A Walk to Remember

The WWII San Terenzo / Bardine Reprisal Atrocity
Why would you want to walk along a pretty country road that will make you cry? The story of this rural village in Northern Tuscany is so sad, that even though we've known about it for a long time, we just kept avoiding it. This spring, in anticipation of the 70th anniversary, we finally visited, and we are glad we did, even though it was more emotional than we had imagined. This is a story that should be remembered even though it's difficult, a story that our common humanity should not let us forget.
Location of the San Terenzo Monti massacre.
In this very field above the beautiful valley of the Aullela river, Italian civilians were murdered in reprisal in August, 1944. 
San Terenzo Monti (including the hamlets of Valla and Bardine) is a tiny village with a pretty approach and one of the oldest churches in Lunigiana. It is a part of the municipality of Fivizzano and located in the hills of the valley of the Aullela, just a few miles from Aulla and Fosdinovo (see Getting There below).  Like so many towns hereabouts, it has lost its economic and cultural vitality, but it still seems like a pleasant place to live. It seems an unlikely place for terror and violent death. Still, this community suffered a horrible atrocity on August 19, 1944, and they have commemorated it in a heartfelt way. The story of the cold blooded murder of a total of 159 people is revealed slowly and respectfully to you as you walk through the town and along the country road to the site of the largest massacre.

Next to the ancient church of San Terenzio in the center of San Terenzo is a small memorial board, which surprisingly turns out to be the first of the Stations of the Cross associated with the church. The Garden of Gethsemane, which is the scene-setter for the crucifixion of Jesus, is depicted in a drawing. And here the townspeople of San Terenzo Monti set the scene for their own tragedy, by posting a brief
Ancient Via di Valla street sign
Ancient Via di Valla street sign.
background of the beginnings of World War II. As you walk toward the countryside, following Via di Valla up a gentle hill, you come to the next Station of the Cross, and the pattern starts to emerge. At this Station, Jesus’ trial before Pilate is paralleled by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the world wide war that ensued. And then it starts getting personal, the historical context has been established for the stories that will culminate with the crucifixion and with the mass murder of August 1944. As the sadness and horror of the story of the Crucifixion of Christ intensify, so does the sadness and horror of the eccidio of San Terenzo Monti.

The town’s tragedy began on the morning of August 17, when a unit of German soldiers came to the Bardine hamlet of San Terenzo and requisitioned a truckload of farm animals. After loading up the cattle, they headed back down the road. At a narrow river crossing, Italian partisans attacked the
Station of the Cross San Terenzo Monti Massacre
Station IX. Jesus meets the women of
 Jerusalem: the people of Valla are taken.
convoy, killing 14 of the 16 Germans, and wounding the other two. The reaction of the the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, the "Reichsfuher SS" stationed at Fosdinovo was quick. By afternoon they arrived and recovered their dead, burned the buildings, and killed the only five people they could find.

Most of the people of the villages, knowing the danger of reprisal, evacuated their homes and sought shelter in outlying areas. Most of those remaining here in wartime were old people, women and children. Their choices for refuge were few, and many went a short way out of town to the farm settlement called Valla.

Early in the morning of August 19, German troops moved into the area in force. They brought with them fifty-three Italian men who had been among hundreds rounded up previously near Pietrasanta. These poor souls were those that had been judged unfit for work. In Bardine, near the site of the original partisan attack, they were tied at the neck with barbed wire to vine support poles, and left to await their fate in the August sun.

Meanwhile, other German troops had begun a sweep of the area - the rastrellamento (literally: raking). People were swept from outlying hamlets and farms and collected together at Valla where many of the townspeople had fled. For a while the SS soldiers marched them up and down the road, and then into two farm houses.

At about 13:30 in the afternoon, Major Walter Reder signed the execution order at the town's only restaurant, and a red flare was sent into the sky. The 53 hostages at Bardine were summarily killed with a shot and blows to the head.  At Valla, the SS soldiers herded the captured townspeople into a field where they were machine gunned. Then they went one by one and shot them in the head to be sure they were dead. Only one person, a 7 year-old girl, Clara Cecchini, survived. She had been wounded and lay buried beneath her parents, covered in their blood. Her three brothers and grandmother were also murdered.

Memorial erected in 1945 to the 180 victims of San Terenzo Monti
Why? The 1st memorial erected in 1945
to the 159 victims at San Terenzo Monti. 
When the killing was complete, a white flare was sent up, and the Germans began to withdraw. Slowly, the townspeople who had escaped the sweep emerged. These witnesses said the bodies were clustered in small family groups that had clung together until the end, seeking comfort. The “collective lament” of the survivors filled the valley.

This story unfolds slowly in the course of following a country lane through beautiful rolling fields, vineyards and wildflowers. The 14 Stations of the Cross are at intervals down the narrow road, set just back from the path. Each of the Stations is posted both in Italian and in English, and each has a quote at the bottom in Italian, from such diverse thinkers as Gandhi, Rousseau, JF Kennedy, and Kierkegaard.

The lane ends behind an old farmhouse in a quiet corner plot now planted with cedars where the killing took place. It overlooks a field with views of the Lunigiana hills and mountains. As a memorial, there are two tall granite tablets recording the names of the Valla victims, and where possible their birth dates. Reading the list carefully, the sadness gathers momentum - imagining the death of a grandmother like Maria Battistini at age 58, or the parish priest Don Michele Rubino at 64. But for time and place, you might have been friends with the young mother named Emma Terenzoni. You can't help being drawn to the children's names. Undoubtedly called a little sweetie, Maria Dolcini had her 5th birthday just a week before she was shot and died next to her 3 year old brother Mario.  The names impel us to commemorate each person - to remember at least, since we will never understand.


Clara Cecchini. Following the massacre, after a long hospital stay, Clara Cecchini was adopted by Nanda Barucci and her husband. Mrs. Barucci's parents owned the farm where the killings took place and her parents were also among the victims. When Clara was 14, she testified at the trial of SS Major Walter Reder. She lived to be 74 and died in 2012 and was survived by a husband and two sons. Her funeral was attended by hundreds - family, dignitaries, townspeople, and ordinary citizens who sought to bear witness. She is buried in her adoptive family's chapel in San Terenzo Monti.

Other Reprisals. Between April and August of 1944, an estimated 4500 Italian civilians were murdered by Italian fascists and German forces.  In August 1944 alone, in the Versilia and Lunigiana areas of Tuscany, there were three large massacres. Besides, the murder of 159 at San Terenzo Monti,  560 civilians were massacred  at Sant'Anna di Stazzema on August 12 and 173 civilians murdered at Vinca starting August 24. All three of these reprisals were carried out by the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, the "Reichsfuher SS". Learn more about the Sant'Anna di Stazzema eccidio here: Wandering Italy Sant'Anna Map and Guide.

Justice Denied. The victims of San Terenzo Monti and the victims of most other massacres of Italian civilians were denied justice in any meaningful measure.

Major Walter Reder, the SS commander who signed the order to execute the civilians at San Terenzo, was extradited to Italy in 1948 and tried in Bologna in 1951 for war crimes in Tuscany and at Marzabotto in Emilia-Romagna. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, However, he was released in 1985 and he returned unrepentant to his native Austria where he was received with full military honors. He died in 1991.

In a case filed decades late due to misplaced evidence, ten SS officers of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division were convicted of murder in absentia in 2005 at La Spezia (BBC: Italy Convicts Former SS Officers) for the eccidio at Sant'Anna di Stazzema. German prosecutors declined to proceed offering the casuistic logic that there was a lack of evidence tying specific murders to specific defendants.

Getting There.
Note: San Terenzo (Monti) is part of Fivizzano in Massa-Carrara province, and should not be confused with San Terenzo (Mare) near Lerici in La Spezia province.

Exit the A15 (E33) Autostrada (Parma-La Spezia) at Aulla and follow directional signs for Fivizzano. After several miles, you'll reach the SS63 at a roundabout, travel about 8 Km to a right turn onto SS446 signed San Terenzo / Fosdinovo. After about 5 Km turn left to San Terenzo on the SP11 downhill and it soon passes near the center of town and a bus stop. Park near there and walk into the village - the Church of San Terenzio (from 728 AD!) is in the center and Via di Valla leads uphill from the church.

Written by Martha