The black and white photo was taken in the spring of 1944 and shows a soldier of the Hermann Göring Division checking the papers of a young man on a country road in the Apennines. The soldier on the right of the picture is wearing a uniform and a helmet. He is looking at the young man’s papers in his hands. The other man is standing opposite him. He is wearing civil clothing and a flat cap.
A soldier of the Hermann Göring division checks the papers of a young man along a road in the Apennines, spring 1944. © BArch, Bild 101I-477-2106-08 / Phot. Freytag

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

The basic concept driving this project is to enhance awareness within Germany, Italy, and other nations regarding this previously overlooked aspect of the intricate German-Italian relationship. Our objective is to catalyze a process of dialogue and mutual comprehension between Germany and Italy. The intention is to present historically contentious themes in German-Italian history to the wider audience in a nuanced and appropriately comprehensive manner. 

Beneath the current confrontation with the massacres lies an inherent imbalance that has given rise to a substantial requirement, both in Germany and Italy, for meticulous and historically informed examination of the German perpetrators. In the aftermath of the war, there prevailed a widespread societal silence regarding those accountable and the ones who carried out the acts, spanning numerous decades. From the start, this situation has adversely affected the victims’ descendants and served as an obstacle to coming to terms with the losses they suffered. We here see a fault in historical-commemorative policy: a fault pointing to a German informational obligation toward those who survived and their descendants. With our project, we wish to contribute to the development of instruments for overcoming this asymmetry. 

Our aim is to present an authentic portrayal of contexts, scenarios, and lived experiences, alongside mindsets, individual dispositions, social contexts, and spaces of decision and action. Additionally, we seek to uncover the underlying patterns that the perpetrators used to rationalize their actions. We perceive this project as a ‘multidirectional’ (multi-faceted) contribution to a more profound historical understanding. Within Italy, our goal is to foster a fresh and nuanced perspective on the perpetrators, one that is shaped by the latest historical research and devoid of sweeping generalizations or oversimplifications. In Germany and other nations, our aspiration is to dismantle the societal silence surrounding this historical subject. 

A core goal of the project is to develop and make available historically well-founded, multi-media, interactive material on Nazi perpetrators in Italy for research and study, and for use in projects involving work with young people and in the educational area. One major field of orientation for our website takes in schools, memorial sites, and local museums in Italy and Germany.

Thematically, the project interconnects various areas of historical study: Perpetrator Studies, the history of the prosecution of Nazi crimes and war crimes, history of memory, experiential history, and finally public history - that latter area in respect to dissemination of our research in museums and memorial sites.  

An additional noteworthy feature of the project is its international nature, with the participation of colleagues with diverse areas of specialization from Italy and Germany.

German army parachutists in Florence, summer 1944. © BArch, Bild_101I-587-2260-25 / Phot. Wahner
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The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945): Integrating the Perpetrators’ Memories