Herbert Kappler
Born23 September 1907
Stuttgart, Kingdom of Württemberg, German Empire
Died9 February 1978 (aged 70)
Soltau, Lower Saxony, West Germany
AllegianceNazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service1932–1945
Commands heldChief of the SiPo and SD; Police Chief of Rome

Herbert Kappler (23 September 1907 – 9 February 1978) was a key German SS functionary and war criminal during the Nazi era. He served as head of German police and security services (Sicherheitspolizei and SD) in Rome during the Second World War and was responsible for the Ardeatine massacre.[1][2]

Following the end of the war, Kappler stood trial in Italy and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He escaped from prison shortly before his death in West Germany in 1978.

SS career

Kappler was born to a middle-class family in Stuttgart in the German Empire. Herbert Kappler joined the Nazi Party on 1 August 1931. He joined the SS in 1933. In January 1936, he was assigned to duty at the Gestapo main office of Stuttgart. In 1937, Kappler graduated from the Führerschule der Sicherheitspolizei (Leadership School of the Security Police) in Berlin as a Kriminalkommissar (criminal commissioner).[citation needed] In 1938, during the Anschluss, he supervised the mass deportations of Austria's Jews to concentration camps.[3]

Kappler was posted to Rome as head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and throughout the war years he cooperated closely with the Fascist police. Following the Armistice between Italy and the Allied Forces on 8 September 1943, Kappler acquired considerable power as German forces took control of the Italian capital.[citation needed]

Chief of Police in occupied Rome

Following the armistice between Italy and the Allies on 8 September 1943, the German military occupied Rome and Kappler was appointed as Chief of the Security Police and Security Service (Oberbefehlshaber des Sicherheitspolizei und SD) for all SS and Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) units deployed in Rome.[1][4][5][6][7]

Kappler was in charge of Jewish roundups for deportations to Auschwitz;[4] in his first action, 1,023 Italian Jews were deported, of whom only 16 survived. He later arranged the deportation of a further 993 Roman Jews, nearly all of whom eventually died in Nazi gas chambers. During this action, he demanded 50 kilograms of gold (110 lbs.) from the Jewish community in Rome, which he later claimed was an attempt to prevent the round-up and the deportations.[3][8][9]

By early 1944, Kappler was the highest representative of the Reich Security Main Office in Rome and answered directly to both the military governorship, under Luftwaffe General Kurt Mälzer, as well as the SS chain of command under the Higher SS and Police Leader of Italy, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff.

Kappler came into direct conflict with the Vatican, as the Germans had strong suspicions that it was harbouring Allied fugitives and escaped prisoners, even though the Vatican under Pope Pius XII was technically neutral. A particular adversary of Kappler's in this respect was Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, whose activities helping Jewish fugitives and Allied prisoners escape from Rome led to Kappler marking him for assassination. Paradoxically, after the war Kappler and O'Flaherty became friends of sorts.[5][10]

Kappler organised the Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 Italian civilians were killed on 24 March 1944 as a reprisal for an attack by resistance fighters that had resulted in the deaths of 33 men of the SS Police garrison in Rome.[6][7][10][11]

Criminal conviction

Kappler in Italy on 9 May 1945
Kappler in Italy on 9 May 1945

Kappler was arrested by British authorities in 1945, turned over to the Italian government in 1947, and tried the following year. Kappler's second in command in Rome, SS-Captain Erich Priebke, managed to escape, and did not face justice until 1996.[12][13]

In 1948, Kappler was tried by an Italian military tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gaeta military prison.[9][11] Kappler and his first wife divorced while he was serving his sentence. He later married Anneliese Kappler, a nurse who had carried on a lengthy correspondence with him, before marrying him at a prison ceremony in 1972. By this time, Kappler had also converted to Catholicism,[14] partly due to the influence of his war-time enemy, the Vatican diplomat Hugh O'Flaherty, who often visited him in prison, discussing literature and religion with him.[10]

In 1975, at the age of sixty-eight, Kappler was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was moved to a military hospital in Rome in 1976. Appeals by both his wife and the West German government to release him were denied by Italian authorities, but earnt him a transfer to a hospital.[2] Because of Kappler's deteriorating condition and his wife's nursing skills, Anneliese Kappler had been allowed almost unlimited access to him after he was transferred to an Italian hospital. On a visit in August 1977, Kappler's wife carried him out in a large suitcase (Kappler weighed about 47 kg (104 lb) at the time) and escaped to West Germany, assisted by apparently unwitting carabinieri.[3][9] The Italians unsuccessfully demanded that Kappler be returned, but the West Germany authorities refused to extradite him and did not prosecute Kappler for any further war crimes, reportedly owing to ill-health. Vittorio Lattanzio resigned from his position as Minister of Defense in the aftermath of the escape.[15]

Six months after his escape, Kappler died at home in Soltau, on 9 February 1978, aged 70.[16]

In film and drama

In the 1973 feature film Massacre in Rome, which deals with the Ardeatine massacre, Kappler was portrayed by actor Richard Burton.[17]

Kappler was portrayed by Christopher Plummer in the 1983 TV film The Scarlet and The Black, which detailed Kappler's first meeting with Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty.[18]

Kappler's post-war time seeking asylum in the Vatican, and his resultant friendship with his former enemy Monsignor O'Flaherty, was dramatised in the radio play The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican by Robin Glendinning. The radio play was first broadcast on 30 November 2006 on UK BBC Radio 4. It was later performed live under the name Kingfishers Catch Fire.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hu, Caitlin (8 July 2016). "An Italian doctor explains "Syndrome K", the fake disease he invented to save Jews from the Nazis". Quartz. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b Levi, Primo; Belpoliti, Marco (2002). Belpoliti, Marco (ed.). The Black Hole of Auschwitz. Italy: Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-3240-7.
  3. ^ a b c SAMUELS, SHIMON (15 May 2020). "The SS and the Vatican". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  4. ^ a b Hale, Tom (20 August 2020). "How The Ficticious [sic] 'Syndrome K' Saved Dozens of Jews From The Nazis". IFLScience. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Ireland's Oskar Schindler". belfasttelegraph. 20 April 2019. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b Rom, Anna Maldini. "Weitere Gräber nicht mehr namenlos (neues deutschland)". www.neues-deutschland.de (in German). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  7. ^ a b The Oxford Companion to International Criminal Justice. OUP Oxford. 22 January 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-102149-7.
  8. ^ "The Testimony of Herbert Kappler". The Nizkor Project. 31 December 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  9. ^ a b c "La vedova di Kappler a Trento per il culto del Simonino". l'Adige.it (in Italian). 12 August 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Stephen Walker (4 March 2011), "The Priest who Outfoxed the Nazis", The Irish Times, retrieved 4 March 2011
  11. ^ a b Cignoni, Luigi. "Kappler a Gaeta". Italynews.it (in Italian). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  12. ^ Smale, Alison (11 October 2013). "Erich Priebke, Nazi Who Carried Out Massacre of 335 Italians, Dies at 100". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  13. ^ Agnew, Paddy (19 October 2013). "Nazi funeral that's forcing Italy to face its past". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  14. ^ "St. Ananias". Catholic Exchange.
  15. ^ Cicchino, Enzo (2000). "Kappler's escape MEETING WITH Hon. Minister Vito Lattanzio". www.larchivio.com. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Coverage of Herbert Kappler's escape". Time magazine. 29 August 1977. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  17. ^ Massacre in Rome (1973) - IMDb, retrieved 2 September 2020
  18. ^ The Scarlet and the Black (TV Movie 1983) - IMDb, retrieved 2 September 2020
  19. ^ Reed, Rex (4 October 2019). "'Kingfishers Catch Fire' Is a Thoughtful and Provocative Theatrical Experience". Observer. Retrieved 2 September 2020.