It snows on the Lago Maggiore. The lyre-birds are in tears. And the poor Italian wine has been dressed in straw for nothing. Children shout with happiness, spreading terror with sliding and bombardments. Check. What is this about?!?
Wikipedia says this is about the fleeing Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin fleeing to (or from?) Locarno on the Lago Maggiore (Le Lac Majeur in French) in 1874. On the lake, he arranged a show of fireworks, which the song is referring to: It snows on the Lago Maggiore. I don’t see it. It doesn’t explain the rest.
I found somewhere in a comment on a website about French chansons that this might refer to the killing of Jews by the first Panzer division in 1943. Though there is no proof of this reference either, I find it a little easier to believe.
Mort Shuman will not tell: he died in 1991. He was American btw, born in Brooklyn New York. Since he was Jewish, that second theory might hold.