German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has cautioned about the re-emergence of nationalism across Europe. He spoke during a moving ceremony for the victims of the August 1944 SS massacres in central Italy.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday asked for "forgiveness" for the Nazi-era atrocities carried out in Italy during the closing stages of World War II.
He addressed around 200 invited guests, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella, at the official commemoration ceremony, held in the Tuscan town of Fivizzano, to mark the 75th anniversary of massacres carried out by SS troops
Fivizzano experienced massacres spread over several days in August 1944, with more than 320 people killed, mostly women, children and the elderly. The killings came after the Waffen-SS killed another 80 people in the town in May and September of the same year.
Four massacres in a month
Speaking in Italian, Steinmeier described how Nazi SS soldiers had pillaged, plundered and murdered their way through the Apuan Alps.
"I stand before you here today as president of the Federal Republic of Germany and can only bow my head in shame at how Germans treated you," Steinmeier said.
"With sorrow, I pay tribute to the victims of the massacres in Fivizzano," he added, before acknowledging that Germany had taken too long to thoroughly investigate the crimes committed by Germans in Italy during World War II.
Steinmeier and Italian President Sergio Mattarella attended the ceremony in the Tuscan town of Fivizzano
During his speech, Steinmeier also warned against a resurgent nationalism, a dilemma facing Italy and Germany due to the rise of far-right political movements.
"Never again let us unleash nationalism, never again let us have war on our continent, never again racism, incitement and violence," he told the audience to prolonged applause.
Fascist paramilitary group helped Nazis
The massacres were among the many atrocities carried out in the last two years of the war by Nazi soldiers, along with their fascist collaborators from Italy's Black Brigades.
Stories of unimaginable cruelty have been recounted by the few remaining survivors, who witnessed entire families wiped out and whole villages razed.
German troops occupied northern and central Italy in September 1943 after Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's government fell to the Allies in July 1943.
A key ally of Hitler's, Mussolini was put in charge of the regional puppet regime, allowing SS soldiers and the Black Brigades to unleash a brutal wave of retaliation on the country's resistance movement, known as partisans.
A 2012 German-Italian Historical Commission estimated that nationwide up to 15,000 Italian civilians were murdered.
mm/aw (dpa, KNA)