Sant’Anna? – Never heard of it.
That’s what I thought when I heard from the excursion by the NaturFreundejugend (“Friends of Nature”) for the first time. The small mountain village Sant’Anna di Stazzema, located in Tuscany, serves as a memorial nowadays. On the 12th of August 1944, German soldiers raided the village and committed one of the most terrible crimes on Italian soil. 560 civilans were killed without mercy during the massacre, mostly innocent women and children. Thanks to the remarkable effort of the few survivors, the village transformed into a memorial park with a museum. It were these witnesses who invited us in order to tell us their personal story. Besides, they want to encourage discussions about the past, present, and future of Europe and urge to actively participate in it.
Therefore, nine German adolescents and eight Italian students accepted the invitation. Together we want to create a programme for the anniversary of the incident in Sant’Anna.
We stayed the night in a convent in Pietrasanta, a nearby city.
Today, we tried to refresh our knowledge of the Second World War, the German-Italian alliance, and partisan struggle for resistance.
Important dates are:
1922 –Mussolini’s rise to power, start of Italian fascism
1933 –Hitler’s rise to power, a dictatorship following the example of Italian fascism
1939 – Start of WWII, formation of the “steel pact” between Hitler and Mussolini,
this alliance was also called “axis Berlin-Rome”.
1940 – Italy joins the war
1941 – Invasion of the Soviet Union, escalation of the war, the U.S declares war against Japan
1943 – Landing of the Allied Forces in Italy, Battle of Stalingrad and turning point of the war;
Mussolini’s removal by King Victor Emmanuel III., Italy surrenders,
German occupation of north and central Italy
1944 – On the 12th of August, the massacre in Sant’Anna was committed
1945 – 25.04: Liberation of Italy by the Allied Forces
28.04.: Mussolini’s execution, carried out by the Italian people
08.05: Unconditional surrender of Germany
End of World War II
In the afternoon, we split into four groups and headed into town…
Today was the day of our hike up to Sant’Anna, where we surmounted 736 metres of elevation.
Two Italians from UOEI – “Unione Operaia Escursionisti Italiani“ – offered to guide us. They optimistically expected the hike to take more or less three hours. In hindsight, the exhaustion from the trip was more intense than previously anticipated and it took us much longer to reach our destination.
On the way, our guides showed us former refuges of partisans but also farms and houses that had been burned down by the Germans We arrived at Sant’Anna di Stazzema at about 2 pm. where we met the most important person of the day: Enio Mancini.
He’s one of the survivors of the massacre in Sant’Anna. We had the unique opportunity and the privilege to hear his story firsthand. He first told us about German journalist Christiane Kohl, who conducted interviews with both survivors and German soldiers and researched the names of the perpetrators. In that regard, Kohl published an article about the incident in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on the 29th October 1999. In her book, Der Himmel war strahlend blau. Vom Wüten der Wehrmacht in Italien (…), the article can still be found today.
On the 12th of August 1944, a German squad marched up to the small mountain village Sant´Anna in the early hours of the morning. The troop were to reach their destination by 7 a.m. Fortunately, somebody saw them coming and warned the inhabitants of the village with loud calls, “The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!”
At once, the people tried to find refuge in the forest since they feared deportation and forced labour. Prior to his escape, Enio’s father told him that he didn’t need to be afraid because they wouldn’t hurt grandparents, women, and children.
The family rapidly rescued their most valuable belongings, such as silverware or bed sheets, as they worried that the Germans would burn down and destroy their homes. However, soon they were dragged out of their houses by German soldiers and, together with all other civilians from Sennari, driven to the next village Vallechia.
Enio and his family – his mother, and sister – were walking very slowly because they remembered that they’d left their cow behind in the barn, and, therefore, they tried to return to their house. They managed to sneak back undetected, but their house was already burning and the cow dead. For Enio and his family, the cow was essential for their survival, and now, their basis for life was destroyed.
While trying to extinguish the fire, they were re-captured by German soldiers and driven to the church square with other families from the village. If they’d had arrived there, they would have been killed like everybody else. However, since Enio and his family walked barefoot, their speed was very slow, so they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the German squad. Luckily, for Enio and his family, the squad decided to walk ahead while only one young German soldier remained behind.
This young soldier suddenly called out, “Schnell, Schnell!” (eng.: “Fast, fast!”) pointing towards a different direction than before. Although they were not able to understand the young soldier, they instantly ran to the indicated direction. All of a sudden, they heard several shots being fired behind them.
The young soldier had fired his rifle into the air and so let them escape. By this astonishing act of mercy, the soldier rescued Enio’s life. It was only three years back from now, that Enio was able to find out the name of this soldier with the help of the soldier’s grandchild.
The family Mancini went back to their home in the off-chance that they could still rescue some of their belongings. They had heard shots and seen smoke, but they didn’t know what had really happened on the church square. Towards afternoon, absolute silence reigned the village – the soldiers had left Sant’Anna.
Later, they ventured to the church square. Even on their way, they witnessed dead corpses lying on the street. The square in front of the church presented a terrible sight: burned bodies were piled up in the middle. Enio further told us that he’d desperately been looking for his friends, but he’d found nobody.
The youngest victim was Anna Pardini, aged 20 days. Even younger though, was a baby that had been murdered before its birth. Its mother had been shot and her body cut open, so the soldiers could kill the unborn, nameless child.
The most terrible thing for Enio was that there had been also masked Italians among the perpetrators, probably from the surrounding villages. He was able to identify their origin because they spoke a Versillian accent. These Italians had, for instance, guided the German soldiers to the village.
The leader of the squad was SS-Commander Anton Galler.
Enio and his reunited family hid in the nearby forest until September 21st since they feared that the Soldiers might come back. He remembered clearly that they’d had very little water. Not enough to wash themselves or their clothes.
On the 21st of September, a few scouts detected approaching soldiers, and on the basis of their helmets, they recognised their nationality: Americans! Instantly, the approached them and called for help.
Enio remembered that at first he had a scare since there was an Afro-American among the American soldiers; however, he’d been taught that dark-skinned people are “bad”. But the soldier captured his heart with a piece of chocolate, and he carried him all the way back to the village.
The village was temporarily reconstructed and the roofs were covered with straw. Until 1950, Enio’s family didn’t have window panes nor a proper roof.
1945 Enio returned to school. There used to be 43 children but only twelve had survived. He graduated in 1950. According to him, the time after the massacre was especially hard since the children weren’t allowed to play, sing, or laugh. The whole village was grieving.
The question that remains is: “Why?”
In 1944, Sant’Anna was village full of civilians and war refugees. In fact, the people of Sant’Anna neither participated in attacks nor did they support the partisans.
For Enio, something like justice was served in 2005 when the Italian public prosecutor’s office opened trial against 10 perpetrators. In court of last instance they were found guilty in 2007, and sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. They demanded from Germany to carry out the sentence; however, the responsible prosecutor’s office in Stuttgart under the stewardship of the public prosecutor Mr Häußler stated that a trial would only be officially acknowledged in Germany.
The Germans investigations were abandoned in 2012 with the justification that the feature of cruelty and tawdry motives could not be proofed.
This was deeply distressing for Enio and other survivors. After all, the Germans had climbed up to village and looked the people they murdered straight into the eyes. Just think of the mother and her unborn child.
One of the accused still lives isolated in a retirement home in Hamburg today. His name is Gerhard Sommer. Enio once tried to contact him, but he wasn’t admitted into his room.
In the museum of Sant’Anna, Pietro, the son-in-law of a survivor, presented a piece of art to us. It was inspired by a famous picture of playing children. On the behalf of the initiative Sant’Anna by the AnStifter (www.die-anstifter.de) we happily accepted this gift.
After a long and exhausting day, we came back to the convent.
Thanks – mille grazie – to everybody who contributed to this very special day.
Today we met the second witness Enrico Pieri, who was born 19th of April 1934.
On the 12th of August 1944, he was at home together with his two sisters, his mother, father, and uncle. His father and uncle decided to stay, even though they had been warned of the approaching soldiers, because the day before they’d slaughtered a cow. Its meat was an import part of the village’s diet.
The Germans drove the entire family in the direction of the church square, but they never arrived there. All of a sudden, the soldiers stopped and took them to the house of the family Pierotti. The little daughter of the family, Grazia Pierotti, was hiding under the stairway and called Enrico, “Come here fast!” So the boy also hid under the stairs.
Enrico stated that the soldiers didn’t even need five minutes to kill everyone present on the kitchen with a machine gun. A girl had been covered with the bed sheets and was not hit by a bulled by coincidence. Consequently, only three children survived of the ten persons in the room.
Immediately, the soldiers set the house on fire. However, the three children couldn’t flee since the soldiers were still outside. The stayed in the burning house until they nearly suffocated because the air was full of smoke. In the last second, they escaped over the burning floor and hid under a heap of beans.
In this very moment, they did not realise what had really happened. They couldn’t understand that they’d lost their whole family.
The house with the corpses of their parents survived the fire, and as soon as the shooting stopped, they ran back into the kitchen. Everyone in there was dead.
The girls packed a few important things, then they went back into hiding until the late afternoon, until they could be sure that the German soldiers were gone. Then they fled into the forest, where they met other families who’d survived. From them they learned about the crime that was committed in Sant’Anna, about the pile of burning bodies on the church square.
When Enrico went back to the house to try to extinguish the fire, he didn’t cross the church square or entered the kitchen, where the bodies of their families were. He couldn’t understand what had happened. He said that from this day onwards he was no longer a normal child. “When you are so young and are looking for your mother, but she’s not there and will never come back, that’s very, very hard.”
The remaining August was very long for Enrico since he stayed in hiding, like many other families, in a grotto in the forest. He stated that you couldn’t imagine Sant’Anna after this 12th of August – “everything in ruins, everything destroyed, only silence and no people. A lot of sadness and hardly any happiness.”
He continued living in Sant’Anna until 1951, then he moved to Pietrasanta to train for a profession. In 1960, he left Italy and moved to Switzerland. He stayed there for 32 years, started a family, and raised his son. At first, he didn’t want to travel to Germany or be in contact with Germans since he still felt resentment and hate towards them. However, in 1970 he had to decide if his son should visit a German-speaking or a French-speaking school. He settled on the German school. However, this was not an easy decision for him. At this time, they were about to rebuild a unified Europe, and he wanted to be involve in this new Europe. Many emigrated Italians felt the same.
Once or twice every year, he returned to Sant’Anna. But he never spoke about being a war orphan. After he’d moved to Switzerland, he’d felt alone, disoriented; he said he could have easily lost himself. That he didn’t, is thanks to his wife.
1992, he returned to Italy, to Sant’Anna di Stazzema. He was asked to help out in the museum and speak as contemporary witness; however, he rejected this proposal since it was still very difficult for him to speak about this time and his family. But then he realised that these memories are urgently needed, especially by young people. Because of that he speaks about it. He speaks about it for us, for our future.
What happened in Sant’Anna, was a crime against humanity. Enrico requests that we’ll do anything in our power so that there’ll never be another Sant’Anna. The First and Second World War brought the worst of humanity to light. Soldiers had killed children, children that wanted to live, children that were innocent. Only war refugees and civilians had lived in Sant’Anna, no partisans.
In 2009, Enrico travelled to Germany, Cologne, for the first time. He learned that this city has been destroyed, as well, by nearly 90 percent. He realised that not only Sant’Anna but also the whole of Europe had lain in ashes.
In 2011, the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, invited him to Rome. In 2013, Napolitano and the German president, Joachim Gauck, travelled to Sant’Anna together in order to commemorate the victims. (www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/gauck-und-napolitano-gedenken-opfer-von-ss-massaker-in-sant-anna-a-890656.html)
In 2013, Enrico received, together with Enio Mancini, the peace prize by the AnStifter. (stuttgarter-friedenspreis.de/bisherige-preistraeger/friedenspreistraeger-2013/)
His son, who speaks German, is still living in Basel, and he helps Enrico out on occasion if school groups are visiting. Enrico said that he’s no grandfather, but he feels fine and he’s happy with his life.
His wish to us remains, “Please, become Europeans! Feel European! We need Europe!” If national egoism and Imperialism were on the rise again, we’d be back at a point like Sant’Anna in 20 years. It’s very important to forge international friendships and to stick together. According to him the EU is a great county with many important and noble values that should be utilised in a good way. Together we can achieve to improve ‘bad’ traits.
He thanked us all from the heart for coming, and his last words were, “I hug you all!”
Next, we met with the two sisters Siria and Adele Pardini who also survived the massacre. At that time, Siria was nine and her sister four years old.
For both of them, the course of the day was entirely different. Siria had to look after the animals on the meadow since her sister didn’t feel well. Together with her father, her brothers Vittorio and Vinicio, and her sister Licia, she set out. As they didn’t know that German Soldiers were already approaching Sant’Anna, her father, together with her sister, walked back to get the cow that had been forgotten in the barn.
Their home was nearby a path that was also used by the soldiers to get to the village. While Licia was looking for cabbage leafs for the cow, her father continued to lead the cow out of the barn. Siria explained that the soldiers were already very close and that Siria’s father and sister only escaped them narrowly.
Both siblings stayed on the meadow with their father for the whole day until Cesira, the oldest sister, came running to tell them that they should better hide. Although Cesira was injured, she didn’t want to reveal what had happened.
Adele and the rest of the family – the mother and her sisters Cesira, Maria, Lilia, and baby Anna – were about to have breakfast when German soldiers suddenly appeared. Adele remembered how a bowl of milk toppled over as the Soldiers attacked them and pushed them down the hill. Further down the way, they and 30 other relatives and refugees were lined up along a wall in three rows. Among them was a small child named Claudio, aged two.
Her mother begged the soldiers to spare baby Anna, but the soldiers killed her with shot to the head. After that, the soldiers began to fire at the people who were lined up along the wall. Adele was hit by a bullet on her nose.
Fortunately, the soldiers didn’t realise that the door of the barn had opened up behind the children, and Cesira was able to drag her sisters inside. Her sister Lilia told her afterwards that Adele didn’t stop calling for her mother, and therefore, she had to press her hand on Adeles mouth to silence her.
Subsequently, the soldiers set the barn on fire. After the soldiers had left, the children had to climb over the dead body of their mother to get outside. Cesira took Anna from the arms of their dead mother and led her siblings to a cave further down the hill. However, the cave wasn’t completely covering them from the soldiers, so they kept on firing at them from afar. Because of that, Adele’s sister, Maria, was severely injured. Cesira returned to the barn to search for survivors and found a one-year-old toddler.
Thereafter, Cesira ran down the hill to warn her father.
According to Adele, she could not grasp what had happened that day for a very long time and that she continued to look for her mother over and over again.
The men who were hiding in the forest didn’t realise at first what was happening in Sant’Anna. They returned quite late from the forest, and all they found was a destroyed village. Siria told us that there was so much despair and grief among the men that many of them committed suicide after the incident.
Baby Anna, aged 20 days, died on the 3rd of September. In her diapers, seven bullets were found.
Although they tried to take her to the hospital to save her life, her sister Maria died on the 19th of September on her heavy injuries.
Siria was brought to her aunt, and then she had to visit a nearby monastery school. Adele lived at her teacher’s house for some time. However, the teacher was blind because of an eye injury, and Adele couldn’t stay long because she wetted the bed very often. In the end, she and her brother Vittorio also went to the monastery school as their father wasn’t able to take care of so many children. He fell sick in 1946 and had to go to a hospital in Livorno.
Because of their trauma, the siblings wetted the bet quite often. The nuns threw the wet sheets over their heads, so everybody could see them. Therefore, they were often laughed at and ridiculed. They’d have liked to go back to Sant’Anna, but that wasn’t possible.
They didn’t return to Sant’Anna until 1948. Their father had married again and had a six-months-old son named Mario.
Siria married in 1954 and moved away from Sant’Anna. 17 years had to pass until she decided to go back to Pietrasanta.
Adele married in 1960. Her son’s name is Claudio, named after the two-year-old boy who had been murdered. She had been working for a German lady, who was married to an Italian, as house keeper for a long time. She said that the woman had helped her out a lot and was very nice to her. She suspected that she was a kind of “surrogate daughter” for the woman since she’d lost her own daughter.
These stories were told by the two sisters after a small hike to their former house and the barn, where they had been lined up.
To be continued …
You can find pictures here: https://naturfreunde-giengen.de/?page_id=440
Article and pictures by: Christina Gohle.
Translation by: Hendrik Britzelmayr and Christina Gohle.