What were the consequences?

An Italian “Nuremberg War Crimes Trial” or a Missed Opportunity?

In Italy the Allies, and specifically the British, implemented soon after the war a few but very important trials of senior German officers and leading politicians of the Third Reich (49 in total between 1945 and 1947). The intention  was to examine before an International Military Court the highest ranks on the grounds that they were directly responsible for planning massacres of civilians in Germany and in the countries that the German army invaded.  The task of bringing to trial the middle and lesser ranks of the German forces involved in war crimes was to be left to the Italians.

This was perceived to be the equivalent of an “Italian Nuremberg trial”, a huge trial of the leading German commanders in the Italian peninsula. In reality, things went differently and the large-scale Nuremberg-style trial disintegrated into a series of separate trials. Special British military tribunals were held and these judged and sentenced to death many senior German officers but the severity of these judgments was quickly diminished. The death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment; then almost all the sentenced officers were released in the 1950s.This change reflected the major shift in international relations after the war.  

In the Italian case the Allies were under pressure, especially from Yugoslavia, to deliver up Italian fascists responsible for war crimes outside Italy but this had wider implications within the context of the Cold War. Italy’s geo-strategic importance and the the role of the new western Germany influenced the Allied response to the decisions of the military tribunals. The civil war in Italy and the social and political divisions which remained after the war influenced Italian attitudes to both German war crimes in Italy and war crimes committed by Italian fascists at home and in other countries. The missed opportunity for an “Italian Nuremberg” was the result of the new urgencies in superpower politics. World War II was already over, and another kind of war had begun. 


Source: from Pezzino and Baldissara, Il massacro. Guerra ai civili a Monte Sole, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009 and M. Battini, Peccati di memoria. La mancata Norimberga italiana (Sins of memory. The missed italian Nuremberg), Laterza, 2003.


Here below is just one example of the pressure which built up on behalf of Kesselring after his sentence.

1. I think that the Kesselring trial  and its sentence are not within my competence. But I can let you know my point of view. 2. I am totally against the shooting of any other high ranking enemy officer. I cannot see any value in these kind of things. We have already been at peace for 2 years. I personallly wouldn't like any other trial to be held. A lot of time has passed since the event and it's not good for anyone. 3. Stop the shooting of our recent enemies and let's get on with the peace.


Source: Confidential note of the British Secretary of State efor War to Prime Minister Attlee, 16th May 1947 in  Prime Ministers office: Correspondence and papers 1945-51, National Archives London.