The collapse of Benito Mussolini’s regime and the subsequent German invasion of Italy led Italy’s antifascist forces to organize partisan activity (sabotage, ambushes, and attacks on Fascist sympathizers) throughout occupied Italy. Initially, this activity was largely spontaneous, with the so-called GAP(gruppi armati patriottici) carrying out sporadic actions. During 1944, however, on the initiative of the Comitati di Liberazione Nazionale/National Liberation Committees (CLN), resistance became more systematic. The political parties organized their volunteers in separate brigades (the Garibaldi brigade for the communists and the Justice and Liberty brigade for the Partito d’Azione/Action Party [PdA]), and partisan activity was coordinated from June 1944 by an underground military command presided over by a regular army general, Raffaele Cadorna, and two men who would become key figures in postwar politics, Luigi Longo and Ferruccio Parri. In all some 300,000 Italians (including more than 30,000 women) are calculated to have taken part in partisan activity. Tens of thousands of them were killed: The accepted figure is approximately 45,000, including 4,000 women. The resistance proved able to inflict major damage on the German army’s operations. In the spring of 1945 partisans liberated all the major cities of northern Italy before Allied troops could intervene. Partisans caught and killed Mussolini on 27 April 1945. Allied Commander General Harold Alexander ordered the demobilization of partisan bands on 2 May 1945.
   The heroic actions of many partisan groups are a source of deep national pride for Italy. Many Italians regard the resistance as being the experience that enabled Italy to forge a genuine democracy after World War II. The scars of the struggle were deep, however. The Nazis and their Fascist accomplices committed more than 400 massacres of unarmed civilians during the German occupation. The worst such massacres were at the Ardeatine caves (March 1944) in Rome, where German soldiers shot 335 political prisoners as a reprisal for a partisan attack on German troops; at Saint Anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, where 560 civilians were killed in August 1944; and at Marzotto, near Bologna, in September 1944, where 1,836 men, women, and children were slaughtered as a reprisal for partisan raids. The resistance was also a civil war. Many Italians continued to support the Republic of Salo,and the combat between the neofascist squads and the partisans was without quarter. After the end of the conflict, the hatreds and ideological tensions generated by the Nazi occupation spilled over into ruthless reprisal killings of former Fascists. Hundreds of such individuals, including many priests, were murdered in the immediate postwar months, and violence against suspected former Fascists, or even rival partisan groups, occurred until the end of the 1940s. The postwar massacres are a highly controversial subject in contemporary Italian historiography.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.


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