Violence against Civilians in the Occupied Territories (1917–1918)
In the occupied lands after Caporetto, Friuli and part of the Veneto, the greatest number of crimes against the person was recorded in the first few weeks of occupation and was provoked mainly by German troops, who had no interest in administering the invaded territories and normalizing relations between the army and civilians. At that stage the violence deployed by the military reached unprecedented levels, with injuries, murders and rapes that were counted in the hundreds. With the justification of seeking Italian prisoners, many soldiers entered homes and threatened civilians with weapons. The number of civilians killed by soldiers or killed as a result of military violence during the occupation was very high: 553 victims of cruelty were ascertained.
Violence against women was plentiful, particularly in rural areas. The officers almost never intervened to prevent the recurrence of these episodes; in fact, in many cases they were accomplices of their soldiers. In the general framework of the occupation rape was considered a minor crime by the military authorities, substantially comparable to other crimes against the person, especially if it was not followed by the killing of the victim or a member of their family. However, there were 53 episodes of murder following the violence. Refugees of the Piave were subject to violence on numerous occasions, hospitalized women hospitalized were also victims of abuse and attempted rapes.
In the immediate post-war period, in the already occupied Friuli and Veneto, the phenomenon of the so-called “sons of war” or “sons of the enemy” born as a result of the rapes committed during the invasion, was of central importance. In December 1918, on the initiative of don Celso Costantini, an institute called “Hospice of the Children of War” was founded in Portogruaro to welcome the children of the liberated lands conceived during the year of occupation. In June 1919 it already housed 168 children and 47 pregnant women and received a total of 353 “children of war”.
About the author
Daniele Ceschin has been habilitated as an associate professor of contemporary history. He published numerous studies on the World War I, including Gli esuli di Caporetto. I profughi in Italia durante la Grande Guerra (Laterza 2006 and 2014), L’Italia del Piave. L’ultimo anno della Grande Guerra (Salerno Editrice 2017). With Mario Isnenghi he co-edited the volume La Grande Guerra: dall’Intervento alla “vittoria mutilata” (Utet 2008). He is currently working on a comprehensive study of the Great War with a consideration of Pietro Badoglio’s biography, on a book contextualizing Italian defeats from the Risorgimento to World War II, and another one on the year of the Austro-Hungarian occupation.