How did more than twenty former members of the Waffen-SS, all wanted for major war crimes committed in Italy in 1944, end up escaping justice and living in freedom in Germany? Among those still alive is ex-SS Lieutenant Gerhard Sommer, 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, which is designed to bring the last guilty Nazis to justice.
Having evaded justice for sixty years, Sommer and nineteen other SS officers and NCOs, all former members of the same unit, were finally sentenced to life imprisonment for their war-crimes by two Italian courts, in absentia, in 2005 and 2009. Today several of the men are still alive, and at liberty in Germany. Why? Is it because American intelligence made a secret deal with senior SS officers in 1945, that meant that almost all SS men guilty of war-crimes committed in Italy in WW2 escaped imprisonment? Why has Germany not tried the men? Why did it then take Italy sixty-five years to do so?
German troops from the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division, the Reichsfuhrer-SS, massacred nearly 2,000 Italian civilians in separate reprisal operations in 1944, more than any other German unit in Italy. In one killing alone 560 civilians – of whom more than 80 were children, one three weeks old - were executed at the Tuscan village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in August 1944. None of the SS killers responsible have ever been caught or imprisoned.
British, American, Swiss, Italian, Vatican and German archive documents show that in 1945 secret intelligence deals between the Americans and the SS, court pardons, and controversial compensation and immunity arrangements meant that almost all guilty Nazis escaped justice for war crimes in Italy.
Post-war Italian governments were very reluctant to prosecute Germans for crimes committed in Italy, while the Allies wanted a newly-rearmed Germany onside in the Cold War against the Russians. Despite repeated requests from Rome, Germany refuses to extradite even a single guilty SS war criminal back to Italy. None have been made to serve their sentences in Germany. German Prosecutors say the men responsible for the massacres in 1944 have got away, literally, with murder.
This book is a fast-moving and dramatic investigation that leads from the Tuscan mountains and government ministries in Rome, via British and American intelligence archives and Germany’s War Crimes Commission in Bavaria, to the respectable suburbs of present-day Hamburg. It goes to track down the guilty men, tell the story of their crimes, and asks why they are still free.
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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