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Associated Press
German Chancellor Adolf Hitler

Massacre at Civitella Results in Debate Over Nazi War Reparations

December 29, 2008 12:59 PM
by Josh Katz
A dispute between Italy and Germany over the compensation of Nazi war victims falls into the hands of the International Court of Justice.

Germany and Italy Quarrel Over Reparations

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Germany says it will fight the judgment of Italy’s highest criminal court, which ruled that Berlin must pay compensation to relatives of Italian victims from World War II, Financial Times Deutschland reported, according to Bloomberg.

On Dec. 23, Germany filed a complaint at the International Court of Justice challenging the damages ordered by the Italy’s Court of Cassation. The Italian court ruled in September that Germany had to pay 1 million euros ($1.4 million).

The payment concerns a June 1944 massacre in the Tuscan town of Civitella, in which “German soldiers killed more than 200 civilians to avenge a deadly attack by partisans,” the Associated Press reported. The Italian court ordered Germany to compensate nine relatives of those victims.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said the case was “morally understandable but it is, in judicial terms, the wrong way to address this injustice, and so this ruling is not acceptable for us.”

The case represents “the first time an Italian court had ordered Germany to pay compensation in a criminal case,” according to Deutsche Welle.

Germany contends that its status as a sovereign state grants it immunity in Italian courts and that private citizens should not be permitted to prosecute it. Berlin is also afraid that such a case could open floodgates, resulting in “hundreds of additional cases,” Bloomberg reports. Substantiating German fears, Greek nationals have called for compensation from Germany, citing a 1944 massacre that occurred when German troops were pulling out of Greece.
Germany also argues that it paid Italy 40 million marks in a 1961 treaty between the two countries, an agreement that was supposed to close the door to all other claims for compensation.

But the Italian court said that the 1961 Bonn treaty was applicable only to Nazi Germany’s handling of Italian Jews, according The New York Jewish Week, in an article provided by BNET.

The recent emergence of compensation claims against Germany began in the late 1990s, when Luigi Ferrini requested damages for his “arrest and deportation to Germany in 1944 to work as a slave laborer in the Nazi armaments industry,” according to AP. Two lower Italian courts rejected Ferrini’s case, but the Court of Cassation decided in his favor in 2004, paving the way for the Civitella case and similar claims.

Since the 1950s, Germany has awarded Nazi war victims and their relatives tens of billions of dollars. Berlin paid out about $6 billion to 1.6 million people during the most recent compensation program from 2001–2007, for slave labor during World War II.

Background: Germany and Italy to investigate “collective” histories

On Nov. 18, Germany and Italy announced that they would hold a joint historical commission next summer to examine the two countries’ “collective history.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the commission would look into the treatment of Italian prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The meeting is scheduled to take place at Villa Vigoni, “a 19th-century estate on Lake Como that has been converted into a German-Italian cultural center,” Der Spiegel reported.

However, the German minister shied away from commenting on the Civitella lawsuit during the announcement, a hotly contested issue between the two countries. Germany said it would challenge the decision made by Italy’s Court of Cassation in September, and on the day of the announcement Frattini said Italy would “respect” the decision made at The Hague on the matter.

But if Germany were to lose the case, the Italian Court could start to seize German assets. “What kind of assets could be repossessed?” asked Der Spiegel. “One potential target is the Villa Vigoni, the meeting site for next summer’s historical commission.”

Related Topic: The search for Nazi war criminals

In July, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff chased reputed Nazi war criminal Aribert Heim to Chile in an attempt to bring him to justice for past crimes. Aribert Heim, known as Dr. Death, tops the charts of The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of “Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals.”

Zuroff has been trying to bring Nazi war criminals to justice under Operation Last Chance, and he has faced opposition along the way. In June, he charged Austria with shielding Milivoj Asner, who ranks fourth on the center’s list. In February, German courts denied Denmark’s request to extradite former Nazi SS officer Søren Kam.

Reference: The ICJ

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