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Ferramonti di Tarsia, a place of collective memory

21 Gennaio 2021
Ferramonti di Tarsia, a place of collective memory Foto: Maria Cristina Parise Martirano Maria Cristina Parise Martirano
The internment camp of Ferramonti di Tarsia - today the Ernst Berhard Literary Park - is for everyone a place of MEMORY but it is also a place of MY memory. Maria Cristina Parise tells us about her testimony on this place.

translated by Marco Giandomenico

Ferramonti di Tarsia's internment camp, today Ernst Berhard's Literary Camp, is for everyone a place of memory, and it is a place of my memory, as well. I’ve been hearing about it by my mother, since I was a child. She told me that when she was a girl and spent the summer in the nearby San Marco’s countryside, she often went to visit some friends. I couldn’t understand why there should be a place like that, she tried to explain that Ferramonti actually wasn’t like other internment and concentration camps, yet I didn’t realize. Even as a child I could feel the nonsense of that situation: although she told me it was an atypical internment/concentration camp, it was a lager and the simple spelling of that word recalled me Dante’s Hell even before reading “Se Questo è un uomo” by Primo Levi.

As time passed by the historians’ interest in Ferramonti camp grow more and mor. I heard many understandably negative judgements in several occasions related to the Day of Remembrance, but paradoxically, when I was aroused and solicited by the studies of my friend Prof. Teresina Ciliberti, Head of Museum and Park Manager, I began to frequent the rebuilt Ferramonti camp, and it was on the place, by testimonies of several veterans, that I began to understand my mother’s words and started thinking of Ferramonti as a place of hope.

For sure journalist Riccardo Erhman’s memory (nicknamed “Ferramonti child”) confirmed in me that intuition, as in the interview he released with Prof. Ciliberti in Madrid about a year ago, he said that place had been for 2000 prisoners: “the lager, the hope, the salvation”. So, in my image, Ferramonti Camp became not just a Hell's metaphor, like it was Auschwitz Camp for Primo Levi, but it was metaphor of all the three Dantesque Reigns: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

It is true that already in the middle of Auschwitz's hell, the therapeutic power of Dante’s poetry managed to spark off human dignity in the conscience of two prisoner friends, Primo Levi himself and Jean Samuel Pikolo, with Ulisse’s canto, as they were compelled and treated like beasts, or even worse: numbers. This discover sounded like “a sudden trumpet blast… or like the voice of God”. But here it was a brief rapture, a glimmer of subjective consciousness that probably made the condition of permanent inhumanity more unbearable and hopeless.

In Ferramonti, according to several witnesses, not only Ehrman’s, one had to objectively feel the hope in the transience of an absurd condition that never lost the connotations of humanity. Never like in 2021, in occasion of the 700th anniversary of his death, Dante will be “Man of the Year”, claimed all over, more or less properly, like it was in 2020, for the hope message that echoed everywhere, breaking the darkness of pandemy with starlight. Never like this year, in the allegorical vision of the three Reigns, Ferramonti camp may become an attraction centre to enhance, in a situation of near or even less near normality. 

For some time there has been talk of an educational emergency, today growing worse because of present pandemic situation, requiring new "creative processes", like Pope Francis says, a new paradigm based on the values of hospitality and solidarity. 

Here in Ferramonti, young and elder people cannot be unimpressed by the force of awesomeness and emotion they inevitably dip in. Here it isn’t difficult to hear far carried voices echoing, or see in the shadows of the twilight the errant spirits of many men, women and children of different ethnicities that here lived compelled in captivity, yet free and in harmony one another, here married and were born, here danced and played and here composed songs and classic music, and painted, and worked and prayed.

Here we receive that teaching that doesn’t need words, but comes directly from those faces in the pictures, from those terraced beds in the reconstructed barracks, floating in the air breathed by themselves: here we remember, and to remember means to avoid the repeat of all of this and take conscience of what happened, with no temptation of putting it into brackets as nothing was. And it means reflecting on what positive - despite everything - has been achieved: the solidarity, today more than ever invoked, among prisoners and area inhabitants.

A message of peace that Dante Alighieri Committee and Literary Park “Ernst Bernhard” encourage you to live in Ferramonti di Tarsia.

Ernst Bernhard
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Ernst Bernhard

Ferramonti di Tarsia (Cs)

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