...thoughts and emotions by  Ugo del Castello




Sources - Bibliography

"Altipiani " in the History

Hystorycal Pages

 The Emigration

Rivisondoli in old postcards

The Voice of Rivisondoli



the Slaughter of Pietransieri


On November 21st 1943 in the area “Limmari” (Valle della Vita) of Pietransieri, a hamlet of Roccaraso, the German paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Division “Heidrich” committed one of the most atrocious pogroms ever happened in Italy during World War II, slaughtering the defenseless population that had found refuge in that location, mainly women and children. Only a little girl survived, thanks to her mother who covered her with her own body when she fell to the ground. The snow hid the bodies that had been mangled by the mines and the bullets of the “coup de grace” and only at the end of the spring of 1944, when the front moved up North, the rests of the bodies could be retrieved and finally righteously buried, in a cemetery at first, and then in a shrine that was built in the center of the town.

Over 10 years ago, for the first time, the Township of Roccaraso gave the historian Paolo Paoletti the task of leading a study about what happened and he went to Germany looking for military documentation. He could finally give a name to the captain that led the firing squad and by questioning how things really went, he could find out that the name of the captain responsible for the massacre was not Wolf Werner Graf von der Schulemburg, as it was previously thought, but Georg Schulze, who led the merciless action, which was quite atypical for the Germans, above all because of the reluctance of the population to evacuate the area. In the nearby towns, on the other hand, the people were forced to leave their homes and abandon the fighting area, but not in Pietransieri.

Up until now noone has questioned the results of the studies and the arguments of Paolo Paoletti and the Township of Roccaraso has published a book that contains his works; so we can say that his research is trustworthy.

These are some of his considerations, contained in the book “L’eccidio dei Limmari di Pietransieri (Roccaraso); un’operazione di terrorismo – Analisi comparata delle fonti scritte ed orali italiane e straniere”:

... How could one not agree with the Major Redaelli, who in 1966 concluded his report with these words:  - If  the 128 victims, slaughtered between the 15th and the 21st of November, had left that area.. and after being forced to evacuate, had gone to safer areas, far from the Gustav route, they would have been spared.. The Major’s words implicitly referred to the Kesselring Manifesto of October 30th 1943, which said: “All those that remain in the towns or in the surrounding mountains will be considered rebels and will be treated according to the treatment decided by war laws of the German army – What these “war laws” meant is easily understandable: being shot immediately.  So, there was no need to use the excuse of a retaliation for the killing of some soldiers, it was enough to go by these laws, which proclaimed an emergency situation for an indefinite amount of time ...

…. Between the 16th and the 17th of November, the German paratroopers tried again to move the people of Pietransieri from their safety belt: either by threatening them with their weapons or by mines and putting buildings on fire.. Sadly, even after the mines’explosions, the people of the Limmari did not want to leave and preferred staying among the ruins of their buildings, rather than leaving men and animals alone.. The people should have understood that this was the last warning from the German side, but they still waited.. The Germans, on the other hand, did not understand that mines would have not moved the people and their farm animals.


Because of these mutual misunderstandings the tragedy happened.

….The blood of these innocents fell on the South side of Pietransieri, between the village and the river Sangro. Old people and children were killed simply because they happened to be on that main fighting line that on the German maps was called HKL, Hauptkampflinie. So simple and so horrible!...

…..On that front line, from the first days of November the leader of the German paratroopers (2nd Company, 3rd Battalion of the 1st Division) was the captain Georg Schulze. “Tall, thin, limping and ill-tempered” One of many war criminals that died peacefully in their sleep. In July 1943 he received the silver cross, and he wore it with pride. Such an officer could not confess to his superiors that he had not been able to move a hundred of people from the main fighting line area. He could not say that he had not performed a military police action. And above all he could not admit that in the most dangerous moment he had an undefined number of civilians around the safety belt. It all leads to think that pride and fear could have influenced the terrible decision he made.

He was not able to obey to the Kesselring evacuation order and was responsible for one of the cruelest massacres committed in Italy. No one survived, except for a little girl, Virginia Macerelli,  protected by her mother’s body..

… The slaughter was in any case a singular action of the behavior of that 2nd Company. The other platoons, like the one passing by the Casolare Cantini and Di Florio, inspectioned the area but without killing anyone..

…..when the danger of an allied attack was over, the relationship between military people and civilians became normal, at least in the 3rd Regiment area. Some days after the massacre, the only survivor, Virginia Macerelli, was cured more than once by a German nurse and was escorted on foot to the Carceri Alte area in Pescocostanzo. This was allowed by the more relaxed military situation for the 3rd Regiment. .

The only unexplicable thing was the huge unbalance between the guilt (being in a war operation area in the wrong moment) and the punishment, which was half an hour of mere terrorism.

But is there ever anything rational about an irrational event such as war ?  ...”

Every year on the evening before this anniversary, during a silent procession lightened by the torches, Pietransieri’s inhabitants come up from the Valle della Vita and they reach the Shrine where the fallen ones rest. There they read the names of the slaughtered people one by one, family by family,   with all the town lights out. It’s a very touching moment where the emotions come out throughout the silence and everyone prays God to watch over these fallen people.    The next day the official ceremony takes place.

I was there during the torchlight walk, when they read out all the 128 names of the victims and later on, I came home quite touched; I immediately wrote some lines that    rivisondoliantiqua    holds in the section “frammenti di storia/ fragments of history”.  The main theme of those days revolves around a road of no-return, an atmosphere of dismay, orders, cruelty, sadness, barbarity, pain, but there’s also life, that holds on, maybe to show the posterity that the life of those people goes on near our Lord.

 Believers can pray while reading the lines of the poem, while non-believers are obliged to be silent and ponder.

Ugo Del Castello  (Pietransieri, 21 st of Novembre 2007)

It’s easy to become emotional while listening to the names of the 128 victims of the slaughter , especially because of the young age of many of the victims.

Through such pain, it’s very moving to see Virginia’s mother’s loving action, protecting her daughter with her own body and giving her life again, just like she had done a few years before.

For a twist of fate, the location “Valle della Vita” in the Limmari woods for many was the end of the worldly life, but for these same people it was also the beginning of an eternal Memory, that finds its foundation into the annual recollection of those reminiscing and participating to this moving torchlight walk.

In the first representation of the “Presepe Vivente (Living Nativity Scene)” in Rivisondoli a lot of emphasis was put on the religious symbolism of the Holy Family, with the participation of Virginia Macerelli and also young Pia Cocco, another orphan because of this Slaughter.

Here are some images of the Living Nativity Scene of 1951, taken by a magazine of those times. One can see Virginia and Pia, shy and embarassed by the curiosity of the people towards them. The other images from the same magazine are of the Epiphany night of 1951, when the figures of the Virgin Mary (Gabriella Gasparri), Saint Joseph (Angelo Gasparri) and one of the three Kings, plus other minor figures, gave the gifts of the whole Rivisondoli community to the children of Pietransieri – on the bus going up the slippery and icy road to Pietransieri, the following words were written:

 The heart of Rivisondoli to the kids of Pietransieri



Virginia e Pia discendono le scale dalla Piazza verso piazzetta San Nicola a Rivisondoli, durante le prove per la prima edizione del Presepe Vivente. Significativa č l'espresione dei volti della popolana alle loro spalle, con " lu fazzelettone n' cape", e l'anziano con i candidi baffoni.


Photo 1

Virginia and Pia go down the stairs of the main Square towards Piazzetta San Nicola in Rivisondoli, during the reharsal for the 1st edition of the Living Nativity Scene. Very meaningful is the facial expression of the woman behind them with the “big headscarf” and the old man with his white moustache.

Photo 2

January 6th 1952 – Virginia Macerelli receives the gifts of the “Heart of Rivisondoli” for the children of Pietransieri from the woman impersonating the Virgin Mary (Gabriella Gasparri).

Photo 3

The bus that struggled along the icy road, passing through the waiting crowd.


- © COPYRIGHT -  The photos on this page are protected by copyright; the specific consent of their owners is necessary for any use outside the rivisondoliantiqua.it website.

Edting collaborators : Laura I.  ( Pietransieri ),   Adriana  &  Chiara G.,  ( Roma ).

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