Padule di Fucecchio

Aerial view of a flat marshland interspersed with ponds, pools and a ditch. A single farmstead can be seen in the lower right corner of the picture.
The Padule di Fucecchio area, scene of the massacre of 23 August 1944. © Udo Gümpel

23 August 1944 , Toscana

On 23 August 1944, the 26th Panzer Division conducted a 'mopping up' operation in the Fucecchio marshes with the stated goal of eliminating partisan groups. However, the partisans could not be found. Instead, civilian persons from the surrounding farms became the sole victims of the operation.

Out of the total victims, 62 individuals, approximately one-third, were women. Additionally, there were 25 children under the age of 14 years old killed. The victims also included 26 elderly individuals over the age of 60. The age range of those killed was particularly wide, spanning from a 5-month-old infant to a 93-year-old. The nature of the killings, often carried out through point-blank shooting with automatic weapons, indicates a deliberate intent to massacre civilians.  

The conduct of the participating units varied significantly: while certain soldiers diligently followed orders to kill civilians, others quickly grasped the operation had descended into the massacre of non-combatants and refused to participate in shooting innocent people.

Involved Unit

Panzer Reconnaissance battalion 26, Panzergrenadier Regiment 9, Engineering Battalion 93

Culprits

Oberst Peter Eduard Crasemann, Rittmeister Josef Strauch

Victims

174

Investigations and processes

1947: Peter Eduard Crasemann is sentenced to 10 years in prison by a British military court in Padua.

1948: The military court of Florence sentences Josef Strauch to 6 years in prison.

2011: Verdicts of Rome military court (investigations were initiated by La Spezia prosecutor’s office)): three in absentia sentences of life in prison, two of which are confirmed the following year by appeals court (one sentence null and void because of death of the accused).

Additional crime scenes

 

 

Armed forces
Wehrmacht
Another aerial view of the marshland: swampy land is interspersed with ponds, pools and ditches. There are trees scattered along the paths and in the landscape.
Along with the area of Bientina, the Padule di Fucecchio form one of the largest marshlands in Italy. © Udo Gümpel

The massacre

The extent to which the soldiers tried to advance into the part of the marsh where the partisans were hiding remains uncertain. The partisans remained largely undetected.
  • In the centre of the photo is a single destroyed house on a spacious green meadow. Mountains can be seen in the background.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • Bird's-eye view of a destroyed house: The roof is completely missing, so that the walls reveal the ground plan. Small trees, shrubs, vines and grass grow in the ruins.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • An abandoned farmhouse can be seen in the foreground of this photograph. The windows are damaged, bricked up or missing altogether. The roof of the building, however, appears to be intact. In the upper right of the picture, another farmstead can be seen, in the background a settlement with mountains stretching behind it.
    © Udo Gümpel
Already a few hours after the operation began, fleeing and injured civilians reached the villages on the edge of the marsh area and spread news of the massacre.

Ermittlungen und Prozesse

Strauch asserted that Crasemann personally assigned him the task of annihilating ‘bandits’ in the marshes, with all civilians encountered in the deployment-area meant to be considered partisans and killed, regardless of age or sex.

Memoria

  • On the left of the picture is the white marble monument: A group of figures stands on a high, rectangular plinth. Two figures stand with raised hands in front of a tree in the background. In front of it lies another figure, on which in turn lies a small figure.  Two pictures are embedded in the plinth: On the left two men hold another man, on the right a man holds a woman. A lightly wooded landscape can be seen in the background of both images. To the right of the monument, the Italian and EU flags are hoisted. In the background of the photo is a church.
    This monument at Castelmartini is dedicated to the victims of the massacre on 23 Aug. 1944 and the fallen of the Secon World War. © Udo Gümpel
  • The close-up shows the faces of two figures on one of the images embedded in the base of the monument.
    A detail on the monument. © Udo Gümpel
  • The inscription on the monument commemorates the victims of the massacre in the marshes as well as those who died for the fatherland.
    The plaque of the Castelmartini monument. © Udo Gümpel

Testimonies

Sources

The massacre of Padule die Fucecchio has hardly left a trace in German military documents. Noteworthy is Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv file RH 27-26/40, containing excerpts from the private diary of Leutnant Leopold von Buch with references to the massacre. Additional documents are kept in the files of correspondence of the high command of the 14th Army (RH 20-14) and esp. in documents of the XIV Panzer Corps, kept in archives in Moscow (CAMO, Bestand 500, Findbuch 12475); now digitalized and accessible online: https://wwii.germandocsinrussia.org/de/nodes/9329-findbuch-12475-panzerkorps

The documentation of the division’s crimes is kept in the U.S. National Archives, College Park, MD, The British National Archives (Kew), the Ludwigsburg Central Office, and the archives of the Italian military prosecutor, Rome.

National Archives, College Park, Maryland (NARA): Record Group 153, Entry 143, Box 529, Case 16-81, Incidents at Ponte Buggianese, Fucecchio Swamps, Larciano, Monsummano, Montecatini Terme.

The National Archives (TNA), WO 235/335, Defendant: Peter Crasemann, Padua): WO 310/104-105, Fucecchio Marshes, Pistoia, Italy: German war crimes against civilians 1944. am 

Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen, Ludwigsburg, Verfahren Nr. V 518 AR 3226/66; Verfahren Nr. V 518 AR 3231/66.

The documents kept in the archives of the Rome military court concern the investigations and trials organized in Italy. 

Literature

Michele Battini, Paolo Pezzino, Guerra ai civili. Occupazione tedesca e politica del massacro: Toscana 1944, Venice, Marsilio, 1997, pp. 143-165.

Claudio Biscarini, Morte in Padule. 23 agosto 1944: analisi di una strage, Edizioni dell'Erba, Fucecchio, 2014.

Vasco Ferretti, Vernichten. Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio: 23 agosto 1944. Analisi storica della strage attraverso gli atti del processo di Venezia, Maria Pacini Fazzi, Lucca, 1988.

Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Schöningh, Paderborn, 2012, pp. 379-390.

Authorship and translation

Autor: 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

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