Germany Commences Weeklong Massacre of the Acqui Division (Cephalonia Massacre)
The massacre started on 21 September, and lasted for one week.
After the Italian surrender, Hitler had issued an order allowing the Germans to summarily execute any Italian officer who resisted "for treason", and on 18 September, the German High Command issued an order stating that "because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour [of the Italians] on Kefalonia, no prisoners are to be taken." The Gebirgsjäger soldiers began executing their Italian prisoners in groups of four to ten. The Germans first killed the surrendering Italians, where they stood, using machine-guns. When a group of Bavarian soldiers objected to this practice they were threatened with summary execution themselves. After this stage was over, the Germans marched the remaining soldiers to the San Teodoro town hall and had the prisoners executed by eight member detachments.
General Gandin and 137 of his senior officers were summarily court-martialled on 24 September and executed, their bodies discarded at sea. Before the execution a sergeant informed each officer that he was being executed for treason, which, given Badoglio's decision to permit unification of the German and Italian armies in Greece under German command, was technically true. General Gandin was shot first but just before his execution he threw his Iron Cross into the dirt.
Romualdo Formato, one of Acqui's seven chaplains and one of the few survivors, wrote that during the massacre, the Italian officers started to cry, pray and sing. Many were shouting the names of their mothers, wives and children. According to Formato's account, three officers hugged and stated that they were comrades while alive and now in death they would go together to paradise, while others were digging through the grass as if trying to escape. In one place, Formato recalled, "the Germans went around loudly offering medical help to those wounded. When about 20 men crawled forward, a machine-gun salvo finished them off." Officers gave Formato their personal belongings to take with him and give to their families back in Italy. The Germans, however, confiscated the items and Formato could no longer account for the exact number of the officers killed.
The executions of the Italian officers were continuing when a German officer came and reprieved Italians who could prove they were from Trieste and Trento since these two regions had been annexed by Hitler as German provinces after 8 September. Seeing an opportunity father Formato, crying, begged the officer to stop the killings and save the few officers remaining. The German officer responded and told Formato that he would consult with his commanding officer. During the German officer's absence Formato started praying and reciting Ave Maria. When the officer returned, after half an hour, he informed Formato that the killings of the officers would stop. The number of Italian surviving officers, including Formato, totalled 37. After the reprieve the Germans congratulated the remaining Italians and offered them cigarettes. The situation remained unstable, however, because, following the reprieve, the Germans forced twenty Italian sailors to load the bodies of the dead officers on rafts and take them out to sea. The Germans then blew up the rafts with the Italian sailors on them.
Alfred Richter, an Austrian, and one of the participants in the massacre recounted how a soldier who sung arias for the Germans in the local taverns was forced to sing while his comrades were being executed. The singing soldier's fate remains unknown. Richter added that he and his regiment comrades felt "a delirium of omnipotence" during the events. Most of the soldiers of the German regiment were Austrians. According to Richter the Italian soldiers were killed after surrendering to the soldiers of the 98th Regiment. He described that the fallen Italians were then thrown into heaps of bodies all shot in the head. Soldiers of the 98th Regiment started removing the boots from the bodies of the fallen Italians for their own use. Richter also mentioned that groups of Italians were taken in quarries and walled gardens near the village of Frangata and executed by machine gun fire. The killing lasted for two hours during which time the sound of the machine guns and machine pistols and the screams of the victims could be heard inside the homes of the village.
The bodies of the ca. 5,000 men who were executed were disposed of in a variety of ways. Bodies were cremated in massive wood pyres, which made the air of the island thick with the smell of burning flesh, or moved to ships where they were buried at sea. Others, according to Amos Pampaloni, one of the survivors, were executed in full sight of the Greek population in Argostoli harbour on 23 September 1943 and their bodies were left to rot where they fell, while in smaller streets corpses were decomposing and the stench was insufferable to the point that he could not remain there long enough to take a picture of the carnage. Bodies were also thrown with rocks tied around them into the sea. In addition the Germans had refused to allow the Acqui soldiers to bury their dead. A chaplain undertook to find bodies discovering bones scattered all over.
The few soldiers that were saved were assisted by the locals and the ELAS organisation. One of the survivors was taken heavily wounded to a Kefalonite lady's home by a taxi driver and survived the war to live in Lake Como. An additional three thousand of the survivors in German custody drowned, when the ships Sinfra and Ardena, transporting them to POW camps, sank after striking mines in the Adriatic. These losses and similar ones from the Italian Dodecanese garrisons were also the result of German policy, as Hitler had instructed the local German commanders to forgo "all safety precautions" during the transport of prisoners, "regardless of losses".
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said recently that 9,436 Italian soldiers out of 11,700 were killed on the island after Italy signed an armistice with the allied powers in 1943.
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi - in a ceremony earlier this month on the island - said their "conscious decision was the first act of resistance by an Italy freed from fascism."