In September 1944, Nazi soldiers murdered more than 770 people in the Italian village of Marzabotto. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attended a commemoration to mourn the victims and express shame.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Sunday attended a ceremony in the Italian village of Marzabotto, just south of Bologna in northern Italy.
Maas visited the memorial to the 778 civilians and partisan fighters machine-gunned by Nazi soldiers 74 years ago. He described the killings as: "Acts committed by Germans that are so terrible it's stupefying."
"As German foreign minister, I bow before the victims and their families in mourning and shame," Maas said. The massacre is considered the worst war crime perpetrated on Italian soil during the Second World War.
Read more: Painful memories of Nazi massacre in Italy
The German foreign minister and his Italian counterpart, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, laid a wreath for the victims.
The massacre took place between September 29 and October 5, 1944. The victims included 316 women and 216 children under the age of 12 — some of them newborns.
In his commemoration address, Maas said that Germany has not forgotten what hatred and racism can cause: "These things have no place in our societies."
The Casaglia cemetery where some of the victims are buried
Some survivors of the massacre attended the ceremony and spoke to Maas about the lack of legal consequences for some of the men who carried out the massacre and then returned to Germany. A number of the perpetrators were sentenced in absentia by Italian courts after the war, but Germany did not recognize the convictions and the men were not handed over.
The 90-year-old Ferruccio Laffi told DPA: "Ultimately, they did not spend even a single day in jail."
'Hatred and racism' across Europe
In his address, Maas spoke out against a resurgence of "hatred and racism" across Europe.
"As populists around the world are preaching nationalism and promoting isolation, we need to work together for international cooperation, more freedom and more respect," Maas said.
Maas also spoke about the current challenges confronting Europe such as unemployment and migration.
He said the European Union should help Italy as it faces a large number of migrants and refugees arriving on its shores. Maas cautioned that Europe should avoid an isolationist approach. He praised Italy for playing a formative role in European integration which he urged it "should continue to play."
In June, Italy installed a populist government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Vice Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to "fight" against migrant arrivals and proposed greater police powers to "make Italy safer."
shs/jm (dpa, AFP)