From Massacre Site to Peace School

Victims of the Massacre

The Past

The Marzabotto massacre was a World War II mass murder that took place in the territory around the small village of Marzabotto, in the mountainous area, the Apennine range, south of Bologna. It was the worst massacre of civilians committed by the Waffen SS in Italy during the war.

The massacre of the civilian population of Marzabotto, carried out between September 29 and October 1, 1944, by units of the 16th SS Armored Infantry Division under the leadership of the notorious SS Sturmbannführer Walter Reder, was one of the worst and most brutal Nazi crimes of the Second World War. Some 800 people, mainly women, children and older men, were mown down and murdered in Marzabotto alone, with a further 1,000 killed in surrounding villages. The victims included some 200 children, some only a few days old.


Connecting the Past and Present to the Future

Today Monte Sole, a triangle of valleys, approximately 10 miles south of Bologna, between the Seat and Reno Rives in the Appenini mountains is a home to a Peace School Foundation.  

The central experience of a visit to Monte Sole Peace School is a tour of the Historical Park. Educator guides begin by walking visitors up a small hill to a vista point, where they ask visitors to carefully observe the rolling green hills and forested landscape around them, and consider what they think the place looked like 70 years ago. The educators then explain that houses once covered the hills, with close to 1,000 people living there, but that the entire village was destroyed in a massacre led by Nazi troops in the fall of 1944.

The tour proceeds to three different ruin sites, where scant remains of a few different massacre sites can be seen: a collection of private homes and shops; a church; and a cemetery. The educator explains how the massacres took place in each place: what strategies villagers used to try to survive; what strategies soldiers used to trap them; how villagers were ultimately killed; and how any survivors escaped. The narration includes an oral testimony delivered by a survivor him/herself, and two others that are read aloud by the educator.

Educators also show a map of the area illustrating the path Nazi and Italian Fascist forces took, and the specific places (e.g., churches, schools, etc.) where massacres took place. Using the map and the landscape, educators explain how Monte Sole, positioned between two rivers and near a railroad line, made it extremely important for communications. They explain that German troops were ordered to “clean up” the area completely to ensure there would be no partisan resistance, and to allow their troops unfettered access across the mountains. Apart from the geographic importance of the site, the educators stress that the massacre was part of a campaign of terror used by the Nazis at the end of the war to suppress any civilian resistance.

The Peace School Foundation of Monte Sole, along with other sites from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, has designed a program called Dialogues for Democracy. The Dialogues for Democracy help visitors draw connections between the past and the present by using the histories of the sites to inspire new conversations and action on pressing contemporary issues. Monte Sole also offers programs in citizen leadership, education workshops, and provides programs in public and international relations.


Read more about Marzabotto, its history, and explore resources at: