Rome

94-year-old survivor testifies in WWII Cephalonia case

Former German officer Stork accused of ordering 117 executions

94-year-old survivor testifies in WWII Cephalonia case

Rome, January 31 - A survivor of the massacre of thousands of Italian soldiers on the Greek island of Cephalonia in World War II testified in Rome Thursday in a case against former German officer Alfred Stork. Stork, 90, is accused of ordering the execution of "at least 117 Italian officers" after they surrendered, according to Rome prosecutors, who cite a 2005 confession in which he told German prosecutors he was a member of one of the two execution platoons. That confession, however, is inadmissible as testimony since a defence attorney was not present. In the first testimony in the case on Thursday, Bruno Bertoldi, 94, recounted that in 1943 the German soldiers "were unfettered for 48 hours, grouping Italians together and killing them by firing squad". Bertoldi, who was born in Austria and lives in German-speaking Bolzano, said he was likely allowed to live because of his origins. "They just kicked me and sent me away," he testified. He is not believed to have been directly in contact with Stork, or near the executors of the Italian officers. That incident was just one part of a much larger massacre which came after the 1943 armistice between Italy and the Allies that instructed Italian troops to switch sides. After news filtered across to the island on September 14, 1943, General Antonio Gandin told each of his men in the Acqui division to follow his own conscience and choose between three alternatives: fight on alongside the Germans, surrender his weapons, or keep them and resist German attacks. Over the next eight days, 1,300 men died in battle, 5,155 were shot after being taken prisoner, and 3,000 drowned when a ship carrying them to Nazi concentration camps sank. The bodies of 200 men were tossed down a well, from which they were only recovered and sent back home a few months before former Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's visit in 2001. To the outrage of Italy, a German court cleared then 86-year-old former lieutenant Otmar Muhlhauser of war-crime charges in 2006. Deceased in 2009, he was believed to be the last survivor of the Werhmacht regiment which carried out the massacre, and he reportedly admitted he had personally ordered the execution of hundreds of soldiers including General Gandin. The incident forms the backdrop to the best-selling 1994 novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which became a film in 2001 starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

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