On Wednesday we visit Marzabotto, site of one of the most brutal massacres committed by SS forces in Italy during World War II. On our way out of Bologna and deeper into the hills of Emiglia Romagna, the peaceful landscape gives no hint of the terrible tragedy that occurred here, in the little village of Casaglia, on September 28, 1944 when Nazi forces brutally slaughtered the priest at the altar of the Casaglia village church and some 80 more people in the cemetery. As we sit in the sun in the cemetery as puppies play in the grass, we hear the testimony from a first-person witness who lost his entire family, most of them on that 1 single, tragic day. His story is recounted calmly but in vivid detail.
Decades later, in the year 2000, a German journalist based in Italy asked him, “If you could stand in front of the commanding SS officer and say one thing, what would it be?” Francesco, who lost his mother, father, 1 sister, and 4 cousins during the war, answers, “I would forgive him: lo perdonerei.” The journalists repeats his question. Again, Francesco gives the same answer: lo perdonerei. It is this forgiveness, he says, that has permitted him to make friends with people from all over the world, especially among the Germans who sometimes visit Marzabotto and Monte Sole. After the war, Francesco remained in his home village. He lives there today and has many children and grandchildren nearby. “La vita riprende,” he says; “life goes on.” After retirement, it took him another 10 years to be able to tell his story. Now he shares his testimony with many visitors who come from all over the world. “E’ un dovere che ho,” he tells us, smiling; “It is something I must do.”