Ardeatine massacre
The Fosse Ardeatine massacre was a mass execution carried out in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 on 24 March 1944 by German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 occupation troops during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 as a reprisal for a partisan
Italian resistance movement
The Italian resistance is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II...

 attack conducted on the previous day in central Rome.

Subsequently, the Cave Ardeatine (also known as the Fosse Ardeatine) became a National Monument and a Memorial Cemetery open daily to visitors. Every year, on the anniversary of the slaughter and in the presence of the senior officials of the Italian Republic, a solemn State commemoration is held at the monument in honour of the fallen. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II each visited the memorial once during their respective reigns, as did Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

 on March 27, 2011.

Partisan attack in Via Rasella

On 23 March 1944, a column of German policemen marching through central Rome on Via Rasella was attacked by partisans. The unit targeted by the ambush was the 11th Company, 3rd Battalion, Police Battalion Bozen. This unit was raised from ethnic Germans of the northern Italian province of South Tyrol
South Tyrol
South Tyrol , also known by its Italian name Alto Adige, is an autonomous province in northern Italy. It is one of the two autonomous provinces that make up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. The province has an area of and a total population of more than 500,000 inhabitants...

 in October 1943. Many were veterans of the Italian Army who had served in Russia who had opted to serve in the police rather than serve another tour on the Russian front with the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...


The attack was carried out by 16 partisans of the communist dominated Patriotic Action Group (Gruppi d'Azione Patriotica) (GAP). An improvised explosive device
Improvised explosive device
An improvised explosive device , also known as a roadside bomb, is a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action...

 was prepared consisting of 12 kilograms of TNT packed in a steel case. This was inserted into a bag containing an additional six kilograms of TNT and TNT filled iron tubing. The bomb was hidden in a rubbish cart, pushed into position by a partisan disguised as a street cleaner. Others acted as lookouts. The fuse was lit when the police were forty seconds from the bomb. The bomb blast caused the immediate deaths of 28 policemen and at least two Italian civilians. Others would die over the next few days. All sixteen partisans - some of whom fired on the German soldiers - managed to melt away unscathed into the crowd and evade capture.

Preparation for the reprisal

The German police attaché and commander of the Security Police in Rome, SS Obersturmbannführer
Obersturmbannführer was a paramilitary Nazi Party rank used by both the SA and the SS. It was created in May 1933 to fill the need for an additional field grade officer rank above Sturmbannführer as the SA expanded. It became an SS rank at the same time...

Herbert Kappler
Herbert Kappler
Herbert Kappler , was the head of German police and security services in Rome during World War II...

 was on the scene soon afterwards to supervise the investigation. That evening he was summoned to the headquarters of the German Armed Forces Commandant in Rome, Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

Generalmajor Kurt Mälzer
Kurt Mälzer
Kurt Mälzer was a General of the German Luftwaffe during World War II. In 1944, Mälzer was appointed the military commander of the city of Rome, under the overall command of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring...

, who had decided that the killings called for reprisals. This was illegal under international laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

 of the day, to which Germany was a signatory.

They agreed that the execution of ten Italians for each German policeman killed was a suitable ratio. Mälzer, who also proposed burning part of Rome down, passed this on to Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen
Eberhard von Mackensen
Friedrich August Eberhard von Mackensen was a German general who served in World War II, and one of 882 German recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

, the commander of the Fourteenth Army, whose jurisdiction included Rome, who endorsed the recommendation. In turn the staff of the German Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 South (Oberbefehlshaber Süd), passed this on to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

(OKW). That night, Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 authorised the reprisal, stipulating that it be carried out within 24 hours. Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 South Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring was a German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany's most skilful commanders, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords...

, considered this an order, one he interpreted to call for the execution of Italians who had been previously sentenced to death. He was reassured by Kappler that sufficient prisoners were available.

However, Kappler soon found that he did not have 280 Italians on death row. What he had was four who had been condemned to death, 17 serving long sentences, and 167 "worthy of death", plus two to four who had been rounded up in the Via Rasella area who were suspected of involvement in the partisan attack. His superior, SS Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei
Dr. Wilhelm Harster
Wilhelm Harster
Wilhelm Harster was an SS and Police Leader. He was twice convicted of war crimes, by the Dutch and later by West Germany...

 suggested making up the numbers from the 57 Jews who were being held in Kappler's jails. By noon on 24 March, Kappler had a list of 271 victims, each with his crime listed against his name, except for the Jews, whose offence was simply listed as "Jew". But by this time the death toll had risen to 32. (One more would die while the reprisal was under way; the death toll would eventually reach 42.) To make up the numbers, the chief of fascist police in Rome, Pietro Caruso
Pietro Caruso
Pietro Caruso was an Italian Fascist and head of the Italian police during the final part of World War II....

, offered some Italians from his jails. Because of the time limit that Hitler had imposed, Mälzer and Kappler agreed that the victims would have to be shot from behind at close range rather than by a conventional firing squad.


In fact, by mistake, a total of 335 Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 hostages were taken, composed of civilians, Italian prisoners of war (up to General rank), previously captured partisans and some inmates from Roman prisons. The massacre
A massacre is an event with a heavy death toll.Massacre may also refer to:-Entertainment:*Massacre , a DC Comics villain*Massacre , a 1932 drama film starring Richard Barthelmess*Massacre, a 1956 Western starring Dane Clark...

 was perpetrated without prior public notice in what was then a little-frequented rural suburb of the city, inside the tunnels of the disused quarries of pozzolana
Pozzolana, also known as pozzolanic ash , is a fine, sandy volcanic ash. Pozzolanic ash was first discovered and dug in Italy, at Pozzuoli. It was later discovered at a number of other sites as well...

, near the Via Ardeatina
Via Ardeatina
Via Ardeatina was an ancient road of Rome leading to the town of Ardea, after which it is named. Ardea lay 24 miles distant from Rome.-External links:*...


On 24 March, led by SS officers Erich Priebke
Erich Priebke
Erich Priebke is a former Hauptsturmführer in the Waffen SS. In 1996 he was convicted of war crimes in Italy, for participating in the massacre at the Ardeatine caves in Rome, on March 24, 1944...

 and Karl Hass
Karl Hass
Karl Hass was a German Lieutenant-Colonel in the SS whose involvement in the Ardeatine massacre while serving in Italy led to allegations of war crimes...

, the victims were transported to the Ardeatine caves and then, in groups of five, were put to death inside the caves.

Since the killing squad mostly consisted of officers who had never killed before, Kappler ordered several cases of cognac
Cognac is a commune in the Charente department in southwestern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.-Geography:Cognac is situated on the river Charente between the towns of Angoulême and Saintes. The majority of the town has been built on the river's left bank, with the smaller right...

 delivered to the caves to calm their nerves. The officers were ordered to lead the doomed prisoners into the caves with their hands tied behind their backs and then have them kneel down so that the soldiers could place a bullet directly into the cerebellum
The cerebellum is a region of the brain that plays an important role in motor control. It may also be involved in some cognitive functions such as attention and language, and in regulating fear and pleasure responses, but its movement-related functions are the most solidly established...

; thus no more than one bullet would be needed per prisoner.

Many were forced to kneel down over the bodies of those who had been killed before them because the cave had become filled with dead bodies. During the killings, it was discovered that there were five more prisoners than were supposed to have been taken, but they were killed anyway, in order to prevent news of the location of the place of execution from becoming known.

Some of the Germans involved in the massacre were horrified by the slaughter. One of the officers, who refused to shoot, was personally dragged to the execution site by Erich Priebke, who put his arm around the officer's waist and forced him to kill his victim.

Another, named Amon, testified at the trial of Kappler which was held in Italy in 1948; saying that once he entered the cave and saw the piles of dead bodies, he was so horrified that he fainted and was replaced by a comrade who pushed him aside and shot another victim.

The massacre took most of the day. Some of the victims' heads were blown off by the fire; others were only wounded and may have survived until the explosions intended to seal the caves after the massacre was completed: one youth and his father were found in each other's arms in a corner of the cave galleries which had been not filled with the debris under which most victims had been buried. Some crawled into corners to die.

The bodies of the victims were placed in piles, typically about a meter in height, and then buried under tons of rock debris when German military engineers set explosives to seal the caves and hide the atrocity. They remained summarily buried and abandoned for over a year inside the caves. They were eventually found, exhumed and given proper burial only after the Italian capital was liberated by the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 on 4 June 1944.


Popular notions of the Fosse Ardeatine are numerous, and often false. Foremost among these is the notion that the Partisans who attacked at the Via Rasella should have turned themselves in. This stems from a belief (still cultivated by neo-fascist propaganda) that the Nazis gave warning to the Roman public that a retaliation was imminent. The concept of 'ten Italians for one German' is also frequently applied to this argument, as if the Partisans could or should have realized that their attack would cost 330 Italians their lives. In fact, there were arguments among the Nazi leadership in Rome as well as between Hitler and his commanders as to whether 10, 30, or 50 Italians should be killed for every German.

Although it may be expected (and is frequently claimed) that the victims of the Fosse Ardeatine were predominantly Jewish, this is not so; only 75 of the 335 victims were Jews. Although this was one criterion for the selection of victims the main concern was simply to fill the quota; many of the prisoners at Via Tasso and Regina Coeli prisons who had the misfortune to be in Nazi hands at that moment were also included. Some of these prisoners had simply been residents of Via Rasella who were home at the time of the partisan attack; others had been arrested and tortured for suspected Resistance and other anti-fascist activities. Others had been casually picked up on the streets or arrested at their homes after fascist informants tipped the Germans. Not all of the partisans killed were members of the same group. Members of the GAP, the PA and Bandiera Rossa, in addition to the Clandestine Military Front were on the list of those to be executed. The largest group among the murdered were members of Bandiera Rossa, a Communist military Resistance group. The youngest victim was 15 years old.

The scale and even the occurrence of this retaliation was unprecedented. Since the start of the Nazi occupation of Rome (which had begun on 9–10 September 1943), anti-Fascists and members of the Resistance (including many Italian Military officers) had been organising and practicing intense guerilla warfare against the occupiers.


For a number of reasons, including (but not limited to): the large number of victims; the fact that many of them were civilian innocents casually taken only to make up the number of those to be killed; the cruel methods implemented (even by Nazi standards) to carry out the massacre; the fact that the reprisal order had come directly from Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, and the hiding of the bodies, which were buried summarily instead of being returned to their families, the slaughter became a symbol of the various massacres carried out against civilians in Italy from 8 September 1943 until the German surrender on 8 May 1945.

The cultural and political fallout from the Fosse Ardeatine, and more generally from the Fascist movement after WWII, continues today. In December 2007, Giorgio Bettio, a city councillor of Treviso, Italy
Treviso is a city and comune in Veneto, northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Treviso and the municipality has 82,854 inhabitants : some 3,000 live within the Venetian walls or in the historical and monumental center, some 80,000 live in the urban center proper, while the city...

 and member of the Northern League
Northern League (Italy)
Lega Nord , whose complete name is Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania , is a federalist and regionalist political party in Italy founded in 1991 as a federation of several regional parties of Northern and Central Italy, most of which had arisen...

 party, suggested that "With immigrants, we should use the same system the SS used, punish 10 of them for every slight against one of our citizens" in reference to Italy's current debate over immigration policies. This comment was met with public condemnation, and Bettio later said, "I certainly made a mistake in citing the SS." He also claimed the incident had been sensationalized by the media.

The Vatican's role in the massacre came under particular scrutiny following the publication of Robert Katz
Robert Katz
Robert Katz was an American novelist, screenwriter, and non-fiction author.Katz was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Sidney and Helen Katz, née Holland, and married Beverly Gerstel on September 22, 1957...

's book, in particular his contested claim that Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 allegedly had advance knowledge of the Nazi orders and did little to forestall it. In an update to
his book, Katz states that documents later published supported his claims, and that no exonerating sources exist.

Both Priebke and Kappler sought Vatican assistance after the war, a fact which Katz and anticlerical critics use to imply Vatican 'complicity'. Priebke fled to Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, and Kappler unsuccessfully sought asylum within the Vatican.
In the aftermath, Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 debated whether to protest the massacre but decided against because "all the convents, all the religious houses of Rome were full of refugees, Communists, Jews, democrats and anti-Fascists, ex-generals, etc. Pius XII had even suspended the rules for the cloister. If Pius XII had made a public protest, there would have been searches in all these houses and catastrophe would have ensued".


The event was made into the 1962 film Dieci italiani per un tedesco directed by Filippo Walter Ratti and starring Gino Cervi
Gino Cervi
Gino Cervi was an Italian actor of international fame.Cervi was born in Bologna. His father was the theatre critic Antonio Cervi.In 1928, he married Nini Gordini and they had a son, Tonino Cervi...

. In 1973 the feature film Massacre in Rome by George Pan Cosmatos
George Pan Cosmatos
George Pan Cosmatos was a Greek/Italian film director. After studying film in London, he became assistant director to Otto Preminger on Exodus , Leon Uris's epic about the birth of Israel. Thereafter he worked on Zorba the Greek , in which Cosmatos had a small part as Boy with Acne...

 was released starring Marcello Mastroianni
Marcello Mastroianni
Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni, Knight Grand Cross was an Italian film actor. His honours included British Film Academy Awards, Best Actor awards at the Cannes Film Festival and two Golden Globe Awards.- Personal life :...

 and Richard Burton
Richard Burton
Richard Burton, CBE was a Welsh actor. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role , and was a recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony Awards for Best Actor. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid...


American composer William Schuman
William Schuman
William Howard Schuman was an American composer and music administrator.-Life:Born in Manhattan in New York City to Samuel and Rachel Schuman, Schuman was named after the twenty-seventh U.S. president, William Howard Taft, although his family preferred to call him Bill...

(1910–1992) subtitled his Ninth Symphony from 1968 'Le fosse Ardeatine' in memory of the victims.

External links

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