The Camp, originally made up of two adjacent sites – on via Remesina (a site of roughly six hectares) and Via Grilli (nearly nine hectares) – operated from 1942 to 1970, with different uses in different times. Over time, the barracks have been modified, above all inside, and after 1945, the entire area of the camp on Via Grilli was turned over to agricultural use. A long period of neglect saw the conditions of the camp (which had been built in a rush) deteriorate during a period of economic restraint, and without any long-term planning.
Prisoner of war camp for Allied nationals, camp number 73
Ministry of War, Kingdom of Italy
July 1942 – 8 September 1943
At Fossoli, near to the town of Carpi in the province of Modena, the War Ministry of the Kingdom of Italy creates a fascist concentration camp, “Prisoner of war camp for Allied nationals, camp number 73”, intended to house Allied soldiers and lower ranking officers captured in North Africa. It operates from July 1942 until 8 September 1943 – on the morning of 9 September, the camp is occupied by the German army, who deport the prisoners to Germany.
Jewish concentration camp
Camp run by the Italian Social Republic (RSI – the puppet regime created by Mussolini under German control that operated in Northern Italy after the fall of his Fascist regime)
5 December 1943 to 15 March 1944
Operating at first within the old camp, while new camp barracks for families are being constructed, this is the “Jewish concentration camp”. The RSI assigns Fossoli as one of the camps to concentrate Jewish prisoners, of Italian or non-Italian background, who by this time have already been deprived of their civil and political rights. But already by February, the Germans begin deportations of the Jews: the first transport leaves for Auschwitz on 22 February, and among the 600 Jews aboard is Primo Levi.
Polizeiliches Durchangslager /Fossili concentration camp
BdS Verona/RSI Police District of Modena
15 March 1944 – 1 August 1944
The new camp passes under the control of the SS, and becomes a camp for political prisoners and for transit to other camps; here, Jews and political prisoners destined for deportation to Germany are interned.
The old camp, officially under Italian control, is intended to house civilians from enemy countries, but also houses opposition politicians, hostages, and citizens rounded up by the Gestapo to be “volunteer workers” in Germany. It is not clear why prisoners could be assigned to one camp or the other. This dual function of Fossoli makes it considerably more difficult to reconstruct its history and to investigate the deportations from the camp, in view of the fact that historical information on the Italian camp is full of gaps, not to say missing completely.
In view of the impending arrival of the fighting on the front-line (Rome was liberated on 4 June, and Florence would be on 2 September), the old camp is officially closed, and it is decided to transfer the entire facility to Greis, near Bolzano, including the command structure, surveillance operation, equipment and materials; from this moment on, this would be the main departure point for the deportations of political and racial prisoners to Germany.
The departure of at least six convoys of Jews from the new camp has been confirmed, along with one convoy containing a large number of political prisoners on 21 June 1944: many are destined for Mauthausen or one of its sub-camps.
In nearly seven months of operation, nearly 2,800 Jews leave Fossoli, nearly all of them destined for Auschwitz or in a smaller number of cases for Bergen-Belsen, plus a similar number of political prisoners: but calculating the total of all those who were deported from the old camp is not straightforward, as for many there are no lists or registers available.
Survivors of the camp remember daily life in Fossoli as tolerable enough (maybe because of comparisons with their later experiences in camps in Germany itself), if one discounts the hunger, insects and uncertainty about their fate. But this is aside from the massacre of seventy political prisoners – who were later reduced to just seventy seven in number – on 12 July 1994 at the shooting range in Cibeno, which had followed the assassination on 24 June of Leopoldo Gasparotto, famous activist of the Action Party, and of a Jewish prisoner in May.
Fossoli. Testimony by Alba Valech Capozzi
Collection centre for slave labour destined for Germany
General Bevollmachtige fur den Arbeitensatz
August 1944 to end of November 1944
While the old camp is slowly demobilized, the new camp becomes a collection centre for workers rounded up in Italy and destined to work as slave labour in Germany. Reports by witnesses detail the departure of a large number of prisoners, men and women alike, including as many as between 800-1000 on some days. Amongst the deportees are many political prisoners, abruptly removed from the advancing front-line in August and September. At the end of November 1944, operations from this camp are also shifted north, following a heavy bombardment.
Collection centre for foreign refugees
Police District of Modena
September 1945 – July 1947
In September 1945, the new camp becomes a collection point for facists awaiting investigation, and is soon transformed into a collection point for foreign refugees; these include people who have entered Italy illegally (without identity papers or financial means). Meanwhile, the dismantling of the old camp continues, partly in order to recycle camp materials for reconstruction purposes.
Also present are Jews who have survived the Holocaust, mainly the younger ones, awaiting passage to Israel or the USA. The refugee camp is closed down in July 1947, after having provoked much public discussion and argument.
Don Zeno Saltini – Opera Piccoli Apostoli
May 1947 – August 1952
The structure is taken over by the Opera Piccoli Apostoli, founded by a priest originally from Fossoli, Don Zeno Saltini, in order to give families to children who have been abandoned or made orphans by the war. The walls and barbed wire are pulled down, the barracks are transformed into living quarters, a school, workshops and a bar, and trees, gardens and vegetables are planted. The camp is now called Nomadelfia, the town where fraternity is the rule. Economic difficulties and other problems of various sorts lead to the closure of Nomadelfia in 1952: the children gathered there have to leave their new families, and the entire community moves to Grossetano, where it still exists today.
Villagio San Marco
Facility for assistance for refugees from Giulia-Dalmatia.
July 1954 – March 1970
The last use of the new camp (1954-1970) is to assist refugees from Giulia-Dalmatia, just over a hundred families of Italian background (culturally and linguistically) who left their land when it was given to the state of Yugoslavia following the peace treaties at the end of the Second World War. The site is once again rebuilt and reshaped. In 1970, given changed circumstances and the needs of daily life, the refugees in the camp move into the city.
Visitors to the site today can see what is left following this final phase in the history of the camp, after nearly thirty years of decay.
In Carpi, at the Pio Castle, the “Museum monument to the political and racial deportees from Nazi extermination camps” is created in 1973, with the purpose of preserving the memory of all the deportees. This is the result of the activity of Lodovico Barbiano from Belgiojoso, who was an inmate at Fossoli from April to July 1944.
(Anna Maria Ori – translation by Corey Dimarco)