Gerhard Sommer

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 08.06.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

facts

Gerhard Sommer was born in 1921 in Rudolstadt, Thüringen, Germany. In 1944, he held the position of Second-Lieutenant in the 16th SS tank division “Reichsführer SS”.

In the summer of 1944, at the time of the facts alleged in the indictment, the German forces were in retreat, in Italy as almost everywhere else. Their forces had already pulled back as far as Tuscany.

On 12 August 1944, shortly after 6 a.m., four companies – amounting to approximately 300 soldiers of the SS – made their way up to the remote mountain village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema. At the time, the village had a population of around 400 and was sheltering several hundred refugees.

Officially, the mission of the SS was to take action against the Italian guerrillas. It was known at the time that the policy of the German high command towards the armed resistance in Italy-la “Resistenza”-was particularly vicious. According to an official document, army officers were not to be subject to punishment for any brutal acts they might commit.

The inhabitants of Sant’Anna were forced to assemble in enclosed farmyards and in the village square. Thereafter, SS soldiers, together with the Second-Lieutenants Alfred Schönenberg, Ludwig Sonntag (see “related cases”) and Gerhard Sommer, massacred anyone whom they came across, using machine guns, bayonets, hand grenades and flame-throwers. The victims were mainly women, children and old men (the younger men were not in the village at that time). The soldiers then burned the bodies and set fire to the buildings. The entire village was completely destroyed in less than four hours. The massacre resulted in 560 deaths, of which 116 were children. Sant’Anna di Stazzema was never rebuilt.

The trial against Alfred Schönenberg, Ludwig Sonntag (see “related cases”), Gerhard Sommer and seven other co-defendants began in April 2004 before the La Spezia Military Tribunal.

legal procedure

The trial against Alfred Schönenberg, Ludwig Sonntag (see “related cases”), Gerhard Sommer and seven other co-defendants began in April 2004 before the La Spezia Military Tribunal.
Several decades had passed before then during which the files detailing the massacre had remained hidden in the archives of the Italian Administration.
During the trial, the defence argued that the exact nature of the participation of the defendants could not be established, that the chain of command was not clear, that the Hague Convention allowed taking such measures against guerrillas and that it could not be proven that there was any intentional or particular cruelty involved in the commission of the acts in question.
The Chief Prosecutor, Marco Paolis – without whose efforts the trial would not have seen the light of day – in turn refuted, in his final address to the court, the argument put forward by the defence that it was all a question of a “battle against the guerrillas which may have degenerated somewhat, but which was legitimate nevertheless”.
During the trial, some former SS soldiers gave evidence for the prosecution. Presuming (incorrectly) that the alleged principal perpetrator of the crime – Gerhard Sommer – had been dead for some time, one of the defendants furthermore corroborated during questioning that it was Sommer who had taken the on the spot decisions.
The La Spezia Military Tribunal handed down its verdict on 22 June 2005, after a trial lasting for more than one year.
The Tribunal judged that it had been proven that the SS soldiers who were under the orders of Second-Lieutenants Gerhard Sommer, Ludwig Sonntag and Alfred Schönenberg had played “an important role” in the murder of 560 women, children and elderly people in Sant’Anna, on 12 August 1944.
Gerhard Sommer, and nine other defendants, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, it is of note that the defendants had not been present at the court hearings in view of the fact that Germany does not extradite its own citizens. Alfred Schönenberg, Ludwig Sonntag, Gerhard Sommer and four other of the co-accused lodged an appeal against the verdict with the Italian Final Court of Appeal (Corta Suprema di Cassazione). The judgement is therefore not yet enforceable under Italian law. Three of the accused accepted their sentence.
The verdict can be enforced either in Italy or Germany. If the German authorities decide to accept the Italian request for judicial cooperation then the accused would be obliged to serve out their sentence under house arrest.

Already at the first hearing of the revision process on 21 November 2006, the verdict of the Military Court of La Spezia was confirmed by the competent military court in Rome. The five requests for revision of the verdict of the condemned Sommer, Alfred Mathias Concina, Karl Gropler, Georg Rauch and Horst Richter were rejected. The applications of Ludwig Sonntag and Alfred Schonenberg were obsolete since both died in in 2006.

On 8 November 2007, the Italian Final Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment for Sommer, Karl Gropler and Georg Rauch.

In May 2015, Sommer was declared unfit to stand trial by the German prosecutor’s office by reason of his dementia, so that the investigation opened against him since 2002 in Germany will not lead to a sentencing.

spotlight

Several decades had gone by during which the files detailing the massacre had remained hidden in the archives of the Italian Administration. The perpetrators of the massacre had therefore been able to escape from justice for almost 60 years. In reality, during the entire period of the Cold War, Italy had given up on the possibility of taking proceedings against the perpetrators of Nazi war crimes for reasons related to international politics. It was only the spectacular discovery, during the 1990s of 695 documents detailing the atrocities committed by Nazis and fascists during the 2nd World War that led to a case being opened up in Italy and to inquiries being initiated by the Stuttgart prosecuting magistrate in Germany. The documents had been in storage in a metal cupboard in the basement of the Palazzo Cesi, which is the Roman Military Tribunal. This piece of furniture, which had been placed with its doors against the wall, was later to be baptised the “cupboard of shame”.

Representatives of the victims of the Sant’Anna massacre are currently attempting to have the perpetrators brought to justice also in Germany. Since 2002, the Stuttgart prosecutor has been conducting inquiries into nine of the persons convicted in La Spezia as well as into five other suspects who did not appear on the list of those indicted in the Italian trial. As of today’s date no charges have been brought.

context

From 23 September 1943 to 25 April 1945 Italy was occupied by Nazi Germany, during which time it put in place the puppet regime of the Italian Social Republic.

In the summer of 1943, the allied forces, mainly consisting of British and American troops, landed in Sicilly. In order to avoid repression and with the support of King Vittorio Emanuele III, the Italian elite arrest Mussolini on 25 July 1943 and surrender him to the allied authorities. The capitulation of Italy is signed on 3 September 1943

The German command reacted strongly and launched a counter attack on 8 September 1943. They organised the escape of Mussolini to Bavaria. He was put under the surveillance of and was threatened by the SS and on 22 September 1943 the new “Italian Social Republic” was founded in order to control the northern part of Italy.

The Nazi plan for Occupied Italy included the demobilization and disarmament of the Italian Army which occurred with only a small resistance. All officers that aided the resistance or the allies were to be shot, the rest used as workers or else deported to the Eastern Front. With Italy under their control, German troops and SS units were free to perpetrate their terror against the civilian population. It was sometimes part of the German command’s orders to troops to act violently against the population and in contravention of International Law. Amongst Nazi Germany’s war crimes in Occupied Italy were the arrest and deportation of Jews from Rome and the massacre in the Adriatic caves on 23 March 1944, where Italian political prisoners were executed in response to a bombing that occurred on the German police forces during a defile.

In their retreat from Allied forces in Italy, German units also adopted a scorched earth policy. Orders were to delay the Allies as much as possible so as to allow time for mass deportations, killings and destruction.

The Italian Social republic ended on 25 April 1945 during a final offensive by the Allies, joined by a general partisan uprising, which managed to defeat the Germans. On 28 April, the partisans shot Mussolini as well as several ministers and other Italian Fascists.

Fact Sheet
Name: Gerhard Sommer
Nationality: Germany
Context: Occupied Italy
Charges: War crimes, Crimes against humanity, Other, Infringment of physical integrity, Deprivation of liberty, Protection of civilians
Status: Other
Judgement Place: Italy
Particulars: Sentenced by the Military Tribunal of La Spezia on 22 June 2005 to life imprisonment and to payment of compensation for his participation in several murders committed with particular brutality; appealed the verdict; on 21 November 2006, confirmed by the Military Tribunal in Rome; on 8 November 2007, confirmed by the Italian Final Court of Appeal; declared unfit to stand trial in Germany in May 2015.