SS Massacre in Italy: Report Slams Prosecutors for Ignoring Leads

Publié le par Der Spiegel - Felix Bohr

Der Spiegelpublished 12/04/2013 at 04:58 PM by Felix Bohr

Last October, German prosecutors shelved an investigation of former SS soldiers suspected of participating in a 1944 massacre in Italy. A new report blasts investigators for ignoring potentially important clues -- and might prompt authorities to reopen the case.

SS Massacre in Italy

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and German President Joachim Gauck leave a ceremony commemorating a 1944 massacre in Sant'Anna di Stazzema on March 24.

The murderous horde came to the small Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema at dawn. They raged throughout the afternoon, and when it was over, the SS thugs had killed 560 civilians. It was Aug. 12, 1944.

The event -- which is considered perhaps the most egregious of many war crimes German soldiers committed on Italian soil during World War II -- took place as the Germans were retreating up the Italian peninsula. The action was justified as being part of the fight against partisans -- but the victims of the bloodbath were overwhelmingly women, the elderly and over 100 children. The villagers were systematically shot and their corpses were then heaped in the church square and set alight. For good measure, some 300 members of the SS tank division Reichsführer SS set much of the village on fire as well.

In October 2012, when prosecutors in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart shelved an investigation against eight surviving soldiers who had participated in the gruesome massacre, it sparked an uproar in Italy. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano publicly criticized the decision not to put the men on trial.

The episode is one of the reasons why German President Joachim Gauck traveled to the mountain village in Tuscany a few weeks ago. At a monument commemorating the crime, he said it injures "our feeling of justice deeply whenever perpetrators cannot be convicted because the instruments of the constitutional state do not allow it."

But now Carlo Gentile, a Cologne-based historian working on behalf of an association of victims of the massacre in Sant'Anna di Stazzema, has released an official expert assessment of the surrounding legal drama. The document casts great doubts on the Stuttgart prosecutors' decision -- which could lead to a reopening of the investigation and legal proceedings.

Unknown or Ignored Clues

According to Gentile's findings, important documents and witness testimony was either "not at all known to" or ignored by investigators. The historian also faults prosecutors for supposedly having failed to pursue potentially useful clues. Prosecutors made "clear mistakes with regard to historical data," he charges, and did not take into consideration "the topography and the chronological sequence" of the massacre.

When the investigation was shelved in 2012, Rainer Stickelberger, then-justice minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg, stressed in a press release that officials in Stuttgart, the state capital, had "thoroughly exhausted" all possibilities. He likewise expressed his regret that prosecutors had "not succeeded in bringing the perpetrators to justice despite the major investigative efforts," which had failed to find proof of individual guilt.

In 2005, an Italian court convicted 10 former SS soldiers involved in the massacre and sentenced them to life in prison. However, the men were tried in absentia owing to a German policy of not extraditing its own citizens.

In his report, Gentile stressed that most of the eight surviving SS soldiers held leadership positions. What's more, he says that some of the soldiers participating in the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre also had "relevant experience with serving in concentration camps and military units known to have committed crimes."

Gentile criticized the investigators in Stuttgart for not having looked into "all the indications of the participation of SS and Wehrmacht units," the latter referring to Germany's WWII-era army. The German lawyer representing the victims' association says that he has forwarded a copy of Gentile's report to the public prosecutor's office in Stuttgart.

Publié dans Articles de Presse

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