Revenge and Retaliation

School children of Sant'Anna di Stazzema

The massacres of Italian civilians were in revenge and retaliation for the resistance carried out by the Italian population and groups of partisans against the German occupation. According to the orders of the Nazi and Wehrmacht leadership, 50 Italians were to be killed for every German victim. In the course of the operations in the Marzabotto area this ratio became one hundred to one.

The massacres of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto were two of many war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Wehrmacht, the SS and other German forces during the Second World War in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and in other occupied areas. In Italy, this massacre counts among innumerable other war crimes that became all the more brutal, cruel and reckless as the German troops were pushed back by the allied advance and the resistance of the partisans.

Walter Reder

After the war, only SS Sturmbannführer Walter Reder, who led the 16th Armored Infantry Division, was held legally accountable for the massacres of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto.

On October 31, 1951, an Italian military court in Bologna sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment. An appeal confirmed the judgement in 1954. Following massive pressure behind the scenes from the German government and Vatican representatives, a military court in Bari heard his case again in 1980, reducing his sentence. Five years later, on January 24, 1985, Waffen-SS officer Walter Reder was a free man who could return to his homeland Austria, where he was greeted by Defence Minster Friedhelm Frischenschlager, a member of Jörg Haider’s far-right Austrian Freedom Party.

This unleashed a wave of indignation in Italy. Survivors and relatives of the victims had opposed this war criminal being granted a pardon. Heaping yet more scorn on his victims, one year after his release Reder rescinded the apology he had given the municipality of Marzabotto during his detention, as well as the expression of “regret” during his trial in Bari. Reder died in Vienna in 1991 at the age of 75 years.