No justice for the innocent

Sant’Anna massacre case dropped by German court

Brenda Dionisi
October 11, 2012

A long battle to prosecute the eight surviving Nazi soldiers believed to be responsible for one of the bloodiest civilian massacres to have occurred in Italy during World War II has ended in controversy.

 

On August 12, 1944, a group of German officers from the Waffen SS division decimated the village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, a town in the Versilia coastal hills. The soldiers executed an estimated 560 townspeople, including men, women and children, in the church square. Their bodies were then burned, making it one of the most brutal atrocities in war-torn Italy.     

 

However, a recent ruling by a German court says it will not prosecute the eight surviving Nazi military officers suspected of participating in the massacre. Reviewing the results of a 10-year investigation, the German justices ruled ‘a lack of evidence.'

 

In Italy, news of the German court's decision has disappointed and enraged many. Victims' relatives and a host of Italian politicians have promised to continue to pursue justice.  

 

Among them is the Association of the Martyrs of Sant'Anna (www.santannadistazzema.org), which called the ruling ‘absurd and unjust' and has vowed to take action.

 

Mario Silicani, mayor of Sant'Anna di Strazzema, said of the German ruling, ‘It is offensive to read that it was not possible to clarify whether or not this was a planned act, because the Italian investigation has already illustrated the course of the events in question. In the coming days, I will be lobbying support from Italy's foreign affairs minister Giulio Terzi and justice minister Paola Severino to start a discussion between the two countries for the recognition of rulings issued by the respective courts ... It offends and hurts us to know that in a sense we are back at the start again, even though for us the 2005 ruling remains a cornerstone of historical and judicial truth, for the seriousness with which the investigations were conducted, supported by the work of prosecutor Marco De Paolis.'

 

Silicani's words were echoed by high-ranking Italian politicians, including president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano: ‘We note with profound regret the disturbing reasons for closing a case into those suspected of directly participating in those heinous Nazi crimes.'

In its own investigation and trial, in 2005 Italy's military court convicted 10 former Nazi officers to life in prison in absentia, including the eight who remain alive. The Italian court convicted the officers for having carried out a ‘premeditated act of terrorism.' The Italian High Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in 2007. Germany, however, has refused to grant Italy's request for the men's arrest as its constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens.

 

German officials have stressed that the court's decision was made with special care. ‘I want to assure the survivors and victims' relatives that the Stuttgart prosecutor's office did everything possible' to determine the responsibility of German military officers in the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre,' said Stuttgart attorney general Claudia Krauth. ‘Even here we feel the weight of our responsibility,' added Krauth. ‘We have investigated with great interest and commitment.'

 

MEMORIAL FOR THE VICTIMS

Together with survivors of the massacre, town officials created the National Park of Peace of Sant'Anna di Stazzema in 2000, a memorial area that extends over the hilly area surrounding the village and includes the church square where the massacre took place. The park comprises a sacred area, which includes the small parish church, a museum dedicated to the resistance, and a Via Crucis, which is a paved path from the church's square that leads to the Charnel House Monument. Erected in 1948 and designed by Tito Salvatori, the Charnel House Monument is a 12-metre tower with four arches. Under its arches is a sculpture by artist Vincenzo Gasperetti representing a woman with a child killed during the massacre. The base of the statue contains the mortal remains of those killed. The monument also bears a plaque with the names of those victims who could be identified. For more information, consult www.santannadistazzema.org.

 

A survivor's account

‘As we were all small children, my mother hid us in a forest and we remained there until we heard some shots. When the shots ended, when it was all quiet, we started hearing that the Nazis destroyed the village and killed all the people.' Luciano Lazzeri, survivor - www.santannadistazzema.org

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