A black and white shot of Walter Reder showing him from head to chest. He looks directly into the camera and wears his SS uniform, but no cap.
Walter Reder in SS uniform. He was Kommandeur of the reconnaissance battalion of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’: his men perpetrated numerous massacres against civilians under his command; in Bardine, Vinca and at Monte Sole, among others. © BArch, R 9361-III/159357

Walter Reder

* " 4 February 1915" – Freiwaldau, Sudetenland (present-day Jeseník, Czech Republic)
† "26 April 1991" – Vienna

In Italy, Walter Reder is one of the most well-known of the SS war criminals. As Kommandeur of the Reconnaissance battalion of the ‘Reichsführer-SS’ division, in the summer and autumn of 1944 he led a number of ‘bandit-combatting’ actions involving the murder of hundreds of civilians by his soldiers: in Bardine di San Terenzo, Valla, and Vinca, and finally at Monte Sole.

On 31 Oct. 1951, following a highly-publicized trial, a military court in Bologna sentenced Reder to life in prison on account of his crimes in Italy. Released in 1985, he was met on his return to Austria with a handshake by Defence Minister Frischenschlager: a gesture that sparked a governmental crisis in Austria. While in Italy Reder became a symbol of the German occupation’s barbarity, in Austria and Germany he had many supporters, who glorified him into a victim of Communism and ‘last of the war prisoners’.

Hitler youth
SS Totenkopf units in Dachau concentration camp
Joined the NSDAP
Armed force
3. SS-Panzerdivision "Totenkopf"
16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Reichsführer-SS"
Years of service
1943 – 1945
Austrian ‘Anschluss’
Occupation of Czechoslovakia
Invasion of Poland
Western Front (France)
Invasion of Soviet Union
Eastern Front
Occupation of Italy (1944-45)
Confirmed Massacres

Bardine San Terenzo
Bergiola Foscalina
Monte Sole

Post war period

Arrest in Austria 1945; extradition to Italy in 1948. Trial before military court in Bologna 1951, sentenced to life in prison and incarceration in Gaeta military prison. Released in 1985.

War experience

Following amputation of his lower arm Rader wished to remain on the front – as was the case with many disabled soldiers with intensive fighting experience. He made himself available to Max Simon, now leader of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’, and asked for a front-based assignment. 
The black-and-white photograph shows two soldiers wearing helmets from behind. Walter Reder is standing in front of them, congratulating them on their award. He is also wearing a helmet and his SS uniform. The badge with the skull of the SS Totenkopf Division can be seen on his left collar patch.
A sports field in Oradea (Romania), April 20, 1944. Walter Reder, Kommandeur of the reconnaissance battalion of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, congratulates soldiers who have just been decorated by the division commander. Reder wears the Totenkopf Division insignia on his uniform. © Privat Archive. Nils Olger, Vienna

Participation in massacres of civilians

The black-and-white photograph shows Reder sitting with some of his soldiers in a courtyard surrounded by potted plants. The men are sitting around a table, some of them wearing awards that Reder has just given them. Reder himself is sitting in the centre of the picture. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up so that the stump of his left arm is visible. On the table is an opened bottle of wine.
During a break in the fighting in the Maremma Pisana around Castellina Marittima in July 1944, Walter Reder entertains himself in the courtyard of a farmhouse with some of the soldiers he has just decorated. © Privat Archive. Nils Olger, Vienna

The postwar period

For the Italian public, Reder became a symbol of the German occupation and its war crimes. The assessment in West Germany and Austria was very different: Walter Reder was viewed by many as a martyr, a “scapegoat in the Gaeta fortress’, ‘buried alive’, a ‘hostage of the Italian Communists’.
On 24 Jan. 1985, after long governmental negotiations, Reder was released  and transferred to Austria. He was met at the airport with a handshake by Austrian defence minister Frischenschlager. This gesture sparked a crisis within the governmental coalition between the Social Democrats and the right-wing, national-conservative Freedom Party (the FPÖ).


The main sources for reconstructing Walter Reder’s military career and biography until 1945 are the personnel files kept in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (German Federal Archives in Berlin) (R 9361-III/159357, R 9361-III/549431). The Italian court files are kept in the archive of the Rome military court. All the important events tied to the Reder trial, incarceration, release, return to Austria, and death were reported on extensively in the press. While Reder’s biography until 1945 seems to have been sufficiently examined, a close reconstruction of his long imprisonment is still needed, as is an examination of the prolonged negotiations between Austria, Italy, Germany, and the Vatican concerning his release.


Felix Bohr, Die Kriegsverbrecher-Lobby. Bundesdeutsche Hilfe für im Ausland inhaftierte NS-Täter, Berlin, Suhrkamp, 2018.

Carlo Gentile, Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Partisanenkrieg: Italien 1943-1945, Paderborn, 2012, Schöningh, 466 pp.

Christian Ortner, Am Beispiel Walter Reder. Die SS-Verbrechen in Marzabotto und ihre „Bewältigung“, Vienna, Dokumentationsarchiv des Österreichischen Widerstands, [1985].

Christian Reder, Deformierte Bürgerlichkeit, Vienna/Berlin, Mandelbaum Verlag, 2016, pp. 278-290.

Joachim Staron, Fosse Ardeatine und Marzabotto. Deutsche Kriegsverbrechen und Resistenza. Geschichte und nationale Mythenbildung in Deutschland und Italien (1944-1999), Padeborn etc., Schöningh, 2002.

Barbara Tóth, Der Handschlag. Die Affäre Frischenschlager-Reder, mit einem Nachwort von Friedhelm Frischenschlager, Innsbruck, Studien-Verlag, 2017

Authorship and translation

Author: Carlo Gentile

Translated from German by: Joel Golb

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


Text: CC BY NC SA 4.0