Military documents

The German military, SS, and police services in Italy recorded the activities of the respective troops in military documents. These were created in close temporal proximity to the events themselves and are therefore of decisive importance for the reconstruction of the military context. At the same time, they harbour a number of methodological problems, in that they are only seemingly sober and objective and actually reflect exclusively the perceptions of the occupiers and their version of events. Massacres of the civilian population, for example, are either completely concealed or presented through a series of cover terms as regular measures to fight partisans, such as the killing of "gang helpers". Only by cross-checking with other documents and witness statements can it be determined what really happened.

Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), Berlin 2013: Notifications of losses of Waffen-SS units. © Carlo Gentile

Personal documents

For the reconstruction of perpetrator biographies and their contexts, their military personnel records are needed, among other things. Files of SS members are preserved in the original in the German Federal Archives and as microfilms in the American National Archives in Washington, D.C..

In most cases, a high-ranking officer whose career began before the First World War leaves more documentary traces than a young recruit who was drafted in the final phase of the Second World War.

It is much more difficult to reconstruct the private lives of military personnel. Information about the social circumstances of the family of origin or the spouse can be found in the personnel files. Further information must be sought in the archives or newspapers of the places where they lived after the war, often a lengthy and difficult undertaking.

Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv (Military Archive of the German Federal Archives)

The Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg holds the records of the German armed forces from 1870 to the 1990s. This is a documentation of extraordinary historical value, impressive in its scope and wealth of data, but in which, unfortunately, unbridgeable gaps have been created by the impact of war. The destruction is partly due to the effects of a bombing raid on Potsdam that hit the army archives there in 1945. In many cases, it was the German units and command authorities themselves that destroyed their secret records in the collapse of 1945. The remaining material was confiscated by the Allies and taken to the United States and London. In the 1960s, the documents were returned after being microfilmed.

Despite serious gaps, the German documentation material is very extensive. In Italy, between September 1943 and May 1945, a total of no less than 30 German divisions were grouped into eleven army corps and three armies. About one million men and several thousand women were organised in countless units and command posts of the army, the air force, especially anti-aircraft and intelligence units, as well as the navy and civilian shipping, and finally the various branches of the police and the SS.

The digitisation of the holdings is currently underway, part of which has been made accessible online in the INVENIO research database.

Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde (German Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde)

An important location of the Federal Archives is in the Berlin district of Lichterfelde. One of the most interesting for our project is the fonds R 70 Polizeidienststellen in Italien (police offices in Italy), or R 70 Italien for short. It contains material about the police and SS commandos that were stationed there. In addition, the personnel files of SS and police members, the public administration, and NSDAP party files are kept in Lichterfelde. The latter, however, are incomplete.

Bundesarchiv-Abteilung PA (Department for Personal Information of the German Federal Archives)

The PA Department (Personenbezogene Auskünfte; Personal Information on the First and Second World Wars) of the Federal Archives, also known by its former name Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt, German Service for Notifying the Next of Kin of Fallen of the Former German Wehrmacht). Its new location is in the Berlin district of Tegel.

It holds the personnel files of 18 million German military personnel of all branches of service who served during the Second World War. The accessibility of these holdings for researchers is limited by regulations on the handling of personal data. The archive also contains extensive documentation on the losses of the German armed forces during the conflict: these are forms that the units filled out themselves in the event of a soldier's wounding or death. They provide information on personal data, location, date of loss and its cause. These materials are of great use for the reconstruction of individual massacres and episodes of partisan warfare.

German Docs in Russia

After the German defeat, the Red Army confiscated some of the German documents and brought them to Russia. The most extensive collections of this so-called "spoils of war" are in the various archives of the Russian Federation: in the State Archives - GARF, Russian State Archives of Socio-Political History - RGASPI, State Military Archives of the Russian Federation - RGVA. Of particular importance for military documentation is the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation - CAMO. Since 2011, a joint German-Russian project has been underway to digitise the German documents stored in Russia. The approximately 28,000 "trophies" stored in the CAMO are currently being completely digitised and are already largely accessible online on the website German Docs in Russia.

These materials were systematically examined as part of our project. Some of the holdings were of particular interest: The files of the General Command of the XIV Panzer Corps with numerous previously unpublished pieces of information provide information on massacres and partisan fighting in the Apennines in August and September 1944. In the records of the 44th Reich Grenadier Division "Hoch- und Deutschmeister" there are references to the massacres in Capistrello near Aquila and Sassoleone near Bologna. Material on operations in the Oltrepò Pavese in the winter of 1944/45 is contained in the records of the 162nd (Turk.) Infantry Division. The war diaries of the 65th Infantry Division provide insights into the scouring of the area at Monte Pisano, those of the Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 19 on partisan combat operations in the area of Sant'Anna di Stazzema at the beginning of August 1944.

The other units represented in the archive are the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the 278th Infantry Division, the 356th Infantry Division, the Sturm Battalion "OB Südwest", supply documents of the 10th and 14th Armies, units of the Construction, Transmission, and Medical Corps, as well as engineer, intelligence and medical units, totaling some 250 documentation units and several thousand pages. The areas covered are Tuscany in the summer of 1944, Emilia-Romagna in the autumn and winter of 1944/45, the retreat through the Marches in the summer of 1944, the Cassino front in April 1944, the Oltrepò Pavese and the area of the Veneto Prealps.