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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Nazi massacre on island idyll
The Greek island of Cephalonia - scene of the massacre of thousands of Italian troops
A German eyewitness left a grim account of the massacre on Cephalonia
Italian and German newspapers have been publishing grim eyewitness accounts of a massacre of thousands of Italian soldiers by German troops on the Greek island of Cephalonia during World War II.


The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung published extracts last week from the diary of a German soldier who witnessed the scene of one massacre.

Italian newspapers published translations of the diary - by corporal Alfred Richter of the German Alpine Regiment - over the weekend.

The Italian occupation of the island and the massacre by their former German allies form the historical background to Louis de Berniere's novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Louis de Bernieres wrote a best-selling novel based on the massacre
Louis de Berniere set his novel on the island
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said recently that 9,436 Italian soldiers out of 11,700 were killed on the island after Italy signed an armistice with the allied powers in 1943.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi - in a ceremony earlier this month on the island - said their "conscious decision was the first act of resistance by an Italy freed from fascism."

"They preferred to fight and die for their fatherland," he said.

Shot in head

Corporal Richter describes coming across the scene of one execution when they were following a battalion of the 98th Regiment.

"When we go past the high point of the mountain pass, we come across the bodies of fallen Italians," he writes.


The screams can be heard as far as inside the Greek house

Corporal Richter's diary
"They are lying in heaps, all shot in the head, so we can see they have been shot by the 98th Regiment soldiers after surrendering. Some of the 98th are removing any usable shoes from the bodies."

Corporal Richter said many Italians had surrendered, thinking they would be safe.

"In groups they are taken into nearby quarries and walled gardens just outside the village (of Frangata) and mown down by the machine guns of the 98th.

Screams

"We have been in the village for two hours and during this time the machine guns and machine pistols have been firing continuously and the screams can be heard as far as inside the Greek houses."

He described how a group of Bavarian soldiers tried to stop the killing, but they were "immediately silenced by an officer who threatens to put them against a wall too."


Those who fell on Cephalonia could not enter the Pantheon of the Resistance

Italian commentator
Indro Montanelli
Corporal Richter said they had been told the order to kill all the Italians had come from Hitler, but he doubted it.

"I believe it was the commanders who were intoxicated with vainglory, for whom the life of an individual is no more than a statistic," he wrote.

Political correctness

One of Italy's most respected columnists, Indro Montanelli, has blamed political correctness for the fact that in the years since the massacre, it had rarely been spoken of and then almost as an "embarrassment".

"The soldiers who fought in uniform, beneath the banners of the Royal Army, out of loyalty to an oath and to their country, did not have the credentials of the partisans who fought against these values," Montanelli told Corriere della Sera.

"That is why those who fell on Cephalonia could not enter the Pantheon of the Resistance," he said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Captain Corelli delayed
10 Jan 99 | Europe
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