Last weekend, I watched a Spike Lee movie entitled “Miracle at St. Anna”. This movie portrayed the role of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed in Italy during WWII. It was a good movie, a bit graphic at times, but nonetheless interesting and thought provoking. Because this film was historical fiction, I knew that some of the situations portrayed were indeed fact. This sparked my interest on a massacre that was described in the movie in the small Tuscan town of Sant’Anna di Stazzema. Did this massacre truly occur? To my horror, I found out that it did. 560 innocent women, children, and elderly were massacred by German troops in the early morning of Aug. 12, 1944 as part of a cleansing, or scorched-earth policy. The victims were shot and their bodies were burned. The pews from the church were used as kindling for the fires which consumed the entire town. Among the dead were 116 children, with the youngest being 3 months old. The reason for this atrocity is a bit unclear. One theory states that the German troops wanted to leave nothing but devastation in their wake. Another states that they wanted to obliterate all the possible Partisan hiding places. Supposedly, Sant’Anna was known to be sympathetic towards the Partisans.
Interestingly enough, no one was prosecuted for the war crimes that occurred in this tiny town until 2005 when some secret documents were found stuffed into a cabinet. The events that took place here had all been forgotten by both the Italian and the German governments, but the town never really recuperated after the massacre. In fact, much of the town has remained abandoned and is now mostly a memorial for those that perished. Even the Italian government hushed this over, and no one spoke of it except for those few that remembered what happened. The reasons for this secrecy are a mystery to me, but most likely it was for some political reason. This story would undoubtedly lend itself to quite a bit of interesting detective work on the part of a WWII historian. During the trial, six SS officers were tried and found guilty of the war crimes committed here. They were tried in absentia, due to their advanced ages, and given life sentences. But, to my knowledge, they did not serve any time. None of those convicted ever confessed to their role in this horrific event. It was as if this town and it’s people never existed.