Camps of Transit, Sites of Memory

European Perspectives in the Twentieth Century

by Matteo Cassani Simonetti (Volume editor) Roberta Mira (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection XIV, 324 Pages
Series: Cultural Memories, Volume 19


«Multidisciplinary and comparative, Camps of Transit, Sites of Memory brings new materials and approaches to the study of Fascist, wartime and postwar concentration and transit camps in Italy, as well as their legacies. An essential volume for the continuing study of this complex subject.»
(Professor Mia Fuller, University of California, Berkeley)
Camps and places of transit assume relevance in certain contexts and in relation to specific events of the contemporary age: from genocide to voluntary or forced migration, from camps for prisoners of war to the management of refugees in conflicts or catastrophes. In the phases of transition to normality that follow such events, places of transit can be used for different, sometimes opposing purposes, such as the control and/or elimination of certain social groups, or as the protection of persons for humanitarian aims.
This volume investigates the relationship between camps and places of transit from three main perspectives: the history of transit camps in various countries and times; the relationship between such spaces, whose architectural characterization is fragile and difficult to recognize, and the great memorial and symbolic relevance of them; and, finally, the concepts of transit and camp, and changes in the meaning of such places and the memorial and educational practices related to them.
With contributions by Antonis Antoniou, John R. Barruzza, Chiara Becattini, Vando Borghi, Matteo Cassani Simonetti, Francesco Delizia, Robert S. C. Gordon, Ivano Gorzanelli, Hans-Christian Jasch, Borbála Klacsmann, Andrea Luccaroni, Marco Minardi, Roberta Mira, Elena Pirazzoli, Francesca Rolandi, Laurence Schram, Claudio Sgarbi, Andrea Ugolini and Riki Van Boeschoten.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Note on the Text
  • Introduction Transits: History, Memory and Spaces - Matteo Cassani Simonetti and Roberta Mira
  • PART I Sites of Transit between History and Memory
  • 1 ‘It Was More Horrible than in Auschwitz’: A Comparative Analysis of the Transit Camps of Monor and Budakalász - Borbála Klacsmann
  • 2 Lives in Transit: Scipione Concentration Camp - marco minardi
  • 3 Hunting for Manpower: Transit Camps for Forced Labour in Nazi-Occupied Italy - Roberta Mira
  • 4 Camps for Foreign Refugees in Italy in the Central Decades of the Cold War - Francesca Rolandi
  • 5 A Place in the Mist: The Mysterious Dossin Barracks in Mechelen - Laurence Schram
  • PART II Spaces and Memory of Transit
  • 6 Countering Memory with Memorial: Remembering Indifference at the Shoah Memorial of Milan - John R. Barruzza
  • 7 Memorial Sites at the Border: The Rice Mill of San Sabba and Natzweiler-Struthof - Chiara Becattini
  • 8 The Caserme Rosse Barracks, from Transit Camp to the Present: Notes about its Architecture and the Meanings of the Place - Matteo Cassani Simonetti
  • 9 Topography as a Memorial Shape: Learning from Transit Sites - Andrea Luccaroni
  • 10 The Deviation of a Modernist Project: From Cité de la Muette to Drancy Internment Camp, up to Cité HLM - Elena Pirazzoli
  • 11 The Concentration Camp and the Ideal City: Nomadelfia – a Camp-a-nomaly - Claudio Sgarbi
  • PART III Conceptualizations and Public Memorial Practices
  • 12 The Spectre of the Yellow Warehouse: Transitions in Memory - Antonis Antoniou and Riki Van Boeschoten
  • 13 The Camp Form and the Experience Infrastructures: A Counter-Fatal Research Perspective - Vando Borghi
  • 14 Fragile Memories: A Brief Historical Overview of Italian Conservation Laws on Fascist Concentration Camps - Francesco Delizia and Andrea Ugolini
  • 15 The Aporias of Civilization: An Itinerary between Images and Memory in Georges Didi-Huberman - Ivano Gorzanelli
  • 16 The House of the Wannsee Conference as a Perpetrator Site - Hans-Christian Jasch
  • Afterword Transit - Robert S. C. Gordon
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←viii | ix→


Figure 5.1. Arrival of Jewish arrestees in the courtyard (Kazerne Dossin – Fonds Kummer).

Figure 5.2. First Camp Commandant Philipp Schmitt, in the courtyard of the Dossin Barracks, 1942–1943 (Gemeentehuis Willebroek).

Figure 5.3. Rudolf Steckmann, deputy of camp commandant Schmitt at Breendonk and Dossin (Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin).

Figure 5.4. Max Boden, responsible for the Aufnahme [intake] and internal camp discipline from 1942 till the last days of the camp (Brussels, National Archive).

Figure 5.5. Second Camp Commandant Johannes Frank. Photograph from his SS identity card (Brussels, AGR/Auditorat général).

Figure 5.6. A dormitory where Transportjuden had to stay before their deportation, drawing by Alexandre Polak, Mechelen, 27 October 1943
(NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln/EL-DE Haus).

Figure 5.7. Scenes of humiliation of religious Jews shortly before their departure on Transport VIII on 8 September 1942 (Brussels, AGR/CEGESOMA).

Figure 7.1. Rice Mill of San Sabba, monument.

Figure 7.2. Rice Mill of San Sabba, crematorium.

Figure 7.3. Natzweiler-Struthof, monument.

Figure 7.4. Natzweiler-Struthof, cemetery.

←ix | x→

Figure 8.1. The park of the former Caserme Rosse, November 2019 (photos by the author).

Figure 8.2. The Caserme Rosse in a photo taken by the Royal Air Force (1943–1944; Bologna, Institute for Artistic, Cultural and Natural Heritage).

Figure 8.3. Layout of the state of the former Caserme Rosse after the bombings (ASCBo).

Figure 8.4. The new interchanges of the ring road and the former Caserme Rosse (top left), 1968 (APLLPPBo).

Figure 8.5. Supplement to the magazine Bologna. Notiziario del Comune dedicated to the transformation of the former Caserme Rosse into a public park (1972).

Figure 9.1. Compared topographies. Aerial photograph of the Rivesaltes plain taken by the Allies (1942, above) in comparison with an assembly of RAF aerial views of the Fossoli area (1944, below; the camp is on the left side).

Figure 9.2. Fossoli concentration camp and its relations with the agrarian texture. Aerial view (1987, City of Carpi).

Figure 9.3. Fossoli concentration camp. The gaze towards outside drives the tableau of ruins to come in relation with topographical palimpsest (R. Gherardi, Il campo, 1993–1995).

Figure 9.4. Fossoli, topography changes as the former internment site is being converted into a ‘new town’ by the Nomadelfians. Aerial view (1952, Nomadelfia Archive).

Figure 9.5. Fossoli international design competition, detail of the project proposal by Paola Viganò and her work group (1988, Fondazione Fossoli Archive).

←x | xi→

Figure 9.6. The territorial grid of Camp Joffre acts as a new superimposed topography. Plan of the camp area (Vincennes Military Archives) vs aerial view.

Figure 9.7. Camp Joffre, the monolith construction site (2014, A. Luccaroni).

Figure 9.8. Camp Joffre, the ruins and the horizon towards the Pyrenees (2014, A. Luccaroni).

Figure 10.1. Cadastral plan of the Cité de la Muette, Drancy, 1936 (<http://www.memoire-viretuelle.fr/outils/cartes-et-plans/>).

Figure 10.2. Postcard of the Cité de la Muette, Drancy, 1930s.

Figure 10.3. Arrest of Jews in Paris in August 1941, view from the entrance to the Drancy camp (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Figure 10.4. Claude Nicolas Ledoux, plan of the Royal Saltworks of Chaux, 1774.

Figure 11.1. The demolition of the wall during the spring of 1948. The Nomadelfia archive has a clip of the demolition that is also available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqAJquG4iK0>, accessed 12 April 2019. Nomadelfia Photographic Archive.

Figure 11.2. The Little Apostles working on the construction site. Nomadelfia Photographic Archive.

Figure 11.3. Photograph inserted by Sigmund Erlinger in his booklet. Nomadelfia Archives, Nomadelfia (Grosseto). Folder ʻProgetto di Trasformazione Campo Fossoli. 1947–48. 14Dʼ.

Figure 11.4. Drawing by Sigmund Erlinger for the adaptive reuse of one of the barracks. Nomadelfia Archives, Nomadelfia (Grosseto). Folder ʻProgetto di Trasformazione Campo Fossoli. 1947–48. 14Dʼ.

Figure 12.1. The Yellow Warehouse.

←xi | xii→

Figure 12.2. Theodoros Ayiotis.

Figure 12.3. Public presentation with narrators.

Figure 12.4. Artistic happening.

Figure 13.1. George Didi-Huberman’s photo: ‘J’ai photographié, avant de repartir, le sol du crématoire V. … les sols nous parlent, précisément dans la mesure où ils survivent’ [‘Before leaving I took photos of the floor in crematorium V... the floors speak to us to the extent that they survive us...’](<https://www.alfabeta2.it/2014/09/21/archeologia-memoria-fotografia/>).

Figure 13.2. Fabio Mauri, The Western or Wailing Wall, 1993(courtesy of Achille and Diana Mauri).

Figure 14.1. Risiera di San Sabba (TS). Site plan reconstructed by Marino Palcich and project by Romano Boico, including only courtyard and crematorium (Mucci, La Risiera di San Sabba, 22, 52).

Figure 14.2. Ferramonti di Tarsia (CS). Cadastral plan in the conservation order and reconstruction of the camp overlaid with Google Earth satellite image (in Dario Rose and Aurelia Lupi, ‘Un approccio archeologico allo studio topografico del campo di Ferramonti di Tarsia (CS)’, Bollettino Unione Storia ed Arte 7/III serie (2012, 2013), 145).

Figure 14.3. Bolzano – Gries (BZ). Reconstructive drawing of what the camp looked like in summer 1944 by Cesare Zilio (Circolo Culturale ANPI Bolzano, Quaderni della memoria 1, 1999).

Figure 14.4. Fossoli (MO). Cadastral plan in the conservation order protecting both the ‘old camp’ and the ‘new camp’, with reconstruction of the entire concentration camp by Chiara Mariotti and Alessia Zampini (see Ugolini and Delizia, Strappati all’oblio, 88).

←xiv | 1→

matteo cassani simonetti and roberta mira

Transits: History, Memory and Spaces

Precariousness and Complexity of Transit Sites

Camps and places of transit assume relevance in certain contexts and in relation to specific events of the contemporary age. From genocide to voluntary or forced migration, from camps for prisoners of war to the management of refugees in conflicts or catastrophes and in the phases of the transition to normality that follow such events, places of transit can be used for different, sometimes opposing, purposes such as the control and/or elimination of certain social groups, or the protection of persons for humanitarian purposes.

Spatially delimited by their material boundaries – fences, walls, gates – and located at precise physical points, places of transit are also heterotopias,2 situated in a liminal, almost indefinite, space-time dimension, junctions along the path from a starting point to a destination. This liminal condition is transferred to people who temporarily transit through these places, which, like total institutions,3 effect a process of depersonalization of individuals, ←1 | 2→alter their temporal and spatial coordinates, shape their daily lives, making them completely different to the lives they led outside of these places, and force them into a condition of passage from one state to another: from free man to prisoner, from émigré to refugee, from migrant to citizen.

Created specifically for a particular purpose, or adapted to assume a new function, these places are in a precarious condition. In the case of barracks camps – usually made of wood, more rarely stone – and even more so in the case of tent camps, the structures used for the temporary concentration of individuals are created using poor materials, according to functional and economic criteria, from which their representation and their poor durability derive. In the case of pre-existing buildings, their conversion into transit places for large groups of people is often carried out in a hasty manner according to contingent needs, without the spaces truly being renovated, and the change, which is not particularly evident, leaves the way open for equally rapid subsequent conversions.

Frequent changes in the intended use of such places shift them into a situation of ‘transit’, in which the structures change as their functions change, adapting to the ‘new’ groups of individuals who ‘live’ for a certain time in the place, changing its nature and meaning. Despite their temporary nature, places of transit, although modified to varying degrees by use and reuse, remain physically present and occupy a space, and their permanence, combined with the character of settlement in such places – however precarious – allows for further transformation. Sometimes these places are again used for their original purpose, especially if buildings already existed at the transit site. Structures or camps that were specially built for the concentration and transit of individuals often become dwelling places, sometimes for long periods of time. Finally – and this is the aspect that interests us most here – they can become places of memory.

If we consider Pierre Nora’s now classic definition of a place of memory as ʻany significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any communityʼ,4 we can observe that not ←2 | 3→all places of transit become places of memory. Some places are recovered, preserved, protected, remembered and visited as symbolic sites with high memorial value, depending on the importance attributed to the history that played out on their stages. Others are completely forgotten, or the public or private use made of them fully transforms them and eliminates all signs of the past.

The fate of such places may depend on the purpose for which they were used, the role played by the social groups that transited through them in affirming the need to remember what happened in them, how such places are reused once they no longer fulfil their original function, the politics of memory and the narratives of history, and often a combination of these elements. Returning to Pierre Nora, for a place to become a place of memory, a community or a society must ‘deliver its memories’ to that particular place, assigning it the function of a symbolic, identifying place for collective memory.5

The active role of the direct protagonists and witnesses, as well as posterity, scholars and, not least, institutions, in the definition of a place of memory poses problems rather than offering solutions, first, because the sensitivities and objectives of the various stakeholders almost never entirely coincide. To the contrary, there are often conflicts between the private memory of individuals or small groups personally linked to a place and the public memory that the larger community wants to construct and pass on; and there are debates involving scholars from different disciplines, the public and politics around conceptual and communicative choices, and also about the ultimate meaning that the place of memory must assume. Thus, the creation of memorials and museums of memory in the places where history – and individual stories – played out is in itself problematic and necessitates that a series of questions about ‘what’ and ‘how’ we want to remember be answered. These questions change over time, depending on the actors involved and the context, and are thornier when memory and ←3 | 4→places are linked to traumatic events, which are increasingly the subject of commemorations and speeches on memory.6


XIV, 324
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (June)
Memorial and symbolic relevance of places of transit and camps Camps and places of transit History of transit camps in various countries and times Transit Camp History Memory Architecture Place Matteo Cassani Simonetti Roberta Mira Camps of Transit, Sites of Memory
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. XIV, 324 pp., 42 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Matteo Cassani Simonetti (Volume editor) Roberta Mira (Volume editor)

Matteo Cassani Simonetti is Professor of History of Architecture at the University of Bologna and member of the Centro Studi of the Fossoli Foundation. His main research interests are history of Italian contemporary architecture and historiography of modern architecture. Roberta Mira holds a PhD in Modern and Contemporary History and is currently Adjunct Professor at the University of Bologna and member of the Centro Studi of the Fossoli Foundation. Her main research interests are fascism, National Socialism, resistance, deportation, war violence, memory studies and didactics of history.


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