Kragujevac, Serbia, Yugoslavia · October 21, 1941

From Europe, to Africa, to the Far East, regular Axis troops, as well as spe­cial­ized killing squads (Ein­satz­gruppen), mur­dered mil­lions of un­armed civil­ians. These mass mur­ders often tar­geted eth­nic or poli­ti­cal groups. Some­times they were com­mitted in retal­i­ation for acts of resis­tance, whether or not the vic­tims were actu­ally in­volved. Some­times they simply defied expla­na­tion and beg­gared the imagi­na­tion, as in the case of Japa­nese atroc­i­ties (looting, tor­ture, rape, and murder) against 300,000 civil­ians in Nan­king (Nan­jing), China, in 1937. On this date in 1941 in Kragujevac, Yu­go­sla­via (today cen­tral Serbia), Ger­mans mur­dered about 3,000 Ser­bian men and teen­age boys in repri­sal for par­ti­san attacks on Ger­man troops. In Italy 2‑1/2 years later SS sol­diers, assisted by Fascist col­labo­ra­tionist sol­diers, took 335 Italian civil­ians—ten for each Ger­man police­man whom Ital­ian par­ti­sans had recently killed with a bomb—to the Ar­dea­tine Caves out­side Rome and shot them, then sealed the cave with ex­plo­sives to hide the evi­dence. On June 9, 1944, in the French in­dus­trial town of Tulle in cen­tral France a Ger­man Waffen-SS company (“Das Reich”) and mem­bers of the Sicher­heits­dienst (the in­tel­li­gence agency of the SS) first tor­tured, then mur­dered 99 ran­domly selected men aged between 17 and 42, hanging the vic­tims’ bodies from trees, bal­co­nies, and lamp posts all over town. The repri­sal mas­sa­cre followed the killing and maim­ing of some 40 Ger­man sol­diers in Tulle the day before by mem­bers of the French Maquis resis­tance move­ment. Fifteen miles north of Tulle, in the vil­lage of Oradour-sur-Glane, the same Waffen-SS unit mas­sacred 642 in­ha­bi­tants, in­cluding women and chil­dren, the next day, June 10. The year before in the Mos­cow Decla­ra­tion of Octo­ber 30, 1943, Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, and Soviet dicta­tor Joseph Stalin put the Axis powers on notice that the people respon­si­ble for such atroc­i­ties would even­tually stand in courts of law in the very coun­tries they were oppress­ing and answer for their crimes. As for those people whose crimi­nal offen­ses had no par­tic­u­lar geo­graphi­cal locali­za­tion, they would be punished by joint deci­sions of the Allied govern­ments, thus pre­saging two post­war inter­na­tional tri­bunals, one in Nurem­berg, Germany, the other in Tokyo, Japan.

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Nazi Reprisals Cost Millions of Innocents’ Lives: Three Examples

Kragujevac roundup of innocents, October 1941Kragujevac massacre of innocents, October 20–21, 1941

Left: Germans and their Serbian allies escort men and boys from Kragujevac and its sur­roundings to their execu­tion place. Around 10,000 male civilians, aged 16–60, were arrested by Ger­man troops and colla­bo­ra­tionist militia mem­bers, and the nearly 3,000 victims, in­cluding a high school full of stu­dents, were selected from among them. The mas­sacre on Octo­ber 20–21, 1941, was in direct repri­sal for Ger­man losses in battling Com­mu­nist parti­sans and Serbian nationalists (Chetniks) in the area.

Right: Serbian civilians on the point of execu­tion. People were shot in groups of 400. A Ger­man report stated: “The execu­tions in Kragujevac occurred although there had been no attacks on mem­bers of the Wehr­macht in this city, for the reason that not enough hostages could be found elsewhere.”

Rome roundup of innocents-1, March 23, 1944Rome roundup of innocents-2, March 23, 1944

Left: Twenty-eight members of an SS police regiment of ethnic Germans from Northern Italy, which had been organized by the Germans to intimidate and suppress Italian partisans, were killed in a bomb attack on March 23, 1944, while marching and singing in Rome’s narrow Via Rasella. More policemen died over the next few days. The 16 partisans who had ambushed the regiment escaped. A body lies in the street during the roundup of civilians by Italian collaborationist soldiers and German troops after the bombing.

Right: The Germans needed reprisal victims and set about rounding up innocent civilians in front of the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, as shown here in this photograph, to add to the number of prisoners and Jews already in custody. Adolf Hitler authorized the reprisal, stipulating that it be carried out within 24 hours. Led by SS officers, 335 victims (five more than necessary) were transported on March 24, 1944, to the Ardea­tine Caves (Fosse Ardea­tine) south of Rome in truckloads and then, in groups of five, put to death by pistol inside. German military engineers set explosives to seal the caves and hide the atrocity. The scale and even the occurrence of this retaliation were unprecedented on Italian soil.

Oradour-sur-Glane ChurchOradour-sur-Glane ruin

Left: The church in Oradour-sur-Glane in which 245 women villagers or visitors and 205 chil­dren were burnt to death or shot as they attempted to escape on June 10, 1944. Their hus­bands, sons, and brothers were marched to near­by barns, lined up, and shot. One woman and six men sur­vived the mas­sacre. After the war a new village was built on a near­by site. On the orders of French presi­dent Charles de Gaulle the origi­nal village has been main­tained as a museum and perma­nent memo­rial to the cruelty of the Nazi occu­pation. Photo taken June 11, 2004.

Right: Wrecked hardware (bicycles, sewing machine, etc.) six decades later, left as a reminder of the bar­barity of the Ger­man reprisal in Ora­dour-sur-Glane. In January 1953 a mili­tary tribu­nal in Bor­deaux heard the case against the sur­viving 65 of the approx­i­mately 200 Ger­man sol­diers who had been involved in the reprisal. Only 21 defen­dants were in court. On Febru­ary 11, 1953, with one exception, all were convicted of war crimes.

Fascism Timeline, Italian with English Text. Includes Footage About Ardeatine Massacre and Mussolini’s Death