The prisoner-of-war camps were mostly overcrowded after the arrival of the Italians. Many Italians were starving and had to sleep in tents or holes in the ground.
The internees were mostly guarded by older Wehrmacht soldiers. Many guards beat or insulted the internees as "traitors". Some also helped them or bartered with them.
Living conditions in Stalag
On arrival at the Stalag there were frequent raids. Wehrmacht soldiers took away valuables, money, but also high-quality clothing and shoes from the internees to increase the Wehrmacht stock. Hardly any Italians received new clothing during their imprisonment. The uniforms were increasingly worn out and the internees unprotected against rain and cold.
Army harnesses were a valuable possession in captivity. Without a container the internees could not receive food. For identification, many engraved their name and home town. In their free time they decorated the harnesses with Madonnas, flowers and motifs of their homeland. The internees thus expressed their longing for Italy and their hope for an early return.
Most of the internees were employed in armaments and heavy industry. For example, Silvio Venturelli had to guide hot iron bars through sheet rolling in the Flick Group's plant. The risk of injury was high.
At the Schichau works in Gdansk, the military internees suffered from long commutes and tiring alternating shifts in the production of torpedo boats.
When communication problems arose on the construction sites, the German foremen often accused them of refusing work and struck.
"Paralysis of the heart", "circulatory weakness", "general weakness" and tuberculosis were often the officially mentioned causes of death of Italian military internees. This information concealed the actual causes. In most cases, debilitation due to hard work and chronic malnutrition caused death. Diseases were also treated little or inadequately. The death rate of internees was much higher than that of prisoners of war of other nations - with the exception of Soviet soldiers.
"Visit to barracks with seriously ill people. Impossible to describe such pain and such hopelessness".
Maria Vitoria Zeme, 29 February 1944