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Nazi massacre of Carthusian monks recalled in new book

By on Friday, 5 September 2014

Carthusian monks at a monastery in southern Italy (Photo: CNS)

Carthusian monks at a monastery in southern Italy (Photo: CNS)

A prominent Italian journalist and specialist on the Vatican has published a book recounting a little-known episode in the Second World War – the massacre of 12 Carthusians by Nazi SS troops.

Seventy years ago this week the SS soldiers burst into the Certosa di Farneta, a Carthusian monastery in the central Italian region of Tuscany, and seized at gunpoint six monks and six lay brothers.

Accused of having given refuge to a hundred Jews, partisan fighters and anti-fascist Italian politicians, the 12 were taken away, shot and killed – two of them on September 7, the rest three days later. Along with them 32 men were killed who had been found in hiding inside the monastery.

The episode is the subject of a new book, La Strage di Farneta (“The Farneta Massacre”), by journalist Luigi Accattoli, 70.

During his research, Mr Accattoli was able to interview the last surviving monk to have witnessed the arrests and two women in their 90s who had witnessed the executions.

In an interview with an online magazine, LoSchermo.it, Mr Accattoli said historians knew little about the murders because of deliberate silence by the Carthusian order. Some of those hidden were Italian Communist Party members, and, during the early postwar years of ideological divide, some Carthusians feared the story would amount to an involuntary election plug for the party, which in that period regularly won 25 per cent of the vote.

However, at the request of the Holy See in the year 2000, Certosa monks wrote an account of the incident, which was sent to the Commission of the New Martyrs, a body established by St John Paul II to study 20th-century Catholics who had died for the faith. Mr Accattoli was the first outsider to see that report, which he called a definitive reconstruction.

The Carthusians do not promote Causes for their members, he said, “but there is nothing hindering [the dead monks'] martyrdom from being promoted by the bishops of Tuscany”.

What makes their story especially interesting, he added, is a paradox: “That such a closed world was thrown open to the persecuted in such a disinterested way.”