A “stiff” (secret message) about the tortures carried out on the imprisoned BAS activists, written for Dr. Josef Sullmann of Brixen. The author of the letter was probably a BAS activist from Vinschgau.
The community physician of Ulten was not himself a BAS member, but treated an injured BAS activist and was then incarcerated for almost three years. During the first Milan trials against the BAS activists, he was accused of being an “accessory” to their crimes – but ultimately released. In the Bozen prison, Dr. Sullmann demanded in vain that the cardiac patient Josef Gostner be treated in a hospital. When he suffered a fatal heart attack, the physician performed First Aid, but was unable to prevent the death of Anton Gostner.
Sepp Mitterhofer smuggled this “stiff” out of the prison in the cap of his little son.
Bozen, Nov. 29, 1961
This is how we South Tyrolese were tortured by the Carabinieri!
We were very pleased to learn that a great many people from all parts of our homeland came together to pay their final respects to our good comrade, Franz Höfler. It was proof that the South Tyrolean people stand with us in this just matter. Franz Höfler was a nice, quiet fellow. We often went on walks together in the prison yard. He told us of the cruel tortures which the Carabinieri subjected him to. He complained of very generalized pains since undergoing terribly inhumane torture at the hands of the Carabinieri. Franz Höfler told us that he had never before been sick a day in his life. He told us that, since being tortured by the Carabinieri, he felt sick. Then one day, while walking in the prison yard, he complained of such terrible pains in his chest and back that he almost collapsed. Dr. Sullmann administered first aid to him and accompanied him to his cell. He determined: Incipient paralysis of the entire upper and lower left arm. He immediately recognized the urgency and gravity of the situation and asked that he be immediately admitted to the hospital. But since he, too, was a prisoner, his instructions were not followed. It was only after waiting for the prison doctor for three hours that they were finally allowed to send him to the hospital. Dear Compatriots: You will be surprised to learn that one of our best comrades has passed away. But none of us are surprised. We are astonished only that not at least one or more of us has died in the torture chamber. That our dear friend died as a consequence of the mistreatment – that, we believe, and you certainly won’t doubt it. On the occasion of the death of our comrade due to these terrible tortures, we would like to give you a short, broad description of the almost unbelievably cruel mistreatment and diabolical tortures and mockery to which we have been subjected.
We emphasize: Just a short description – because it is impossible to properly depict these tortures unless you have personally experienced them. To be honest, it was indescribably terrible to be tortured by these devils in human form. We – all of us – are still deeply affected, and don’t really want to speak of it any more since we otherwise can’t stop thinking about it, turning us into nervous wrecks. But it must be said at least once, since the entire South Tyrolean people should be told. It must be made to understand that the Carabinieri subjected us to brutal treatment and nearly lethal tortures and that they scorned and mocked us. They took particular delight in torturing us in the genitals. It can be compared to the unbearable suffering reported in concentration camps. Indeed, their bestiality may even have surpassed that in that they tortured us in the genitals.
Dear Compatriots: We have more than one death to mourn. Indeed, we also have many cripples, many of whom will undoubtedly suffer life-long infirmities and view themselves as only “half men.”
Many complain of indefinite and uncharacteristic pains. Others report that they suffer constant headaches and dizziness and a strange roaring in their head due to repeated episodes of unconsciousness and brain concussions – after all, a majority have been beaten for hours until knocked unconscious. Others complain of excruciating neck pains and spinal pains, while others report that they suffer pains in the area of their kidneys due to “rabbit punches” and afterwards find blood in their urine. Some still find pus running out of both ears due to ruptured eardrums, which become infected, and with a resultant severe loss of hearing. Some report that their eyesight has become degraded to a large degree after being forced to stand for hours in front of quartz lamps. Others complain of unending insomnia; while sleeping, they suddenly jump up and start screaming. Again, others say that their nerves are totally shot, they suffer slight tremors all through their bodies. Some report chronic stomach infections after having been force-fed certain liquids that burned their stomach linings. Not to mention the instances of broken ribs and jaws, those whose teeth have been knocked out by brutal punches, whose remaining teeth are loose, some with other chronic infections of the toenails and fingernails and have lost their nails after having been crushed with pliers and pounded with rifle butts. Then there are those who experienced intense pain in the ears, with blood running out of their ears, and who have remained hard of hearing ever since. In the meantime, those who were still capable of standing were forced to stand in the corridor, with their faces to the wall.
Many of the victims – some of whom had swooned and lay unconscious like dead dogs after having been compelled to stand for so long – were carried away. Another very cruel torture was to force us to remain in the upright position, with both arms crossed behind our backs, chained to the railing for hours. One symptom of this terrible torture was an indescribable thirst. Most of our comrades were arrested during high summer (mid-July). They were given no water to drink – not even to wet their lips. As a result, they suffered severe dehydration – especially when forced to stand, sweating, in front of the hot quartz lamp.
Another symptom: Some of our countrymen tell of having been deprived of water for four or five days.
One terrible torture was to not allow a man to rest for up to seven days. They were tortured, martyred, ridiculed, and mocked day and night, without pause. They [the Carabinieri] expressed their scorn for them by spitting in their mouths and sticking filthy toilet brushes into their mouths. Such was the scorn and ridicule that we had to suffer. But now we would like to report on the worst, most satanic and brutal interrogations to which we were subjected, so that you might understand the apex of their cruelty.
We are ashamed to report this, but it must be said. One would have to have a demonic imagination to invent the cruelties of which humans are capable. As we have repeatedly emphasized in our writings, these devils took special delight in torturing us in the genitals. After being stripped naked, while we stood before them, they would ridicule and deride our sexual organs using the most obscene phrases, then they would laugh. While grinning scornfully, they would light a cigarette and would use it to burn our penises and scrotums. Then they took sharp needles and stuck them into our genitals. One would hook up an electrical cable and then subject some comrades to electrical shocks to the genitals. At the same time, they would revile us with obscenities. Suddenly, our torturers would jump up. While being tortured on the rack, we suffered scarring, smells [?] due to cigarette burns and were beaten with sharp-edged objects. Many of us presented a hideous sight, with bruises and sausage-like welts all over our bodies. They looked like Christ after the scourging. Pincers were used to squeeze and crush skin and twist tongues such that one can still see the scars today. In the majority of cases, our countrymen were stripped naked before being brutally tortured and scorned – especially in the genitals. Many of our fellows were subjected to these diabolical tortures and verbal abuse day and night – they were never allowed to rest. First they had to stand at attention with their arms raised for hours; if they became tired, they got a rifle butt or a fist to the face or underneath the arm-pit, until finally, after many hours, they collapsed in exhaustion – whereupon they were kicked brutally. They were led back into the torture chamber or dragged in by two Carabinieri. Then, while shouting at them, they ripped the clothes from their bodies until they were totally naked. Then the usual insults, questions, and obscenities. Then the beatings with the unbelievably painful steel rod, as well as with rifle butts and fists, until they were senseless, often collapsing to the floor. They saw some of our compatriots lying on the floor in this pitiable condition, with half-closed eyes, hardly giving a sign that they were still alive. So they would wrap them up in a blanket and carry them back out of the torture chamber. Others were bound to the rack – with a wooden coffer placed under their backs to bend the spine. When they screamed because of the indescribable agony, they poured acid into their mouths, making them choke. They placed beetles (2-3 cm in size) on the navels of some comrades; these beetles would then attempt to dig into their bodies and to bite them. This was one of the most horrific forms of torture on the rack.
Some got an object stuck into their ear. When the switch was thrown, it produced an incredible noise, they mixed terrible screams, like that of wild animals in the jungle, with obscenities while tearing out their pubic hair and yanked their penises so as to produce hideous pain.
Another crushed their testicles.
While brutally shouting at them, they threatened to take a knife and completely amputate their genitals so that this accursed band of South Tyrolese could finally go extinct.
In order to mask the cries and screams of our comrades, they turned on the radio full blast.
In conclusion, we wish to again emphasize that this is just a brief description of the brutalities that actually took place.
These cruelties cannot be properly expressed in words. Nevertheless, we are described as the best-treated minority in the world.
The South Tyrolese political prisoners!”
The original German version of this text features many spelling errors which can be attributed to the fascist measures for the ‘Italianization’ of South Tyrol (Provvedimenti). That’s because the schoolchildren of that period were able to learn to read and write German only in the forbidden ‘catacomb schools.’ In the state-run Italian schools, the use of the German language was strictly prohibited.
The tortures suffered by the BAS activists are well documented:
- Mitterhofer, Sepp/Obwegs Günther (publ.): „… Es blieb kein anderer Weg …“ [“…There Was No Other Choice…”], Eye-witness accounts and documents of the South Tyrolean freedom struggle. Meran – without year of appearance
- Golowitsch, Helmut: Für die Heimat kein Opfer zu schwer. Folter – Tod – Erniedrigung: Südtirol 1961 – 1969. [“No Sacrifice Too Great for the Homeland. Torture – Death – Humiliation: South Tyrol, 1961 – 1969”] without place of appearance 22012.
- Walla, Max (Hg.): Die Schändung der Menschenwürde in Südtirol. Eine Dokumentation über die Folgerung der Südtiroler politischen Gefangenen durch italienische Polizei von Peter Mayr. Schriften des „Mondseer Arbeitskreises“, Band Nr. 3. Druck Fritz P. Molden Großdruckerei und Verlag Ges.m.b.H, Wien 1977