The Massacres in Occupied Italy: Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories

Übersichtskarte Projekt

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).

Who were the perpetrators?

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.

This coloured photo was taken in the 1970s in Bad Hersfeld. In the background, a rectangular building can be seen behind some trees. In front of it, numerous people have gathered to attend a meeting of the HIAG (mutual aid association of members of the former Waffen-SS). Before the crowd, four contemporary cars have been parked.
Meeting of the HIAG (mutual aid association of members of the former Waffen-SS) in Bad Hersfeld in the early 1970s. © private archive Carlo Gentile

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.

Old fountain in the centre of the village of Vinca, opposite the church. Between 24 and 26 August 1944, Waffen-SS soldiers killed 162 people here. © Udo Gümpel


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
Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), Berlino 2013: schedari delle unità Waffen-SS. © Carlo Gentile


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.

Partner Organisations

Within the framework of our project, we cooperate with various partner organisations in Italy.