The Fascist Concentration Camps

From Internment to Deportation: Concentration Camps and Jews in Italy during World War II

Carlo Spartaco Capogreco, University of Calabria
Paper delivered at the American Association for Italian Studies, XXXV Annual Conference, March 26-28, 2015, University Memorial Center University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. Translated by Valerio Ferme, University of Colorado

Carlo Spartaco Capogreco is professor of contemporary history at the University of Calabria. He was the first Italian historian who researched comprehensively the history of the Italian concentration camps. His book, I campi del duce. L’internamento civile nell’Italia fascista 1940-43 (Einaudi, 2004, also published in Croazia and Slovenia), offers a detailed portrayal of the fascist concentrationary system. He is co-author of Dizionario della Resistenza, Dizionario del fascismo and Dizionario dell’Olocausto (Einaudi, 2001-2004) and contributed to Storia della Shoah in Italia (Utet, Torino 2010) and of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos (soon to be published by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). 

The internment of civilians in the Italian fascist-monarchic period (1940-1945)

Just before fascist Italy entered World War II (on June 10, 1940), the country adopted internment measures against “enemy subjects” who were present on its territory and against other categories of civilians, both Italian and foreign-born, believed to be “dangerous” or “undesirable” during the wartime period. The government envisioned for those interned two different statuses: 1) one for foreign-born civilians who were detained according to war laws (“enemy subjects” present in Italy);[1] b) another for all those, Italian or foreign-born, who were detained for “public safety” reasons.[2] Even the practical application of internment measures followed two modalities: a) one defined as “internamento libero,”[3] which obligated one to forced stays in small towns, usually remotely located; b) the other tied to internment in concentration camps—the harshest option—which forced those interned to live in out-and-out barracked camps or, more often than not, in regular buildings recast for such purpose by various prefectures. The central management for the internment and the functioning of the concentration camps (this is how Italian authorities officially described all the structures that were used for this purpose, even when they were not really barracked camps) was entrusted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as was the practice of “confinement” (the practice of deportation introduced by Mussolini since 1926 to rid himself of dissidents), whose technical and normative apparatus the policies of internment followed for the most part.[4]

With the internment of enemy citizens, the government obviously wished to protect its military security; but also to prevent the exchange of intelligence between foreigners and internal political opponents; and to block the re-entry into the country of those who might “bear arms.”[5] The internment of Italian civilians, instead, was used (in parallel with confinement, which continued to take place even during the war) as an ulterior preventive measure to control antifascism. As far as the Jews, one should remember that the anti-Semitic laws promulgated by the Italian State starting in 1938—the so-called racial laws—did not mention concentration camps or other internment procedures either for foreign-born or Italian Jews. Such procedures began being implemented only in 1940, as part of “war contingencies.” Nonetheless, they linked up, in various ways, with fascist, anti-Semitic laws.[6]

At that time, internment activities began to affect especially foreign Jews and those who had become stateless people[7], while Italian Jews were interned only if suspected of subversive activities (Toscano, “L’internamento degli ebrei” 95). More specifically, on May 20th, 1940, the Ministry of Internal Affairs established that “non-Italian Jews” should be included among enemy subjects to be interned. Later, with the directive n. 443/45626 of June 15th, the Ministry ordered its prefects to arrest and intern “foreign Jews who belong to countries that have established racial policies,”[8] as well as stateless people between 18 and 60 years of age (that is, those who had already been hit, two years prior, with a decree of expulsion from the Kingdom of Italy as established by the “racial laws”), all of whom were labeled, contemptuously, as “undesirable elements imbued with hatred against Totalitarian Regimes, capable of any and all harmful action [against the State].”[9] A subsequent administrative order, issued on June 27, specified that male internees should be held in “special concentration camps already being prepared,” while Jewish women and children, soon thereafter, would have to register with the prefectures and be sent on their way toward “internamento libero” (for them, the move to the camps would take place in a second moment) (Voigt 10). As far as Italian Jews, on May 27th, 1940, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had alerted the prefectures of the need to intern only those who constituted a real threat to the public order. Four days before the country’s entry into war, however, the ministry’s recommendations widened their scope, clarifying that the “dangerousness” of Italian Jews should also be considered “with regard to their capacity for defeatist propaganda and espionage activities.”[10]

Already in the 1930s, officials working in the Directorate-General of Public Safety for the Ministry of Internal Affairs had turned to German colleagues to understand the structure of Nazi lagers.[11] Reinhard Heydrich himself, as chief officer of the Central Office for Public Safety of the Third Reich (the RSHA), hastened to send to the Chief of Italian Police, Arturo Bocchini, the “rulebook” of his concentration camps. But those, purely technical, contacts were not followed by any concrete result; and the camps readied in 1940 by the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs—aside for their name—would end up having little in common with the Konzentrationslager.[12]

From the special census carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on August 22nd 1938, about 51,000 Jews resided in Italy: 41,300 of them Italian, 9,800 foreigners. Some time later, when the racial laws revoked 1,400 Italian citizenships that had been granted after 1918 to Jews, the number of foreign Jews—who risked expulsion if they had not left Italy by March 12th, 1939—increased to about 11,200. In 1940, when the internment machine revved up, there were about 3,800 non-Italian Jews in the Kingdom. And 4,000 more would arrive when, for security and supply reasons, numerous groups of Jews that had already been interned in territories controlled by Italy such as Libya, Slovenia, Dalmatia, Albania and the Dodecanese were transferred to the Peninsula.

All told, fascist-monarchic Italy interned about 6,000 between foreign and stateless Jews (2,000 of them in concentration camps), and about 400 Italian ones (Sarfatti, La Shoah in Italia 83; Voigt 88-89).

With regard to the quality of life and the meaning of fascist internment during those years (which, for the destitute, included a small survival subsidy)[13], even Jewish organizations, for the most part, withdrew some of their concerns, after the initial, alarmed reactions. Indeed, if the internment of Italian Jews continued to be considered unfair, “some non-meaningless, positive facets” were discovered “in the internment of foreign Jews” (Leone 187-188), considering that fascist-monarchic Italy, though it officially practiced anti-Semitism, did not pursue through Jewish internment (in itself oppressive with regard to human rights) additional physical or moral violence, nor exterminatory practices (Picciotto Fargion 155-156; Sarfatti, La Shoah 85).


Concentration camps and “internamento libero”

Hundreds of locales were used for “internamento libero” and these were gradually distributed almost throughout the entire Peninsula; conversely, the concentration camps—which totaled 48 overall—were mainly located in Italy’s Center-South.[14] From a census taken by the government in the spring of 1943 for the International Red Cross, it results that, of the 6,386 civilians (not only Jews) who were interned at that time in Italy (both in the camps and through unrestrained internment), 44.5% were interned in the North, 24.4% in Central Italy, and 31% in the South. However, in the preceding years (in particular the biennium 1940-1941), internees had been especially directed toward the South.[15]

Most of the time, fascist camps were set up in pre-existing buildings that were uninhabited, vacant or had fallen in disuse (country villas, ancient castles, old factories, former convents and schools, normal apartment buildings, and more), and each of these provided about 100 beds. Three camps were set up in Tuscany (in Bagno a Ripoli, Montalbano di Rovezzano, and Oliveto di Civitella della Chiana); six in the Marche (in Sassoferrato, Fabriano, Urbisaglia, Treia, Petriolo, and Pollenza); one in Umbria (in Colfiorito di Foligno). In Latium, concentration camps were set up in the former confinement colony of Ponza, the still active one at Ventotene, as well as the “work center” for confined individuals of Castel di Guido, while actual, barracked camps were operative in Fraschette di Alatri and Castelnuovo di Farfa. As many as 19 camps were set up in Abruzzo-Molise (Civitella del Tronto, Corropoli, Isola del Gran Sasso, Nereto, Tortoreto, Tossicia, Notaresco, Città Sant’Angelo, Chieti, Casoli, Marina di Istorio, Lama dei Peligni, Lanciano, Tollo, Agnone, Boiano, Casacalenda, Isernia e Vinchiaturo). Four were instead the fascist-monarchic camps in Campania (Ariano Irpino, Monteforte Irpino, Solfora, and Campagna), as well as in Puglia (Manfredonia, Alberobello, Gioia del Colle, and the confinement colony of the Tremiti Islands). In Lucania, the confinement colony of Pisticci operated partially as a concentration camp; while in Calabria an ad hoc camp was built in Ferramonti (22 miles north of the city of Cosenza), holding the greatest number of Jewish prisoners. In Sicily the former confinement colonies of Ustica and Lipari were re-converted to concentration camps. Finally, Emilia-Romagna housed the only two camps in northern Italy (Montechiarugolo e Scipione di Salsomaggiore).

Interned Jews (who, generally, were treated with solidarity by the local populations and, occasionally, even by the authorities) gained a certain consistency in numbers (at least 50 people) in 14 out of 48 camps (Campagna, Alberobello, Isernia, Agnone, Lanciano, Isola del Gran Sasso, Notaresco, Tortoreto, nereto, Civitella del Tronto, Urbisaglia, Civitella della Chiana e Bagno a Ripoli). The internment operated by the fascist-monarchic state never constituted in itself a physical danger for Jews. The most critical aspects of that segregation (for all categories of internees) were constituted by overcrowding, which worsened the already difficult hygienic and residential conditions; and especially by dietary deficiencies, which, with the passage of time, would become ever more pressing because, in the years 1942-1943, the scant government subsidy no longer sufficed to “cover even the most elementary needs” (Voigt 140).

For all foreigners, Jews included, fascist-monarchic internment lasted beyond Mussolini’s fall, which took place on July 25th, 1943, and continued until September 10th, 1943, when, finally, the government of Pietro Badoglio abolished it in compliance with the armistice clauses imposed by the Allies.[16] The major Jewish camps (Ferramonti, in the province of Cosenza, and Campagna, in the province of Salerno) were located, luckily, in two southern regions where—for geographic and military reasons—the Germans and the Fascists did not have the time and means, after the armistice of September 8th, to enforce the most drastic anti-Semitic practices. The majority of Jewish internees was therefore able to avoid the Shoah,[17] because the sudden arrival of the Anglo-American armies (which had already crossed the Straits of Messina on September 3rd, 1943) prevented the slaughter and deportations enforced in other parts of Italy when the Peninsula found itself divided in two, with the Centre-North under the rule of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic and its German ally (Capogreco, I campi del duce 154-156; Sarfatti, La Shoah in Italia 98). This is why, in the witnessing by foreign Jews interned in southern Italy, there often emerges an “endearing” memory of their internment. And, having generally experienced persecution scenarios much harsher than those enacted by the fascist-monarchic government, those witnesses tend to cloak in a mythic aura the “kindness” of Italians and their camps, often transforming personal memories—as Liliana Picciotto Fargion has written—in “exaggerated and uncritical praise that does not distinguish between the people’s behavior and that of the authorities, between the policies of the royal government and those of the latter fascist republic” (Il Libro della Memoria 923).[18]


Concentration camps and the deportation of Jews in Italy’s Fascist Republic (1943-1945)

In September 1943, when—after the announcement of the armistice—the German army occupied the Peninsula, there were between 32,000 and 42,000 Jews in Italy (including citizens, refugees and stateless subjects, interned and not).[19] In the second half of the month, the Italian Social Republic (RSI), headquartered in Salò, on Lake Garda, was established. This new fascist state, led by Mussolini, reinstituted on November 1st the internment of “dangerous citizens” (including foreign Jews and Italian ones considered subversive), which had been abolished two months prior by the Badoglio government, increasing its punitive outcomes toward those suspected of political opposition and draft-dodging; and using, at least initially, old concentration camps for this purpose. On November 26th, 1943, in response to a request by German police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the RSI wrote that 12 of the old camps were still operative on its territory: one in Emilia (Scipione); one in the Marche (Fabriano); three in Tuscany (Bagno a Ripoli, Montalbano di Rovezzano, and Civitella della Chiana); six in Abruzzo (Civitella del Tronto, Corropoli, Isola del Gran Sasso, Nereto, Notaresco, and Tossicia); and one in Latium (Fraschette di Alatri).[20] In total, the RSI availed itself at the time of a capacity of 1727 spaces for civilian internees; capacity that would rise, in the early months of 1944, to 8,000 slots, distributed among more than double the number of concentration camps.[21]

However, in the territories managed by Republican Fascism (and occupied by the Germans), often German military command intervened on questions concerning internment, having its say on the fate of the camps, requisitioning personal files, requesting lists of Jews, and imposing sudden internment for security reasons. In the provinces of Ascoli, Chieti, and Macerata, for example, starting already at the end of September and continuing into November of 1943, the Germans, aided by Italian authorities, had conducted a sweep of the Jews who lived or had been interned there. They were all taken to two former Italian camps for prisoners of war, those of Sforzacosta (Macerata) and Servigliano Marche (Ascoli Piceno) (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 89, 870-874; Voigt 442). In northern Italy, from the beginning of their occupation, the Germans had conducted sweeps, slaughters and random acts of persecution against Jews. But such events—concerning especially groups of people who found themselves in areas of special military relevance (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 872)—were not yet tied to the Final Solution. The latter began to be put into effect in Italy with the arrests that took place in Trieste on October 9th, 1943 and, especially, with the great raid of Rome’s ancient ghetto of October 16th-17th of the same year.[22] Until November, raids of Jews (methodically performed, often with the active participation of Italian forces) also affected Tuscany, Emilia and the triangle Turin-Genoa-Milan,[23] while from Borgo San Dalmazzo, in the province of Cuneo, were deported to Auschwitz (with intermediate stops in the French cities of Nice and Drancy) many of the foreign Jews who had poured into Piedmont following the retreat of Italian troops from France.[24]

In the summer of 1943, among the Italian Jewish population, which since 1938 had been denied civil rights but had been spared major physical violence, there survived the belief, or at least the illusion, that the brutality and excesses of anti-Semitism “were not suited for a country like Italy” (Picciotto, “Per ignota destinazione” 61). This is the reason why many Italian Jews did not realize in time that Fascism—reborn under “Republican” guises—was moving from a phase focused on the “simple” suppression of their rights to their deportation to extermination camps; and that the Jewish internment enacted by the RSI, apparently identical to the previous one, would follow new rationales and much more tragic outcomes compared to the fascist-monarchic one.[25]

Indeed, on November 14th, 1943, the approval of the “Carta di Verona” (the political manifesto of the RSI, articulated in 18 policy guidelines) formally legitimized the extermination of Jews pursued by Nazism.[26] And, in practice, the Police ordinance n. 5 of November 30th, transmitted to the heads of the provinces by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Guido Buffarini Guidi, ordered the arrest of all Jews present on the territory of the RSI, and their internment in provincial camps, pending their transfer to and collection in “special” camps. The ordinance n. 5 (signed by the Chief of Police, Tullio Tamburini), besides ordering the immediate and general detention of Jews present in the Peninsula, established also the repossession of their property. With that order “the Nazi plans for extermination received crucial support” (Klinkhammer 406), and the internment of Jews in Italy became functional to the Shoah. It is no coincidence that the German government hailed the fascist anti-Jewish turn, judging it very timely. And, starting that December, the RSI began a “manhunt” for Jews with thorough sweeps carried out of its own accord.[27]

The first practical outcome of the new course of action was the capture of 150 Venetian Jews—fully planned and completed by Italians—that took place the night between December 5th and 6th.[28] Moreover, December 6th was the day that a deportation train departed for Auschwitz from Milan, where the city prison of San Vittore operated as a gathering point for Jews swept up in the North, before the activation of a “special national camp.”[29]


The Central Camp of Fossoli, crossroads for the deportation from Italy

The RSI created only one special collection camp for Jews captured on its territory, which was situated in Fossoli di Carpi, in the province of Modena, within the structure of an Italian prisoners of war camp that had emptied out after September 8th. Actually, Fossoli was formed by two contiguous areas, separated by a canal: the old camp (built in 1942) and the new camp (completed at a latter date, initially consisting only of military tents). The ordinance of November 30th did not specify what would happen to the internees, once they were transferred from the various provincial camps to the one of “national interest.” But it is logical to think that Mussolini and his entourage were well aware of the true function that Fossoli would perform, since between December 5th, 1943 and August 1st, 1944 it operated as the national center for collection and transit in the context of the extermination plan of European Jewry (Sarfatti 107-108).

With the arrival of about seventy internees, temporarily housed in the old camp, on December 5th, Fossoli began officially to operate under the police headquarters of Modena.[30] The first convoy toward Auschwitz departed from the station of Carpi on February 22nd (consisting of about 600 deportees, among whom was Primo Levi), but the following month the Germans decided to take control of the camp which, from March 15th, 1944, took on the name of Polizei-und-Durchgangslager (Police and Transit camp, code name: “Dulag 152”) (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 911-921). Thus, the Italian management was forced to move to the old camp, while the new one came under complete control of the Germans.[31] And from there originated, between February and August 1944, 12 of the 22 deportation convoys of Jews that departed from Italy, for the most part in the direction of Auschwitz.[32]

The internees of Fossoli, whether they were political or Jews, were mostly Italians, coming from the most disparate locations in Central and Northwest Italy. The Jews, whether Italian or foreign, were mostly targeted for extermination, but the Nazis had not bestowed on Fossoli the function of physical suppression or violence against the prisoners, but rather the role of temporary gathering center. Therefore the internment in that camp was, in itself, not heavy-handed.[33] On July 15th, 1944, due to the northward encroachment of the warfront, Fossoli’s old camp was shut down for good. And by the end of the month the Germans had shut down even the new one, which was transferred, with all its facilities, personnel, equipment and political internees, near Bolzano.[34] Bolzano was at the time the administrative center of the Operationszone Alpenvorland (the Pre-Alpine operation zone),[35] one of two Italian territories that the Germans took away from the RSI, the other being the Adriatisches Küstenland (the Adriatic Seashore operation zone), with capital of Trieste, where the sadly notorious Polizeihaftlager of the Risiera of San Sabba was in operation.[36]


The provincial camps: an Italian national network supporting the Shoah.

In executing the ordinance of November 30th 1943 by the following December, the prefectures of the RSI began to outfit themselves with provincial camps, special internment and imprisonment locations for the Jews who had been captured in raids (though, from time to time, they also held other categories of internees) and who were under the supervision of a number of police headquarters. In some places, these camps used facilities that had been used by the fascist-monarchic government (for example, at Bagno a Ripoli, Scipione, Pollenza, and Bagni di Lucca). In others, they set up in buildings that were used for the first time as internment facilities: military barracks, schools, former prisoners of war camps, summer camp structures, hotels, theaters, country villas, and even still active retirement homes. Moreover, occasionally, the Jews were congregated in civilian jails (for example in Milan, Ravenna, Rome, Turin, and Viterbo), or were sent to camps in nearby provinces.[37] The provincial camps were essential to the deportation of Jews from Italy, contributing time after time—by stoking Fossoli’s doomed humanity—to filling the leaden wagons directed toward the Lager.[38] But, because they were continuously emptied, they never contained many internees and they had a short life: by the summer of 1944, all the provincial camps were shut down.

Overall, provincial camps were operative, for longer or shorter periods of time, in 36 provinces of the RSI.[39] In Valle d’Aosta there existed one camp, in Aosta. Three were set up in Piedmont (Vercelli, Asti, and Borgo San Dalmazzo),[40] while the Carceri Nuove, Turin’s main jail, were used there. In Lombardy, Jews were interned in Milan’s main prison (on the top floor of wing IV of San Vittore), while camps were set up for them in Sondrio and Mantua. Three camps were operative in Liguria, though they also held other internees most of the time: political ones, parents of draft dodgers, and enemy subjects): Calvari, Bergeggi, and Vallecrosia. In the Veneto, provincial camps functioned in Venice, Piani di Tonezza, Vò Vecchio, Verona and, for a very short time, Montorio Veronese and Vicenza. In Emilia Romagna camps were set up in Reggio Emilia, Coviolo, Ferrara, and Forlì, while in Ravenna the city prisons were used; in the province of Parma, the old fascist-monarchic camp of Scipione was used for male prisoners, while a hotel in Monticelli Terme was used for Jewish women and children. Four provincial camps operated in Tuscany: Roccatederighi, Bagno a Ripoli, Bagni di Lucca and, for a very short time, Marina di Massa;[41] moreover, the old camp of Civitella della Chiana also was used as a provincial camp. In the Marche, a provincial camp that gathered many different categories of internees was established in Senigallia. In the provinces of Macerata and Ascoli Piceno, where raids against Jews had started early and via different means,[42] both the old camp for civilian internees of Pollenza and the one for prisoners of war of Servigliano became provincial ones.[43] In Umbria, a provincial camp was first operative in Perugia, then on the Main Island of Lake Trasimeno. In Latium, for both the province of Rome and that of Viterbo, the main city prisons (Regina Coeli and Santa Maria in Gradi) were used for Jews who were captured in raids. In Abruzzo, the RSI set up a new camp in Teramo (which gathered also non-Jews), but, in all actuality, even the old camp of Civitella di Tronto was transformed into a provincial camp.[44]


The difficult remembrance of events and places

Allied with Germany and jointly liable for many of its ill-fated endeavors, fascist Italy had been a model for the totalitarian State built on racial foundations pursued by Hitler: it had promulgated racial laws and had been responsible for major crimes [against humanity] in the Balkans and in its African colonies. It also was the principal European ally of Germany when Nazism launched the genocide of Jewish populations, often collaborating directly with their deportation to the Lagers. Therefore, the young Italian Republic born in 1946 inherited a very difficult and tangled past. For sure, it should have seriously worked on elaborating the trauma and providing answers to the unsolved questions about its own historical responsibilities as a nation. Instead, it chose to “manage” that difficult legacy by falling back on the invention of exculpatory myths, starting with the one about the supposed immunity from racism and oppression that is innate in the “national character” of its inhabitants, well-contained in the stereotypical expression “Italians, good people.”[45]

This choice—not extemporary, but the result of a precise political and diplomatic strategy—produced a sugarcoated narration of the past that never ceased to emphasize “Italian goodness” as opposed to “German evil,” with the goal of distancing, as much as possible, Fascism from Nazism (Focardi and Klinkhammer 330-348). This version of the facts was supported by political figures on the right and the left, the Anglo-American occupiers/liberators (for whom it was inconvenient to highlight Italy’s past, at a time when it was already included in the sphere of influence of the West), and many Italian Jews, who felt the urgency of (and were pressured to) integrating themselves in the newly founded Italian Republic, rather than dredge up the drama of there own persecution.[46]

The history of the concentration camps employed by Fascism between 1940 and 1945 (first under the Kingdom of Italy, then under the Social Republic of Salò) was therefore rapidly erased from national memory. And even the geographic sites of the camps, in the Center-North no less than in the South, were forgotten (becoming the exact opposite of “places of remembrance”!). In this situation, the reconstruction of the events relating to the fascist “concentrationary system” by historiography, and the “restoration” of their heritage to civil conscience, required a lengthy elaboration and extremely toilsome paths. Amidst institutional denial and the indifference of official historiography—the first mapping and rediscovering of these abandoned sites was entrusted to individual scholars moved solely by personal interests.[47]

The denial or exculpatory reading of an uncomfortable past—supported by the absence of an Italian Nuremberg—did not pertain solely to the events surrounding anti-Semitism and the deportation of the Jews from the Peninsula, but extended also to the events surrounding concentration camps and Italian war crimes, giving rise to one of the most emblematic and persistent memory losses in our post-war period; perhaps because—when compared to Hitler’s concentrationary universe—Mussolini’s camps had been quickly relativized and trivialized. As if, to say it with Pierre Mertens, there existed a Guinness record of responsibilities capable of granting impunity or absolution to those who committed lesser horrors.[48] For sure, that “black veil” shrouded not only the events surrounding the camps for Jews, but also those pertaining to the anti-Slav repression (for which Fascism adopted a parallel civilian internment and special camps, managed by the army, that shirked the regulations imposed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and by international law).[49] It even managed to erase the existence of Italy’s colonial camps, despite the fact that their creator, the general Rodolfo Graziani, already in the 1930s had admitted and attributed to himself credit for their creation.[50]

The archival work that led to the rediscovery of the fascist camps systematically took place only in the mid-1980s. Since then, there has been significant progress in our discoveries and greater awareness in our society. Nonetheless, much remains to do to truly transform in places of memory and collective conscience the structures that were used, under Fascism, for internment and the deportation.

In Italy today, the geography of memory remains elusive. In 2009, in Senigallia, (Ancona,) despite mass protests—the building that housed one of the RSI’s camps was demolished to allow for the construction of the umpteenth tourist structure (Fumagalli 37). In 2012, the town of Affile (Rome)—dedicated a mausoleum, paid with public moneys, to honor the creator of the worst fascist concentration camps, that same Rodolfo Graziani who was an iconic figure of Fascism for the use of “innovative” methods of mass destruction; but who was also one of the most symbolic figures of post-war Italy, considering the complete immunity he enjoyed—even though he had been condemned to 19 years in prison for his war crimes.[51]



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Grande, Teresa. “Dopo 55 anni una lapide ricorda i crimini fascisti nel campo di Arbe.” Triangolo Rosso, v. 17 (1998), n. 4 (dicembre): 36-38.

Graziani, Rodolfo. Cirenaica pacificata. Milano: Garzanti, 1932.

Judt, Tony and Timothy Snyder. Novecento. Il secolo degli intellettuali e della politica. Roma: Laterza, 2012.

Klinkhammer, Lutz. L’occupazione tedesca in Italia 1943-1945. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1993.

Leone, Massimo. Le organizzazioni di soccorso ebraiche in età fascista. Roma: Carucci: 1983.

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Mayda, Giuseppe. Ebrei sotto Salò. La persecuzione antisemita 1943-1945. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1978.

Meneghetti, Francesca. Di là dal muro. Il campo di concentramento di Treviso (1942-43). Treviso: Itresco, 2012.

Mertens, Pierre. L’Imprescriptibilité des crimes de guerre et contre l’humanité. Étude de droit international et de droit pénal comparé. Centre de droit international de l’Institut de sociologie de l’Université libre de Bruxelles. Nro 6. Bruxelles: Éditions de l’Université libre de Bruxelles, 1974.

Momigliano, Eucardio. Storia tragica e grottesca del razzismo fascista. Milano: Mondadori, 1946.

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—–. L’alba ci colse come un tradimento: gli ebrei nel campo di Fossoli, 1943-1944. Milano: Mondadori, 2010.

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—–. Per ignota destinazione. Gli ebrei sotto il nazismo. Milano: Mondadori, 1994.

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—–. La Shoah in Italia. La persecuzione degli ebrei sotto il fascismo. Torino: Einaudi, 2005.

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Schwarz, Guri. “L’elaborazione del lutto. La classe dirigente ebraica italiana e la memoria dello sterminio 1945-1947,” in Il ritorno alla vita. Vicende e diritti degli ebrei in Italia dopo la seconda guerra mondiale, Michele Sarfatti ed. Firenze: La Giuntina, 1997. 167-180.

—–. Ritrovare se stessi. Gli ebrei nell’Italia postfascista. Roma: Laterza, 2004.

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Toscano, Mario. “L’internamento degli ebrei italiani 1940-1943: tra contingenze belliche e politica razziale,” in I campi di concentramento in Italia. Dall’internamento alla deportazione, Costantino Di Sante ed. Milano: Franco Angeli, 2001. 95-112.

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Voigt, Klaus. Il rifugio precario. Gli esuli in Italia dal 1933 al 1945, v. II. Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1996.

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—–. L’Olocausto in Italia. Mondadori: Milano, 1988 (first published as The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival. New York: Basic Books, 1987).

[1] The internment, codified by the Testo Unico delle Leggi di guerra e di neutralità (R.d.l 8-7-1938, n 1415), became operative with the decree Applicazione della Legge di guerra nei territory dello Stato (R.d.l 10-6-1940, n. 566). R.d.l. stands for “Royal legislative decree.”

[2] Such internment occurred by equating individuals considered “dangerous to public safety” with “enemy alien citizens” (that is to those people who were already liable to be sent to “police confinement,” as established by Article 181 of the R.d.l. 18-6-1931, n. 733). It was established following R.d.l. 17-9-1940, n. 1374 (Modificazioni e aggiunte al Testo Unico delle Leggi di P.S. per il periodo dell’attuale stato di guerra), but, administratively, it was already enacted prior to the decree, due to two ministerial memoranda of June 1st and 8th, 1940.

[3] This definition, coined by the fascist regime, consisted in the deportation to isolated areas where internees lived in housing the government had seized for this purpose. Their status was similar to custodial detention or house arrest. Mandatory daily report to the local police, prohibition to leave the village without police authorization and other restrictions were imposed.

[4] The only substantial change introduced by internment with regards to confinement was the use, instead of the colonies situated on small islands, of 42 non-insular, concentration camps. However, six of the old confinement colonies were reconverted—in whole or in part—to concentration camps. See Capogreco, I campi del duce 56-67; and Poesio, Il confino fascista. L’arma silenziosa del regime.

[5] The document “Testo unico delle Leggi di guerra e di neutralità” (R.d.l 8-7-1938, 1415) granted the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and by extension the prefects, the ability to “organize the internment of enemy alien subjects who might bear arms or who could in anyway carry out dangerous activities against the State,” and referred to an appropriate decree by Mussolini for the modalities regarding the treatment of those who were interned.

[6] The internment of foreign Jews was related then to the already-cited decree n. 1381 and to the n. 1728 of November 17th, 1938, then changed into the law n. 274 of January 1st, 1939, which, among other things, prohibited foreign Jews from establishing permanent residency in Italy, Libya, and the Dodecanese. On the persecution of Jews and the entirety of fascist, anti-Semitic measures, see Matard-Bonucci, L’Italia fascista e la persecuzione degli ebrei; and Sarfatti ed., 1938: le leggi contro gli ebrei.

[7] Often as a consequence of the Racial Laws that stripped of citizenship Jews who had obtained it after 1919.

[8] This definition distinguished the internment of Jews from that of enemy aliens and characterized it the as a racial measure. In fact, a substantial portion of the foreign Jews residing in Italy were of German origin, thus citizens or former citizens of Italy’s main ally.

[9] R.d.l., September 9, 1938, n. 1381, Provvedimenti nei confronti degli ebrei stranieri, on the expulsion of foreign Jews and the revocation of citizenship for naturalized citizens after 1919.

[10] See Capogreco, “L’internamento degli ebrei italiani nel 1940 e il campo di Urbisaglia-Abbadia di Fiastra.”

[11] In April 1936, the Chief of Public Order, Tommaso Petrillo, visited the Lager of Dachau, and in December 1938 Guido Landra and Lino Businco, director and vice-director of the Office for the Study of Race in the Ministry of Popular Culture, had been to Sachsenhausen, where they had met top-ranking Nazi officials. See Capogreco, I campi del duce 79-80.

[12] One should remember, however, that during World War II—together with the civilian internment described thus far, which one might define as “regulatory”—fascist-monarchic Italy also developed a parallel, unchecked internment (directed mainly against its Slav populations and run by the Ministry of War), with much harsher living conditions for those interned. See Capogreco, I campi del duce 149-276, and “Una storia rimossa dell’Italia fascista. L’internamento dei civili jugoslavi (1941-43)” 203-230; and Rodogno, Il nuovo ordine mediterraneo 297-431.

[13] Jewish internees were required to cover their own living expenses, and the government provided aid for those who were unable to pay. After 1940, subsidies funds were increasingly provided by national and international Jewish relief organizations.

[14] See Capogreco, “Le sistème concentrationnaire de l’Italia fasciste” 87-104.

[15] Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Ministro dell’Interno, Direzione Generale Pubblica Sicurezza, Affari Generali e Riservati, Categoria (from here on ACS, MI, DGPS, AGR, Cat.), A4bis Interned foreigners, folder 8/63, statistical data on interned people.

[16] ACS, MI, DGPS, AGR, Categoria Massime M4, Mobilitazione Civile, folder 13/54, Concentration Camps. General business, Armistice, Liberation, foreign enemy subjects. Telegraphic note of November 1st, 1943. “From the Ministry of Interior to the Prefects and Police Commissioners.” The Badoglio government ordered on July 29th, 1943 the liberation of interned Italian citizens (with the exception of the Slav minorities in Venezia Giulia); but it initially did not revoke the racial laws, nor the internment of foreigners, which took place only on September 10th to comply with the armistice conditions agreed upon with the Allies. See Sarfatti, Gli ebrei nell’Italia fascista 224-230.

[17] See Capogreco, “I campi di internamento fascisti per gli ebrei (1940-1943)” 663-682. On the particularity of Jewish internment in the south of Italy, see also Capogreco, “Il campo di concentramento di Campagna e l’internamento fascista nel Meridione” 69-92.

[18] Similar testimony is contained in Caracciolo, Gli ebrei e l’Italia in Guerra 1940-1945.

[19] See, Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della memoria 855, 857; Sarfatti, Gli ebrei nell’Italia fascista 251-252; Voigt, Il rifugio precario 399-400.

[20] ACS, MI, DGPS, AGR, Cat. Massime M4, Mobilitazione civile, b. 111. Note for German police of November 26, 1943. Mentioned also in Antoniani Persichilli, “Disposizioni normative e fonti archivistiche per lo studio dell’internamento in Italia (giugno 1940-luglio 1943)” 96.

[21] See Tosatti, “Gli internati civili in Italia nella documentazione dell’Archivio Centrale dello Stato” 46.

[22] Out of 1259 Jews that were arrested, 1023 were deported; they left Rome on October 18th and reached Auschwitz on the 22nd (Klinkhammer 402-405; Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 44, 881-882).

[23] A raid with the same purpose of the one in Rome took place in Florence (Picciotto Fargion, “Le retate del novembre 1943 a Firenze” 243-264).

[24] See Cavaglion; and Zuccotti. Liliana Picciotto Fargion’s research has allowed us to identify 328 people who, having left Borgo San Dalmazzo, reached Auschwitz (see Il Libro della Memoria). In the Parisian camp of Drancy, the deported were subdivided in groups and added to three French transport units that would reach Auschwitz on December 7th and 17th, 1943, and January 20th, 1944.

[25] Italian Jews that were transported to the camps run by Republican Fascism did not realize in a timely fashion the change in their status from “internment as war enemies to internment for deportation” (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 895). See also Voigt 461-465.

[26] The “Carta di Verona” established in its 7th article: “Those who belong to the Jewish race are foreigners, during this war they are foreign enemy nationals,” a statement “sufficiently vague and imprecise that allowed any practical interpretation: from the upholding of the previous racial laws to their hardening, from the expulsion of Jews to their detention” (De Felice 446).

[27] At a latter date, those who were over seventy years old and the seriously ill were spared arrest.

[28] The victims were transported to the Collegio Marco Foscarini, whence they were transferred to and registered in the Venetian prison of Santa Maria Maggiore; from there they were then sent to the ‘provincial concentration camp’ that had just been readied in the Casa di Riposo Israelitica (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 899-900). For a better overall understanding of the phases of the “manhunt” in Italy, see Mayda; and Zuccotti.

[29] With regard to these events, see Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 884-889, and Le retate 226-264; and Zuccotti, L’Olocausto in Italia 174-178.

[30] On the history and the function of the camp in Fossoli, see Casali; Duranti and Ferri Castelli; Gibertoni and Melodi; Ori; and Picciotto Fargion, L’alba ci close come un tradimento.

[31] The new camp had a trapezoidal shape and was surrounded by two rows of barbed wire. Between these rows, a continuous path—always lit, with machine gun-equipped guard towers set at regular intervals—guaranteed the absolute security of the Lager. The area for the interned prisoners was divided in two sectors: the one for Jews, with eight barracks; the other for political prisoners, with seven. Each barrack covered an area of 57 by 11.6 meters, had latrines and collective washrooms, and could hold between 250 and 300 people. It is still not clear why—once they arrived in Fossoli—the interned could end in one or the other camp (Ori 21-23, 28).

[32] A total of 2,800 Jews transited through the Fossoli camp, almost all of them destined for the Lagers of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen; and an equivalent number of political prisoners, destined for the most part for the Lager of Mauthausen (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 44-80; L’alba ci colse 232). Apart from the Jews, the camp also took in other categories of interned prisoners, especially political ones destined to the Konzentrationslagers. Until it was evacuated, about 5,000, interned prisoners transited through Fossoli, of whom 2,726 were Jews. For a precise total, one should add to these numbers those relative to the interned prisoners—though there were not many—who were deported from the old camp, though records and lists of their numbers were not preserved.

[33] Nonetheless, Fossoli was not immune to deaths, hunger pangs, promiscuity, parasites, and—even among the non-Jews—uncertainty about one’s future. There were also abuses and killings in cold blood: for example, the assassination of the partisan leader Leopoldo Gasparotto on June 22nd, 1944; and the execution by firing squad of 67 political prisoners that took place July 12th, 1944 at the shooting range of Cibeno, a location adjoining Fossoli.

[34] The Jews still at Fossoli were evacuated August 1st, 1944. However, due to an interruption in the railroad line, the prisoners were loaded on a train the following day in Verona, after the city had been reached by bus and truck.

[35] Between August 5th, 1944 and March 22nd, 1945, at least fourteen deportation convoys departed from the camp of Bolzano-Gries toward the Lagers of central Europe, destined for Mauthausen, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Ravensbrück, Wörgl, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

[36] From Trieste, capital of the Adriatisches Küstenland, between December 1943 and February 1945, 22 deportation convoys, also including Jews, left for the camps north of the Alps. Initially, only individuals who had been picked up in sweeps of the OZAK (the acronym for the Operation Zone of the Adriatic Seashore) departed from this city. Then, after the closure of the Fossoli camp, from Trieste would depart even the Jews arriving from the areas of Italy under the jurisdiction of the RSI (Veneto especially). See, Collotti; Coslovich; and Piciotto Fargion, Il libro della Memoria 932-939.

[37] The camp of Bagno a Ripoli served a number of Tuscan provinces, while some Lombard provinces relied on the one in Mantua. For example, 22 Jews were arrested in Brescia and were interned in the provincial camp of Mantua (Voigt 436).

[38] In the transports departing from the RSI, the average number for train convoy was 550 people, while the number of deported prisoners from the Adriatic seashore averaged 70 per convoy (Picciotto Fargion, Il Libro della Memoria 37).

[39] For an internment structure of the RSI to qualify as a provincial camp, it is essential that at least the following two conditions apply: 1) the existence of official documentation (even if only one such certificate pertains to the camp) or of testimonial evidence proving the creation/existence of a center for the temporary internment of Jews tied to the Police Ordinance n. 5 of November 30th, 1943; 2) the documented presence of Jewish elements, at least for a short time, among the civilians interned in the camp under examination.

[40] The latter, in the province of Cuneo, had an unusual history, marked by two periods of activity: a) during the first (September 18th-November 21st, 1943), it served as a German Polizei-und-Durchgangslager that gathered foreign Jews who, as already discussed, had escaped France following the Fourth Army, with the addition (from October 28th to November 9th, 1943) of a group of 24 Jews from Cuneo, who were released after a short period of time; b) during the second (December 9th, 1943-February 15th, 1944), it functioned as a normal provincial camp, and it hosted 26 Jews who were transferred to Fossoli on February 15th, 1944.

[41] For the province of Florence, there exists documentation that proves the spotty use of rooms in the Hotel Italia of Florence. In Bagni di Lucca (in the province of Lucca), a number of hotels, such as the Albergo Corona and the Regina, were used that had already been used during the fascist-monarchic period for the “free internment” of Anglo-Maltese and Jugoslav civilians.

[42] Between September 29th and 30th, 1943, close to 100 civilians, both Jewish and not, who had already been interned in the fascist-monarchic camps in the area, were swept up and imprisoned in the former camp for prisoners of war in Sforzacosta (a suburb of Macerata). From there, the “Aryan” ones were transferred to the camp of Fossoli on January 28th, 1944, while the Jewish ones—after an unusual period of “free internment” in the historical centre of Urbisaglia—were transferred on February 7th (when there were about 50 of them) to the old fascist-monarchic camp of Villa Lauri, a site in the municipality of Pollenza.

[43] Even in the former camp for prisoners of war of Servigliano Marche (in the province of Ascoli Piceno), the German military authorities had interned earlier than elsewhere foreign and Italian Jews who had been raided in the area together with “Aryan” civilians. There, besides the Jews swept up in the province of Ascoli, also came others gathered in the provinces of Teramo and Frosinone, in particular from the old fascist-monarchic camp that had been set up in 1941 in Badia di Corropoli (in the province of Teramo).

[44] After September 8th, 1943, in the province of Teramo had remained functional a number of camps from fascist-monarchic Italy: Civitella del Tronto, Nereto, Notaresco, Corropoli, and Tossicia. Of these, the one in Civitella objectively became, between December 1943 and May 1944 a “provincial camp.”

[45] A number of books discuss this myth. Among them, see Bidussa, Focardi, Il cattivo tedesco e il bravo italiano and La memoria della guerra; Gordon; Judt and Snyder; and Mondini.

[46] See Schwarz, “L’elaborazione del lutto” and Ritrovare sé stessi; and Toscano ed. L’abrogazione delle leggi razziali. The rhetorical image of the “good hearted” Italian—thus, essentially, not racist—was endorsed even in the pioneering reconstruction of fascist persecution redacted by a Jewish author (Momigliano 29).

[47] One need only remember, for example, that the “citadel of confinement” of Ventotene—symbolic site of political deportation under Fascism—was almost completely destroyed thirty-five years after the war, like any old-fashioned obsolete industrial complex; and that it took decades before the Italian government placed a commemorative stone on what was left of the somber remains of the concentration camp instituted by Italy’s fascist-monarchic government on the island of Arbe (nowadays in Croatia), where no less than 1,500 Jugoslav civilians died due to hunger and straits. See, Grande 36-38; and Scotti.

[48] See Mertens, L’imprescriptibilité des crimes de guerre.

[49] See, for example, Capogreco, Una storia rimossa; and Meneghetti.

[50] Graziani, Cirenaica pacificata, 1932

[51] The issue was central to a parliamentary point of order introduced by the Italian congressman Jean Leonard Touadì, while in 2013 the former Ethiopian diplomat, Girma Abebe, lodged an appeal at the United Nations, in which he says that “building a monument to a war criminal is a disastrous embarrassment.”

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