The drive up to Sant’Anna di Stazzema is lovely. The narrow road winds through olive trees, vineyards and pretty villas in the mountains behind Pietrasanta on the Versilia Coast in northern Tuscany. People enjoying the sunny beaches are most likely unaware of the atrocity that occured not far from where they work on their tans.
The little church, which was rebuilt after the massacre, sits peacefully under the trees near the Piazza Anna Pardini, named after the youngest victim of the massacre. Anna Pardini was just 20 days old when she was murdered.
This is the story as it is written on the information boards at the site.
“On August 12, 1944, at dawn, 250-300 SS soldiers, belonging to the second battalion of the 35th Regiment of the Sixteenth Armored Division “Reichsfuhrer-SS” General Max Simon, divided into four columns, and led by Italian fascists, encircled Sant’Anna coming from four different places: three from the mouths of the mountains that surround it, and one low down from Valdicastello, thereby closing every avenue of escape.
On that tragic summer, the town had given hospitality to hundreds of people evacuated from the whole of Versilia, and from other cities such as Pisa, Genoa, Piombino. At the sight of the soldiers the men, fearing a raid, went to hide in the woods, confident that in this way nothing serious would happen to their families.
Instead that morning Sant’Anna di Stazzema was the victim of one of the most heinous war crimes committed against civilians during the Second World War. The violence of the Nazis went down on an entire community within a few hours over 500 innocent people, mostly children, women and elderly people were massacred; rounded up, beaten, locked in stables or in the kitchens of houses, killed with machine guns and hand grenades. Fire was used to destroy and erase everything: the bodies, houses, barns, animals.
The executioners killed grandparents and mothers, sons, daughters and grandchildren. They killed Anna (to whom this square is dedicated), the last born in the county, just 20 days old. They killed Evelina, who that morning had labor pains. They killed Genny, the young mother who, before dying, to defend her little Mario, threw her clog in the face of Nazi who was about to shoot. They killed priest, Innocente, who implored the Nazi soldiers to spare his people in the church square. They killed the eight Tucci siblings, from Livorno, together with their mother.”
Wikipedia adds that Evelina’s baby was cut from her mother’s stomach with a bayonet, pulled out and killed separately . The massacre took three hours. The soldiers then sat down outside the burning Sant’Anna and ate lunch.
There is now a Museum housed in the old structure of the village elementary school. After the slaughter only 10 of the 40 children who attended the school were left alive, so over time the school lost its function, and in its place the museum was born. On September 1991 it was transformed into the Historical Museum of the Resistance.
In the museum are photos of some of the victims and possessions saved from the fires, photos of events in the area, newpaper clippings of the times and stories by some of the survivors.
Possibly the saddest wall is the one with the photos of the murdered children and the pregnant women, and the names of those who didn’t even have a photo to leave behind. At the top left is little 20 day old Anna Pardini.
In glass cases are the sad objects found after the massacre. The wedding rings were found in the church square. They were given by the Fascist regime in exchange for gold rings, which Italian families were forced to donate to the nation, to support the war effort. The doll belonged to Maria Franca Gamba, a five year old girl killed in the massacre. When her body was found she was still clutching it to her.
Apart from the divisional commander Max Simon (He was sentenced to death for war crimes. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He was pardoned in 1954 and died in 1961), no one was prosecuted for this massacre until July 2004, when the trial against 10 former Waffen-SS officers and NCOs living in Germany was held before a military court in La Spezia. The court found the accused guilty of the participation in the killings and sentenced them in absentia to life imprisonment. However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany.
In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (8 of whom were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence.
I know that in war it is kill or be killed, but these murdering bastards had wives, children, parents and grandparents waiting for them at home. How could they do this? I wonder if their wives, mothers and children knew what they had done.
I hope the killers suffered nightmares for the rest of their miserable lives. I hope they heard the screams and saw the terrified faces and smelled the burning flesh every time they closed their eyes.
If only we learned something from this horror, but apparently we don’t. Now we have Syria and other hellholes around the world where the murder goes on.