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Nazi War Crimes: The Sant’Anna di Stazzema Massacre

(August 1944)

On June 22, 2005, after a year-long trial, Italian judges convicted 10 former members of the Nazi SS accused of taking part in the 1944 massacre of more than 500 villagers in Sant’Anna di Stazzema in northern Italy and sentenced them to life in prison. The defendants, who are all now in their eighties, were tried in absentia in the Italian town of La Spezia.

The men are still in Germany due to a German policy of not extraditing its own citizens. A court in Stuttgart is still researching the event in preparation for a possible trial in Germany.

In 1944, SS officers were given orders to round up partisans in the Tuscan region, but most men were away fighting with the Italian resistance. On August 12, about 300 SS troops from 16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer-SS surrounded the village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, which had been flooded with refugees, and rounded up and shot villagers. Some people were herded into basements and other enclosed spaces and killed with hand grenades. Before burning the village to the ground, the SS murdered hundreds of women and elderly and 116 children, the youngest of which was just 20 days old. The precise number killed is uncertain, but the most commonly cited number is 560 people.

The massacre, perhaps the most egregious war crime committed by the Nazis on Italian soil – took place as the Germans were retreating up the Italian peninsula. Some historians say the killings were in retaliation against Italian partisans resisting German occupation; others maintain it was an unwarranted act of intimidation.

Italian authorities have been accused of losing vital documents and burying many trials in the 1950s and 60s to to prevent post-war Italy from confronting its Fascist past, and to avoid damaging relations with Germany. In fact, the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre was not publicly known until 1994, when nearly 700 reports about it were accidentally found in a metal cabinet (named “cupboard of shame” by Italian media) in the basement of the Rome military court.

The men convicted for their role in the massacre were:

  • Karl Gropler
  • Georg Rauch
  • Gerard Sommer
  • Alfred Schoneberg
  • Ludwig Heinrich Sonntag
  • Alfred Concina
  • Horst Richter
  • Werner Bruss
  • Heinrich Schendel
  • Ludwig Goering

Sources: Deutsche Welle (August 12, 2004); Wikipedia ; Spiegel Online, (June 23, 2005); Reuters, (April 21, 2004); Haaretz, (June 23, 2005), AP, (June 22, 2005)