In memory: per una memoria europea dei crimini nazisti (In memory: for a European memory of Nazi crimes) is the title of an international conference that took place in Arezzo in 1994 which focussed on new ways to analyse the massacres of civilians during the Second World War. This new approach considers not only the strategy of terror applied by the military commanders of the Third Reich and by the fascist collaborators during the war in order to keep control over law and order and the choices made by the armed Resistance movement and the underground anti-fascist parties to face the threat of retaliation actions, but also the subjective perception of the suffered pain and horror. Both the public narrative and the scientific research develop a new analysis approach based on the direct experience of those who were personally and brutally exposed to the brutality of the “war to civilians”.
As a consequence, historians retraced the development of an interpretation of facts, which made accountable for the assaults on civilians not only the perpetrators but also the partisans who were accused of provoking the violent Nazi and fascist reaction. The analysis of these memories brought to the surface an Italian-specific gap, between a public institutional memory of the war and the private individual memories of civilian massacres.
This perception gap existed also in the South of Italy where the memory of the Anglo-American bombings as well as that of the violence of the liberators seemed to be dominant and reinforced by the absence of judiciary proceedings in the first after war decades to punish those who assaulted civilians.
The victims’ memory was normally excluded from the national public memory until some decades ago, and usually celebrated either at a very local level through the creation of Martyrs’ associations or even at private level only. Over the last twenty years there was a growing demand to make this memory judicially and officially acknowledged at institutional level, in particular in relation to the violence suffered. This demand was finally fulfilled: judicially through the several military trials that took place also thanks to the support of the ANPI (National Association of Italian Partisans) that directly filed several lawsuits; politically through a new deal in the memorial management of the second world war which was rolled out since the beginning of the new millennium. (This new political attitude included: a greater emphasis on the history of massacres and the visit of memorial sites promoted by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the President of the Italian Republic, since 2001 in order to favour a process of “reconciliation without any forgetfulness”; the visit to the memorial shrine of Marzabotto by the German President Johannes Rau together with the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on April 17, 2002; the homage jointly paid to the victims of the massacre of Sant’Anna di Stazzema by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the German President Joachim Gauck in 2013.)
The national debate between conflicting memories played a key role in promoting a new specific interest for the history of defenceless civilian massacres. Researchers have also tried to reconstruct the memorial chronology and retraced the creation over time of several kinds of memorial sites, monuments and museums. They also recorded the different types of institutional honours and decorations awarded over time as well as the different forms of commemoration adopted in several contexts, including the specific features of local memorial ceremonies and celebrations.