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Museo storico della Liberazione - Roma

Cella 1

Cell no. 1 is dedicated to the 335 victims of the Nazi massacre of 24 March 1944 carried out at Cave Ardeatine (the name was changed to "Fosse Ardeatine" to identify the mass grave of the martyrs slaughtered there), as retaliation for the attack perpetrated by the GAPs in via Rasella in Rome on the afternoon of 23 March 1944, when 33 German soldiers were killed.


On the afternoon of 23 March 1944 GAP 1 partisans carried out an armed attack on occupying forces. *2 In  via Rasella a street close to piazza Barberini, a rubbish cart filled with TNT was detonated, exploding right in the middle of an SS column, which was known to march along this street every day at the same time. 32 soldiers were killed in the explosion. Informed of the attack, Hitler immediately ordered the entire neighborhood to be razed to the ground. Convinced by the officers around him, he reduced the retaliation by establishing that fifty Italians must be killed for every dead German. The ratio was later set at ten to one, thus 320.

The commander of the “Bozen" battalion refused to provide the firing squad, since his men were "practising Catholics", and as such could not kill cold, the task of carrying out the retaliation was entrusted to colonel Kappler. During the night another German died of his wounds, so Kappler updated the count to 330. The victims to be sacrificed were brought together in the prison in Via Tasso, containing prisoners who certainly did not carry out the attack, but were fighting against Nazi Germany. There were not enough however, so Kappler asked the Quaestor of Rome Pietro Caruso to procure other prisoners. They were taken from Regina Coeli prison, to whom were added ten men captured in the vicinity of Via Rasella just after the device exploded.

On the following day, working quickly before Roman citizens realised what was happening, in the quarries on Via Ardeatina, close to the catacombs of San Callisto, the mass execution was carried out.
Various documents representing different facets of the slaughter are on display on the walls.

  • Panel showing the 335 victims. (photo) A total of 335 were executed at Fosse Ardeatine, 5 more than the agreed number. This is because the whole operation was conducted hastily (Hitler ordered the retaliation to be carried out within 24 hours). By mistake 5 more men were taken. As major Priebke completed the list of names*4, 5 men were left over. The SS decided that, since they had witnessed the executions, they could not be released, so they too were shot.
    The fallen included soldiers from all the forces, from generals to privates, and civilians, among them 75 Jews who had been detained in Regina Coeli, waiting to be deported to Germany. The different occupations and trades of the victims describe the varied social composition of those in the Resistance, while their ages, from 14 to 75, show how the entire population formed a single body against the occupiers.
  • Portraits of some of the fallen: carabinieri Giovanni Frignani and Ugo de Carolis; general Simone Simoni; students Orlando Orlandi Posti and Ferdinand Agnini; teachers Gioacchino Gesmundo and Pilo Albertelli; colonel Giuseppe Cordero di Montezemolo, head of the Clandestine Military Front; priest don Pietro Pappagallo; opera singer Nicola Ugo Stamen; film director Gerardo De Angelis. Above the two photographs depicting Gioachino Gesmundo is a teacher's shirt with cuffs stained with blood due to the wounds caused by the rope digging into the flesh. Gesmundo was held for weeks with his hands tied behind his back. They were not loosened even to bring to his mouth the little food that was distributed to prisoners, so he was forced to sip the schlop from the ground, like a dog.
  • Finds recovered during the  esumazioni

     ropes tied to the wrists of convicts and tapes with messages written by families to communicate with the prisoners. The tapes were sewn inside garments that could be taken out weekly for a change of linen

  • List of Regina Coeli prison inmates killed in the massacre
  • Report on the massacre written by the Salesian priest Don Michele Valentini, who in the days after the retaliation had managed to enter the quarries.
  • Article of the Osservatore Romano with the communiqué of the German Command issued by Agenzia Stefani. The press release was written in such a way as to intimidate the population: after denouncing the attack in via Rasella, which was blamed on "Badogliani" communist criminals, the release declared the German will to crush any act of rebellion, responding to any attack with retaliation in the proportion of ten Italians for every German killed. While the text suggests that this was a warning for the future, the last line is written in the past tense, saying “the order was carried out”. The reader might consider this release to be a death sentence for the whole city.

In the centre of the room is a showcase displaying objects recovered from the bodies, including:

  • Final message to the family of Gianfranco Mattei
  • Sock with message sewn using white thread