World War II Concentration Camps in Italy

World Monuments Watch

Between 1939 and 1943, over 100 concentration camps were built in Italy and occupied territories such as Croatia. The majority of the camps held prisoners of war and political opponents, but many became deportation camps for Jews, Roma, gay men, and other prisoners who were later transferred to extermination camps north of the Alps.

One of the best known concentration camps is Fossoli, located 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Modena, which was established in 1942 as a prisoner of war camp for Allied soldiers captured in North Africa. In 1943, Fossoli came under German control, and it was used as a facility where Jews from all parts of Italy were gathered. On February 22, 1944, Primo Levi was one of 650 Jews that were transported from Fossoli to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camps, as described in the beginning of his book If This Is a Man. The camp closed in the summer of 1944 and, while used sparingly during the following decade, it has remained abandoned and is now in a state of ruin. Currently, a petition to the Italian Parliament seeks to have the site declared a national monument and appropriately conserved.

Risiera San Sabba, in Trieste, a national museum since 1965, and the only restored Italian concentration camp, was actively managed by Nazi Germany from 1943 to 1945. Unlike Fossoli, the San Sabba camp was an extermination camp for antifascists and Jews. It was the only camp in Italy engaged in systematic murder.

Today, few of these structures are known to remain. The neglect and destruction of these concentration camps is largely due to the denial of this almost-forgotten chapter of Italy’s recent past. The 2016 World Monuments Watch aims to bring attention to this vanishing piece of history and the need for further research to uncover the remaining sites, with the hope that they become protected sites of conscience.

Watch Day

Fondazione Ex-Camo Fossoli hosted a public engagement event at Fossoli Camp featuring an opening of a photo exhibition, discussions about the importance of protecting places of memory, guided tours, and an interview with Giovanni Bloisi, “a holocaust memorial cyclist” who is cycling from the Province of Bergamo to Israel, a 2360 km journey (close to 1500 miles).

Since the Watch

In January 2016, the Italian Ministry of Culture announced funding to restore three of the 25 barracks at Fossoli Camp beginning in March with additional funds provided by the Emilia-Romagna region. The Ministry also announced that it would become part of the board managing the site. An additional €100,000 per year has been pledged by the Carpi Municipality for maintenance of the camps. 

Last updated: May 2017.

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