Monte Sole

The photo shows a hilly mountain landscape: meadows and rugged slopes alternate with patches of forest. The sky is blue and cloudless, it seems to be early in the morning.
Monte Sole and Monte Caprara as seen from Cadotto. © Udo Gümpel

29 September 1944 – 5 October 1944 , Area di Monte Sole (territorio dei Comuni di Marzabotto, Vado-Monzuno e Grizzana, Bologna, Emilia Romagna)

Tra la valle del Reno e la valle del Setta, nell’Appennino bolognese, il 29 e il 30 settembre 1944 avvenne il più pesante rastrellamento di civili organizzato dalle truppe tedesche sul fronte occidentale, cui seguirono altri gravi episodi di eccidi fino al 5 ottobre. 
In particolare, furono gli uomini del reparto esplorante della 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS", guidato dal maggiore Walter Reder, a rendersi responsabili della maggior parte di uccisioni di donne, bambini e anziani. Solo nel dopoguerra fu possibile cercare di stabilire il numero delle vittime, definito in 770 dopo le ricerche del Comitato per le onoranze ai caduti negli anni Novanta. 
Nel complesso gli eccidi avvennero in 115 luoghi del territorio attorno a Monte Sole, colpendo le principali frazioni ma anche casolari sparsi nei boschi. In questa sede approfondiremo nove episodi di strage, avvenuti in particolare nei centri della vita comunitaria del territorio, dato che sono quelli su cui esiste la maggiore documentazione.

Involved Unit

L’intera SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 "Reichsführer-SS"
Una colonna guidata da ufficiali dell’ufficio Ic del comando di divisione 
Una batteria pesante della SS-Flak-Abteilung 16 
Reparti non specificati del SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 35 
Reparti non specificati del SS-Artillerie Regiment 16 
Unità di pronto intervento [Alarmeinheiten] non specificato se Waffen-SS o Wehrmacht 
Reparti del Flak-Regiment 105 (Luftwaffe), tra cui la leichte Flak-Abteilung 945 (Luftwaffe) 
IV. battaglione [in realtà III. battaglione] (Ost)/Grenadier-Regiment 1059 (ex Ost-Bataillon 560, succ. Russisches Bataillon 560) dell’esercito tedesco [Heer]

Commander

I. Fallschirmkorps, 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS"

Culprits

Max Simon, Helmut Looß, Walter Reder, i suoi comandanti di compagnia Willfried Segebrecht, Werner Horst Szillat, Friedrich Schmidtkonz, Max Adam Saalfrank, i loro uomini, tra i quali gli imputati del processo di La Spezia

Victims

770 

Investigations and processes

1947: procedimento del Tribunale militare britannico di Padova nei confronti di Max Simon per le stragi della sua divisione in Emilia e in Toscana. Condanna alla pena capitale commutata in ergastolo, poi ridotta a 21 anni nel 1948; infine scarcerato nel 1954.
1951: procedimento del Tribunale militare di Bologna nei confronti di Walter Reder, confermato in appello nel 1954. Nel 1980 il Tribunale militare di Bari concede la libertà condizionale; nel 1985 scarcerazione e rientro in Austria.
2002-2007: procedimento della Procura militare presso il Tribunale di La Spezia a carico di 17 ex ufficiali, sottufficiali e soldati di truppa della 16. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS". Si conclude il 13 gennaio 2007 con 10 condanne all'ergastolo e 7 sentenze di assoluzione. La corte militare d'appello di Roma il 7 maggio 2008 ha assolto uno dei condannati, ha estinto il reato per morte nel caso di un altro condannato e ha emesso una sentenza di condanna per un ulteriore indagato, in precedenza assolto dal Tribunale di La Spezia.
2003-2009: procedimento della Procura di Monaco di Baviera nei confronti di Franz Stockinger e altri ex membri della SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 conclusosi nel 2009 con l’archiviazione definitiva.

Armed forces
Waffen-SS
The same mountain landscape: now it is largely in the shade.
View of Cadotto from Monte Sole. © Udo Gümpel

The massacre

The large-scale operation was prepared at I Parachute Corps headquarters and the ‘Reichsführer-SS’ division was assigned its execution. The 14th Army responsible for this front sector here refers to a Vernichtungsunternehmen, an ‘annihilation operation’. In the Wehrmacht documents from occupied Italy, use of the term Vernichtung in the context of anti-partisan actions appears otherwise absent.
As was the case with earlier planned  'cleansing'—the German term used was Säuberung—by the SS in Tuscany, SS Sturmbannführer Helmut Looß had command of the entire operation. He was head of tactical group Ic of the division’s general staff and responsible for security in the rear area.
Image of a historical document of the 14th Army: It describes the operation at Monte Sole as an extermination operation (Vernichtungsunternehmen) and lists the units involved. According to this, the enemy, the partisans of the Stella Rossa, fought doggedly.
Extract from the bulletin of the 14th Army in which news of the ongoing operation is given. © BArch, RH 20-14/114
Because not all victims had been buried in the days following the massacres, traces of these events were visible everywhere. Some German and Allied soldiers reported on this in their diaries. Military historian Neil Orpen writes as follows: ‘Reconnoitring forward to Cadotto, they found the village badly wrecked. About 17 civilian dead, including women and children who were obviously victims of atrocities, were found among the ruins’.

Investigations and trials

In autumn 1951 the military court in Bologna sentenced Reder to life imprisonment. But the judicial authorities never prosecuted other surviving company leaders such as Saalfrank, Segebrecht and Szillat, who bore just as great a responsibility for the massacres.
On 17 April 2002, in the course of a visit to Italy by German Federal President Johannes Rau, a memorial event was held at the Marzabotto memorial and in the Monte Sole memorial park. This was the first visit by a high West German official to the massacre’s site. Before relatives of the victims, Rau expressed his ‘grief and shame’.

Memory

Measured by the number of victims and size of the affected area, the massacre of Monte Sole was the worst war crime committed by German troops during Italy’s occupation and the largest such crime perpetrated against civilians in Western Europe.
  • [Translate to English:] Der Friedhof von Casaglia, 2014. © Elena Pirazzoli
  • Several gravestones have been inserted into the partially damaged wall of the Casaglia cemetery.
    [Translate to English:] Die Friedhofsmauer von Casaglia, 2014. © Elena Pirazzoli
  • The remnant of the stone entrance gate of the church stands in a wooded area. In the meantime, the remnant of the wall is supported by thick wooden piles.
    The church of Casaglia, 2014 © Elena Pirazzoli
  • The photo shows the mountain landscape around Monte Sole. Individual houses can be seen at the bottom of the picture.
    Aerial view of Cadotto, Monte Sole and Monte Caprara.
  • The photo shows a hilly mountain landscape: meadows and rugged slopes alternate with patches of forest. The sky is blue and cloudless, it seems to be early in the morning.
    Monte Sole and Monte Caprara as seen from Cadotto. © Udo Gümpel

718 enemy dead (including brigade leader Lupo and 15 identified bn. [battalion] commanders and co. [company] heads), 456 prisoners, 7 munition dumps with large stocks of munition of all sorts. Large amounts of munition detonated in the burning bases. 69 bunkers and a cable railway were destroyed, 3 dressing stations (2 of them in churches) and 3 large equipment camps were eliminated. Large quantities of weapons of all kinds destroyed or captured. 3 radio stations and 350 pieces of heavy livestock captured. Important papers etc. secured. Own losses 7 dead, 29 wounded (8 gravely).

14th Army Ia-Section daily report, 3 Oct. 1944

The daily report of the 14th Army of 2 October summarises the results of the operations at Monte Sole from the point of view of the German troops: There is talk of "718 enemy dead, including 497 bandits and 221 bandit aides". Furthermore, there are lists of destroyed buildings and infrastructure as well as goods captured during the operation, including livestock.
Evening Bulletin of the 14th Army, 2 October 1944: some figures are given about the operation involving the Monte Sole area. © BArch, RH 20-12/121
  • In the foreground of the picture, Johannes Rau and Azeglio Ciampi walk side by side into the mausoleum where the victims of the Monte Sole massacres are buried. High marble plaques are set into the wall on the left, on which the names of those killed can be read. Behind the two men, the entrance to the mausoleum can be seen. Numerous people stand at the top of the stairs leading there.
    Johannes Rau and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visit the memoria at Marzabotto. © Bundesregierung / Christian Stutterheim
  • Two soldiers in guard uniform stand in front of the altar in the mausoleum. The wreath of flowers standing between them on a tripod bears ribbons in the colours of Italy and Germany. Facing the soldiers are Johannes Rau and Azeglio Ciampi.
    Johannes Rau and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi lay a wreath inside the Marzabotto memorial. © Bundesregierung / Christian Stutterheim
  • Johannes Rau and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi among the participants at the Marzabotto commemoration.
    Johannes Rau and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi at the commemoration ceremony for the victims of Marzabotto. © Bundesregierung / Christian Stutterheim

Sources

The military archives in Freiburg hold some documents concerning the actions of German troops at Monte Sole. Records of directly responsible units and divisions (SS division ‘Reichsführer-SS’; the I Parachute Corps) are not extant. The most important surviving documents were in the holdings of the Wehrmacht’s 14th Army, the high command responsible for the front west of the Futa Pass. The most well-known documents are the 14th Army’s daily Ia and Ic reports, sent to Commander in Chief Southwest (Kesselring). They possibly contain excerpts from the original report of the ‘Reichsführer-SS’ division. 

Less well known but equally important are some notes in war diary no. 4 of the Ia-Battalion (BArch RH 20-14/41), which include a report of a phone conversation on 29 Sept. at 15:05 between the chief of staff of the 14th Army, General Hause and chief of the general staff of the I Parachute Corps, Oberst von Hofmann. In the conversation Hauser warns that the Monte Sole operation is to be carried out ‘in accordance with the guidelines of the army group and the army’; there were to be ‘no abuses [Übergriffe]’. 

As outlined earlier,  the daily report of the 14th Army’s Ic tactical groups of 30 Sept. (RH 20-14/114, IC-Tagesmeldung, 30 Sept. 1944) refers to the razzia as an ‘annihilation operation’. Indication of losses suffered by German battalions in fighting with the partisans on 29 Sept. are among documents kept in the German Federal Archives, Berlin, section PA (formerly: Deutsche Dienststelle/WASt). 

Relevant documentation of the Allied troops is largely kept in the U.S. National Archives (Washington). This includes the first news of and reports on the massacre in autumn 1944, interrogation of the first German prisoners and of deserters, and complex investigations. The documents are kept in these file-locations: Record Group 238, Entry 2, Box 10, Case 16-70 (San Martino/Monzuno); Record Group 153, Entry 143, Box 528, Case 16-70 (San Martino/Monzuno). 

The British National Archives in Kew (London) contain the files on the investigations of Feldmarschall Kesselring (WO 310/121; also 310/114 und /197) and legal proceedings against him held in Venice in 1947 (WO 235/366-376), as well as on the trial of division-commander SS Obergruppenführer Max Simon taking place in Padua that same year (WO 235/584-588). Especially important for reconstructing the events that took place during the massacre is the SS-soldier Julien Legoll.

For Italy, the most important documentation created during the country’s two major trials of the massacre’s perpetrators – the trial in Bologna of Walter Reder, 18 Sept.-31 Oct. 1951; and the trial in La Spezia, 2006, of many former SS officers in Reder’s battalion – were held in the archives of the military prosecutor’s office, La Spezia, until that office’s closure in 2008; now the documents are kept in the archives of the military court in Rome. 

Literature 

Luca Baldissara, Paolo Pezzino, Il massacro. Guerra ai civili a Monte Sole, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009.

Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh 2012, pp. 238-250.

Luciano Gherardi, Le querce di Monte Sole: vita e morte delle comunità martiri fra Setta e Reno, 1898-1944, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1986.

Jack Olsen, Silence on Monte Sole, New York, Putnam, 1968.

Andrea Ventura, I tempi del ricordo. La memoria pubblica del massacro di Monte Sole dal 1945 a oggi, Reggio Emilia, Zikkaron, 2016.

Dario Zanini, Marzabotto e dintorni, 1944, Bologna, Ponte Nuovo, 1996. pp. 529-531.

Authorship and translation

Author: Carlo Gentile

Translated from German by: Joel Golb

© Project ‘The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945): Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories’

2023

Text: CC BY NC SA 4.0

Seitenanfang