Mario Roatta (2 February 1887 – 7 January 1968) was an Italian general, best known for his role in Italian Second Army's repression against civilians, in the Slovene- and Croatian-inhabited areas of the Italian-occupied Yugoslavia during World War II. In his Circular 3C, Roatta ordered summary executions, hostage taking, reprisals, internments, burning of houses and whole villages, and the deportation of 25,000 people, who were placed in Italian concentration camps at Rab, Gonars, Monigo (Treviso), Renicci d'Anghiari, Chiesanuova and elsewhere. The survivors received no compensation from the Italian state after the war. The deportees had formed about 7.5 percent of the total population of the Italy-occupied Province of Ljubljana.
From 1934 to 1936, Roatta was the head of the Italian Military Information Service. During the Spanish Civil War, he led the Corpo Truppe Volontarie and helped Francisco Franco's forces. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Italian Army from October 1939 to March 1941 and from March 1941 to January 1942 its Chief of Staff and helped in preparing for the invasion of Yugoslavia. From January 1942 until February 1943, he served as the commander of the Italian Second Army and operated in Yugoslavia. There he constructed a policy in which he attempted to eliminate the Yugoslav Partisans, helped manage relations with the authorities of the puppet Independent State of Croatia, and "greatly advanced and systematized" collaboration with the Chetniks. He also established the Circular 3C as a "manifesto for repression in the Yugoslav territories", urging "ethnic clearance" be carried out and stressed the need for "complete cleansing" of Slovene-inhabited areas.
Role in World War II
From July to October 1939 he served as a military attaché in Berlin. From October 1939 to March 1941, he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Italian Army.
In September 1940, the Italians set forth the first crucial steps necessary for the invasion of Yugoslavia. Roatta reported that "all available forces in northern Italy gathered at the Yugoslav frontier between Tarvisio and Fiume: two armies on the front line, and a third in reserve. Altogether there were 37 divisions, 85 groups of medium-caliber artillery, and all the special formations, with corresponding services and supplies."
In January 1942, Roatta had become the commander of the Italian Second Army, succeeding General Vittorio Ambrosio.
Between 30 January and 9 February 1942, Roatta discussed with Ambrosio to create a Policy Directive (Linea di condotta) on his command's relationship with the Croats, Chetniks, and Partisans. Roatta was mostly concerned with removing a large number of Italian forces present in Zones II and III and reorganizing those left into strong garrisons to lower troop casualties. In a response sent on 13 February, Ambrosio stated that there should be maximum loyalty to the Croats, but with a "no uncertainty, or weakness, and a strong hand, if necessary." He vowed a "struggle to the bitter end" with regards to the Partisans. Through these talks the relationship with the Independent State of Croatia and the Partisans was well defined. Under Mario Roatta's command, Italy's violence against the Slovene civil population matched the Germans. Executions, hostage-taking and killing, reprisals, internments into the Rab and Gonars concentration camps, and the burning of houses and villages were ordered. According to historians James Walston and Carlo Spartaco Capogeco, the annual mortality riate in the Rab concentration camp was higher than the average mortality rate in Nazi Party concentration camp Buchenwald (which was 15%), at least 18 percent. Monsignor Joze Srebnic, Bishop of Veglia (Krk island), reported to Pope Pius XII that "witnesses, who took part in the burials, state unequivocally that the number of the dead totals at least 3,500".
With the Chetniks, however, Roatta was free to create his own policy and collaboration between the two was "greatly advanced and systematized" under his supervision and carried out by all Italian commanders in the Italian annexed or occupied areas of Yugoslavia.
On 1 March 1942, Roatta issued the Circular 3C which was distributed to ranks up to battalion command in areas occupied and annexed by the Italians. It was a "manifesto for repression in the Yugoslav territories" that urged mass internment and a scorched earth strategy in order for "de-Balkanization" and "ethnic clearance". There was no resistance from the High Command of the Second Army for the "evacuation of entire regions." In "abnormal" (areas where military action was taking place) occupied districts, Roatta demanded that all families that, without good reason, lacked their able-bodied male members between the ages of 16 and 60 years, be interned and deported. He justified this mass internment with the intense danger that the rebels posed. Suspicious groups were to be identified, taken as hostage, and kept in custody. When attacks were carried out against the Italians and perpetrators weren't identified within 48 hours the hostage were to be executed. Residents near railway lines, roads, telephone lines, and military depots were to be implicated in sabotage acts and if information that led to an arrest within 48 hours was not provided, they would be interned, their cattle confiscated, and their houses destroyed. Roatta also demanded that all males, able-bodied or wounded, near rebel groups to be seen as insurgents if they wore military uniforms, had band badges, or carried military equipment.
On 10 November 1943, the Allies requested that Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio remove Roatta from his post as Chief of Staff of the Italian Army due to Yugoslavia's charges that he committed war crimes. On 12 November, Roatta was dismissed from his post. Yugoslavia unsuccessfully requested Roatta's extradition, and he along with other suspected Italian war criminals were never tried. Britain has been accused of leniency in an attempt to bolster the remnants of the fascist government so as to guarantee an anti-communist post-war Italy.
Historian Alessandra Kersevan and journalist Rory Carroll have accused the Italian public and media of repressing their collective memory of the atrocities committed during World War II, and of "historical amnesia", citing the forgiveness of Roatta and the jailing of two Italian filmmakers, who depicted the Italian invasion of Greece, as examples of historical revisionism.
On 5 March 1945, Roatta escaped from the Virgilio Army Hospital in Rome. A reward of one million lire ($10,000) was offered for his capture. The following day a "mild mass meeting" took place at the Italian royal palace in protest of his escape and escalated into a riot ending with one person dead.
On 4 April, Sergeant Stuart W. Mathes put up a personal reward of $20,000 for Roatta's capture. Roatta fled to Spain, where he lived under the protection of dictator Francisco Franco. In Italy, he was convicted and sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment plus one year of solitary confinement. His sentence was overturned by the Italian High Court of Appeal in 1948. Beginning in 1964, a number of Roatta's works were published. He returned to Rome in 1966, and lived there until his death on 7 January 1968.