Skating Champion

First caption: “To Grazia […] you lots of good luck Daphne Walker 1947”

Second: “To Grazia with very best wishes Hans Gerschwiler 1947” [Hans could write English as he spent WWII in England working as a factory worker & fire watcher]

Autographed photos of Italian non-figure ice skaters

 The first is Piero Barresi, bronze medallist at 1948 European Roller Skating Championship.  The second, taken in March 1948,  is speed ice skater Sergio Toschi ~ who wrote: “To Grazia Barcellona, my playmate and companion of my ‘grief’, hoping that she will kick me in the shins less … Milan, March 6, 1949”



Part 3 of this series focuses on the second album in Grazia’s collection or the Brown Album which is dedicated to the 1948 Winter Olympics and can be read here –







Article © Marco Giani