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Archive for March 24th, 2008

By noon of March 24, 1944, Kappler (with the help of Roman police chief Pietro Caruso) had his list completed, and it contained 320 names, 10 for each of the 32 soldiers killed.  When a 33rd soldier died, Kappler added another 10 names to the list.  A great many were simply political prisoners, along with a number of Jews who had been recently rounded up, and maybe a few innocent people who just happened to be in the vicinity or lived on the Via Rasella.  It is certain that not a single one of them had anything whatsoever to do with the attacks of the previous day.

The prisoners, with ages ranging from 15 to nearly 75, were trucked to the Ardeatine Caves, which is something of a misnomer because the “caves” were actually part of the elaborate catacomb system carved out by Christians in the 1st Century A.D.  The prisoners were taken from the trucks 5 at a time, moved into the caves, and executed.  Most of the executioners had little or no experience, so Erich Priebke and Karl Hass (the two SS Captains in charge of carrying out the executions) brought cognac to help “bolster” the firing squads.  It did little to boost their confidence, and more to make them drunk and sloppy.  Subsequent victims were required to climb the bodies of the dead to await their turns, and the inebriated soldiers sometimes required several shots to complete their grisly task.  It turned out that a counting error led to an additional five people being put on the trucks, and they were shot as well, probably because they were witnesses.  The final tally was 335 killed.

Rumor quickly spread of an “atrocity near the caves”, and the Germans tried unsuccessfully to hide the evidence.  The bodies were exhumed for identification purposes, and then re-interred at the site, which would become a memorial.  Responsibility fell heaviest on Kappler (who was sentenced to life in prison after the war) and Caruso (who was executed later in 1944).  Priebke and Hass escaped after the war, were not captured until years later, and served little or no time at all.

I found a good website while researching this, so I’ll point you to it. It has additional detail, and photos relating to the massacre. Some of it is a little gruesome, so…here you go

Recommended Reading: Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle For Rome

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