The 8th Army Breaks Open a Concentration Camp in Italy – Picture Post, 1943

Six weeks after Mussolini’s downfall, in September 1943, the British 8th Army liberated an Italian internment camp in Ferramonti, primarily holding Jewish inmates along with other political dissidents and ethnic minorities. Although less known compared to camps like Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Dachau, which were larger and had higher death tolls, Ferramonti was the first camp to be liberated by Allied forces during World War II. However, the full extent of the Nazi genocide wouldn’t become clear for another nine months until Majdanek was liberated by the Red Army on the night of July 22-23, 1944.

Wartime censorship was still in full swing when Ferramonti was liberated, and when the photo essay, titled ‘The 8th Army Open a Concentration Camp in Italy’ was published in Picture Post on 23 October 1943, the magazine’s editors were constrained by the censorship.

The story was only three pages in length, with ten photographs. It opened with an uplifting picture of an Allied soldier shaking hands with a group of men liberated; instead of showing conditions within the concentration camp, the story focussed instead on the relief of the individuals being freed from it.

Ferramonti internees were asked to — and chose to — remain in relative safety around the camp, instead of going back to their homes in the north, still occupied by the Germans. The Picture Post‘s story highlighted this necessity for the civilians to return to their day-to-day activities. On the second page were photos of men and boys waiting to receive food and water, a couple getting married, the townswomen posing for photos and a German artist doing his washing. The final page of the photo essay was also that of daily life and of hope.

Such images would soon be tempered with the news of the atrocities.

Narrative history has gotten less popular in recent years, but they were a great way to learn about historical events. For the Nazism, I recommend Sir Richard Evan’s three volume history: The Coming of Third Reich; Third Reich in Power; and Third Reich at War, which are linked here.

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