Via Rasella: the truth and the liar August 7, 2007Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
Good news today. The supreme court of Cassazione in Italy has ruled that the press campaign labeling “terrorists” the GAP partisans who organized the bombing of Via Rasella in nazi-occupied Rome in 1944, launched by the national newspaper “Il Giornale”, was a striking example of manipulation of historic truth for political means. The newspaper is owned by Paolo Berlusconi (brother of Silvio, formerly premier of Italy in 1994 and 2001-2006), and was directed by Vittorio Feltri (see pic on the right), a journalist who never hid his sympathy for the extreme right.
In 1944 GAP partisans in Rome attacked with a bomb a german base in Via Rasella in Rome. 31 nazi soldiers and two civilians died in the attack. 21 hours after the attack the germans collected 335 civilians and killed them one by one in arguably the most barbarian acts committed by german troops in Italy during World War II. The victims were shot and thrown in the Fosse Ardeatine, a place that is today a monument of remembrance of the horrors of war. Some of the perpetrators of the act are still alive, and the wound has not healed yet in the hearts of those who lost a relative in the slaying.
In 1996, Vittorio Feltri launched a press campaign from the newspaper “Il Giornale” which he then directed, against the partisans who participated in the bombing. The attempt at rewriting history in a way more favourable to fascists is not the first one in Italy, and indeed many others have succeeded and were part of the general assault of right-wingers to the general feeling of sympathy and gratitude of italian people toward those who fought the nazi occupants during the last years of WWII. The logic of calling “terrorists” the partisans who fought the nazis in Rome is clear: terrorists were the partisans, and criminals were also the nazis (a fact unfortunately hard to deny) so everybody erred, and nobody is responsible. Not the Pope, who did nothing to stop the slaying of civilians. Not those who sympathised with the nazis. Not the fascists.
Good try, one might say – although it will cost Berlusconi some 45 thousand euros -peanuts for him. The Court of Cassazione ruled that the act in Via Rasella was a legitimate act of war, and not a terrorist attack. On the contrary, the indiscriminate killing of 335 civilians in the Fosse Ardeatine remains as one of the most repulsive acts ever happened in Italy during WWII, along with Marzabotto and other killings.
The supreme court ruling stems from facts: the attack against germans was a “legitimate act of war against a stranger army occupying the country, and directed at a military target”. Not “old unarmed soldiers”, as “Il Giornale” had stated, but “militiamen totally able, between 26 and 43 years of age, and endowed with bombs and pistols”. And it is not true -as the newspaper strongly argued- that the civilian victims were seven, but two, as is now proven beyond doubt. There’s more: after the attack, germans did not post notices inviting the partisans to surrender to avoid an act of retaliation. The court notes that the killing in Fosse Ardeatine started 21 hours after the attack in Via Rasella, and that the nazis had actually attempted to hide the attack to the public, as was customary back then (forefront journalism has not improved that much in 60 years, however).
Now what ? Nothing much. Il Giornale will continue spreading falsity, Vittorio Feltri will go on with his job (he is now directing Libero, another newspaper), and many will insist in their attempt of changing history in the perception of those who learn it in glossy magazines. But one fact has been straightened out – a bomb attack can be considered a legitimate act of war. How’s that for a message, president George W. Bush ? How about the “terrorists” in Iraq ? Terrorists, or insurgents ? Who is really the terrorist there, Mr. president ?
One last note. 335 men and boys were killed at the Fosse Ardeatine in retaliation for 33 deaths in Via Rasella, as ordered by commander Kappler. The 10:1 ratio seems to be at odds by five: the mistery, one of the most grievious in the whole affair, was solved by the testimony of Hass, a german soldier back then, during the process to Erik Priebke (see picture), who directed the executions. Let me quote from Robert Katz’s history:
When the list-keeper himself exercised his defendant’s right to remain silent, that answer required nothing less than the “resurrection” of another accomplice to the crime. Former SS Major Karl Hass, Kappler’s intelligence chief, had long been listed dead by the German government, but Priebke in one of his many garrulous moments in the presence of journalists boasted of a 1978 trip to Rome, to revisit the past and having “dined in the company of Major Hass”. Swift action by Chief Military Prosecutor Antonino Intelisano traced Hass to his place of retirement near Milan. Although the 85-year-old ex-spy was already in flight, Intelisano found him Switzerland and convinced him to return to Rome as his star witness.
In direct testimony, the following exchange took place:
INTELISANO: It was discovered that the number of people killed was more than intended, five extra. Can you explain that to us?
HASS: [At the Ardeatine,] Priebke was there with the copy of the list. He got the people down [off the trucks] and canceled out their names. At a certain point, one of the prisoners was not on Priebke’s list. At the end, in fact, there were five extra men. That was when Kappler said, “What do I do with these five? They’ve seen it all” …
The superannuated mystery of the so-called “counting error” was suddenly gone, discharged in a simple rhetorical question; so horrible in content yet almost elegant in form. What do I do with these five… First there was one man, or perhaps a boy, then there were two and so on. One by one, the came down from the trucks, their name not on the list, made to wait, watching and listening to the gunshots in the caves, seeing “it all”; waiting until dark for all 330 to die so that the list-keeper could count how many unlisted he had and Kappler could contemplate their fate under a nighttime sky.