The Massacres in Occupied Italy: Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories
The German occupation of Italy cost up to 70,000 Italians their lives. More than 10,000 of them were civilians, murdered in massacres and mass executions by German troops. Germany bears commemorative responsibility for these victims – and for the affected communities and families.
After the war, those suffering because of the German crimes found it nearly impossible to obtain reliable information on the responsible persons. Lack of knowledge about the perpetrators led to mistaken interpretations and distortions, while in Germany a veterans’ generation cultivated the myth of a ‘clean’ war conducted by the Wehrmacht in Italy.
The presence of memoria divisa in Italy–divided, contrasting memory – has likewise emerged from the absence of German perpetrators within public discourse. Affected persons and families had no concrete information on the criminals; neither names nor the units involved were known to them. For this reason, their pain was often manifest as anger toward other Italians, ascribed with guilt and responsibility for the massacres.
The project ‘The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945): Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories’ is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office in the framework of the German-Italian Fund for the Future (Deutsch-Italienischer Zukunftsfonds).
The biographies of perpetrators on this website are meant to offer an opportunity to reflect on the role individuals played in each of the massacres. We here wish to offer a realistic picture of contexts, situations, and experiences – as well as of mentalities and psychological dispositions, personal and social backgrounds, and spaces for decision and action. In addition, we hope to convey a clear sense of the patterns of legitimation informing the criminal actions involved. For some years now, research on perpetrators has been concerned with this complex dynamic.
The war against the civilian population (La guerra ai civili)
During the occupation of Italy, German troops carried out mass executions of civilians and partisans. The victims of these atrocities encompassed women, children, the elderly, and even clergy members, all of whom were murdered in villages alongside their male counterparts. The systematic and organized nature of these acts led Italian historians to label this dark chapter as the 'guerra ai civili', reflecting the war against civilians.
The massacres unfolded across both the southern and northern regions of Italy. Many small towns and villages in the mountain landscape of the Apennines bore the brunt of these tragic events. These communities, which initially appeared distant from the war's events, following the announcement of the Italian armistice on 8 September 1943, progressively transformed into active theatres of conflict. Advancing from the south, the Allies here encountered staunch resistance by the German troops. Behind the front, partisan formations of various political orientations were active. The Germans responded to the sabotage efforts and attacks with heavy reprisals often aimed at the civilian populace.
In our case studies, we reconstruct significant massacres, detailing their unfolding sequences and contextual factors. Our primary emphasis lies in scrutinizing the responsibility of the German forces involved – the SS, the Wehrmacht, and the SD.
These entries offer insight into the historical context of the German occupation of Italy, and into the occupation’s impact both during the war and in the postwar period.
Go to themes
8 September 1943
On 8 September 1943, the armistice between the Italian government and the Allies, signed five days earlier, became public knowledge. This marked a turning point in the course of the war.
The Second World War
German soldiers rarely deserted, and then only late in the war. Nevertheless, the desertion that did take place has great symbolic value for the memory of the resistance against Nazi occupiers in Europe.
The Second World War
Each of the three states that emerged from the ruins of the ‘Third Reich’ – West Germany, East Germany, and Austria – dealt with the sombre legacy of dictatorship, war, mass murder, and genocide in a different way.
The Post-war era
In the course of work on this project, sources from over forty archives were consulted in Germany, Italy, the USA, Great Britain, Austria, France, and Russia: personal papers of soldiers; military and legal case files from wartime and the postwar period; video recordings and photos.
Especially important for the project are over 200 unpublished so-called ego documents and dozens of memoires of former officers and ordinary soldiers published after the war. Furthermore, we had access to documents of the Italian and German judicial authorities, together with those tied to investigations and trials by Allied courts.
The theatre group Archiviozeta was founded in 1999 and has since been doing cultural work with a focus on performative and pedagogical engagement with archives, memory, commemoration and historical sites.