The village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, Italy was hit by a Nazi massacre in the course of an operation against Italian resistance movement during the Italian Campaign of WWII. A total of 1,430 Italian civilians were killed there between July and September 1944. The memorial of the National Park of Peace and other monuments devoted to the slaughter were built in the village.
The massacre of Sant’Anna di Stazzema is part of the “strategy of terror” implemented by Kesselring, commander-in-chief of the German troops in Italy, which in the summer of 1944 caused almost 4000 victims throughout Tuscany.
Concerned about the growing activity of the resistance Kesselring issued an ordinance authorizing any repressive measure to crush the partisan movement. For the Germans it was of fundamental importance to make the western front sector of the Gothic Line safe and quiet.
At the first light of dawn on August 12, about 300 soldiers of the SS, divided into four columns, surround the area of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, a little village in the province of Lucca.. With them came some fascists of the 36th Brigata Nera Benito Mussolini (also known the Black Brigades who were Fascist paramilitary groups) based in Lucca, dressed in German uniforms. The violence of the Nazis overwhelmed the entire community of Sant’Anna, including many people displaced here to escape the fighting and bombing of the coast.
The killings were done mostly by shooting groups of people with machine guns or by herding them into basements and other enclosed spaces and tossing in hand grenades. At the 16th-century local church, the priest Fiore Menguzzo (awarded the Medal for Civil Valor posthumously in 1999) was shot at point-blank range, after which machine guns were then turned on some 100 people gathered there. In all, the victims included at least 107 children (the youngest of whom, Anna Pardini, was only 20 days old), as well as eight pregnant women (one of whom, Evelina Berretti, had her stomach cut with a bayonet and her baby pulled out and killed separately).
Within a few hours more than 500 people were massacred, mostly children, women and the elderly. They were brutally raked, beaten, locked in stables or houses and killed by machine guns and hand grenades. The buildings were then set on fire, in order to erase all traces as much as possible.
Until 2004 no one was prosecuted for it.
Apart from the divisional commander Max Simon, no one was prosecuted for this massacre until July 2004, when a trial of ten former Waffen-SS officers and NCOs living in Germany was held before a military court in La Spezia, Italy. On 22 June 2005, the court found the accused guilty of participation in the killings and sentenced them in absentia to life imprisonment:
Werner Bruss (b. 1920, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Alfred Concina (b. 1919, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Ludwig Goering (b. 1923, former SS-Rottenführer who confessed to killing twenty women),
Karl Gropler (b. 1923, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Georg Rauch (b. 1921, former SS-Untersturmführer),
Horst Richter (b. 1921, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Alfred Schoneberg (b. 1921, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Heinrich Schendel (b. 1922, former SS-Unterscharführer),
Gerhard Sommer, (b. 1921, former SS-Untersturmführer), and
Ludwig Heinrich Sonntag (b. 1924, former SS-Unterscharführer).
However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany.
In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (eight of whom were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence. Simon 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.
Miracle at St. Anna
Miracle at St. Anna is a 2008 American–Italian war film directed by Spike Lee and written by James McBride, based on McBride’s 2003 novel of the same name. Set primarily in Italy during German-occupied Europe in World War II, the film tells the story of four Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division who seek refuge in a small Tuscan village, where they form a bond with the residents. The story is presented as a flashback, as one survivor, Hector Negron (Alonso), reflects upon his experiences in a frame story set in 1980s New York. The movie shows us an dramatic re-enactment of the German plans to crush partisan resistance and of the massacre at Sant’Anna.
Museum of Resistance in Sant’Anna di Stazzema
The Museum of Resistance offers visitors a fundamental and exhaustive overview of the historical background to the massacre and Versilia’s contribution in the fight for Liberation, while at the same time, encouraging a reflection on the values of the Resistance. The set-up of the museum is designed to express a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the interior and exterior: an exhibition space and the Ossuary Monument on the Col di Cava.