German Perpetrator Narratives and the Italian Theatre of War

Presented at an AHRC-funded workshop on ‘Understanding Perpetration and Complicity’, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, 28 June 2018.

Anti-Italian stereotypes proved central to the defence strategy of German war criminals, such as Albert Kesselring, who were tried in the early post-war period for war-crimes committed in Italy. This article identifies a number of recurring tropes which repeatedly come to the fore in accounts given by Kesselring and other German generals and officers who fought in the Mediterranean theatre, both in the testimonies given during Kesselring’s trial, and in later memoirs. These tropes include the castigation of Italians as “traitors”, the idea that testimonies by Italians were effectively worthless, false, or at the very least exaggerated, and the equation of innocent women and children with dangerous partisans. It then draws a connection between the use of these anti-Italian stereotypes in an immediate post-war context, where they functioned as key pillars in the construction of the myth of the ‘clean Wehrmacht’ in Italy, and its subsequent anchoring in German judicial and diplomatic praxis and public discourse up to the present day.

An article based on this research has now been published in Ricerche Storiche.