“On August 12, seventy-seven years ago, the SS soldiers carried out a massacre of defenseless civilians in the hamlets of Stazzema, which was one of the most horrifying of the entire war. Hundreds and hundreds were killed. Children murdered together with their mothers and grandparents. Stazzema was considered a refuge for the weakest, for the displaced. Instead, it became a bloody land, the scene of atrocious cruelty and of ferocious contempt for human life, up to the outrage of burning of victims in the square of Sant’Anna”.
With these words the President Sergio Mattarella commemorated last week the Nazi massacre of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, on its 77th anniversary. It was one the most heinous acts perpetrated in Italy during World War II. On 12 August 1944 the SS, with the help of the Brigate nere, murdered about 560 villagers and refugees, including more than a hundred children, and burned their bodies. In the early 2000s, the crimes have been defined as voluntary and organized act of terrorism by the military court in La Spezia highest Italian court of appeal.
Among the witnesses of that horror, there was the 29-year-old Rabbi Elio Toaff z.l., future Chief Rabbi of Rome, who fought in the ranks of the Resistance. “When we entered Sant’Anna, around 11, we were only a dozen. And before seeing the horror we were assailed by a terrible smell, of burnt human flesh. There was a woman, seated from behind, in front of a table. For a moment I thought she was alive. But as soon as I stepped forward, I saw that her belly had been ripped open by a bayonet. She was a pregnant woman, and on her table lay the fruit of her womb. They had fired a gunshot also in the head of that poor unborn child “, Rabbi Toaff remembered.
President Mattarella stressed that “such horror can never be forgotten. It is inscribed in the testimony that more mature generations hand over to the young. The roots of our country’s and Europe’s regained freedom lie in that pain, in that abyss of inhumanity. The Italian Republic was born precisely in the repudiation of the culture of death, of the will to power pushed to the point of becoming an ideology of annihilation. Europe as a community is the peaceful and far-reaching response to that nationalism that so many conflicts has generated in our continent”.
In reiterating the closeness to the families of the victims and the common commitment to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again, the President also recalled the positive values of those who fought against the Nazi and Fascist regime, of those who, like Rabbi Toaff, chose the Resistance. “The redemption from oppression and from so much suffering was possible thanks to the spirit of solidarity and justice, to the respect for inviolable rights, which our people knew how to make prevail”, he said. “Democracy and freedom now require to be continuously nourished by civil values and a sense of community. Also, for this reason, the memory of the most dramatic moments remains a precious heritage for facing the challenges of the new times and the necessary innovations”.
Above, the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella lays a laurel wreath at the memorial stone, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the gold medal for military valor to the Municipality of Stazzema. (Photo Quirinale)