The Project

Financed by the “Italian-German Fund for the Future” set up by the Federal Republic of Germany and co-financed by the Unione dei Comuni Montani del Casentino, this project aims to disseminate and raise awareness of the testimonies and memories of the survivors of the nazi-fascist massacres that took place in the Casentino in 1944 during the Second World War.

For over thirty years the Unione’s Banca della Memoria has been collecting, in video interviews, the voices and stories of daily life, ancient crafts and war experiences of local communities. Over time, it has become an audiovisual archive of great cultural interest, preserving the traditions and less tangible, oral memories of the men and women of Tuscany.

The activity of the Banca della Memoria is based on the assumption that oral memory, the narrative interpretation and the poetics of one’s personal history, constitute a complex heritage of knowledge and know-how that must be safeguarded and treasured. The cultivation of memory views the past as a tool for interpreting the dynamics of the present, and aims to consolidate an idea of the self as in harmony with, and respectful of others.

The project presented here is organised geographically, i.e. starting from the each specific location, it is possible to access synopses of the events or video testimonies when these are available. The synopses present the major factors leading up to events such as killings or massacres.

Casentino Valley

The historical research was carried out by Luca Grisolini, who investigated the better known, more dramatic events as well as those wrongly considered “minor”, in order to contextualise and interpret single episodes within the highly complex dynamics of those days. The numbers and names of the victims and their ages are listed. Thanks to meticulous research and archival analysis, it was possible to identify the military corps responsible for the killings.

While the historical notes contextualise events by drawing on the most accredited sources, the interviews give the personal viewpoint of the witnesses. However, we believe that linking and combining these individual viewpoints can help reconstruct a collective historical memory that finds confirmation in the more salient and decisive events.

Quite often these testimonies are jumbled. A person’s memory may falter or their account lack accuracy when the dramatic events being recalled took place in the distant past. Sometimes the Tuscan language takes on the obsolete or archaic forms of a Casentino dialect of earlier days. For this reason, all the videos have been subtitled in Italian, as well as in English and German. The interviews were carried out from the 1980s until 2016 and do not cover the whole geographical area or timespan of these war events. Nevertheless, they have enabled us to unearth and reconstruct specific, forgotten episodes and make them known, despite the scarcity of sources and texts.

The memory of events also leaves its mark on the physical features of the places where they occurred. These come to symbolize those tragedies at a time when all the witnesses have departed. For this reason, we have devoted a section to monuments, memorial stones, and other material traces of the atrocious killings. This was made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Fondazione dell’Associazione Nazionale fra Mutilati ed Invalidi di Guerra, which runs the Pietre dell Memoria project, and of Alessandro Bargellini, who supplied us with the texts and many of the photographs published here.

Our History

The Casentino valley, located in a crucial area of the Gothic Line defence system, found itself fully involved in war operations beginning in the winter-spring of 1943-44. It also saw the spontaneous emergence of numerous rebel formations that exploited its mountainous, richly forested terrain. To rid the Casentino and the province of Arezzo of rebels, the Wehrmacht carried out numerous roundups and massacres in the area, assisted by the collaborationist forces of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. As we shall see later, their aim was to repress the partisan movement and terrorise sympathising civilian inhabitants who clearly nurtured strong anti-fascist sentiments.

The Gothic Line

The Gothic Line was a 320-kilometre-long fortified defensive structure built by the German Army in 1944 on the orders of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring in an attempt to slow the advance of the Allied army commanded by General Harold Alexander into northern Italy.

From the Magra river valley south of La Spezia to the Adriatic coast of Pesaro, following the rugged heights of the Apuan Alps, it stretched eastwards along the hills of Garfagnana, the mountains of the Modena Apennines, the Bolognese Apennines, the upper valleys of the Arno (the Casentino) and the Tiber, and along the Forlì Apennines, until it reached the Adriatic coast.

It was built largely by the Todt Organisation, created by Fritz Todt, Minister of Armaments and Supplies. It was operated in collaboration with the military high commands and made use of the forced labour of men and even young boys from the occupied towns and villages.

Gathering Testimonies

Since the end of the 1980s we have been researching and investigating events relating to the Second World War, interviewing direct witnesses and questioning them about the fascist period, Italy’s entry into the war, September 8th 1943, the passing of the front line, the partisan movement in the Casentino, the nazi-fascist massacres, and the Liberation.

Creating a Historical Archive

The painstaking collection of interviews and audiovisual footage over a long period has led to the creation of a very rich archive, one that is fully digitised and indexed, enabling individual files to be accessed and viewed.

The Memory Bank

This is an audiovisual archive consisting of VHS tapes and digital tapes in DV and DVCPro format, DVDs, audio cassettes, films and digital files concerning the traditions and less tangible, oral recollections of the inhabitants of Tuscany. Considerable space is devoted to improvised poetry in ottava rima, ancient crafts and war memories. The materials were collected by the archive staff who since the 1980s have been filming, recording and editing hundreds of hours of audiovisual content, now the property of the Unione dei Comuni Montani del Casentino.

Sharing material

The painstaking collection of interviews and audiovisual footage over a long period has led to the creation of a very rich archive, one that is fully digitised and indexed, enabling individual files to be accessed and viewed.