The day of Peter and Paul: the slaughter of Cornia, Civitella and San Pancrazio (29 June 1944)

 

The antecedents of the massacre

On the morning of June 29, 1944 Civitella, Cornia and S. Pancrazio, three villages located on the hills that separate the Valdichiana from Valdambra (the furthest offshoot of Valdarno), are surrounded by units of the armored division Hermann Goering, who have the orders to kill all men over the age of fifteen and to burn all the houses. That morning the victims were 244 and the destruction of the three villages almost total.

In Civitella in Val di Chiana, on the 18th of the same month, in the local recreational club three German paratroopers had been killed killed in a firefight with the partisans. In the following days, fearing a German reprisal, much of the population had fled their homes, however, returning on the 28th to prepare to celebrate the Feast of St Peter and Paul, thinking that now the danger was averted.

The conviction of the memory of Civitella that the episode of 18 could not but lead to the massacre of 29 is reinforced by a fact that instead helps make this causal chain much less strict. On the evening of 20th, at the conclusion of the funeral to the German soldiers that the parson had organized with the intention of showing the peaceful attitude of the village, about twenty people were menaced to be shot by the German troops. Only at the last came the order which avoided the worst. The local memory interprets the episode as a sign of a calculated desire for retaliation that stopped momentarily only because of the small number of hostages found. More likely, on the basis of existing documentation, the episode of the recreational club did not go beyond the small garrison stationed at the farm of Dorna, three kilometers from the village, which had the task of organizing the security to a fuel depot, and which had no authority to decide a retaliation. We also know now for sure that the men involved in the shooting at the club belonged to a unit other than the one who did the killing, and that therefore there are different motivations that inspired the reactions of 20 and those of 29 June. Besides this conclusion was already reached by the Board of English Inquiry in autumn 1944.

The fate of Civitella, Cornia and San Pancrazio was decided in fact, almost with certainty, on the date of June 25, when, after the Battle of Trasimeno, the territory of Civitella and Bucine fell under the jurisdiction of the Hermann Goering Division, headquartered in Villa Carletti, near Monte S. Savino. The Hermann Goering was perhaps the most appalling company among the German troops in Italy at the time. The entire operation was planned and directed by a command that was installed in the villa under the leadership of Heinz Barz.


The events of June 29th 1944 in Civitella

The breadth of the operation and the number of units involved in the events of Civitella does not allow to establish exactly the time, but all the surviving witnesses agree in identifying the arrival of the German soldiers at around 5.30 am, when the families were preparing to go to Mass on the day of St. Peter and Paul. Among the aims of the operation there was certainly the intent to slow the advancing of the Allied army, while the Germans were building the Gothic Line in the Apennines in defense of northern Italy.

The first to be killed were the inhabitants of the hamlets around Civitella. The houses of Palazzina, Querciola, Maestà Tonda were raided by the German soldiers and in each place were killed the men, the women and the children who had remained at home. The German soldiers entered Civitella from Porta Senese, walking the streets of the village and pushing towards the church those who were captured along their way. The German soldiers then arrived at the old age home and killed eight guests who were inside. In front of the church, where the inhabitants had gathered, the soldiers found the door locked. The parish priest, Don Alcide Lazzeri, probably realizing what was happening, had blessed the people and closed them inside the building. The soldiers threw a hand grenade to open the door and dragged out the people who were locked up hoping to save themselves. It seems then that Don Alcide had shouted: “I’m responsible for what happened, kill me.” The attempt was futile. The men were taken to the church in groups of five, and killed. The same Don Lazzeri died in the slaughter. After the executions, the German soldiers continued to kill the remaining inhabitants inside their homes. Finally, they set fire to the houses of Civitella, killing even those who had tried to escape by hiding in cellars or attics. Only a few men managed to escape the massacre.

The horror of that day was also perceived in the surrounding countryside, especially in the villages in the valley: here, despite the distance, were well heard the desperate cries and seen the smoke coming out from the houses on fire.



 Solaia and Cornia

In the hamlets of Cornia and Solaia, the violence of the soldiers of the Hermann Göring Division spared no one, not even women and children. The German soldiers arrived to the two hamlets at 6.00 am. Some witnesses tell of 200 soldiers, others of more than 300, however, where they stopped, in addition to killing and exterminating entire families, they burned the houses and the barns, so that the following day the bodies of the victims were found completely charred. In Solaia,

in addition to the entire Valli family, was killed Modesta Rossi, a partisan courier and wife of the partisan Dario Polletti, while she was at home with her little son in her arms, who was also killed with a bayonet along with his mother, under the eyes of her other little children. In Verniana, Burrone and Cornia were indiscriminately killed men, children, elderly and women and their bodies burned so that, the next day, it was hard for their relatives to identify them. In the only hamlet of Cornia were killed 40 people, mostly women. In total in Civitella, Cornia and San Pancrazio were killed 244 people.

The main street of the village was named after the Martyres of Civitella. In 1963 the town was awarded the gold medal for civil valor.

Between 2006 and 2007 were issued the sentences vs Max Milde and Siegfried Böttcher as perpetrators of the massacre along with other officers who had died in the meantime.

On 21 October 2008 the judges of the First Criminal Section of the Court of Cassation condemned the German government to pay damages for a million euros to nine families of the victims of the massacre.

 

The German military division present in Civitella on June 29th, 1944

The Hermann Göring Division was composed in large part of young people between 17 and 24 and had been recruited on a voluntary basis by the Hitlerjugend  (Hitler Youth) and by other organizations of the Nazi party. They had made their only military experiences in occupied Europe, specializing in massacres of civilians. Since March ’44, they had been moved in Tuscany participating in various raids in the Apennines.

The massacre of Civitella, Cornia and San Pancrazio was definitely one of their most brutal massacres. In the territory of Arezzo, the Hermann Göring had massacred, in the April of ’44, the entire population of Vallucciole, in the upper Casentino, calling “Banditen” the men, women and children, often infants, surprised in their homes. Some of the members of the Division belonged to a former body of music that during 1942 had performed in several Italian towns, and had been disbanded in ’43 when the German troops in Italy were in need of reinforcements. Some of its members were definitely, as auxiliary troops of the Department of Military Police, among the soldiers who perpetrated the massacre of 29th  June 1944 in Civitella, and even the two officers sentenced by the Court of La Spezia, were among them.

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