Thursday, October 19, 2017

A local tale of death and tragedy in the swamps near Ponte Buggianese

Between September of 1943 and April of 1945, when Nazi Germany occupied Italy, some 15,000 Italian citizens were killed. This figure comes from Dr. Gianluca Fulvetti, a historian who has published two books on wartime atrocities in Italy.
Lucy and I came across this monument in Anchione, a suburb
of Ponte Buggianese, while driving to the outdoor market.

‟This wasn't only a war fought between armies,” Fulvetti wrote. ‟It was a war on civilians who unwittingly got involved and paid with their lives.”

In March of 1944, partisans in Rome attacked a column of SS police officers, killing 33 Germans. On orders from German high command, 335 men and boys were rounded up and executed at the Ardeatine Caves, near Rome. The reprisal killings set the stage for how Germany would conduct the remainder of the war in Italy.

Tuscany was one of the hardest-hit regions, as German troops retreated north following the liberation of Rome. Fulvetti estimates 3,650 people died there, the majority in the summer of 1944.

‟Troops were ordered to retaliate against civilians as punishment for partisan actions,” Fulvetti said. Any form of resistance by civilians was cause for punishment, even simply refusing to shelter or feed German troops.

The largest of the mass killings took place in Marzabotto, a village south of Bologna and about 100 miles north of where Lucy and I live in Montecarlo, Tuscany. Estimates of the dead there range from 770 to as many as 1,830. An award-winning Italian movie, L’uomo Che Verrà (2009), tells the story of a priest who lost his life while saving many local people by hiding them away.

Another well known massacre took place in Sant’Anna di Stazzema, a hill village about 40 miles west of us in Tuscany. On August 12, 1944, the Waffen-SS, with the help of the Italian Brigate Nere, murdered about 560 local villagers and refugees, including 130 children, and burned their bodies. This event has also been featured in a movie, Spike Lee’s The Miracle at Santa Anna, which is based on a book with the same title. The movie tells the story of four black American soldiers who get trapped in the village. I’ve not seen it, but it reportedly takes many liberties with the facts and has received mostly poor reviews.

Since my grandparents have deep roots in the Valdinievole region of Tuscany, where Lucy and I live for three or four months a year, I decided to research our own local massacre, L’Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio—The Slaughter at the Fucecchio Swamp, where at least 174 civilians were killed. Italian author and historian Mauro Guerrini has written that the massacre ‟is one of the worst perpetrated by German soldiers in Italy and has remained for years unknown to the general public, for the territorial ‘marginality’ of the Padule and, above all, for political reasons tied to the cold war.”

Continue to part 1 in the series

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