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Fosse Ardeatine: A Day of Unfathomable Violence, A Place of ReflectionFosse Ardeatine

A Day of Unfathomable Violence, A Place of Reflection

March 23, 1944, 3:45 pm: The Italian Resistance Movement succeeds in making the biggest urban-attack against the Nazi-German army in Western Europe. With an improvised explosive device positioned in Via Rassella, in Rome, the Italian partisans of Gruppo d'Azione Patriottica (Patriotic Action Group) attacks a line of marching German troops, killing 33 men. What the partisans cannot anticipate is the response that this offense, the biggest massacre ever happened in Rome in the 20th century, would unleash.

“A reprisal that will make the world tremble!” This was Adolf Hitler’s response when he received the news about the attack in the eternal city. And so, it was. The German general of the West-Front, Albert Kesselring, ordered that for each German killed, 10 Italians would have to die, all within the next 24 hours. Herbert Kappler, the head of German police and security services in Rome, was put in charge of carrying out the reprisal including making a list of the ones who were going to be shot.

The people on the list were hard to find, since only three men had been arrested for the attack in Via Rassella. Therefore, Kappler and his lieutenants rounded up Italians already serving prison sentences for their activities in the Resistance, this including 65 Jews. Other victims were grabbed randomly off the streets of Rome. None of these had any direct connection to the original bombing. As the Nazi-Germans were collecting the victims, the shooting started. The Fosse Ardeatine – caves in disuse in the suburbs of Rome and remnants of ancient Christian catacombs – were chosen to be the place to carry out the brutal operation.

335 innocent Italians were shot and piled up at the bottom of the caves. It took 7 hours and 74 Nazi-policeman to complete the slaughter. After using dynamite to seal the entrance of the caves, the reprisal ended at 8 pm on the 24th of March 1944.

“In this place we were slaughtered, victims of an awful sacrifice. May a better Fatherland and long-lasting peace amongst nations arise out of our sacrifice”.

Today, Fosse Ardeatine is a Mausoleum and a National Memorial. Architects and artists have made it a beautiful place of remembrance, to honor the lives of those men who became the symbol of martyrdom for the Italian fight for freedom. All the bodies rest, each one in its own coffin, under one large tombstone that unites them all, a large white monolith that has become the emblem of the place.

Over the years, many films, plays and songs have told this story. One of the most famous films is Roma Città Aperta (1945), directed by Roberto Rossellini with Anna Magnani. Another film is Rappresaglia (1973), by George Pan Cosmatos with Marcello Mastroianni and Richard Burton. The play Tante Facce nella Memoria (2015) by Francesca Comencini, takes on the perspective of three partisan women and three wives who lost their husbands in the reprisal. American composer William Schuman subtitled his Ninth Symphony (1968), Le Fosse Ardeatine in memory of the victims.

The Fosse Ardeatine mass killing is commemorated every year on March 24, through official ceremonies in Rome with the presence of the highest state offices.

Facebook Live: Reading of "Tante facce della memoria"
YouTube: “Roma Città Aperta” Trailer

Article written by Gaia Mencagli in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

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