German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has visited the site of one of the worst Second World War massacres conducted by Nazi troops in Italy; asking for forgiveness in the town of Civitella in Tuscany.
In Civitella on Sunday, Steinmeier spoke briefly in Italian, saying he was shocked and deeply shamed about "what Germans once did here."
An estimated 244 civilians were killed on June 29, 1944, in a Nazi massacre that followed the deaths of three German soldiers in a bar. Soldiers from the 1st Paratroop Panzer Division "Herman Göring" executed the civilian population afterwards, also burning down the church they had sought refuge in. Civitella is one of the more brutal Wehrmacht massacres conducted during the German retreat out of Italy.
"We Germans know what responsibility we still carry for the atrocities of our countrymen," Steinmeier said, asking for forgiveness "for the unforgiveable." Steinmeier said that Germany's war crimes in Italy, a German ally earlier in the conflict, should also not be forgotten. "Throughout the country, the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS rampaged in a brutal manner."
An Italian court in 2008 sentenced a German officer in absentia to life in prison for his role in the attack. Italy's Court of Cassation also ruled that Germany should pay compensation to the victims' families, a verdict later overturned at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Steinmeier says Europe must learn from past
German and Italian politicians and historians have intensified efforts to mend old wounds from the latter stages of the war. Last year, German President Joachim Gauck attended a ceremony in another Tuscany settlement , Sant'Anna di Stazzema, to pay respects with his Italian counterpart, Giorgio Napolitano.
Steinmeier also said that Germany and Europe owed it to the victims to ensure that the continent never again considered war a solution to political problems.
"The powers of the underworld will not be able to regain the upper hand - neither in Civitella nor anywhere else in Europe," Steinmeier said.
Several major anniversaries tied to both the First and Second World Wars fall this year; a century after the outbreak of WWI, 75 years after the outbreak of WWII, and 70 years after the D-Day landings that helped turn the tide in the west of Europe late in WWII. Commemorations of the D-Day landings last month also served as an opportunity for a first meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko, as European leaders sought a present-day diplomatic breakthrough at the historical ceremony.
msh/kms (dpa, epd)