War Crimes in Italy German Prosecutors Reject Massacre Case

The massacre at Sant'Anna was one of the most barbarous German crimes committed in Italy during World War II. Five suspected perpetrators are still alive today, but the top public prosecutor in Stuttgart has rejected reopening the case.

A monument commemorates the victims of a Nazi SS massacre in the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, in northern Italy.
REUTERS

A monument commemorates the victims of a Nazi SS massacre in the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, in northern Italy.

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The German SS henchmen showed no mercy. The killing began as they climbed up to the small Tuscan mountain village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, where they murdered two old men at daybreak on Aug. 12, 1944 because they were too weak to be useful as workers. An Italian civilian who attempted to intervene in broken English was shot in front of his daughter by the SS men. At 7 a.m., they arrived in the village, where mostly the elderly, women and children were staying.

There, the Germans murdered as many as 560 Italian civilians, with the carnage lasting until midday.

Last October, the Public Prosecutor's Office in Stuttgart, Germany, closed a 10-year investigation into eight suspected perpetrators still alive at the time in Germany because they were unable to gather enough evidence to prove their guilt. Italians expressed outrage over the decision. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano criticized the move by the Stuttgart prosecutors. And German President Joachim Gauck even traveled to Sant'Anna die Stazzema, where he stated that it injures "our feeling of justice deeply whenever perpetrators can't be punished because the instruments of the constitutional state do not allow it." In Italy, some of the accused had been convicted to life sentences in absentia in 2005 because of a German policy of not extraditing its own citizens.

Hope in Italy

But in mid-April, hopes re-emerged in Italy that the investigation might be rolled out anew. Commissioned by the last living survivor of the massacre, 78-year-old Enrico Pieri, who had hidden from the SS men in a recess in a wall as a 10-year-old, Cologne historian Carlo Gentile completed an official report in which he accused the Stuttgart prosecutors of serious errors and called for the investigation to be reopened.

In his report, Gentile alleged that important documents and witness testimony were either "not at all known to" or completely ignored by prosecutors. In addition, the public prosecutors made "clear mistakes with regard to historical data" and did not take into consideration "the topography and chronological sequence" of the massacre.

On Tuesday, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Stuttgart rejected Pieri's complaint. The review of the "comprehensive investigation files," the senior prosecutor said, indicated that in the course of the massacre at Sant'Anna di Stazzema, "the crime of murder was doubtlessly committed." But of the accused who are still living, the prosecutor stated, it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that they "have committed murder themselves or that they provided help that is still actionable." Thus, the "decision by the Stuttgart Public Prosecutor's Office" cannot be challenged.

The Stuttgart prosecutor said that even the methods used to reconstruct events applied in the 2011 verdict in Munich against John Demjanjuk, a low-level SS guard at the Sobibor death camp, were not applicable in the current case. A court convicted Demjanjuk on charges of being an accomplice to murder in the deaths of 28,000 people despite the fact it could not be proven that he had directly participated.

Recently, German police took into custody Lithuanian-born Hans Lipschis, who lives in Aalen, in southwestern Germany. The 93-year-old is one of 50 Auschwitz guards who are still alive in the country and who are being investigated following the precedent set by the conviction of Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk. Some have accused Germany of "hurried action" in its late push to prosecute these Holocaust accomplices.

Last Surviving Victim Could File New Complaint

In the case of the massacre at Sant'Anna di Stazzema, however, the Director of Public Prosecutors said it could not be proven to the degree required by law that the bloodbath had been a "premeditated extermination action." Prosecutors said it could not be ruled out that the deployment began as combat against partisans and that "the shooting of the civilian population was first ordered after it became clear that the original goal could no longer be achieved."

However, Gentile has expressed considerable doubt about this view, identifying what he sees as contradictions in the statements. On the one hand, most of the original eight accused were SS leaders or officers. Gentile claims they would have played a very important role in German massacres in Italy. "The SS men already knew about the brutal anti-partisan warfare carried out by SS units even before the massacre at Sant'Anna di Stazzema," he wrote.

On the other hand, at the time of the bloodbath, there was no longer any differentiation between the uninvolved civilian population and partisans. "The arguments of the Stuttgart Director of Public Prosecutions is not very convincing from a historical perspective," the researcher said.

Massacre survivor Pieri still has the possibility of submitting a further complaint against the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions. But the number of defendants is diminishing. Of the eight accused in the investigation, only five of the alleged former SS henchmen are still alive.

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