Italy marks 80th anniversary of WWII-era massacre in Rome with a concert honoring the dead

Members of Italian partisan associations attend a commemorative ceremony for the 80th anniversary of the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, in Rome, Friday, March 22, 2024. The mass killing of 335 civilians and political prisoners was carried out in this cave area in Rome on 24 March 1944 by German occupation troops during the Second World War as a reprisal for the Via Rasella attack in central Rome against the SS Police Regiment Bozen the previous day. The Ardeatine Caves site was later declared memorial cemetery and a Mausoleum was built in memory of the victims buried there. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)


ROME (AP) — Italy on Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of one of the most horrific World War II massacres in German-occupied Italy with solemn commemorations and a performance of a symphony honoring the dead.

Riccardo Muti was conducting the Italian premiere of William Schuman’s Ninth Symphony, subtitled “Le Fosse Ardeatine,” which the New York-born Jewish composer wrote in 1968 after visiting the Ardeatine Caves in Rome.

There, on March 24, 1944, 335 people were shot to death as a reprisal for an attack by partisans that killed 33 Nazi soldiers on a street in Rome.

In an interview ahead of the performance, Muti said Schuman was completely overwhelmed by the experience of visiting the caves and said it was particularly appropriate now to finally bring the symphony to Italy.

“This is a tragic story that young people have to know, especially in today’s world where every day we read about such tragic events,” Muti told The Associated Press. “This cry of pain that comes from the score of ‘Le Fosse Ardeatine’ I think can be a wakeup call, just as at a certain point a funeral bell appears in the score.”

Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the symphony in 2019, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the massacre. On Sunday, the 80th anniversary, he was leading the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, which he founded and directs, alongside musicians from the Carabinieri orchestra at Rome’s Parco della Musica auditorium.

In other commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre, Premier Giorgia Meloni issued a note Sunday saying it was necessary to remember what she called “”one of the most profound and painful wounds inflicted on our national community.”

President Sergio Mattarella on Friday visited the site itself, which has now been turned into a memorial honoring the 335 dead. The tombs carry the names, and in some cases the photos, of the victims.

In notes that accompanied the original recording of the symphony, composer William Schuman said the piece doesn’t attempt to depict the events of 1944. But Schuman, who died in 1992, said that its three sections were “directly related to emotions engendered by” his visit to the site, including his thoughts about the “promise and aborted lives of the martyrs.”


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed.