Next month Pope Benedict XVI will mark the anniversary of a brutal massacre that took the lives of 335 Italians during World War II.
On March 24, 1944, Nazi soldiers slaughtered the hundreds of individuals to exact revenge for a surprise bomb attack in the heart of Rome that killed 33 of their colleagues.
When he heard of the attack, Adolf Hitler ordered that 10 Romans be rounded up for each Nazi casualty.
The Nazi commander in Rome took all those on death row in a military prison, but they did not equal the number Hitler had ordered. He added 75 Jews, political prisoners, individuals in jail for petty crimes and civilians present at the attack to the group to reach the figure. The final count proved to be higher than 330.
The 335 victims were led into the caves of a quarry by soldiers who were driven by commanding officers to kill each of them, one-by-one, with a shot to the back of the head.
Following the massacre, the Nazis covered their tracks by blowing up the caves. The bodies were recovered and properly buried a year later, when the war had finished.
A mausoleum that looks similar to a military bunker was later erected on the site to house the tombs of the dead.
The Pope will go to the site, called the “Fosse Ardeatine,” on March 27 to observe the 67th anniversary of the executions. It is very near the Catacombs of St. Callistus on the outskirts of Rome.
He follows in the footsteps of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who also paid their respects to the dead.
During his visit to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland in May 2006, Pope Benedict said, “In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.”