The History of the Servigliano Camp
As far back as 1914, with the imminent prospect of Italy entering the war, a large holding camp was built in Servigliano for the expected prisoners. The structure was located on the edge of the village, by the railway line that ran up the Tenna valley from Porto San Giorgio to Amandola. After the expropriation of the land - approx. 30,000 sq. m. - about forty 500-square-metre huts were built of wood and brick, as well as several brick cottages outside the perimeter wall to house the guards. Altogether the Camp could accommodate almost 10,000 prisoners. Immediately after the start of military action the first prisoners began to arrive - mostly Austro-Hungarians and Turks. Of these about twenty died for various reasons during the period of imprisonment.
When the First World War ended, leaving a tragic trail of death, devastation and misery, the Camp was evacuated and the prisoners sent home.
The structure was closed but not dismantled. In 1935 the Fascist State put the whole complex up for sale but the offers failed to reach the target price and so half was transferred for a symbolic sum to the Servigliano Town Council. The Municipal Leisure Service then created a sports field, which is still in use today.
The rest of the Camp was used as a store for armaments, which were transported on the railway. In the meantime, the political clashes dividing Europe were increasing the tensions that soon led to a new war. The Camp was involved in these events first with the dispatch of weapons to Spain (1938), to arm the 80,000 Italian soldiers who were fighting in support of the nationalists and General Franco, against the legitimate republican government. Then, with the imminent outbreak of a new conflict which was to cause bloodshed all over Europe and the world, the Camp was quickly reactivated to take in new prisoners.
In fact, in January 1941, a few months after Italy entered the Second World War, the first prisoners began to flow into the Camp. They were of various nationalities - Greeks, Maltese, Cypriots, English, Americans, French, Slavs - and were moved around frequently.
After the armistice of 8 September 1943, in the confusion of the moment, the prisoners escaped through a hole they had made in the perimeter wall, without being stopped by the soldiers on guard, some of whom had deserted their posts and were trying to return to their homes.
The hole in the wall, still visible today, through which the prisoners escaped
About three thousand prisoners poured out into the Tenna valley, heading towards the Sibylline Mountains and receiving the hospitality and solidarity of the local people, in particular of the poor farmers. After only a few days, however, the situation was once again under the control of the fascists and the German army, who had also occupied the Servigliano Camp and seized the supplies and the gift parcels from the Red Cross reserved for the prisoners. Supplies that the people of the village, who by then were suffering from hunger, tried to 'liberate' at night. It was during one of these sorties that the Germans killed a married couple from Servigliano, establishing a climate of fear. Fascists and Nazis combed the area searching for the escaped prisoners and for Jews, who after the entry into force of the fascist race laws were trying to escape towards the south, where the Allies were advancing. Many hundreds of families continued to help the allied prisoners and the Jews, risking violence and death.
The Camp, now controlled by the Germans, began to accommodate not just the few allied prisoners who had been recaptured but also Jews, who were then sent from Servigliano to the Camp in Fossoli and from there to the Extermination Camps in Germany.
With the arrival of the Allies and the flight of the Germans in the spring of ’44, the Camp was closed and the structure left under the control of a few guards.
Unfortunately the war was still not over when in September 1945 the first Slovenian refugees - more than a thousand - began to arrive in the Camp, owing to the growing tensions between Italy and Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia. The Istria region suffered the first consequences of what was later to be known as ‘the Cold War’, and which was to see the clash of the two superpowers and their allies. Refugees from the former Italian colonies in Africa, Libya and Ethiopia, also slowly began to join the growing numbers of Italians who were abandoning the parts of Friuli occupied by the Yugoslav army.
It is estimated that in the ten years from 1945 to 1955, when it was finally closed, more than 40,000 people passed through the camp. While the process was by no means easy, most of them slowly became integrated into Italian society in different parts of the country, and some emigrated to America.