It is really difficult to understand how and why the small town of Engelsbrand, in the German land of Baden-Wuerrtemberg, not far from the border with France, has decided to award a prize to Wilhelm Kusterer. The only time this 94 year old has ever earned a place in the history books dates back to the second half of 1944. In that sixth year of war, Wilhem Kusterer was a member of the 16. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer, responsible for the bloodiest slaughter in Italy during WWII, and one of the worst during the whole seven years of conflict.
Known as Slaughter of Marzabotto (read here about it on Wikipedia) – from the name of the largest of the villages that suffered the Nazi fury – it took place between September 29, 1944, and October 5: seven days marked with blood and death, and vile, ignoble, filthy behavior by German soldiers and by their Fascist allies.
Seven hundred and seventy people (770) died during those seven days. Overall, that Summer of 1944 caused in that small valley between Bologna and the Appenines 995 victims.
The operation – purposedly against civilians – was decided by Feldmarshall Albert Kesselring and carried on by Major Walter Reder, commander of the 16. Panzeraufklaerungsabteilung of the 16. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Reichsführer.
On the morning of September 29, before moving to the attack of the partisans they believed were concentrated in the Marzabotto area, four departments of the Nazi troops, including both SS and Wehrmacht soldiers, encircled and rounded up a large area of territory between the valleys of Setta and Reno, also using arms heavy. Here is Federico Zardi, a writer from Bologna, recalls those very first hours: “From Panico, Vado, Quercia, Grizzana, Pioppe di Salvaro and the outskirts of Bologna troops moved to attack the houses, farmhouses, schools”. They scorched earth and set everything and everyone on fire.
Terrified, the inhabitants of Casaglia Monte Sole found a refuge in the church of Santa Maria Assunta, gathering in prayer. Unrespectful of the sacred site, the Germans broke in and opened fire with their machine-guns: the priest, Don Ubaldo Marchioni, and three elderly were killed. Then they moved to the cemetery killed everybody there: 195 victims, 28 different families including 50 children. It was the beginning of the massacre: every locality, every village, every house was sifted by Nazi soldiers, not one was spared. The violence was such not all victims were found immediately: later that winter it was found, in the snow, the decapitated body of the priest Giovanni Fornasini.
Wilhelm Kusterer took an active role in those killings. May 7, 2008, he would judged guilty of crime against humanity by the Militar Court of Appeal in Rome, together with Paul Albers, Josef Bauman, Hubert Bichler, Max Roithmeier, Adolf Schneider, Max Schneider, Kurtr Spieler, Heinz Fritz Traeger, Georg Wacher, Helmut Wulf. Unfortunately, protection by German authorities made sure he would nt serve any term in prison.
Now, Germany is confirming their vile behavior, and awarding a prize to a person who has been recognized a war criminal and guilty of crimes against humanity. A murderer of 770 innocent people, children included.