German Italian WWII history remembered | News | DW | 19.12.2012
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German Italian WWII history remembered

A memorial site in Berlin is being planned to commemorate the 600,000 Italians deported to Germany and put into forced labor during World War Two. The move follows recommendations from German and Italian historians.

The announcement about the memorial site was made Wednesday at a presentation in Rome of the findings from a bi-national German-Italian commission of historians.

The commission had been set up by the two countries' foreign ministers following their joint visit to the Nazi concentration camp site of La Risiera di San Sabba in 2008. Beginning the following year, the team of five German and five Italian history professors collected a large number of formerly unpublished documents, mainly from the time of World War Two (1939 to 1945), including diaries and letters from German and Italian soldiers and documents from both countries' archives.

In 1936, Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini proclaimed Nazi Germany and his country an axis of power. During the early years of the war, Italian troops often fought alongside the German Wehrmacht, including in the Balkans and North Africa. But in 1943, when the Allied forces invaded southern Italy, that part of the country broke with Mussolini. Wehrmacht troops stationed in Italy proceeded to disarm their former allies and deport soldiers to work camps in Germany until the end of the war in May of 1945.

The team of German and Italian historians said the stories of these approximately 600,000 people had not been told. They also want to highlight the fate of the 7,000 Jews and 24,000 opponents of Mussolini's fascist regime who were deported by German troops – with the help of Italian authorities – to concentration camps, where most of them died.

The historians determined that post-war Germany had largely remained oblivious to the Italian suffering. Italians, meanwhile, initially focused on the heroic deeds of the partisan resistance rather than the victims of the war crimes perpetrated by Adolf Hitler's troops.

There followed a number of court cases in Italy over last decade in which Italian judges demanded German compensation for victims of Nazi crimes, including massacres and deportations. They argued that such cases were admissible because state immunity was trumped by crimes against humanity.

Germanytook the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nation's highest court, in The Hague, which then ruled in Germany's favor in 2011. The court said that Italy could not skirt German sovereignty in demanding reparations for Nazi war crimes.

A recent German court decision in October 2012 disappointed the descendents of a Nazi massacre of over 500 people in the Italian village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema in 1944 (an Italian memorial site pictured above). The court in Stuttgart found there was not enough evidence proving that the 17 former Nazi soldiers, eight of whom were still alive, were actually guilty of murder or accessory to murder - the two charges on which the statute of limitations has not run out.

The latest move towards a joint appraisal of historic facts is seen as a step towards reconciliation.

“Facing the historic facts and reappraising them does not mean diminishing our responsibility,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, stressing Germany's responsibility for war crimes committed in Italy between 1943 and 1945.

“The German government deeply regrets the injustice that was inflicted and the suffering of the Italians deported to German labor or concentration camps," he added. "We want their fates to be recognized and commemorated in an appropriate way.”

rg/dr (AFP, KNA)