Museum of Memory and Peace - "Giovanni Palatucci" Study Centre.
The Regional Museum of Memory and Peace - “Giovanni Palatucci" Study Center, is the only memory museum in Campania, it was established in 2008 to tell the sad story we experienced during the Second World War when, following the racial laws, it was decided to set up two internment centers for political and Jewish prisoners.
The former Franciscan convent of the Observants of the Conception (now in ruins) was used, albeit for a short time, as a female internment camp and the Domenicano di San Bartolomeo in the men's field, now home to the Museum, at the time the largest pre-existing field in Southern Italy.
The choice of places is dictated by the orographic situation that distinguishes the historic center of Campagna: Located on two completely opposite sides and entirely surrounded by the mountains that make up the ancient inhabited center and with a single access road.
Giovanni Palatucci, "Righteous among the Nations", did his utmost at the risk of his own life, to save thousands of Jews from certain death, providing special permits, carrying out misdirection actions and favoring flight abroad and routing to Italian centers less exposed to racial laws.
When he was unable to save the Jewish refugees in the Fiume area, through a dense network of aid and with the support of his uncle, he led them to the former Convent of San Bartolomeo, well away from the places of extermination. A singular understanding of solidarity was established between the bishop uncle and the commissioner nephew aimed at an affectionate rescue action for the persecuted.
Giovanni Palatucci, once discovered by the Germans on charges of collaborating with the enemy, was arrested by order of Commander Kappler and subsequently deported to the Dachau extermination camp. The hardships and tortures of the camp cut short his existence on the eve of the liberation of the camp, at the age of just 36 (February 10, 1945).
The Jews in Campagna.
On June 16, 1940, the first thirty internees arrived in Campagna in the Concezione camp, 22 of whom were Italians and 8 foreigners, all reported as dangerous elements. As a result of the fact that the two concentration camps do not guarantee the presence of the minimum space to move around, as established by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, the internees were allowed to walk freely in the town respecting the scope of the authorized areas, delimited by strips of colored paint on the road surface and by wooden tables written in several languages placed at the exit of the town; these areas could not be crossed except with special permits granted by the management.
Thanks to the complacency of the authorities, of the entire citizenry and of the security forces responsible for surveillance, who often "turned a blind eye", the internees repeatedly cross the demarcated areas, without however causing any damage to property or people. The police station was located halfway between the two convents, in the bishop's palace, where the camp management offices were located, initially led by police commissioner Eugenio De Paoli. Here the internees were "registered" and then sent to the camps.
The route they cross to reach San Bartolomeo consisted of crossing the main street, the bridge in Piazza Guerriero and, skirting the Cathedral, the steep climb of Via San Bartolomeo, which was accessible only on foot because it was steps.
An unexpected and sweet anomaly compared to the other realities of other territories was therefore clear from the start, the integration and tolerance that the "campaign context" was able to give, also testifying to what was written there, thanks also to the moral and material support of the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants "DELASEM", the almost "tranquil" life of the community of internees, among the many activities that were granted and that were carried out there was even the presence of a choir and a small orchestra which organizes musical concerts, theatrical performances and painting exhibitions, the editing of a German-language mimeographed newspaper, passionate football matches, the setting up of a synagogue, the possibility of consulting thousands of books from the seminary library and of giving language lessons foreign to the local youth, things that appear normal today, but certainly weren't at the time.
The internees, almost always portrayed in a jacket and tie, can even rent furnished rooms in the town and, without necessarily carrying out any type of work, receive a daily subsidy. Nothing changed for the internees of July 1943, following the capture of Mussolini.
But in the days following the announcement of the armistice, they were formally acquitted by the director of the camp on the basis of the relevant provisions issued by the chief of police and to protect themselves from the bombings they fled to the surrounding mountains. In those days, in fact, Campagna suffered two serious bombings by the Anglo-American forces: the most tragic in Piazza Mercato on 17 September 1943 caused 177 deaths, mostly civilians. The fleeing Jews, realizing the tragedy of that event, decided to go back and provide aid to local doctors but above all care to the many wounded, probably to reciprocate the help and support received in previous years. In fact, the allied aviation, attracted by a Wehrmacht truck parked near the town hall, just as a crowd of civilians crowded to receive the bread ration, dropped several bombs causing a disaster.
The Jewish doctors who had fled from the camp, despite the dangerous situation and the possibility of being captured by the Germans, went to the place of the massacre, first helping the wounded and then, to avert the danger of epidemics, burning the corpses.
The Museum today.
Currently the Museum is included in the territorial museum system of the Campania Region which has among its main purposes the organization of educational activities and the connection with the world of school, university, cultural institutions and research; all of this assumes even greater importance in the light of a distorted historical revisionism that tends to diminish the events that brought the extermination of the Jews in Europe one step away from it. In fact, with the generation that was the protagonist of those historical events having almost completely died out, there is a need to pass on certain proof of what happened to the new generations in order to prevent the mistakes made from being repeated.
The itinerary of Memory and Peace winds along a permanent exhibition of photographic panels that retrace the entire history with documents and images of the Shoah. But the permanent exhibition is not just an itinerary of memory, in the memory of one of the darkest periods of Italy in the 1940s: it is above all an itinerary of Peace, in the ever-living memory for the city, of charity and the immense humanity with which the entire community of Campagna has alleviated the suffering of the many refugees interned in this area. Introductory room with semi-holographic projection.
The immersive station aims to involve and excite the visitor through the installation of a holoscreen on which an introductory video is projected which tells the story of Eugenio Lipschitz (1883-1944), a Hungarian Jew interned in Campagna from 28 July to 22 December 1940. Through the holographic projection, the virtual character captures the visitor's attention, accompanying him by the hand through his memories and his experience in the Campagna internment camp.
The photographic gallery is divided into the corridors of the quadrilateral on the first floor. The visitor will find 24 exhibitors with 48 bilingual (Italian-English) photographic panels. From the first photos of Giovanni Palatucci in Montella, his native town in the province of Avellino, to the documents on the enactment of the racial laws, from the maps of the internment camps in Italy, to those of concentration and extermination in Europe. The condition of the Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps, the mass extermination and the systematic one called T4 (elimination of disabled and mentally ill people).
The itinerary concludes with documents testifying to the collaboration between the quaestor nephew and the bishop uncle, between the latter and the Holy See in favor of the Jews, as evidenced by the permanent exhibition on the "Hoffmann Case".
The memorial room describes the fate of the Jews interned in Campagna, different lifestyles are presented from a social, national, cultural and religious point of view. Hundreds of Jews, all adults, males and foreigners, arrived in the San Bartolomeo camp between June 1940 and 8 September 1943, with the exception of a single Jewish woman interned for a short period and some political prisoners. Dozens of them came from Fiume and from the unredeemed lands of Istria. The stories of Jews interned in Campagna reflect the truth of the cultures that characterized the life of European Jews before the holocaust.
The stories illustrated here highlight the integration between the internees of the camp and the population of Campagna. Maps, photographs of the time and personal documents testify to the dissolution of the Jewish people and the contrast between what was happening in the rest of Europe and the treatment reserved for them by the authorities, the surveillance officers and the entire Campagnase community. The documents on display stimulate insights for studies and research.
The spaces of daily life are instead possible to visit on the first floor, emblematic places of the Jews inside the campo are the synagogue and the dormitory, within these spaces furnishings for moments of prayer are clearly visible.
Three rabbis were interned in the San Bartolomeo camp: the stateless, ex-Polish Blaufeld Wolf, the Slovak Epstein Bernardo and the stateless – ex-Italian David Wachsberger, officiating in the synagogue in Fiume.
The hall of names and the escape route: On the walls of the small room of the museum are indicated the names, surnames, dates of birth, paternity, nationality and professions of the Jews interned in the San Bartolomeo camp.
The space is enriched by a play of light and shadow, specially designed to symbolize life and death, with a bright beacon in the dark towards the window which symbolizes salvation and the escape route. In fact, in the days following the announcement of the Armistice on 8 September 1943, despite intimidation by the Germans, they were released by the camp director right through that window; the operation, agreed with the local authorities and by the Bishop, will allow the last internees to escape to the surrounding mountains, making themselves safe from bombing.
The Shoah room, on the other hand, is in some respects the room with the most notable emotional impact, one immediately understands the difference between the Jews deported to the rest of Europe and those interned in the city of Campagna. Summary panels on the places of the shoah, on the numbers of the extermination, on the etymology of the genocide. Excerpts from the diary of Anne Frank, studies on the non-existence of human races made by the geneticist Guido Barbujani, testimonies of the survivors of the holocaust and the universal declaration of human rights accompany the walls of the room. In the background you can see the death platform with the infamous gate of the Auschwitz extermination camp. Objects of the room are the panels showing the shoes, glasses and suitcases that belonged to the Jews during the deportation.
The emotional room named after Mons. Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, recently restored and updated both in terms of content and design, offers the possibility of seeing four synchronized projections (available with English subtitles) narrating in an emotional way, through the editing of videos, photographs, historical documents and animations the path that the deportees were forced to face from their cities of origin to the Campagna internment camp.
The whole story of the Jews in Campagna is divided into four sequential short films lasting about 2 minutes:
1- the arrest, deportation, places of origin, the role of Giovanni Palatucci and his uncle Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci in the sorting of Jews from Fiume to Campagna;
2- the journey, the sensations, the uncertainty and the wait;
3- the arrival in Campagna;
life in the internment camp, coexistence with the local population, the uncle Bishop of Campagna;
4- The allied landing, the escape and the end of the internment, the tragic end of Giovanni Palatucci. In this way the visitor can see the videos in about 8 minutes by moving from one location to another.
It is thus possible to virtually retrace the different moments in the life of a deportee, chronologically placing the phases of the deportation and stay in Campagna. The individual videos do not have a chronological narration but show a series of images, faces, places and words, fragments of memories (letters and voiced diaries) to try to recreate the emotion of a given event.
The main purpose of the emotional room is therefore to trace an emotional profile of a story (that of the deportees to Campagna) and through an emotional language to tell the protagonists and the places, a sort of "trailer" of the museum in which it is possible to collect stimuli and ideas that can be explored in the other rooms.
Still on the ground floor, it is possible to visit the medical room named after the Jewish doctors Max Tanzer and Chaim Pajes. In the room the heroic work of the two doctors interned in the moments immediately following the bombing of 17 September 1943 is told in an "emotional" way.
The women and Shoa section concludes the tour. This section of the museum, curated for the didactic part by the students and teachers of the "Teresa Confalonieri" higher education institution in Campagna, is dedicated to "Women and the Shoah". A small library and video library collect documents and testimonies on the Holocaust and in particular on the condition of women in the extermination camps.
For all this story told, in 2006, Bishop Palatucci and the City of Campagna were awarded the Gold Medal of Civil Merit by the Head of State, Giorgio Napolitano.
Text edited by Cristian Viglione.
Texts extracted from the website of the Museum of Memory and Peace - www.museomemoriapalatucci.it.