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The traces of Sant´Anna di Stazzema

01_sant-anna Despite a conviction in Italy, seven SS-members continue to live unchallenged in Germany. Survivors of the massacre continue to demand answers from the German judiciary.

Enio Mancini´s hands tell the story of his life. Something different than words can tell. The hands of the 73 year old tremble strongly on this tepid summer evening in the Apuanian Alps. He holds a small, drawn-out candle in his right hand, which is sheltered by a white paper umbrella. Mancini´s voice is collected and calms the gathered crowd. “Silence is the theme of this evening. That´s why I am asking for absolute stillness,” he says and adds kindly “if possible”.

The church bell of Sant´Anna di Stazzema starts to chime with a deep tone, a lighter tone follows. Mancini lights his candle, turns around and with the priest at the head of the procession, starts to walk up the steep, stony path to the tower with mortal remains at the top of the mountain. Below, the lights of the Marina di Pietrasanta sparkle in the width of the Liguarian Sea. It is the eve of the 12th of August. The day on which a German SS-Unit committed the massacre in 1944, 67 years ago, when 560 people were brutally killed.

Two questions

At the end of July 1944, the SS started operations against partisans in the municipality of Stazzema. In the early morning hours of the 12th of August, four companies of the 16th SS-armoured infantryman division “Reichsführer SS” moved into Sant´Anna di Stazzema. The Germans announced their arrival by launching salvos. The men of the 650 meter high village escaped to the woods. The SS only encountered women, children and village elders who had remained in the houses and barns. They were summarily shot. The SS then set the dead bodies, houses and stalls on fire. Another group of villagers was herded in front of the church and shot there. After that, the SS tore the pews from the church and set them on fire along with the corpses. Only 400 corpses could be identified. The youngest victim was 20 days old.

Enio Mancini survived the massacre. He was six years old, and stumbled through the woods with a group of other villagers, accompanied by one SS-member. The young soldier talked to them, but they didn’t understand what he said until he made gestures to them to flee. When Mancini returned to his village, he witnessed the remains of the atrocity. “A dark time started after that,” is what he says today. Two questions continue to preoccupy him since the massacre: “Why?” he says in German and “Who?” in Italian, lays his head to the side and presses the thumb and index finger of his right hand together, as if to grasp something, which stretches out beyond comprehension.

“Cupboard of shame”

In September 1944, the Allies initiated investigations of the Nazi war crimes in Italy. They handed their findings over to the Italian government with the evidence material filling 695 files. It delt with countless massacres with almost 10 000 civilian victims. The material was only discovered in 1994 in the so-called “cupboard of shame” in the Palazzo Cesi, the seat of the Italian military prosecution in Rome. For decades, the cupboard stood in the basement- locked, with the door facing the wall. The files were hidden in order to avoid any threat to the NATO accession of the Federal Republic of Germany. Therefore, various Italian military prosecutors only started to launch investigations in the middle of the 1990s.

In April 2004, the military court in La Spezia opened the trial on the massacre in Sant´ Anna di Stazzema. “We participated every day the trial took place,” says Mancini. “We were the representatives for the deceased”. On June 22nd 2005, the military court sentences ten members of the 16. armoured infantryman division “Reichsfuehrer SS” to lifelong imprisonment due to the “continued murder with particular cruelty”. “The verdict was both dismal and liberating at the same time”, remarks Mancini. The sentenced Alfred Mathias Concina, Karl Gropler, Georg Rauch, Horst Richter, Gerhard Sommer, Alfred Schöneberg und Ludwig Heinrich Sonntag filed an objection against the judgment. In November 2006, the responsible military court in Rome overruled all revision applications.

The public prosecutor of Stuttgart gained access to the investigation files from Italy in 2002. Since then, he has known the names of the alleged perpetrators. The military court in La Spezia, for example, found out that Gerhard Sommer as a commander was responsible for the the massacre. The guilty plea of the involved soldier Göring, who participated as the leading machine gun operator during the SS-massacre, was made available to the state prosecutor. Under command he along with the other rifleman shot 15 to 25 women dead who stood in front of their houses. After that they soused the dead bodies with petrol and set them on fire, according to Göring’s testimony.

Leads

But even after ten years of investigations, Stuttgart has still not brought any charges against anyone. On enquiry, the responsible public prosecutor Bernhard Häußler says the current material had led to a dismissal of proceedings. A probable cause for murder does not exist, because the motives or the details of specific cruel criminal acts of violence along with the soldier’s complicity were difficult to prove for the individual SS-members. Furthermore, it is still not clear who was responsible for the overall mission. If it was the commander of the battalion (Anton Galler), then he had died in the meantime. When questioned on this, prosecutor Häußler responded “We are now investigating a new lead,” without revealing details.

The Hamburgian lawyer, Gabriele Heinecke, who represents the victims association of Sant´ Anna takes a firm stand: “All leads in this case have not led anywhere but delayed an arraignement.” In the case of Göring, where a guilty plea exists, she believes that one could have arraigned. “The public prosecutor of Stuttgart cannot act like a super authority. The massacre of the 12th of August 1944 is ripe for arraignement. There is nothing more to investigate.”

For Enio Mancini, the new lead the public prosecutor follows, only exemplifies the resistance towards the incident. His astute blue eyes look in a concentrated fashion at his counterpart. “For the German judiciary, the issue does not exist.” He leans forward, furrows his brow and gestures with his reading glasses. “In fact we do not demand much, just a little. The massacre should be acknowledged in Germany. That would have symbolic power. It is entirely a moral duty to remember this.”

Remembrance

Remembrance is what Enion Mancini turned into his mission. In 1991, he created the historic museum of the Resistenza in Sant´ Anna in the old school building. In a small glas cabinet painted red, belongings of the villagers are arranged which were discovered immediately after the massacre at the church square and other parts of the small town. A brown, scorched hat, pictures of saints, rosaries, crucifixes, tarnished rings and bracelets, a leather purse with old lira banknotes, a children´s doll with part of its upper lip quarried out, photographs. And a watch, of which only the inside with the clock face remains. Its hands stopped at 6:52 hours.

Some 67 years later, leads are still being investigated in Stuttgart, while seven SS-men who were sentenced to lifelong imprisonement in Italy, live unchallenged in Germany. The perpetrators cannot be persecuted in Italy, since no German citizen can be extradited without their consent, according to German law. And to date, the Italian authorities do not demand the enforcement of the verdict in Germany. In Sant´ Anna di Stazzema, Enio Mancini and others remember the dead and demand answers.

Update:

In October 2012, the public prosecutor in Stuttgart shelved the investigation of the SS-massacre.

The Hamburgian lawyer, Gabriele Heinecke, who represents the victims associations of Sant´ Anna, filed an appeal against the dismissal of criminal proceedings by the prosecution. Her comment: “What senior public prosecutor Häußler tried to obscure with many words and on many pages is the question, if murder took place in Sant´ Anna or not and –if so- if the murder is attributable to individuals. According to his opinion, both are to be denied. According to my opinion, both are to be affirmed.”

Enrico Pieri, survivor of the SS-massacre of Sant´Anna di Stazzema travelled to Stuttgart on the 30th of January 2013. Together with his lawyer, Gabriele Heinecke, he filed a complaint with the Attorney General against the closing of proceedings. In the meantime, eight of the convicted perpetrators died. In the two remaining cases, one demand for an enforcement of the verdict from Italy has not reached the respective Ministry of Justice. In another, the case is unclear.

In May 2013, the public prosecutor in Stuttgart refuses to conduct a new investigation into the case of the SS-massacre.

Text: Nina Schulz
Italian translation: Nina Mühlmann
Photographs: Elisabeth Mena Urbitsch

Publications:

Feature Ein NS-Kriegsverbrechen, das nicht verjährt, Zeit Online, 17.08.2011
Feature Die Spuren von Sant´Anna, bodo, 09/2011, S. 28-30
Feature Die Spuren von Sant´Anna di Stazzema, analyse & kritik, 564 (2011), S.25