Note: Erich Priebke, a former SS officer, who died in October 2013 was a war criminal. At the time of his death he was serving a life sentence under house arrest in Rome. In 1944 he had participated in the killing of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Cave outside Rome. Luis Lázaro Tijerina wrote the following poem.
The Fosse Ardeatine Massacre
(For My mother, Rachel)
continue to speak” Lyman Johnson
The tourists gape down the Via Rasella
never thinking what happen here
on a windy March day in Rome where the pavement
for the cars and pedestrians slumber like
forgotten stone in the shade.
Partisans killed terrorists in uniforms,
Terror for terror.
For on this street death occurred for those Italians
from the province of South Tyrol
who sided with the forces of oppression, that oppression
like a sleeping darkness that awakes to stalk
naive citizens who go about their business to live,
Never knowing that rifle butts can smash
window panes and splash the gardens with bullets
that bring up lair of blood not vegetables
under the bright Italian sunlight.
Wind and the painter’s spatial distance of clouds
with the sobs of rain bringing down the sanctuary
of wreathes and pines that have closed the eyes
of the dead in war.
Three hundred and thirty five Italian prisoners
taken to Ardeatine caves; amid dirt and stone,
all of them shot in reprisal; workers, lawyers,
doctors, a boy, a general and colonel, partisans, Jews,
and those who were picked-up while casually walking down the streets
to see a lover or buy some bread (the ration cards
like butterflies in coat pockets wanting to escape
the darkness for the hunger of light) The boulders of the cave wet with tears,
Those not yet dead crawling into the cave’s galleries
to die with dignity.
The Resistance priest, Don Petro Pappagallo, gives
the final blessing for those to be shot
with a bullet in the cerebellum,
“Night and Fog” to hide the terror in the silence
of denial… Fog and Night over the skies of Rome,
Where the Forum once again awakens with its shrieks
of ancient terror.
Grottoes of the Fish sign, Renaissance paintings stoically
hung on museum walls that are painted a clean white.
The killer, Erich Priebke, back in the caves
forcing a fellow officer to shoot a victim
all in the name of “Duty”, the living cadaver, Priebke, who lived to be a hundred in a country,
where sunlight, good wine, a stroll along the streets,
The beauty of glass and clothes seduces the eye
along the scattered fringes of life.
In the Ardeatine caves,
“The order has already been carried out.”
Piles of bodies, the executioners in a drunken state,
The engineers seal the caves with explosions like
a horde of shambled dreams in the darkness
where there is neither night nor day.
On a hillside outside Rome
in the middle of October sixty-nine years later, when Italy shows
her beauty in autumn with light rain, the cold
biting the faces of lovers hovering beneath an umbrella,
I see the Roman historian, Polybius,
taking notes with a harsh smile
on those who have taken to the streets
protesting the crime.
—Luis Lázaro Tijerina, Burlington, Vermont