I am a member of the 45th Infantry Division (Thunderbirds) Group. We research the history of the 45th and share what we find on the group’s site.
We also assist families in researching their ancestors’ service in the 45th.
In January, 1944 while serving in Italy as a member of the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, Private Robert J. Rankl was captured by the Germans.
He escaped and sought refuge near Monte Buono, Umbria, Italy.
On April 13, 1944, Private Rankl along with seven other soldiers were recaptured and executed by the Nazis in the San Benedetto churchyard near Monte Buono.
Because four of the victims were members of the 45th, our 45th group is researching all eight of the victims. I was assigned to make the Freedom of Information Act request for Private Rankl’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF).
I just received Private Rankl’s IDPF and have made it available on Scribd.
The file reports on the investigation of his murder, the location and identification of his remains, and in 1948 the return of his remains for burial in Saint Peter’s Cemetery in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
The murder of prisoners of war (POWs) in WWII:
On the Eastern Front, the Nazi murder of POWs was routine and a matter of policy. While some of the regular German army units did not execute prisoners, they were aware that the prisoners they took were often later executed by the SS units. At times regular Germany army units provided the SS units with armed escorts while the SS units executed POWs. Rarely if ever did regular German army units do anything to stop or even protest the murder of POWs.
Starting with the first moments of WWII in Poland, the Nazis executed Polish Jewish officer and enlisted POWs. Slavic Polish officer POWs were mostly executed as part of the Nazi policy to decapitate Polish leadership in order to more easily enslave the surviving Slavic Poles including enlisted Slavic Polish POWs.
As the Soviet Union was militarily allied with the Nazis at that time, the Soviets joined in the attack on Poland. The Soviets executed thousands of Slavic Polish POW officers and hundreds of Polish Jewish POW officers because they were suspected of being potential opponents to Soviet occupation of Poland and rule of Poland by the Soviet controlled Polish Communist Party.
The Nazis continued to execute the Soviet Jewish POWs while starving or working to death at least 50% of the Slavic Soviet POWs.
On the Western Front including Italy, execution by Allied POWs was done more frequently by SS units. In retaliation, Allied units became increasingly reluctant to take prisoners of SS troops. Regular German army units were more likely to attempt to follow the international rules of war on the treatment of POWs.
The German unit that executed Private Rankl and the other GIs is not identified in the documents.
Felix A. Cizewski, my late father, served in the 45th which is why I am a member of the group.
At the time of this atrocity he was serving in southern England as a member of Company C, 3110th Signal Service Battalion helping to prepare for the Normandy landings.
Tags: 3110th Signal Service Battalion, 45th Infantry Division, Felix A. Cizewski, IDPF, Individual Deceased Personnel File, Normandy, Poland, POWs, Prisoners of War, Second World War, Soviet Union, war crimes, World War II