What were the consequences?

The Italian trial of Major Walter Reder

Major Walter Reder, chief of the 16th SS  Reconnaissance Unit, and head of the combing-out operation in Monte Sole, was handed over to the Italian authorities on 3rd May 1948. He had been in prison in Austria where he was taken after his arrest by the US on 9th May 1945. It took three years of investigations before he came to trial In 1951.  Reder was charged with a series of massacres along the Gothic Line, including the massacre at Monte Sole.

 

The preliminary investigation took so long because of the extent of the documentation that had been gathered (over 4,000 pages), the number of witnesses to be interviewed and the need to wait for the completion of the other trials conducted by the British, particularly of Kesselring and Simon. The trial began on 25th May 1951. 

 

At the end of Reder’s trial (31st October 1951), he was sentenced to life imprisonment as the sole person responsible for the massacres. In practice, while clearly guilty of giving orders that led to war crimes, he also became a kind of scapegoat for the actions of his superior officers and the men in his unit. The massacre could be attributed to the actions of a criminal mind. Indeed many people living in Monte Sole call him the “jena Reder” -  the monster.

 

While Kesselring and Simon were released after 5 years, Reder stayed in prison until 1985.

 

The historian’s view of Reder’s sentence :

 

(..)On one side the sentence totally rejected any arguments about the illegitimacy of the partisan war, although this had been given some consideration by British and Italian judges and regarded as a complete justification for what happened by the German defendants (Reder included). On the other side, this conclusion was based on the conviction that the law needed to reflect the changing historical nature of warfare. One could not keep looking back to World War I anymore but one had to look to the future assuming that in a total war (such as in 1939-45) the extension and the nature of the occupation and the involvement of the civil population in the war, made partisan insurgency an inevitable phenomenon of the conflict. The wider judicial implications of the sentence was partially overshadowed by the fact that Reder was presented at the trial as the sole author of a unique criminal plan for which he carried exclusive responsibility (..)

 

Source: Pezzino and Baldissara, Il massacro. Guerra ai civili a Monte Sole, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009, p. 468