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Author Topic: 23 MAR 1944: THE ARDEANTINE MASSACRE  (Read 78 times)
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PzLdr
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« on: March 23, 2020, 01:12:42 am »

With the Italian switch of sides in WW II, the Germans occupied much of the peninsula, and quickly disarmed Italian military forces within their reach. With no substantive ability to engage in regular land warfare on the Allied side, the Italians formed a resistance, and engaged in sabotage and irregular or guerilla warfare. On March 23rd, a bomb was detonated by the resistance  in Rome itself. The target was an SS police battalion that route marched through the city at the same time, using the same route, every day. The result was 33 dead SS men, and a couple more who appeared to be mortally wounded, but survived.

Hitler, initially wanted to burn down Rome.  Himmler wanted to execute at least 100 Italians for every dead SS man. Eventually, it was agreed that 10 Italians would be executed for every German who died. What couldn't be agreed upon was who would kill the Italians.

The German Army refused on the grounds the victims were SS and not Army. The Waffen SS refused because the victims had been SS police, and not combat troops. So the operation fell to SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Herbert Kappler of the SD, who was the Gestapo chief in Rome, and his SD men.

The location selected was a catacomb on the outskirts of  Rome called the Ardeantine catacombs.  Some 335 victims were selected from prisoners, Jews, etc. They were trucked to the catacombs, marched inside in small groups, and shot in the back of the head. Kappler required ALL his men to participate in the executions, including himself, his deputy, Erich Priebke, and all the officers. After the murders were completed, the entrance was blasted shut.

The Germans being the Germans, Kappler's problems didn't end there. 33 Germans had died, but Kappler had killed 335 Italians. So the wires between Rome and Berlin burned up with arguments over who would take the responsibility / blame for the extra five Italians, since their executions weren't authorized.

In hindsight that was the least of Kappler's problems. Captured at the end of the war, he was tried by an Italian Court, and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, he was visited by the Catholic monsiegnur he had battled with during the war, a priest active in the resistance. Kappler was converted to Roman Catholicism as a result [At least two movies were made about the duo, one called the "Red and the Black" starred Gregory Peck, and Christopher Plummer].

Kappler was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer, with his weight dropping to some 90 lbs. Appeals were made by his wife for compassionate release, bu the families of the victims strenuously opposed it. So on a visit to the prison, Mrs. Kappler brought a load of clean laundry in a suitcase to her husband, and left the prison with her husband in the suitcase. He died shortly afterward in Germany.
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