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Ferramonti yesterday and today

21 Gennaio 2021
Ferramonti yesterday and today Foto: Teresina Ciliberti Teresina Ciliberti
Ferramonti was not a kibbutz, it was a Campo del Duce. Established as a concentration camp, it turned out to be a place of hope and salvation. By Teresina Ciliberti

Historians and scholars have rigorously analyzed Ferramonti's historical-social dimension, providing us with safe coordinates for the knowledge and understanding of the complex reality of a concentration camp, such as Ferramonti was. Ferramonti represents a unicum among the concentration camp: established as a concentration camp, it proved to be a place of hope and salvation.
Of course, for the inmates who had suffered the confiscation of their assets, the painful detachment from family and work, life in the camp between hardships and privations was not easy. An unmediated but direct approach to the "Voices from within the Field" makes it easier to understand Ferramonti's oxymoronic uniqueness. And it is on these items that I would like readers' attention to be focused.

From Diari (Lopinot, Sonnenfeld), from Carteggi (Bernhard et alii, ACS, Roma, M / 4), from Reports (G.Mann, J. Hermann, I. Kalk, Mautner, and Pereles) from Ricordi (Siegfried Kuttner, Samuel Avissar) which can be consulted in the precious archive of the Kalk-CDEC Fund, it emerges clearly that the life of the inmates, characterized by logistical and anthropological difficulties, infested with malaria, scabies, typhus, hunger, black market, theft, prostitution, psychological discomforts, while vilified and limited in human rights, was not offended in dignity.
In a multi-ethnic and dialectical cultural dynamism, between contrasts and integrations, with the consent of the camp directors, with the help of the chaplain, the inhabitants of the neighboring countries and the various support bodies (Geneva Red Cross, Delasem, Children's Mensa by Israel Kalk, Work of St. Wenceslas, Vatican) the inmates, with admirable tenacity and willpower, managed to overcome the various difficulties, giving dignity to the uncertain and gloomy life of their existence: art, culture and interreligious dialogue produced attitudes marked by solidarity and tolerance.
Interreligious Dialogue was configured as a sort of truly lived ecumenism because it was patiently and intelligently promoted by the representatives of religious confessions: by the Rabbis Deuscht and Adler, by the Capuchin Father Lopinot (who, requested by the inmates and sent by the Vatican, was able to "intern interned "), by the Orthodox Archimandrite Akakios.
The difficult and fragile dialogue involved not only the inmates, but also the religious authorities who visited the camp and brought comfort and help: the Chief Rabbi Riccardo Pacifici and the Apostolic Nuncio Borgoncini - Duke. This is how the voice of chaplain Lopinot resounds:
“In the first period all my efforts were engaged solely in the religious aid of mercy in favor of the prisoners and in the relief, faithfully offered. Then all the prisoners, both Catholics and Israelites, came to me for every kind of need. Presenting themselves in many, who were deeply moved by their very miserable state and were anguished in the soul, they trusted in the presence of a spiritual man, they communicated familiarly the secrets of the heart and the feelings of the mind.
[…] They needed another little help to prepare lists of fairly frequent requests with which they questioned either the civil ministry or the apostolic nuncio; likewise to compose one hundred missives and small letters that were sent to the Vatican at the so-called Information Office. I attended the Hebrew sermon. The Nuncio had also been to the Synagogue. The farewell of celibates who were leaving was celebrated-Rabbi Dr. Adler and two members of the Community representation spoke: Dr. Pereles and Dr. Ruben. (16 August 1941).
[…] Today the Jews held their day of atonement. I celebrated Mass pro remissione peccatorum and invited all Catholics to attend. They have fulfilled this desire. The Jews were happy that we celebrated the day of atonement (Diary, October 1, 1941) “.
Another 294 people from Rhodes arrived. They are all poor-thin, almost in rags. Now almost everyone is here (294+ 201: February 12). On March 24, 1942, the Chief Rabbi Dr. Pacifici arrived and on March 31 Mr. Kalk from Milan to visit. They brought Easter presents. Almost at the same time the gift of the Holy Father arrived for the people of Rhodes, who are all Jews, the Jews were morally obliged to abandon their practice used up to now and to have Catholic internees also participate in the sharing of their gifts. Mr. Kalk explained in his speech that the partition was done without regard to nationality and religion. Dr. Pereles then sent me 500 lire for our people [….] To Cosenza with Miss Marx to do some shopping for the people of Rhodes. The Holy Father's donation amounts to 3000 lire”.
Life in the camp is no longer beautiful. All the people go hungry. Most of the people I meet complain to me: I'm hungry. Some have said: I have lost many kilos in a few days ... Since June 20, the ration of pasta and rice has still decreased .... In these circumstances, the black market flourishes. In these circumstances my apostolate is very difficult. The spiritual level of the internees is lowered, and they are hardly available for spiritual things. (June 23, 1942)
A great immorality begins in the camp. In order to earn money, married and unmarried women give themselves into the habit ... all this is the consequence of the lack of bread. I had drawn attention to this already in June (March 21, 1943).
In the religious service of the Greeks, the Archimandrite gave me a speech at the end of the Mass. He thanked ... and said: the Catholic Church is the only institution that can help people at this time. I replied and concluded my words with the observation: I pray that there is only one shepherd and one flock. (April 30, 1943)

These passages from Father Lopinot's Report and Diary, in their truth and simplicity of dictation, give the idea of ​​a difficult life in the Camp even from a religious point of view: conflicts and misunderstandings often occurred between the inmates who differed for worship, for hunger and the black market, concerns and moral problems and inappropriate behaviors that the chaplain undertook to resolve, to compose in a charitable dimension.
Another very interesting voice (because it tells us how calm, albeit uncertain and suspended was life in the camp at the beginning, before the arrival of the Benghazi, the group of Kavaje and those of Rhodes and before the hunger and the black market of which Father Lopinot speaks) comes to us from inside the Camp: it is that of Ernst Bernhard.
In the ten months of his residency (25 June 1940 - April 1941), as evidenced by the Letters to Dora - lovingly and intelligently edited and prefaced by Luciana Marinangeli, Bernhard lived with dignity and humanity among his companions in misfortune, supporting and helping them in various ways and keeping faith in its purpose to progress in the process of "identification" and acceptance of the "exceptional" situation.

The 140 letters of Ernst and a third of Dora's letters are for us all a very precious historical document: from them we learn useful information to grasp the intersection between micro-history and macro-history, between individual destiny and Karmic destiny. In fact, from the letters, written in an uncertain and sometimes cryptic Italian for censorship reasons, emerge not only the non-tumultuousness of the very first days of life in the concentration camp, but also the wise use that Bernhard manages to make of the painful time of 'internment (he can, in fact, continue to devote himself to his studies of psychology and astrology, and to other inmates) and the tender feeling of love for his "dearest cousin Doretta": Bernhard reassures his wife by constantly repeating "I am invariably fine", "I am always with you in my thoughts", asks her for books (Ziengler, Splenger, Tucci, Rilke, Gentile, Jeremias, Goethe, examples of Jung's Eranian lectures on the unknown God of Plato and on Christo in the doctrine of the Trinity) and objects of easy consumption to share with the other internees, he tells her that he studies dreams, that he calculates horoscopes and synaestries (of Jung, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, George VI of England), who has built a table, a chair, who gives lectures on Pedagogy, who studies Italian singing, who learns to dance among the huts floating on the marshes, who has gratefully accepted the role of counselor psychologist, who plays with commitment both the role of head-dormitory, considering it a providential task, is the medical profession of pediatrician:
“Dearest cousin, my Doretta, […] you can believe that I am fine. Today I had the infirmary cleaned and now I write on the doctor's chair in my doctor's room, because I have dedicated myself here to my old profession at least to organize the medical service "(July 3, 1940). “[…] I am writing on my desk as a doctor and I have just now finished medicating some patients. I also have the task of being Head of the dormitory and I am busy most of the day (July 5, 1940). “I am fine. I study the psychology of this exceptional situation with great interest. ”(July 6, 1940).

“[…] I feel good, I sleep well, everyone loves me. I have a lot to do, aside as a dormitory boss, aside from reading, talking, discussing, working on dreams, horoscopes, etc. Next to my bed, which is the last in the line, I have - two days ago - a desk on which my books are placed etc. I also have a chair, made myself. Two days ago I started learning a new thing, you will laugh. We have a dance teacher among us and I learn the step by step. Army in the kitchen. I manage well until now! " (July 20, 1940)
"My dearest cousin [...] There is nothing new here. Time passes very quickly, I am busy all day studying, reading, writing, interpreting psychology and dreams etc. I have also written a small essay on Cleopatra, on the psychology of Italians and a text that I am preparing on the psychology of Fascism, based on Giovanni Gentile, notebook of the Italian Fascist Institute of Culture, II, I, you will certainly like it and it will be very interesting. They also asked me to take a course in Modern Psychology of the Unconscious (C.G. Jung) 22 September 1940
"Dear cousin, my dearest Dora! Yesterday I received your letter of the 2nd. Many many thanks. We have to wait now. Meanwhile, I use the time to learn as much as possible. I also found a teacher for my singing. Generally I am always around and busy with dormitory things, a discussion, a conference and many, many small things, one after the other. But I do it willingly ... I do it as a task, which Providence gave me, which I must fulfill to be free once and for all .. "(August 6, 1940)"
My dearest cousin, your letters of 23 and 24, music by Beethoven, JUNGe's book, one day before the focaccia. A thousand thousand thanks for everything, everything! I sing Adelaide, of which I still have a special edition in Rome (if you want to play it) and: I love you as you love me. Then As you are my queen Brahms, The day was heavy with rain, Never come to you, I stay calm in the tall green grass You can still send me my baritone album (bound in violet color), but recommended. The ancient arias and the Ploetz did not arrive, I believe they went via Cosenza (censorship), because they were not recommended (?) (January 20, 1941).

But not only Bernhard nel Campo lives the fascination of bel canto and music: the artistic dimension in all its forms was in Ferramonti the way of salvation for inmates who, it should be repeated, did not know what their destiny would be, but they succeeded despite the insult and violation of all human rights, to give meaning to their life, through art.
In fact, many prisoners were artists already known in their context of origin. Just think of the painter-engraver Michel Fingesten, who had the opportunity to use a shack-studio in the Campo, where he gave painting lessons to inmates, also working with children en-plein air.

Everyone also involved the saving role of music, by the musical composer Kurt Sonnenfeld, the singer Siegbert Steinfeld, the pianist Bogdan and Lav Mirskij, orchestra conductor and the splendid choir that animated the liturgy of the celebrations in the shacks used as the Synagogue, Orthodox and Catholic Church! The accordion, which arrived clandestinely, was soon joined by the guitars made for inmates by the luthier Nicola De Bonis of Bisignano (Cosenza), and the Armonium gift of Pius XII, instruments that have allowed the realization of numerous concerts as a hymn to life: in a hut used as a music room and in the forecourt the colorful evenings (Bunter Abend) were held, during which the compositions of the master Kurt Sonnenfeld and classical music resounded.

If the pain for life characterized by miserable and unjust detention and uncertainty of the future was mitigated by the seduction of art, if the gray of a Babelic and forced existence was "colored" by theatrical events, religious festivals, children's theater, exhibitions of 'art, chess club, series of conferences, meetings and exchanges of translators, athletics, football and volleyball competitions, concerts for singers, soloists and the choir for Yom Kippur and Hanukka, it should be emphasized that the uniqueness of Ferramonti is also centered on the fact that the life of the inmates in the camp was regulated by "an autonomous internal organization": Israel Kalk in the draft relating to the election of the head of the dormitory expresses himself as follows: "From the first day of the opening of Ferramonti, the direction of the camp considered it appropriate to grant the inmates complete autonomy as regards internal administration. To implement this autonomy, the inmates decided to establish an official representation made up of the heads of the dormitories elected by a majority of the voters of the individual barracks. The assembly of the heads of the dormitories therefore had jurisdiction over all the institutions of the camp with the exception of those of a religious nature, which were instead directed by the rabbinical council assisted by a number of lay councilors representing the various groups. The individual barrack leaders functioned as intermediaries between the camp management and the internees […].
The General Assembly of the heads of the dormitories, which usually met once a week, elected from among its members the head of the heads (obercapo), who was therefore considered the official representative of the internees at the management [...].

The Assembly of the heads of the barracks together with that of the trusted men formed the parliament of the camp, a democratic assembly certainly unique in Fascist Italy". This is echoed by Jan Hermann, who in a page of his Report testifies to the organizational capacity of the inmates: "Organizational talent and inventive spirit created mutual assistance, which, active in the most varied fields of daily life, set out and achieved an improvement in our living conditions [...]

A consumer cooperative arose, collective kitchens, restaurants, bathrooms, medical clinics and craft workshops of all kinds, from the shoemaker to the watchmaker, up to the enterprise to destroy bedbugs, a circulating library, a court of discipline of the camp, with judges and lawyers, a social security organization, artistic cenacles and religious associations for all the nuances of the different confessions and, last-not-last, of the camp school".
In truth, the school organization managed and directed by prominent personalities was formative. In the precious Papers of the Kalk Fund (now digitized in CDEC) it is possible to read precise reports, school programs, evaluation criteria, report cards, calls for competitions that allow us to better understand the connection between Art, Culture and Inter-religious Dialogue, a connection that constituted for the prisoners the point of strength to be leveraged for salvation!

In this regard, the pages of Jan Hermann's Report are illuminating: "The school in Ferramonti was founded in 1940 and its first director and organizer was a Czechoslovakian coal merchant, certainly Wittemberg, whose foresight, tirelessness and organizational capacity deserves the credit to have provided continuous and regular teaching for school-age children. […]
When our group arrived in Ferramonti in 1941, it brought with it a good number of school-age children who spoke Serbian as their mother tongue. After a few months the children increased significantly, with the arrival of the group of castaways from Rhodes, who brought with them many children who spoke Slovak or German. The first headmaster of the school, Wittemberg had been transferred to free confinement with his family, and his successor, Hans Benda, a Czechoslovakian merchant from Reichenberg, continued his work and expanded the school in an exemplary way. With tireless activity he devoted himself to the development of the teaching program, and was an example to students and teachers in the way of fulfilling his duty. But in early 1942 he too left the camp and was succeeded by a doctor from Berlin, Dr. Kohn, who was, however, transferred after a few months to the province of Florence.
After him I took over the direction of the camp school, which at that time was already a significant entity and consisted of the following sections:

A) The kindergarten, which gathered all children of all nationalities, from three to seven years of age. In this kindergarten, two girls took turns working as supervisors and tutors, who played and sang with the children, instilled in them a sense of friendship and social life and also had to take care of the health of the children entrusted to them. care. The Kalk organization took special care of these children, providing them, once or twice a day, with a supplement of milk, bread and jam, and sometimes sweets

 B) The elementary or lower school consisted of three classes, which were held in parallel in German and Serbo-Croatian. For a short time there was also a parallel course in Italian, which then ceased because nobody was interested in it. It taught reading, writing and arithmetic, and also taught drawing, gymnastics, manual work and "Jewish", a course in which children were taught the elements of the Hebrew language and the history of Jewish traditions.

C) The middle school, also divided into three classes, was also conducted in parallel courses in German and Serbo-Croatian. The program already included broader notions of grammar and syntax of the mother tongue, elementary arithmetic and algebra, Hebrew geography and history, two foreign languages ​​and an optional third [...] natural history (zoology, botany, elementary notions of physics and inorganic chemistry ). As you can see, this program was a more serious commitment for students and teachers, but even here the teaching was almost total success.

D) High school, [...] This degree of teaching represented a very serious undertaking, because together with education the basics of ethics and sociology had to be imparted to young people. Teaching young people the fundamentals of life and human relationships, in times of war and behind a barbed wire, surrounded by bad examples was a hard task, full of responsibility, yet it promised a lot. The personal ties between the students and the teachers had to be ever closer, so that the path of development was smoothed out by friendship and understanding [...]
Later, when the boys spread to all the countries of the world, they wrote to their teachers, remembering with gratitude this happy stage of their development.

Religious teaching was optional in all courses of the school and was taught, with ups and downs, by two rabbis: Rabb. Deutsch and the Rabb.drAdler. Then there was a "Talmud-Torah" for younger children, which was frequented a lot, and with good results, by children of more observant families.

The teaching staff consisted of 15 or 20 teachers, a director and an attendant. It should be noted that the job of the janitor was particularly demanding and of great responsibility. The preparation of the classrooms, the maintenance of order and cleanliness, the heating and ventilation of the premises, the administration of school materials and the distribution of milk and supplementary food were a laborious occupation, which was poorly paid. he found his only reward in the love and sympathy of the school community. The teachers and the director often met in periodic meetings to coordinate teaching schedules and programs and to inform each other about the progress and shortcomings of the students. Twice a year, real school reports with grades were distributed and, for the little ones, detailed reports to parents on progress in children's development.

An important member of the school was the school doctor, who was also a teacher. He not only had to provide in case of illness, but also to take all preventive health measures such as injections and preventive treatments of quinine and continuous checks and visits. Every trimester all the children were examined thoroughly. The weight, condition of teeth, eyes, lungs and atria data were noted in the individual cards. In case of any disturbance the parents and the school management were immediately informed. It is partly due to this tireless and conscientious work that, despite the threat of malaria, the health conditions of children were much better than those of adults"

Today Ferramonti is an international cultural space: with its Museum of Memory it is the beating heart of the Ernst Bernhard Literary Park, in the territory of Tarsia which also includes the Regional Reserves of Lake Tarsia and the mouth of the Crati river and the Cemetery for the victims of the Mediterranean. The protection, enhancement and promotion of cultural heritage have represented (and represent) its main mission for the Municipality of Tarsia, owner of the International Museum of Memory. The first objective to be achieved was to organize in an increasingly effective way, the historical-scientific information and dissemination of the Campo di Ferramonti through the structured organization of the Museum, so that, overcoming the museum totemic vision, it would become an authentic driving force of culture, of new anthropology and of new Humanism.

The management of the Museum shares the mission of the Municipality of Tarsia and, in agreement with the Literary Parks and the Dante Alighieri Society (Committee of Cosenza), in all programmatic lines, indicates and promotes activities aimed at strengthening the culture-identity bond, in European dimension through the scientific research of problems related to the respect of Human Rights and the critical study of documents (Reports and Diary of internees collected by Israel Kalk and now digitized in CDCE); collaborates with the Conservatory of Music of Cosenza, with the Lucrezia della Valle Institute and the Comprehensive Zumbini Institute for the study and dissemination of the music of Kurt Sonnenfeld composed in Ferramonti; develops the ability to establish relationships of values ​​with other Bodies, promoting activities aimed at achieving Art Bonus and Crowfunding (there is a lack of financial resources to develop and promote on a national and international level research and conferences that can increasingly clarify the events and their relevance); hopes for institutional interventions of support, promotion and collaboration. In the museum's exhibition rooms, located in the area once reserved for the administration offices, it is possible to enjoy works of art, historical photos and various documents, evidence of the Camp's years of activity.

Recently (22 August 2020), next to the Biblioteca Brenner the Saletta Fingesten was inaugurated, dedicated to Michel Fingesten (1984-1943), Czechoslovakian painter and engraver, considered one of the greatest ex libris artists, famous in the circles of the artistic avant-garde of Berlin, Munich and Milan, for his brilliant production of graphics and ex libris, in which powerful is the visionary sign, the subtle Yiddish irony and the ironic charge of the grotesque images that "tell" the eternal dualism between life and death and the sense of the imminent catastrophe of war and deportation.
In the Saletta unpublished and unique works resulting from donations (Ehrman and Mantero) are exhibited, including Kalabrische Elegie, Green Horses, and Folder containing improvisations and sketches for Juska Ehrman, Postcards from Civitella and Ferramonti and watercolor drawings.

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