Forgotten Massacres Finally an Open Topic in
By DANIEL J. WAKIN Associated Press Writer
Aug. 29, 1996
The victims were dragged from their homes, bound,
tortured, shot and dumped - sometimes alive - into yawning
crevasses 50 years ago.
The victims were Italians, who have long remembered their
suffering at the hands of their Nazi occupiers. But this time,
the killers were Communists: Yugoslav partisans of Josip Broz
Tito who killed thousands of people around the northeastern
cities of Trieste and Gorizia and on the Istrian peninsula from
A half-century later, Italy is confronting the memory of these
long-neglected massacres. The debate was ignited by the Aug. 1
conviction of former Nazi SS Capt. Erich Priebke in the killings
of 335 civilians in Rome in 1944. His trial reawakened memories
of other World War II atrocities.
"The problem doesn't only concern Trieste," said Stelio Spadaro, a former provincial leader of the Communist party, which
is in the forefront of efforts to re-examine the massacres.
"There is a debate in the country on its relationship with
As the war wound down, the Yugoslavs had entered Trieste and the
Istrian peninsula, an area annexed by Italy after World War I and
brutally "Italianized" under fascism.
That memory prompted some revenge killings. But thousands more
ordinary citizens were killed and tortured simply for being
Italian or being hostile to annexation by Yugoslavia. Hundreds
were killed after the fall of fascism in 1943. Another wave of
killing came with the war's end. Thousands more died after
deportation to Slovenian detention camps.
The most conservative number of victims is 3,500, according to
University of Trieste historian Gianpaolo Valdevit.
Many of the victims, killed individually or in groups, were
dumped into fissures of the Carso mountain range, the easternmost
part of the Italian Alps. The crevasses are called
"foibe" in the local dialect, and the word has come to
encompass all the killings.
Several minor figures were tried and convicted after the war. But
the debate has given new impetus to a long-stalled criminal
investigation by Rome prosecutor Giuseppe Pititto.
Pititto said Thursday he will request murder indictments for a
number of suspects - possibly including an 80-year-old alleged
former head of the Yugoslav secret police - in the next several months. Most are presumed to live in the former
Legislators have also called for a special parliamentary investigation.
The foibe have long been a battle cry for the nationalist right,
who call the killings a form of "ethnic cleansing."
For decades, Italian Communists tried to bury the matter as an embarrassment.
Moreover, pro-Western parties that governed
NATO-member Italy during the Cold War had no interest in
antagonizing a Yugoslavia that was independent of the Soviet
Union. Few textbooks mention the massacres.
But the Cold War ended. Yugoslavia broke up. The former Communists, renamed the Democratic Party of the
Left, now govern Italy.
At the same time, debate has intensified over the past year about
the Italian Fascist collaboration with the Nazis and attacks by
Italian resistance fighters that provoked Nazi retaliation.
"It's good to shed light on this, no?" said Elio Apih,
a professor of contemporary history at the University of Trieste.
"We have to overcome these old European rancors, but we can't deny the
truth, comfortable or uncomfortable," he said.