The 1943 Kefalonia massacres in Greece left thousands of Italian soldiers dead over the month of September, and now 70 years the first person has been convicted in connection to the war crime.
On Friday a military tribunal in Rome convicted Alfred Stork, a 90-year-old ex-Nazi, for his role in killing 120 Italian officers on the Greek island. Stork was a member of an execution squad tasked with killing the men, which included division commander General Antonio Gardin.
The 1943 Kefalonia massacres took place over the course of a week in September when the Italians and Germans suddenly became enemies. The two forces were occupying the Greek island together when Italian leader Benito Mussolini was ousted from power.
With the Italians suddenly in enemy territory, fighting broke out across the island.
“There were numerous massacres in those five or seven days, all over the island. Some were killed fighting, others were shot down, some were arrested and killed after being held for a day,” said military prosecutor Marco De Paolis.
The story of the massacre became the basis for the book Captain Correlli’s Mandalin, which was turned into a movie in 2001 starring Nicolas Cage.
Officials said the massacres were difficult to prosecute because many defendants had died and others could not be identified. Two Nazi officers were convicted at the Nuremberg trials for their roles in the Kefalonia killings, but other attempts to bring ex-Nazis to justice in the 1950s and 1960s went nowhere.
But an attempt to prosecute 80 suspects in the early 2000s led officials to Alfred Stork, and at the request of families of two of the victims an investigation was launched.
Because Germany does not extradite those convicted of war crimes, Italy has asked that they serve life in prison in Germany instead.
“The Italians have made a very admirable effort in the past decade to find and bring to court, not in a literal sense, individuals responsible for some terrible atrocities,” said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It’s unfortunate that only one of them has been convicted in Germany.”
Alfred Stork had admitted his role in the 1943 Kefalonia massacres to German magistrates in 2005, but that was deemed inadmissible in court. Instead prosecutors relied on witness testimony.