80 Years On, Victims Of Nazi Crimes In Italy To Get Compensation

80 years after the brutal occupation of southern Italy by Nazi forces during World War Two, some relatives of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis are finally set to receive compensation. An Italian court has awarded 12 million euros ($13 million) as compensation for the trauma experienced by the families of victims, including those hanged by German troops in Fornelli in October 1943 as collective punishment.

Despite most surviving family members having passed away, Italian law allows for damages to be passed on to their heirs. This means that descendants like Mauro Petrarca, the great-grandson of one of the victims, Domenico Lancellotta, are eligible to receive compensation. Petrarca is expected to receive around 130,000 euros ($142,000) based on a 2020 court ruling.

Surprisingly, it is Italy, rather than Germany, that will be making these compensation payments. Italy lost a battle in the International Court of Justice over whether Germany could still be held liable for damages related to World War Two crimes and atrocities.

Jewish organizations in Italy argue that Berlin should acknowledge its historical responsibility and contribute to compensation. However, there are concerns that Rome may be slow in addressing the numerous claims, potentially straining state finances.

A study funded by the German government estimated that around 22,000 Italians fell victim to Nazi war crimes, including up to 8,000 Jews who were deported to death camps. Thousands more Italians were forced into slave labor in Germany, making them eligible for reparations.

The initial beneficiaries of a new government fund established to address these claims are expected to be descendants of the six Catholic men from Fornelli who were hanged by German soldiers. Their killing occurred after Italy had signed an armistice with the Allied forces, ending its involvement in World War Two and leading to Nazi occupation.

In 1962, Germany paid Italy 40 million Deutsche marks (equivalent to over 1 billion euros today) to cover damages inflicted by Nazi forces. Italy provided pensions to those persecuted politically or racially during the war but did not offer reparations for war crimes.

Italy’s efforts to bring Nazis to trial for multiple massacres gained momentum in 1994 when a stash of files documenting war crimes was discovered in Rome’s military prosecutor’s office. Germany, however, continued to resist paying, citing the 1962 accord. While the International Court of Justice supported Berlin in 2012, Italian courts continued to hear compensation cases, rejecting the imposition of limits on war crime claims.

To address the growing compensation costs, Italy’s then-Prime Minister Mario Draghi established a fund in April 2022. As of June 28, 1,228 legal suits had been notified to the Italian Treasury, which is handling payouts. Each suit may involve multiple plaintiffs, raising concerns that the allocated 61 million euros for reparations may be insufficient to cover all expected payouts. The government has reserved the right to review court verdicts before deciding on payments, creating additional hurdles for claimants.

Despite these challenges, for Fornelli, the forthcoming compensation signifies more than just financial relief. It represents a pursuit of justice for a wartime atrocity and a matter of pride for the town and its residents.

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