“Deportation” and “Deportees”

A definition of the concept


In the period between the crisis of summer 1943 and Liberation, about 800,000 Italians (mostly men, but also a few thousand women) were transferred (almost all by force) to the territory of the Third Reich. There, their destinies crossed those of another 100,000 compatriots, who had been arriving in Germany since 1938 on the basis of intergovernmental agreements between Rome and Berlin, but who were now – after 25 July 1943 – held against their will by the National Socialist authorities. From May 1945 onwards, with the collapse of the Nazi regime and the end of the war in Europe, these 900,000 people, or rather those of them who were still alive, shared the hardships of a slow and difficult return to a homeland that was often little interested in hearing their extremely diverse stories, or in seeing them as an integral part of national history. Thus it was that the generic use of the terms “deportees” and “deportation” became widespread, the latter becoming synonymous with forced transfer from occupied Italy to Germany. Subsequently, as information on the Nazi concentration camp system and the names of some of its camps began to circulate (in particular Auschwitz, Dachau, and Mauthausen – the third of these frequently distorted in Italy to “Mathausen”, and the second incorrectly pronounced “Dachàu” rather than “Dàchau”), a further, more serious, conceptual distortion took place, regarding the types of camps referred to. All those who were “deported” (in the broad meaning I have mentioned) were sent to generic Lager. This German term, which means “depot”, and which entered into common usage after the Second World War, was in fact often used incorrectly as a synonym for Konzentrationslager, abbreviated as KL or KZ, i.e. “concentration camp”. As a result, it was wrongly assumed that anyone held in Germany from the autumn of 1943 to the end of the war experienced the horrors of the KL. Moreover, the latter was – again wrongly – considered as being synonymous with “extermination camp”.