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Mussolini’s camps: Civilian Internment in Fascist Italy

31Jan6:00 pm8:00 pmMussolini’s camps: Civilian Internment in Fascist Italy6:00 pm - 8:00 pm(GMT+00:00) MemoriaMemoria

Event Details


1:30 pm | Screening of The Jews from Fossoli, by Ruggero Gabbai (Italy, 2006, DVD, 50 minutes, Italian with English subtitles).

This illuminating documentary exposes the Italian Social Republic’s 1943 deportation of the Jews residing in Italy to the concentration camp of Fossoli, which became the country’s main point of transit to Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps.

3:00 pm | Panel Discussion

With author Carlo Spartaco Capogreco (The Duce’s Camps) and Doris Schechter, hidden as a child with her family in Italy. Moderator: Alessandro Cassin.

This panel will examine the unique situations of Jews in Italy during the Holocaust. From 1938 to 1943, civilian internment camps were established to segregate Italian Jews and foreign Jews living in Italy. While there were many cases in which local populations showed great empathy, others did not hesitate to give up their Jewish neighbors to the Italian Fascists or Nazis.

Carlo Spartaco Capogreco teaches political science at the University of Calabria and is the president of the Ferramonti Foundation. He is considered the world expert on the Italian internment camps in Italy. He is the author of Ferramonti: Life and Men of the Largest Internment Camp under Fascism 1940-1945, Renicci: A Concentration Camp on the Tiber, and The Duce’s Camps, Civilians Internment in Fascist Italy. This is his first appearance in New York.

Alessandro Cassin is an Italian journalist based in New York. He covers culture and the arts for L’EspressoDiario and The Brooklyn Rail. His online column, Printed Matter, appears monthly on the website of Centro Primo Levi.

Doris Schechter was born in Vienna. Forced to flee Austria, she and her family found refuge in Italy and eventually settled in the United States. They were among the 982 refugees from World War II who were allowed into the U.S. by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and brought to Oswego, New York, where they resided from 1944 through 1946. In 1982 she opened My Most Favorite Dessert Company in Manhattan, where it is now combined with a restaurant. Schechter’s book At Oma’s Table: More than 100 Recipes and Remembrances from a Jewish Family’s Kitchen (Penguin, 2007) is part cookbook and part memoir.


During the five years from 1938 to 1943, Jews residing in Italy were subjected to increasingly harsh persecution, as a result of both the racial laws  and the  state run anti-Semitic propaganda.

This program will provide an overview of the wide range of radically different experiences of Jews in Italy during this period, as well as various attitudes of the gentile population, from help and solidarity to hostility and betrayal.

An estimated 200 civilian internment camps were set up by the government to segregate Jews, as well as antifascists, Slavs, “enemy aliens” and Gypsies. Carlo Spartaco Capogreco devoted the past twenty years to the study of Mussolini’s system of internment camps, resulting in the publication of his exhaustive work – I Campi del Duce. L’internamento civile nell’Italia fascista (1940-1443) Turin, Einaudi 2004.

Presented here for the first time in English, Capogreco’s exemplary research traces Mussolini’s practice of segregation and isolation of political enemies and ethnic undesirables (a constant throughout his dictatorship) back to the colonial ventures of the early 1920’s, culminating in the creation of actual concentration camps.

These camps were established throughout the country. In the North the internment of Jews facilitated their deportation by the Nazis to the death camps in Eastern Europe.

In the South, after the landing of the allied forces, the camps paradoxically became places of relative safety. Some Jews and political dissidents were not placed in camps, but relegated to “confinement” in towns and villages, were daily registration with the local authorities was mandatory.

There were many instances in which the local population showed great empathy for the Jews assigned by force in their midst, and protected them. Doris Schechter and her family’s story are a compelling  example of such occurrences in the town of Guardiagrele, in Abruzzi. Throughout the region, as well as elsewhere, there were villagers who adopted whole Jewish families and shared their livelihood with them in times of war and famine. Just as there were cases, in Southern towns and villages, as well as in the German occupied Center-North, where some locals did not hesitate to sell, denounce and voluntarily give up the Jews.

Of all Italian internment camps Fossoli, near Modena, is the most notorious. It was from there that starting on  February 22, 1944, while the camp was still formally under Italian jurisdiction, trains packed with Jews began heading for Auschwitz.

Fossoli itself had been established  by the Italian government, roughly half of the arrests carried out by Italians and the prisoners eventually handed over to the Nazis. Filmmaker Ruggero Gabbai retraces through interviews and historical footage the story of this point of departure for Italy’s final betrayal of the Jews.

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