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March 24: Partisans in Italy — and a Reprisal

March 23, 2016

image-304903-panoV9free-uiqh-304903After sixteen partisans of the Italian Communist “Patriotic Action Group” killed 42 SS police in a bombing in central Rome the previous day (the 25th anniversary of the founding of Mussolini’s fascist party), the Nazi occupiers of Italy massacred 335 Italian prisoners in the Ardeatine Caves in Rome, including 57 Jews (the majority of Rome’s Jews had been deported to Auschwitz the previous October). Hitler himself authorized the reprisal. The bodies, stacked in the tunnels of disused quarries, were not discovered until the Allies liberated Rome on June 4, 1944. In a 1967 book by Robert Katz, Death in Rome, Pope Pius XII was said to have had advance knowledge of the Nazi reprisal and to have done little to forestall it; the pope’s defenders argued that Catholic convents and religious institutions in Rome were filled with Jews, communists, and other anti-fascists, and that a public protest by Pius XII would have resulted in catastrophic searches by the Nazis. In 1999, the Italian Supreme Court declared the partisans immune from prosecution for the death of an innocent boy during their attack on the SS. The Ardeatine Caves site is a memorial shrine today, and a solemn ceremony occurs on each anniversary of the Nazi reprisal slaughter.

“Erich Priebke, the former SS captain who helped organize the killings and personally shot dead at least two victims... [was] discovered living in Argentina and was deported to Italy in 1995... [S]erving a life sentence under house arrest for his role in the killings... in a [100th] birthday video interview given a few months before his death, he declared himself still faithful to Nazi ideology, blamed Jews themselves for the Holocaust, and denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers, saying the West had ‘invented’ this narrative as propaganda in order to whitewash their own World War II crimes.” —Ruth Ellen Gruber, Tablet