As the first member of a German government, Interior Minister Otto Schily has attended a commemorative ceremony in an Italian village to pay tribute to the victims of a Nazi massacre.
Schily made the trip to Italy to commemorate the 1944 Nazi massacre of 560 Italians in the Tuscan village of Sant' Anna di Stazzema. In the company of his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Pisanu, he took part in the wreath-laying ceremony in the country village.
The interior minister described the massacre as one of the worst Nazi wartime atrocities.
"For us Germans, the day of August 12, 1944 is a day of shame," Schily said.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu (left) and his German counterpart Otto Schily pay their respect in front of a new sculpture
As well as attending the ceremony, Schily and Pisanu jointly opened an exhibition by the Italian sculptor Novello Finotti, which is a tribute to those who lost their lives sixty years ago.
In 1944, SS officers were given orders to round up partisans in the region, but most men were away fighting with the Italian resistance.
So instead, the SS soldiers embarked on a horrific murder spree. They slaughtered hundreds of women and elderly and 116 children, the youngest of which was just 20 days old. They threw grenades into crowds of people, shot them and then set fire to their bodies. By the time they left the village, it had been burned to the ground.
It is a chapter of history with which the Tuscan villagers still live today.
"In Sant'Anna people still remember the tears, wailing and suffering now," Enzo Orlanducci, spokesman for the Italian war victims and deportees told German public broadcaster ARD.
Adding insult to injury, it has taken almost 60 years for the perpetrators to be brought before a judge. Last month a trial started in the military court in La Spezia against the six surviving Nazi officers involved in the massacre.
The six men, all of whom are around 80 years old and live in Germany, have been charged by public prosecutors with crimes against humanity. None of them appeared at the trial, which has now been postponed until October, although one of the accused, the 85-year-old Mathias Alfred Concina, was interrogated in his nursing home.
Show of remorse
A matter of weeks after the brutal attack on August 12, SS soldiers carried out a further massacre in the mountains near the Italian town of Bologna, slaying almost 1,000 people, including many women and children.
German President Johannes Rau (left) looks at the names of victims with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi during a visit to commemorate the more than 700 victims killed in Marzabotto by Nazi SS troops.
Two years ago, then German President Johannes Rau traveled to Marzabotto to pay tribute to those who needlessly lost their lives, and to apologize for the unspeakable atrocity committed by the Germans.
Information about the killings in Italy did not even surface until 10 years ago. Nearly 700 reports of the massacres were accidentally found in a metal cabinet hidden away in the basement of the Rome military court. Italian newspapers have dubbed the cabinet the “cupboard of shame.”