Paolo Pezzino – Warfare and massacre, 1943-45

Event Date: Sunday 26 September 2010

Imperial War Museum, London

Racism, war, atrocity, and its aftermath in Italy, 1938-2010


Paolo Pezzino (University of Pisa)
Warfare and massacre, 1943-45

Paolo Pezzino presents the results of a research group which has, over the last few years, effected a careful contextualization of the German Military Occupation of Italy and the Massacres of  Civilians massacres of civilians in Tuscany, a region of great significance for this subject. The aim has been to place these massacres in a more precise historical context, by reconstructing the power structures, the logic and the cultural conditioning which made them possible, the behaviour and aims of the various protagonists, the complex evolution of the survivors’ memories, the ways in which the community memory has been taken up, or expelled, by the antifascist paradigm of republican Italy.
The salient fact of the “war against civilians”, waged by the Germans, their allies and collaborators, had been identified by the Allied investigations in the system of orders which regulated it. The general report, on 11 August 1945, sent from Allied Headquarters to the British Undersecretary of State at the War Office, together with attached files and appendices which contained the results of the investigations, concluded:  the “reprisals were not carried out on the orders of the commanders of single German units, but were instances of an organized campaign, directed by Field Marshal Kesselring’s Headquarters”.
The research teams have conducted a survey of all the episodes of massacres in Tuscany,  237 episodes have been counted; the total number of victims has been found to be 3778, of which 2.737 males. About 80% of the episodes and 83% of the victims cannot be linked to “reprisals” for partisans actions, according to the way this term is defined by the usual procedures of warfare. This is a very significant fact, because it tends to weaken the defensive theses of the German generals and calls into question other factors, linked to territorial control, which tended to assume an openly terrorist character in relation to the civilian population.
The results demonstrate the very wide range of units involved and so confirm the existence of a general approach which led to massacres; however, it is possible to differentiate between the German troops, both as regards the propensity to put into practice the draconian orders issued by the High Command, and the ways these were applied, when this was, in fact, the case. So the facts regarding certain units are of the utmost significance: the units of the XVI SS PG Division and the Hermann Göring Division were responsible for a minority of the massacres 71 actions (33,8%) (total: 210 massacres), but 2.125 victims, about the 58,2% of the total number, were killed, (3.650 total victims). These actions were more distinctly terrorist or punitive in nature, and their intervention contributed to characterizing them as exterminations.
In conclusion, the system of orders and its application, the functional assigning of tasks, to be put into effect, above all, by men transferred to Italy from the Eastern Front, where they had already undergone “the brutalization of war”, referred to by Bartov — are the elements which contribute to defining, as typically Nazi, the “war against civilians” waged in Italy: they, therefore, qualitatively distinguish the German system of occupation.




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