Transfer to civilian forced labour status

In July 1944 Mussolini obtained from Hitler the release of the military internees from the jurisdiction of the Wehrmacht. The National Socialists declared them civilian workers. They were now allowed to leave the camps and had easier access to food. However, the working conditions did not change. The police and the Gestapo were now responsible for monitoring the Italians. For the fascist Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), the transfer meant a gain in prestige. The Germans hoped above all for better work performance on the part of the Italians.

For a short time the situation of many ex-military internees improved. But soon the war situation led to a worse supply. Allied bomb attacks also threatened the Italians. At the end of the war, the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo arbitrarily murdered larger groups of Italian forced laborers.

"Only after the agreements between Hitler and Mussolini did the armed guards disappear and it was possible to leave the camp. ... But the work and the food supply remained the same, i.e. agonizing hunger."
Giuseppe Visentin, 1998

civilian status

Nazi propaganda presented the transfer to civilian worker status as "liberation". Above all, this was intended to conceal the fact that the Italians had to continue doing forced labour. Even as civilian forced labourers, they were not allowed to change jobs on their own or return to Italy.

From the exhibition

Plant ID card for the Hessisch-Lichtenau explosives factory (Heli), 12 September 1944

At "Heli" the explosive TNT was produced for the Wehrmacht. Alessandro Comberlato had to open unusable bullets so that the TNT could be used again. Soon the explosive coloured his hair sulphur yellow.

Support for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI)?

The military internees were not considered prisoners of war because of their special status. The International Red Cross was therefore not responsible for them. The National Socialists transferred their care to the RSI, founded in September 1943. An "aid service for internees" was to ensure the supply of food and correspondence with families in Italy. Mussolini wanted to win the support of the population for his new state, limited to northern and central Italy.

As a sign of its independence, the RSI also planned to form its own army. Hitler mistrusted "the Italians" and allowed only four divisions. Military internees willing to collaborate were integrated into new units and trained.

Neither the help for internees nor the new divisions brought any ideological or military benefit worth mentioning for the RSI.

Package shipments served the RSI as the most important proof of its assistance to the military internees among the Italian population. However, the shipment did not begin until June 1944 and remained insufficient in quantity.