Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of the memorial ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the civilian massacre committed by the German Wehrmacht in Civitella, Italy.

29.06.2014 - Speech

--Translation of advance text--

Foreign Minister,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Germans and Italians share many traditions. On 29 June every year, we commemorate the apostles Peter and Paul. It is said that Jesus once told Peter: “Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

As the inhabitants of this city congregated in the church on the morning of 29 June 1944, they were forced to fear the powers of hell more than ever before. German Wehrmacht troops were bearing down on Civitella from different sides. In the church, Father Don Alcide was holding mass, outside violence was raging. German soldiers chased the inhabitants through the streets and set the houses alight. Even the church could not provide protection, the people were dragged out of the service. Over 240 people were killed – above all men, but women and children too. On that day, blood and flames enveloped the city in red.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am standing before you today as German Foreign Minister and I cannot comprehend what the Germans did here 70 years ago. I am deeply horrified and ashamed by it. I bow my head in shame and grief for the deaths of the massacre of Civitella. I want to say to those present, to the survivors, to the victims and their descendants: we Germans are aware of the responsibility that we have, up to today, for the atrocities committed by our compatriots.

Germany incurred great guilt during the Second World War, including for its actions in Italy. The Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS rampaged across the whole country in an appalling manner. Tens of thousands of people fell victim to them.

Italy has been a place that Germans dreamed of for centuries. Our best poets, be it Goethe or Heine, praised the country. This makes such utter betrayals of all civilised values, such as that of the massacre of Civitella, all the more incomprehensible.

It also makes it all the more important for us to avoid repressing memories or forgetting, rather we must face the past and learn the right lessons from it. That is part of the responsibility that we have for the deaths in Civitella.

I thank all those who keep the memory alive. Eye witnesses and descendants, accomplished historians and engaged members of the public, Italians and Germans alike strive to shine a light into the darkness so that today we are able to see what we must never allow to happen again. Many of these committed people are here with us today and in the next few days survivors and descendants of victims of the massacre of Civitella will meet descendants of the perpetrators. I have great respect for this courageous step.

Civitella, Sant´Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto have been places of horror. But they have now become places of encounters and reconciliation, that is something precious. The work of the German-Italian Commission of Historians has been a sign of this solidarity. The German Government wants to further promote efforts to come to terms with and remember the past by means of its Future Fund. The Fund will also support the expansion of the documentation centre here in Civitella.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination. 75 years ago the German Reich unleashed the Second World War. In Civitella today we are remembering what war can lead to, namely excessive violence.

We have your willingness for reconciliation to thank for the fact that, after this horror, we are able to be friends again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here today, and the chance to ask forgiveness for the unforgivable.

Today we are united in friendship within the European Union. We must not allow any economic crisis to destroy this solidarity, and we cannot allow any political crisis to mislead us to thinking that war can offer the solution.

We owe this to those who died on 29 June 1944. The powers of hell will never again be able to gain the upper hand – neither in Civitella nor anywhere else in Europe.

Thank you very much.

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