Five Italian survivors of a notorious Waffen-SS massacre in Tuscany have spearheaded a seventy-five year fight to bring the perpetrators to justice. Now in their eighties, these survivors were all young children on 12th August 1944. On that long day of wartime summer, German troops from the 16th SS Division executed 560 Italian civilians in a reprisal operation. It happened in the olive groves and chestnut woods of the Tuscan mountain village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema. More than 80 of the victims were children, one barely three weeks old.
It remains the most high-profile war crime committed by the Germans in Italy in WW2; none of the SS killers responsible have ever been caught or imprisoned. Several of them are still alive, at large and at liberty today in Germany, despite being sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia by Italian courts
Only a handful of people escaped the massacre. The five of them still alive today have spent their lives struggling to bring the murderers of their families, and their village, to justice. Enrico Pieri, Enio Mancini and three sisters, Adele, Siria and Cesira Pardini were interviewed by Allied investigators after the war, and as adults they’ve testified in Italian war crimes courts. They have given evidence to German state war crimes officials. They’ve pressured Italian and German governments and senior European justice officials. They have never given up.
The German government still refuses to extradite the wanted SS men back to Italy. A trail of shady intelligence deals before and after the war between the Allies and the SS, a consistent post-war refusal by Germany to cooperate with war crime investigations, or extradite the guilty men, has meant they’ve escaped. One of them, ex SS-Lieutenant Gerhard Sommer, is currently the world’s highest-ranking, living Nazi war criminal. He’s on the most-wanted list, compiled under Operation Last Chance by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem.
From Tuscany to Rome and to the modern-day streets of Hamburg, The Olive Trees Screamed Murder tells the story of the massacre at Sant’Anna di Stazzema, and the 75-year international failure to bring the killers to justice. It tracks the surviving perpetrators still at large in Germany. The focus, though, is on the personal story of the five Italian survivors, and follows them from childhood to the present day, as they battle to try and ensure that those who massacred their family, friends and village do not get away with murder.
Christian Jennings is a British writer and freelance foreign correspondent, and the author of eight works of non-fiction. Since 1994, across twenty-three countries, he has been writing books and journalism on international current affairs, history, science and subjects such as war crimes investigations, for publications and news organisations ranging from The Economist and Reuters to Wired, The Daily Telegraph, and The Scotsman. He has been based variously in Sarajevo, Pristina, Belgrade, Kigali, Bujumbura, Skopje, Nairobi and Geneva. He now lives...
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