Pietransieri

The photo shows a hexagonal building with pink outer walls that resembles a chapel as well as the steps leading up to it from a low-angle perspective. Through the surrounding fog, the shapes of trees can be made out in the background.
The monument for the victims of the Pietransieri massacre. © Udo Gümpel

21 November 1943 , Pietransieri (L'Aquila, Abruzzo)

In October 1943, the German 10th Army prepared evacuation plans for part of central Italy, so that no civilians would remain in the future area of the front. In some cases, people refused to leave their houses. On 21 November 1943, a six- to eight-person patrol of soldiers from Pietransieri reached a group of farm-houses in the Limmari area. The civilians who did not comply with the evacuation orders had moved there. The soldiers, members of the III Battalion of Parachute Regiment 1, penned all those discovered in the area’s farm buildings. They then shot the civilians with machine guns, after which the buildings were dynamited. There were a few survivors, including children, nearly all of whom died because no one came to help them. At least one little girl survived the massacre. 

No thoroughgoing investigation of these events was initiated until the 1990s.

Involved Unit

II Battalion of Parachute Regiment 1

Culprits

Major Karl-Heinz Becker

Victims

125

Investigations and processes

1944-1947: Investigations of Italians for theft and failure to offer aid 

1947: Trial of Generalfeldmarschall  Albert Kesselring before the British military court in Mestre

1995-2000: Investigation by military prosecutor in Rome

2004-2013: Investigation by Waldshut-Tiengen prosecutor’s office 

2015-2017: A Court in Sulmona declares the German Federal Republic responsible and orders compensation payments to victims’ surviving dependents.

Armed forces
Wehrmacht
The ruins of the Amico family’s farmstead are situated on a wooded hill. The remaining small grey stone wall with two openings for windows is almost completely covered in vines.
The ruins of the Amico farmstead. © Udo Gümpel

The massacre

The images

In November 1943, numerous villages in Abruzzo were forcibly evacuated and destroyed as they were located in the vicinity of the future front. The Italian civilian population was often housed in assembly camps under precarious conditions.

  • The black and white picture shows women and children who walk along a muddy road with their backs turned to the camera. Their warm clothes and the roads wet surface suggest unpleasant weather. Many women carry their possessions in baskets on top of their heads.
    Civilians leaving their houses in the Abruzzi, carrying few possessions with them as they go. © BArch, Bild 101I-310-0869-15 / Engel
  • From the right-hand corner to the centre of this black and white picture, a small truck with an open cargo area can be seen. A man, seemingly a German soldier, sticks his head out of the cockpit window. On the truck bed, a man can be seen, standing next to a metal barrel. A little boy sits to his left, holding onto the railing. On the stony floor beside the truck, several civilians seem to be in the process of putting their possessions into the cargo area. In the left-hand corner of the picture a soldier wearing a helmet stands, observing.
    In a village in the Abruzzi, civilians are allowed to use military trucks to transport their possessions. © BArch Bild_101I-575-1820-26 / Thönessen-Thönnessen
  • The black and white photo shows the destruction of the village of Roccaraso with dynamite. The small village, situated on a hill, is surrounded by large dust clouds. In the background, rolling hills and the snow-capped peaks of the Majella mountain range can be made out.
    The destruction of Roccaraso in the upper Sangro valley at the end of November 1943. The snow-capped peaks of the Majella mountain range can be seen in the background. © BArch Bild 101I-571-1701-07 / Slickers
  • The black and white photo shows the destruction of Roccaraso from another angle. The dust clouds around the village are very visible.
    © BArch Bild 101I-571-1701-10 / Slickers
  • Four soldiers can be seen in the foreground of this black and white picture, all with their backs to the camera. Two are standing in the left-hand corner, another has reclined into a semi-recumbent position in the right-hand corner while the fourth is crouching in front of him. All are watching as the village of Lettopalena is dynamited in front of them: a large explosion is hurling stones and dust into the air. To the left, the remains of the settlement can be made out. In the background, steep mountain slopes are visible.
    The destruction of the settlement of Lettopalena (Chieti) by soldiers of the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division on 19 and 20 Nov. 1943. Afterwards, the bridge spanning the Aventino river was also dynamited. © BArch Bild 101I-571-1714-14A / Wahner
  • A soldier with his back turned to the camera looks out over the ruins of the village of Lettopalena which are visible in the left-hand corner. To his left, three other soldiers have turned towards the camera without looking directly at it. The one on the far left is mostly covered by what presumably is the photographer’s finger in the picture.
    The ruins of Lettopalena (Chieti). To the right, the church of Saint Nicholas of Bari can be seen, which had not yet been destroyed. © BArch Bild 101I-571-1714-18A / Wahner
In Pietransieri, the first evacuation orders were issued in late October and early November 1943.  The people were first transported to Sulmona and later northward. But some 200 persons resisted the orders and scattered among different farmsteads in the Limmati area.
  • The black and white photo shows the area of Limmari, a slightly hilly landscape with single trees. Part of the slope in the background of the photo is circled in black ink. Next to it, the word Limmari has been written in cursive on the photo.
    The area of Limmari, 1948-49 © Archivio Arma dei Carabinieri | Commissione Storica Italo-Tedesca
  • The black and white photo shows the farm of the Amico family after the war. The two-storey building stands in a slightly hilly landscape with single trees. On its left side is a one-storey extension.
    Most of the massacre's victims were murdered on the Amico family's farmstead: 60 people died here. © Archivio Arma dei Carabinieri | Commissione Storica Italo-Tedesca
  • Two women can be seen in the black and white photo. They are wearing simple black shirt dresses with hems that reach below the knees and flat dusty shoes. Both are looking directly into the camera. The young woman standing in front is Virginia Macerelli. She survived the massacre as a child. The woman standing behind her is her grandmother Laura Calabrese, who raised her after the massacre. She wears a black veil under which only her hairline is visible. The names of the two women are written next to them in black ink on the photo. At the top of the picture it says in Italian "The bereaved of Limmari".
    Young Virginia Macerelli, who survived the massacre as a girl, and her grandmother Laura Calabrese, who raised her thereafter, 1948-49 © Archivio Arma dei Carabinieri | Commissione Storica Italo-Tedesca
  • The black and white photo shows a frontal view of the Amico family farmhouse. A hill rises behind the two-storey house. There are individual trees around the building.
    Frontal view of the Amico family's farmhouse, where 60 people were killed. © Archivio Arma dei Carabinieri | Commissione Storica Italo-Tedesca
  • The black and white photo shows a small wooded area in a slightly hilly landscape. The name "Contrada Anteleschi" was written in cursive on the photo.
    Contrada Antelesche (or Anito delle Lesche), 1948-49. On 6 Nov. 1943, six men were killed here. © Archivio Arma dei Carabinieri | Commissione Storica Italo-Tedesca

Investigations and trials

For a long time, the motives for the Pietransieri massacre remained unknown. There was talk of retaliatory steps for the murder of two German soldiers by the partisans. There is no reference to such an event in the Wehrmacht documents.

Memory

  • The photo shows the Aloisio family farm today from a frog's-eye view. The right part of the three-storey light brown building has partially collapsed. On the left, two doors and the protrusions of balconies can be seen on the top floor, with some windows below. Vines grow on the building, which is surrounded by fog.
    The ruinous farmstead of the Aloisio family. © Udo Gümpel
  • On the left edge of the picture, a black iron fence and a tree can be seen in the foreground. Behind them is the now dilapidated house of the Battista family, an elongated stone building with two storeys, to which a commemorative plaque has been attached.
    The now derelict farmhouse of the Battista family. © Udo Gümpel
  • A memorial stone at the Battista family farmhouse commemorating the massacre. The Italian flag and a cross can be seen above the Italian inscription. The stone is grey and surrounded by a black iron fence. Individual trees can be seen in the background.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • The memorial stone at Anito delle Lesche: a light-coloured, largely unhewn stone with the Italian flag and a cross at the top. Below it is the inscription dedicated to the men killed there and a golden flower. To the left and right of the stone are two smaller memorial plaques with the names of those killed. In front of the large stone is an empty white vase. The photo was taken in autumn or winter: It is foggy and the ground is covered with red and brown leaves.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • Another unhewn memorial stone in memory of the victims, also with the Italian flag and a cross on top.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • The memorial stone at La Croce for the victims there: Here, too, there is the Italian flag and a cross above the inscription. Next to the stone is a smaller plaque also dedicated to the victims.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • Close-up of the dark grey memorial stone in front of the Amico family's house: here, too, the Italian flag and a cross above the inscription.
    © Udo Gümpel
  • The photo shows a hexagonal building with pink outer walls that resembles a chapel as well as the steps leading up to it from a low-angle perspective. Through the surrounding fog, the shapes of trees can be made out in the background.
    The monument for the victims of the Pietransieri massacre. © Udo Gümpel
  • Entrance to the mausoleum for the victims of the massacre. Above the door in the round arch is the inscription: For the Martyrs of Limmari.
    © Udo Gümpel

Sources

There are few traces of the massacre in German documents. The presence of soldiers from Parachute Regiment 1 in the Pietransieri area on the days the killings unfolded is confirmed in the 10th Army’s war diary and maps showing the military situation on the front. The section on personnel-related information in the German Federal Archives in Berlin (Bundesarchiv-Abteilung PA) has a record of the casualties suffered by the battalion commanded by Karl-Heinz Becker. This source confirms the presence of his men in Pietransieri on the days of the massacre.

Literature

Tommaso Baris, Tra due fuochi. Esperienza e memoria della guerra lungo la linea Gustav, Roma, Laterza, 2003.

Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2012, pp. 110ff. 

Paolo Paoletti, L’eccidio dei Limmari di Pietransieri (Roccaraso). Un'operazione di terrorismo. Analisi comparata delle fonti scritte ed orali italiane e straniere, Roccaraso, Comune di Roccaraso, 1999.

Lando Sciuba, La passione secondo Pietransieri, 12-21 Novembre 1943, L’Aquila, Edizione Libreria Colacchi, 1997.

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

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