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Ardeatine and Truth August 24, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback


In the now long-ago examination of the Ivanhorod picture Beach came across a number of sites with, let’s say, disreputable agendas. One of these led to the website of one Germar Rudolf, who must be the only German since the Second World War to have sought asylum in the United States. GR was prosecuted in Germany over Holocaust denial and, then, decided to skip out of dodge. Beach spent some formative years walking a stroke victim who had seen her infant brother shot dead in a German extermination camp. He has no time for fantasies about the holocaust not happening, though he rather doubts the cause of truth is served by sending fantasists to prison, which is where RG ended up (in Germany) when the US finally rejected his asylum claim in 2005. In any case, while browsing through GR’s writing he came on this passage discussing the Ardeatine Massacre, a subject this blogger knows well. Beach quotes it here because this passage shows how easy it is to smudge the lines of history.

In early 1944 the Allies landed in Italy, a few miles south of Rome. In order to keep the immense cultural treasures of Rome safe from harm, the German Field Marshal Kesselring declared Rome an ‘open city, i.e., a battle-free zone. This made Rome the hotbed of all kinds of partisan groups and foreign secret service activities. Since Italy was at that time engaged in a sort of civil war (not all Italians agreed with the ousting of Mussolini and the betrayal of Germany), the situation in Rome, only a few miles behind the battle front, was explosive. These were the conditions under which Obersturmbannführer [Lieutenant Colonel] Herbert Kappler of the Security Police was charged with keeping peace and order in the city, a task at which he was indeed largely successful. On March 23, 1944, however, something happened. On this day, as on many other days before, the police regiment ‘Bozen’, which was comprised almost entirely of South Tyroleans, marched through the Via Rasella. As the regiment passed by a street-sweeper’s cart, an enormous explosive charge in the cart, mixed with iron shrapnel, blew up. 32 of the German policemen were killed instantly, another 10 died later of their injuries. 60 policemen were badly wounded. To prevent an escalation of the partisan warfare in Rome, the Wehrmacht Supreme Command reacted to this assassination (which had violated international law) by posting placards announcing that if the perpetrators did not turn themselves in, 10 civilians would be shot for every policeman that had been killed. Kappler even released captured partisans with the order to inform the assassins in the underground of this announcement and to persuade them to surrender. When no one had given themselves up by March 24, 335 persons were executed in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome; Kappler had assembled this group mostly of prisoners, and of criminals, saboteurs, spies and partisans who had already previously been sentenced to death.

i) Opinions. There is much that is interesting here and Ardeatine painfully divides Italians to this day: a significant minority think the Italian partisans were to blame; most blame the German occupiers. Kesselring’s declaration of ‘open city’ was unilateral, as open city declarations usually are, and it was half hearted as German material continued to flow through Rome, and Rome remained ‘an area of operations’. Note though the resentment that partisan groups and foreign secret service groups took advantage of the open city status! Again the Allies  and the Italian partisans did not agree to Rome’s open city status. To refer to a ‘civil war’ is loaded in Italy, but at least to this blogger it seems like a simple statement of fact: many Italians were fighting each other behind German lines and very occasionally behind Allied lines. We’ve actually described Kappler before on this blog and his incredible escape from Italy, there is also a recent British document release about him. However, before we let ‘peace and order’ in the city pass note that Kappler bullied and, then, liquidated (sent to the killing camps in the north) a frightening proportion of Rome’s Jewish population. If you don’t like ‘liquidate’ consider these numbers. Of 1026 who were sent north in the first transport in October 1943, 16 survived the war. The reference to international law is a bit rich given that Germany had started WW2. However, it is also worth noting that any Italian partisan who killed a German in uniform knew that there was an excellent chance that there would be reprisals against the local population. Whether the attack was legitimate or not legally is, at least for this blogger, besides the point: who gives a damn about international law when some bastards have occupied your country and are killing your fellow nationals? Whether it was ‘sensible’ is perhaps more to the point. The heroism of the resistance paid dividends again and again in WW2 in terms of sabotage and information gathering. But killing German soldiers seems to have been more trouble than it was worth save in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

(ii) Facts. There are three serious inaccuracies in the passage. First, the reference to the placards giving resistance members time to hand themselve in is untrue. If you don’t want to take the word of the many historians, Italian and American and German who have written on Ardeatine consider the time scale. The executions began on the afternoon of 24 March at 15.30 pm. The resistance was not even implicitly given the 24 hours given by international law to hand themselves over. It is, btw, true that in some instances local German commands did give partisans a chance to turn themselves in, there are several notable instances from Italy, but Kappler here did not. In fact, he had received a direct order from the other side of the Alps to kill ten Italians for ever German casualty: a furious Hitler had originally wanted 50 for every dead soldier. Notices were put up announcing that reprisals had been taken, which may, somewhere in the historiography have caused confusion; likewise there notices put up only in German offices. Second, GR is correct to say that Kappler made great efforts to assemble ‘prisoners… criminals, saboteurs, spies and partisans’: Kappler, it is evident from all accounts, did not want to round up normal Italians off the street. However, the sentence rather falls apart after that. Let’s start with that word ‘criminal’. For example, there were 67 men whose only crime was to be Jewish who were included in the killing numbers: were they ‘criminals’? Then, there were actually relatively few partisans and perhaps no spies (unless partisans are spies), most of those gathered together were non-partisans. Third, those murdered had not ‘mostly’ been sentenced to death (which implies at least 167): only 3 of 335 were in that category (Todeskandidaten). Of course, the Jewish ‘criminals’ would have ended up in the death camps and many others may have subsequently been sentenced to death or would have perhaps died in the torture room but this is all predicated on a German murdering that GR would presumably claim was not protocol.

How serious are these mistakes? Mistakes in themselves are normal in history as in every subject. What is striking about these three is the way that they all tend to humanise Nazi acts of murder. Kappler tried to avoid reprisals by seeking out the guilty party. Then, most of those who were killed were already sentenced to death, so did it really matter? This is almost certainly not dishonesty, it is wishful thinking. We are back to the holocaust denier as fantasist: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com