The Marzabotto Massacre, also known as the Monte Sole Massacre
It is considered, the most atrocious war crime committed by German troops during the period of German occupation, from 9 September 1943 to the end of the war in Italy.
The Massacre, took place in the vicinity of Marzabotto, an Apennine community near the Italian city of Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. Between 29 September and 1 October 1944, units of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Reichsführer SS" and the German Wehrmacht destroyed the entire region, killing over 770 civilians, mostly old men, women and children. Among those 770 victims are 213 children under the age of 13. Adult men of military age are almost completely missing from the list. During this punitive action, which was allegedly directed against partisans of the Brigata "Stella Rossa" group, war crimes took place that continued to accompany the interstate relationship between the Germany and Italy for a long time. According to the SS, the victims of the massacre were “Banditen und Bandenhelfer” (Bandits and Supporters).
SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Reder, commander of the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16, provided the main troops. His outfit was the main actor in this massacer. Furthermore, parts of SS Panzer Regiment 35, the Divisions-Begleit-Kompanie, Batterie-Flak-Abteilung 16 and SS Panzer-Abteilung 16 with their assault guns were involved. The Luftwaffe detached parts of Flak Regiment 105. The Army provided the IV (Russian) Battalion of Grenadier Regiment 1059 of the 362nd Infantry Division and several alert units. However, Reder did not participate directly in the action because he was injured in the knee, and directed his unit by radio from a command post.
Brigata Stella Rossa
The partisan Brigata “Stella Rossa” (Red Star Brigade), led by Mario Musolesi (called “Il Lupo” the Wolfe) had roughly a strength of 500 resistance fighters. The Germans, however had assumed that there were 2000 partisans in the area. Stella Rossa carried out sabotage acts, laid ambushes, and fought against the Germans in the Emilia-Romagna region, at the Linea Gotica near Marzabotto.
The main operational base was in the Monte Sole region and the brigade moved from there to sabotage and ambush German troops and Fascists in the River Setta and River Reno valleys, as well as in nearby areas, with the purpose of speeding up the liberation of this very land and of Italy as a whole from the enemies. In the Autumn of 1944 the Monte Sole region, sited along the line of the Allied offensive, became a crucial spot for German troops both for supplies and as a feasible route should they have to withdraw.
Fighting the Partisans - Bandenkampf
To ensure control of the place, on September 29, 1944 the German army began combing the area, with the objective to encircle the Partisans and destroy them in a concentrated assault.
After the first clashes with the enemy, a group of partisans gathered at Monte Sole peak, which was hit by the German army with artillery and mortar shells. Due to several factors - such as much more powerful German military forces, the difficulty in coordinating the various partisan groups scattered around Monte Sole, the loss of a number of men, the brutality with which the German army attacked, as they made no distinction between armed partisans and civilians! In addition, the Stella Rossa commander Mario “Il Lupo” Musolesi was killed on the very first day of the German Operation on September 29, 1944.
The Stella Rossa Brigade had a very hard time and, after a tough resistance, left Monte Sole. The Allied forces, who in the autumn of 1944 were drawing closer to the area, tried several times to free Monte Sole and only succeeded on April 16, 1945
29 September 1944
At daybreak on 29 September the operation began. At 9:00 there was a fierce firefight with partisans near Cadotto, and elements of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16, with the SS-Company involved losing 20 men. These were the only casualties of Reder’s outfit in the course of the entire operation. While the fight with the partisans at Cadetto dragged on, other combat groups entered and cleared the houses. Women, children and old men, about 30 in number, were lined up against the wall and shot on the order of SS-Obersturmführer Segebrecht.
The soldiers then moved on to Casoncella, arresting all civilians they encountered on their march and took them as far as San Giovani. On arrival at around 11:00, they drove the residents there out of an air-raid shelter in which they had been hiding. They brought the two groups together and shot a total of 49 civilians with machine guns, including 19 children under the age of 13.
Chiesa di Casaglia
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Casaglia, of Medieval origins, was re-constructed in 1665 and embellished by subsequent restoration works.
A lot of people had fled from several villages to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Casaglia. When the Germans arrived, some peasants successfully fled, although followed by gunshot. A crippled woman was killed inside the church, as well as two people who had sought refuge in the bell tower.
The rest of the people were taken out and brought to the Casaglia cemetery. The 26-year-old priest Don Ubaldo Marchioni was questioned about the whereabouts of the men and partisans. He could not give any information and was killed in front of the altar. Afterwards, the SS shot 80 people, among them 39 children in the cemetery of Casaglia. The plaque and the little crown of stars on the altar celebrate don Ubaldo Marchioni's sacrifice. UNESCO listed the church as a messenger of peace.
The Cemetery of Casaglia
Here, on September 29, 1944, the German troops with hand grenades and machine guns slaughtered the eighty or so people, for the most part women and children, whom they had rounded up from the church of Casaglia. A few people survived, under the dead bodies.
Caprara di Sopra
After this massacre, a group of German soldiers moved on to Borgo di Caprara di Sopra.
In 1944 Caprara di Sopra was a small hamlet with a tavern and a grocer's. The German soldiers discovered about forty people, mostly women and children, hiding in a nearby shelter. They led them into the kitchen of a house, and threw hand grenades through a window and began shooting through the door. Only a very few escaped, either jumping from the window or hiding inside the house that was anyway mined and set on fire, and subsequently collapsed.
The 1939 photograph shows the Astrali sisters with their mother Cesarina Parenti. Ida, Gabriella, Anna Rosa Astrali and Cesarina Parenti were killed by the Germans in Caprara on 29 September 1944. (Photo courtesy by Luigi Fantini, Collezioni d'arte e di history of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna)
In the nearby vicinity of Caprara, German soldiers also killed a mother with her seven children, aged between 2 and 17.
The hamlet was recently restored by the Park authorities, thus recovering the outer edges of the buildings destroyed by war events and by a long period of neglect.
In 1944 Cerpiano was a tiny hamlet with a large three-storey building, an oratory named after the Guardian Angels, a farmhouse and some rural buildings. It housed several families, some of which had moved from the River Setta valley to flee from the allied bombings on the railway. The hamlet also included a nursery-school and a mixed-level primary school class. The fields were cultivated with cereals, grapevines and fruit trees, especially cherry trees, while the forest to the south provided firewood and chestnuts.
It was one of the places where the Stella Rossa partisan brigade was active. Here, the Nazi violence emerged with utmost brutality. On September 29, the German troops gathered about fifty people, mostly women and children, locked them in the oratory at Cerpiano and slaughtered them with hand grenades.
Two children and the schoolteacher Antonietta Benni survived by hiding under the corpses of kin and friends.
Fernando Piretti, survivor of the massacre
Fernando Piretti, survivor:
"They had a machine gun set up and were shooting. We were here on one side - those who were in the front were all sawn right through the middle, right in half. We saw them at the door when we fled. All in all, there were 45,47 of us here - it was all full."
30 September 1944
On the morning of 30 September 1944, the killings continued as planned. SS-Obersturmführer Max Saalfrank, who had been assigned by Reder to lead the combat groups, held a situation meeting. In this meeting it was decided to fight the partisans in the area of Monte Caprara. However, these had already left. A company moved again to Cerpiano and swarmed from there to areas they had not reached before. SS-Rottenführer Meyer, who had taken part in the killing in the chapel the day before, now finished off those who were still alive in the chapel. Every person who was in the immediate vicinity of Marzabotto was shot there by the SS.
By the evening of that day, the operation was considered over. Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 was withdrawn because it was needed in a other combat area.
At least six of the larger massacres and an unquantifiable number of smaller shootings could be attributed to Reder’s SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16.
1 October 1944
But the killing did
not end yet. In the course of the operation, numerous men had been arrested and initially held in the village of Pioppe di Salvaro near Marzabotto. Those fit enough for forced labour were taken
away and so about 50 people remained. As they were too sick or too old for work, they were all shot on 1 October. At Canovetta di Villa d'Ignano, 20 men were shot who had already been detained in
the military operation on 29 September, 1944.
The Wehrmacht reported "heavy fighting", with all the houses being turned into fortresses by the "bandits". In these "very hard firefights" of a "doggedly resisting communist bandit brigade", seven German soldiers had died and 718 enemies had been killed. In fact, it was the largest number of innocent casualties ever counted in such an operation in Italy.
After the War
As the Monte Sole peak was the Last Stand of the Partisans before they left the area, we wanted to see the positions. You can climb up to check out the monument and enjoy the view. However, the direct way up is not easy but worth.
Two commanders of the SS division responsible for the murders were convicted. The head of the punitive action, SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Reder, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Bologna in 1951.
In 1984, Reder expressed "his deep remorse" in a letter to the citizens of Marzabotto. He was released after 34 years from prison on 24 January 1985. Afterwards, Reder recanted all expressions of remorse. Reder died in Vienna in 1991.
SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon was sentenced to death in Padua and pardoned as early as 1954. He died on February 1, 1961 in Lünen, Germany.
In 2007, an Italian military court sentenced ten former members
of the members of the SS troops in absentia to life imprisonment and the payment of compensation for the murders around Marzabotto.
Two Italian collaborators involved in the Marzabotto crimes - Lorenzo Minardi and Giovanni Quadri - were also sentenced to death and 30 years' imprisonment respectively by a court in Brescia, but were released after an amnesty.
- Parco Storica di Monte Sole
- Visiting the site myself