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The Massacres in Occupied Italy (1943-1945) According to the Memories of the Perpetrators


A multimedia project consisting of interviews with perpetrators, victims and their relatives, diaries, photographs, contemporary testimonies and documents of German soldiers in Italy

The project "The Massacres in Occupied Italy 1943-1945 in the Memory of the Perpetrators" is directed at developing multimedia-based, interactive resources in cooperation with specialists in the fields of history didactics, public history and perpetrator research to be used as didactic tools for interactive projects in youth work and education. The targets are primarily schools, exhibitions, and installations in memorials and museums both in Italy and in Germany.

The project is funded by the German-Italian Fund for the Future of the Auswärtiges Amt of the Federal Republic of Germany from 2019 to 2021.

The project is an innovative offer settled at the interface between historical research, didactics and public history. The materials elaborated by the project team can be flexibly adapted to different target groups, both for interactive projects in schools and various visitors of memorials. 

Different visitor groups should feel approached in their diversity: Young people/adults, Italian and German students and visitors, but also young migrants for whom the crimes of the Nazi period and their consequences are not part of their self-experienced past. Gender specific elements, such as different experiences of violence between men and women, will also be taken into account.

The project should contribute to enhancing the perspective of the victims of the massacres, which is to consider central, by adding a further dimension of dealing with the perpetrators. Based on current research, this project seeks to provide a large public with access to the attitudes and psychological dispositions, biographical and social backgrounds, decision-making and action spaces, patterns of legitimation, situations and experiences of the perpetrators. 

Finding an explanation why thousands of soldiers - many of them very young - were capable of believing that the murder of women and children was a legitimate part of war, particularly challenges society. However, finding answers to these questions is a task historical research has to face, without allowing revisionism to minimize, relativize or even justify the perpetrators. 

The project has a biographical approach based on interviews conducted between 1999 and 2005 by the journalists Udo Gümpel and René Althammer with some famous perpetrators within the framework of investigative journalistic research for the ARD magazine Kontraste. These are long conversations with the former head of the SS in Genoa, Dr. Friedrich Engel (1909-2006), the German Wehrmacht officer and later member of the German Bundestag (SPD) Klaus Konrad (1914-2006) and several members of the Waffen-SS who participated in the massacres in Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Monte Sole. These still largely unpublished interviews are rare self-testimonies of perpetrators outside the context of legal criminal proceedings. Together with the innumerable given testimonies of German witnesses and defendants in German and Italian criminal and preliminary proceedings, these are ideal sources for researching the German-Italian war of 1943-1945 from the perspective of a history of experiences, as proposed by the German-Italian Historical Commission in his final document.

Photographs, film footage and previously unreleased private documents, so-called "ego-documents", which encompass war diaries, letters, photographs and memoirs of German soldiers in Italy, will be the material that we will use to attain our goal to explore the soldiers’ individual experiences. Through intensive work in all important archive collections, these sources will be made available for the project and included in our research. The cartographic recording of the events is intended to raise the users' awareness in the matter of the dynamics concerning mass violence, as well as its interconnections and its spatial dimension. 

A special focus of the project is on the educational sector, including schools; therefore, a series of multimedia-based interactive working and study materials will be developed in the second year of the project (2020) in close cooperation with German and Italian scholars.

Interviews with family members and descendants of the victims and perpetrators are another innovative aspect of the project. The aim of this sub-project is to acquire information on how the experiences of war and violence are processed in the respective family context. This will contribute to the socially important discussion on the intergenerational consequences of National Socialist mass crimes.



Project staff:


Members of the research team:

Student assistants:

  • Ann Völker
  • Leonard Ludwig 

Former associates

  • Dr. Francesco Corniani
  • Dr. Matteo Cacco
  • Aiko Hillen

Previous events:

a) Workshops:

War, Violence and the Image of Soldiers: Between Private Memories and Public Representation am 27. Februar 2020 im Martin-Buber-Institut in Köln.


Project managers:

Dr. Carlo Gentile
Martin-Buber-Institut für Judaistik der Universität zu Köln
50923 Köln
Telefon: +49 (0)221 470 4435

Udo Gümpel
Via Camillo de Lellis 15
00151 Roma

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