PG 73 - Fossoli

Sheet by: Costantino Di Sante e Isabella Insolvibile

General data

Town: Carpi

Province: Modena

Region: Emilia-Romagna

Location/Address: Fossoli - Carpi

Type of camp: Prisoner of War camp

Number: 73

Italian military mail service number: 3200

Intended to: NCOs – Troops

Local jurisdiction: Difesa Territoriale Bologna

Railroad station: Modena

Accommodation: tends, then hutment

Capacity: 8000

Operating: from 07/1942 to 20/09/1943

Commanding Officer: Col. Guglielmo Ferrari

Brief chronology:
Summer 1942: the prisoners, mainly British, were housed in tents. Meanwhile, the huts that will become the «new camp» are being built.
November 1942: the «Cooperativa muratori, cementisti e decorator» of Carpi finished the construction of the huts in the «old camp» (Camp n. 1).
December 1943: the prisoners were transferred to the huts in the «new camp» (Camp n. 2), but the construction works continued.
4 March 1943: 200 prisoners (privates) were destined to the «Società immobiliare polesana» to work as builders in Ca’ Venier. Other were sent to Porto Tolle (Rovigo) and Selva Malvezzi (Bologna).
March 1943: the «new camp» was finished.
21 July 1943: the first 332 prisoners were transferred to Germany form the Carpi railway station.
Summer 1943: more prisoners arrived at Fossoli from other camps.
9 September 1943: the Germans occupied the camp and captured the prisoners.
15-20 September 1943: the vast majority of the British prisoners were deported to the Bergen Belsen camp. During the transfer from Fossoli to the Carpi railway station, some prisoners managed to escape thanks to the help of the local population.

Allied prisoners in the Carpi camp

Date Generals Officers NCOs Troops TOT
1.8.1942     135 1622 1757
1.9.1942   2 242 2865 3109
30.9.1942   3 250 2909 3162
31.10.1942   4 261 2961 3226
30.11.1942   6 293 3111 3410
31.12.1942   6 361 3750[1] 4117
31.1.1943   5 424 4087[2] 4516
28.2.1943   5 456[3] 4644[4] 5105
31.3.1943   5 385[5] 4142[6] 4532
30.4.1943   4 371[7] 4028[8] 4403
31.5.1943   4 369 4036 4409
30.6.1943   4 659 4130 4793
31.8.1943   7 752 4709 5468
  [1] Including 1 American soldier. [2] Including 1 American soldier. [3] Including 1 American NCO. [4] Including 9 American soldiers. [5] Including 1 American NCO. [6] Including 7 American soldiers. [7] Including 1 American NCO. [8] Including 6 American soldiers.

Camp’s overview

The first Allied prisoners arrived during the Summer of 1942. They were held in tends in an area that was labelled, shortly after their arrival, the «old camp». The tends were not ideal: the ground turned into mud when it rained, there was no electrical lighting, nor heating, and even bedsheets were not provided. The so-called «new camp», where prisoners were held in huts, was partially built in December 1942, however, the building process (in which some prisoners were involved as workers) continued for months, until June 1943. After the transfer to the «new camp» the prisoners’ conditions improved, but not all problems were solved. Heating, for example, was provided only in communal areas. The dorm-rooms, therefore, were cold and humid. Moreover, many prisoners had only their summer uniform with them, as they were captured during the African campaign. Unsurprisingly, many prisoners fell ill and were transferred to the hospitals a of Parma and Piacenza. The camp, used also as a transit camp for prisoners destined elsewhere, was often overcrowded, prisoners had little room for themselves on the inside and, in case of rain, none on the outside, since the muddy terrain got soaked.
With the arrival of better weather, in the Spring of 1943, the situation improved somewhat. A portion of the prisoners was reallocated as workers in Ca’ Venier (where they worked as builders for the Società Immobiliare Polesana), in Porto Tolle (Rovigo), and in Selva Malvezzi (Bologna).
In this period, Sergeant H.E. Hawith attempted an escape, dressed as an Italian medical officer. He was captured, trialed for «misuse of an Italian uniform» and convicted to 59 days in isolation, with only one hour of break a day. On the 30 June 1943, in another attempted escape, John Gordon and Alexander Looney were wounded at the legs by the Italian sentries after they had cut the barbed wire with shears.
During the Summer of 1943, the camp kept receiving more prisoners from other camps, however, on the 21 July a first group of 332 British prisoners was transferred to the German Reich.
The camp was kept open until the armistice. After the 8 September 1943, all prisoners fell into German hands. The main responsible for this was the Italian Commander, Colonel Ferrari, who ordered the prisoners to stay inside the camp, claiming that Allied troops were nearby. Instead, he let the Germans occupy the camp without resistance on the 9 September.
Beside the excessive conviction inflicted to Hawith (which was in violation of art. 54 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibited an arrest period of more than 30 days), there were no other violations of the Geneva Convention or crimes of war committed in the camp. The general bad living conditions and the, sometimes malevolent, attitude of the captors were object of enquires in the afterwar period, but no-one was convicted or found guilty of criminal behaviors.
According to the analysis prepared by the British Prisoners of War Department, Fossoli was one of the three worst camps in Italy, together with Sfrozacosta and Gravina-Altamura (where conditions were only slightly worse).
Since 5 December 1943, under the jurisdiction of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, the camp became a concentration camp for Jews to be deported to Germany. In January, political opponents of the regime, foreign civilians, draft dodgers’ families and workers captured by the Germans were also interned at Fossoli. On the 15 March 1944, the «new camp» was transferred under German jurisdiction and became a «police and transit camp» (Dulag 152). After the breach of the Gustav Line, as the Allied armies were approaching, in July 1944, the Germans transferred all the Jews and political prisoners to the Bolzano lager, after killing 67 Antifascist internees in the nearby firing range of Cibeno. The camp remained active to held captured workers destined to the Reich.
After the war, the «old camp» was dismantled, while the «new camp» was used at first to held collaborators and Fascist soldiers, then as a «concentration camp for undesirable foreigners», and finally as a refugee camp. Between May 1947 and August 1952, it housed the «Nomadelfia» of don Zeno Saltini, a community for children orphaned by the war. Between 1954 and 1970 it became a camp for the Istrian and Dalmatian refugees and changed its name into the «Villaggio San Marco». In 1973, the «museum – monument to the racial and political deportee» was inaugurated in Carpi. In 1984 the camp was given to the Carpi township. Finally, in 1996, the Fondazione ex-Campo di Fossoli was established which, since 2001, managed the historical site of the camp.

Archival sources