Rome marks the 77th anniversary of the Fosse Ardeatine massacre on 24 March 1944.
On this day, 77 years ago, the Nazi forces then occupying Rome carried out one of the most horrific atrocities against civilians during the second world war in Italy.
The Fosse Ardeatine, a former quarry near Via Appia Antica, was chosen as the site for the mass killing of 335 people in retaliation for a partisan attack on a column of marching German military police the day before.
In a strike against the German forces occupying the city, Italian resistance fighters detonated a homemade bomb in a municipal rubbish cart on Via Rasella, near Piazza Barberini, targeting a column of the Bozen military police attached to the SS on its way from Piazza del Popolo to its quarters in the Viminale, just off Via Nazionale.
The bomb was ignited when the patrol turned into the narrow, steep street that runs parallel to Via del Tritone between the Traforo and Palazzo Barberini, just a short walk from the Trevi fountain.
Out of the 156 men in the German unit, 28 were killed instantly, rising to 32 the next day and subsequently to 42.
The SS command in Rome under Herbert Kappler immediately recommended reprisals, which were swiftly approved by the military authorities all the way up to Hitler.
Within 24 hours, the German command ordered the Ardeatine massacre. The response was rapid and brutal, without the usual posting of notices offering to forgo reprisals if the bombers should give themselves up.
Hundreds of innocent victims were rounded up immediately from Regina Coeli prison, from their homes, and off the street in an attempt to reach a ten to one ratio for every German killed in the Via Rasella bombing.
The innocent victims were a cross-section of those living in Rome at the time: about 100 civilians and professionals, military men, factory workers, a Catholic priest, and several students, 75 of them Jews.
They were of all ages from 15 to 70 and all political persuasions, from monarchist army officers to ultra-left wing communists. Some of them came from outside Rome.
On 24 March, the 335 victims were taken in lorries outside the city by SS officers Erich Preibke and Karl Hass, divided into groups of five and shot in the head’s back.
When the officers discovered that, by mistake, five too many hostages had been rounded up, they decided to kill them anyway so that word of the massacre should not spread too soon.
The Fosse Ardeatine caves were then dynamited to seal them off, and the bodies were left to decay. It was not until more than a year later, after the Allied Liberation of Rome on 4 June 1944, that the caves were reopened and the bodies found.
3.52 p.m. 23 March 1944. Rosario Bentivegna (photo) is standing next to a street cleaner’s handcart in via Rasella, central Rome, nervously smoking a pipe. The handcart contains a powerful rudimentary bomb & he is about to set in motion a series of terrible events [Thread] >> 1 pic.twitter.com/aqYe7tuqdd— Nicholas Whithorn (@NickWhithorn) March 23, 2021