Peasants living in the Padule di Fucecchio had no warning on the fateful day of August 23, 1944. German soldiers armed themselves with machine guns, rifles, pistols, grenades and cannons at 5 a.m. By dawn, they had advanced into the huge swamp from all directions.
Pellegrino Cardelli, 40, and his wife Evelina Quiriconi were working outside their house in the Capannone neighborhood just before 6 a.m. ‟We heard loud voices in a strange language,” Evelina told Ponte Buggianese Priest Giulio Tognarelli, one of the first on the scene after the massacre. ‟Were they Germans? I warned Pellegrino to hide, but he didn’t believe me at first.”
Evelina walked down the lane a little farther. ‟Then there was no doubt, it was the Germans,” she said. Pellegrino fled into the bushes, but Evelina had approached too closely. Two soldiers grabbed her by the wrists and dragged her screaming to their commanding officer.
‟Her desperate cries brought the attention of other people in the neighborhood,” Tognarelli said. ‟but they weren’t permitted to approach. The soldiers were all around, searching in the canals, looking behind bushes, walking through the fields, with rifles and pistols ready to fire.
‟They told Evelina that an Italian spy had informed them that everyone in the Padule is a partisan, that the peasants all support the partisans, keeping them informed—that the peasants in the Padule are either helping voluntarily or being paid by the partisans for their services, and now the soldiers have come to execute their orders. All Italians in the Padule are marked for death.”
The soldiers speaking to Evelina were not exaggerating. General Eduard Peter Crasemann and Captain Josef Strauch, having been wrongly informed that between 250 to 500 partisans were hiding out in the center of the swamp, gave both signed and oral orders to kill all inhabitants. The German word used, vernichten, can be translated ‟kill, destroy, exterminate, annihilate.”
Some of the soldiers didn’t strictly obey the orders. If they had, Evelina wouldn’t have survived to tell her story. But that evening, Tognarelli said, Evelina found Pellegrino lying dead, ‟his flesh torn apart by ferocious gunfire.”
Similar events were taking place all around the edges of the Padule, and in many cases, the soldiers were even more brutal. In some homes, the inhabitants were ordered outside, lined up and shot dead—including women, children and elderly men. In all, 175 men, women and children were slaughtered; 25 were under the age of 14, and 62 were women. Only two were partisans.
Sixteen people from the Malucchi family from Cintolese were among the dead, including three children, Franca, 8; Norma, 6; and Maria, only 4 months old. In another location, 92-year-old Faustina Maria Arinci, known as Carmela, who was both deaf and blind, died from a live hand grenade placed in the pocket of her apron.
Most of the dead had previously left their homes in the surrounding villages to live in the Padule, a place considered safe because it was away from the inhabited centers, and the Germans rarely entered it. Ironically, the slaughter took place almost entirely on the more populated fringes of the Padule, Had there been partisans hiding out, they probably would have set up camp in the center, where the Germans never ventured.
Dozens of witnesses survived, and their stories have been well documented in books and military investigations conducted afterward by both British and American forces.
|The "Casin di Lillo" has been restored as a landmark to|
remember the massacre that occurred in 1944. A marker
on the side notes that it was the site where the Germans killed
a father and his 10-year-old son.
Giuseppe Fagni testified: ‟It was day, maybe around 7 a.m. We heard shooting from over in the canal. A dozen of the Germans were in the threshing floor of the Silvestri house. A voice in Italian said that we all had to come out of the house. Some were already outside. Some refused to go out. The Germans began to fire, shooting three people. Others were standing behind or to the sides.
|Color photos by Lucy Spadoni|
Part 4 coming soon . . .