An Emotional Visit to the Ardeatine Caves: In Focus

Liz Walsh ’14 writes to us from Italy, one of a group of students dropping us notes from around the world as they participate in Ripon College’s Liberal Arts In Focus program this summer. Liz, who just graduated as a double-major in biology and English with an educational studies minor, will be submitting journal entries as part of her class “Old Italy, New Italy” co-taught by professor Diane Mockridge and president Zach Messitte.

Journal 6/1/14

We went to a lot of places today and did a lot of things, but I was definitely most impressed by our short visit to the caves where the Ardeatine Massacre took place. I really enjoy learning stuff about WWII because it is really a pet interest of mine, but this visit was beyond just interesting to me because of my personal interests. I think that everyone was affected very strongly, to the point of tears for some people.

Sorry to talk too much about something before explaining it, but the Ardeatine Massacre happened near the end of WWII. Italian partisans were unhappy with their Nazi occupiers and a medical student set up a bomb in a garbage vehicle. The bomb initially killed about 330, but then subsequently killed another eight people or so (almost exclusively Nazi soldiers and officers, but there were a couple of bystanders who died). The Nazi high command was very upset and said that one Nazi was worth 10 Italians, so Nazi soldiers on-site should kill 10 Italians for every Nazi who died. At the time, only 33 Nazis had died, but the Nazis took 335 Romans from all walks of life (Jews, young teenagers, elderly military personnel, etc.) and put them into trucks.

The trucks took these people from Rome to the nearby Ardeatine Caves. Each person was shot in the back of the head (although many were not fatally shot, as the Nazis became heavily intoxicated as the day went on) and then a new set of five or ten prisoners was taken to the site and shot, their bodies falling down onto those who had previously been shot. The Nazis then blew up the caves to cover up what they had done, although the caves were uncovered later. It is a very tragic chain of events that has understandably evoked a lot of attention worldwide.

This worldwide attention was again focused on the Ardeatine Massacre when an American reporter in the 1990’s got a recording of an SS official named Priebke who was partially responsible for the mass murder. He was living in Argentina at the time, and the Italians immediately started (and succeeded) in extraditing him to Italy, where he was tried and placed under house arrest until he died recently.

The caves, monument, and tombs were very moving to me and really drove home some of the central themes of the course: old events still have a huge impact on modern society. I was impressed at the number of people who were at this, fairly small, cave and monument. I was very moved by the fresh flowers that people had left on each and every tomb and it was very emotional to look through the book of identified victims.

My trip to Italy has been fabulous so far and I’m only halfway through. I’ve been able to visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Parthenon, the Coliseum, and many other famous and fabulous monuments, but some things deserve special attention and should never be forgotten. I enjoyed my time at these really ridiculously cool things and I am so happy that I was able to see them. That being said, some things stand out to me and the Ardeatine Caves is one of those things.

Italy In Focus Photo Album

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