Parco Storico Regionale di Monte Sole
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The massacre

The Germans' interest in the Mount Sole plateau grew as the Allies advanced. Until August (essentially, up until the liberation of Florence), the enemy was still relatively far away, but after breaking through the defense line along the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines in August and September 1944, control of the Setta-Reno ridge became vitally important for the German forces: in fact, the area of Monte Sole is the last natural barrier before the city of Bologna and the worst prospect for the Germans was to get stuck in a double attack by partisans and Allies.

In order to prepare their defense and a possible retreat, in this altered strategic scenario, the Germans needed to eliminate any obstacles preventing them from exercising their authority. The most drastic and brutal solution was adopted: wipe out any form of resistance at Monte Sole, eliminate, once and for all, the conditions permitting survival of the Red Star Brigade by razing everything and everyone to the ground.

The offensive against the Red Star Brigade, led by SS commander Walter Reder, was launched at dawn on September 29 1944, when divisions of the SS and Wehrmacht forces began a violent search and roundup operation, accompanied by mass shootings, raids and fires. The Germans deployed 1500 men, armed with submachine guns, mortars, flamethrowers and cannons. At that moment there were about 500 partisans and their arms and equipment were grossly inferior to those of the Germans, they were no longer receiving weapons from the Allies and they did not have any heavy firearms.

Surrounded by the Germans, the Red Star Brigade attempted to fend off the enemy in clashes at Cadotto, at the foot of Mounts Sole and Caprara, on Mount Salvaro and in other locations but the differences between the troops on the field were significant and continued fighting became unsustainable. Countless partisans lost their lives during the various attacks, including the commander himself, Mario Musolesi. His death, combined with the disproportionate firepower and the violence with which the Germans lashed out at everyone and everything led to the disbanding of the Red Star Brigade and its subsequent dismantling. Groups of partisans crossed the front line and joined the Allies or other partisan units, others abandoned armed combat altogether.

The civilians were taken by surprise as well. At the first sign of the roundup, able-bodied men took refuge in the woods for fear of being killed or captured for forced labor. The remaining inhabitants of Monte Sole, erroneously convinced that the Germans would spare women, children and the elderly, gathered in places they deemed to be safe: churches, air raid shelters, their own homes. The roundup proved to be of an unprecedented and unimaginable brutality: between September 29 and October 5 1944, 770 people were brutally and violently massacred, in their homes, in the churches, in the shelters and in dozens and dozens of places. According to various testimonies, the violent acts were carried out by both Germans and fascists. The killings continued even after those horrific days and by the end of the war 955 people from the towns of Marzabotto, Monzuno and Grizzana had been murdered by the Nazi-Fascists.

Of those killed, 216 were children, 316 were women, 142 were elderly and five were priests. The tragic death toll rose even further when you considered the additional 721 people from the three towns who died from other war-related causes: men, women and children killed in the bombings, on the front line, in the prisoner camps, from war-related illnesses and from the explosions of landmines, which continued to cause death, even after the war had ended.

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