Under fascism Italy experienced one of the darkest moments in its LGBT+ history. Hundreds of homosexuals (almost exclusively men) were arrested, put on a register by the Ministry of the Interior, and sent to internment camps.
This is the story of the ‘arrusi’. Forty-five gay men from Catania, arrested in 1939 and sentenced to 5 years confinement on Puglia’s beautiful Tremiti islands, unwittingly creating Italy’s first openly gay community.
Stem this aberration
‘“The scourge of pederasty in this capital tends to worsen and become more widespread because hitherto unsuspected young people are now taken by this form of sexual degeneration. This spreading of degeneration in this city has drawn the attention of the local Police Headquarters which has intervened to stamp out or, at least, to stem this serious sexual aberration which offends morals. I therefore consider it essential, in the interest of good morals and the health of the race, to intervene with more active measures so that the evil is attacked and the outbreaks cauterised. The provision of the Police Detention assists this, in the silence of the law”.
From the official report of Police Commissioner Molina
Police HQ Catania, 20 January 1939 A. XVII
The message from Molina
“To H.E. The Prefect President of the Provincial Commission for the Assignment to Police Confinement, Catania Subject: proposal for the police confinement of …
The scourge of pederasty in this capital tends to worsen and become generalized because hitherto unsuspected young people are now taken by this form of both passive and active sexual degeneration which very often also causes them venereal ills. In the past a pederast was very rarely noticed frequenting cafes and dance halls or wandering through the busiest streets; even rarer that young lovers or patrons publicly accompanied him. The pederast and his admirer then preferred solitary ways to escape the jokes and salacious comments; they were in any case generally despised not only by the more timid, but also by those who passed for bold and unscrupulous, but who were fundamentally of sound morals. Today it is noted that even many spontaneous and natural repugnances have been overcome and it must be noted with sadness that various cafes, dance halls, seaside and mountain resorts, according to the era, welcome many of these patients, and that young people of all social classes publicly seek their company and prefer their love in an unnerving and dehumanising way.
This spread of degeneration in this city has drawn the attention of the local Police Headquarters which has intervened to stamp it out or, at least, to curb this serious sexual aberration which offends morality and is fatal to health and the improvement of the race, but unfortunately the means used proved to be insufficient.
The interventions being taken to put an end to the behaviour, the health visits, the greater surveillance exercised in public establishments and in public places, have proved insufficient. Because the pederasts have in fact been more cautious in evading the scrutiny of public policing by resorting to an endless number of avoidance tactics.
The better-off set up furnished rooms with a coquettish and inviting taste; the poorest, not to be left out, resort to the most desperate measures, including theft, to obtain the means to set up accommodation to meet at. All then, out of vanity, out of petty jealousies, boast of the conquests they have made to maintain it at whatever cost or sacrifice.
Young people on the other hand (when not actually invited) are tempted into those houses, some out of curiosity, others by the insidious desire to smoke a cigarette for free, and all, after seeing it, then wanted to try it, so they always come back.
It is this contact, even when it does not escape the police, which cannot in any case be prevented, even if the developments and the latest consequences are foreseen.
I therefore consider it essential, in the interest of good morals and the health of the race, to intervene with stronger active measures to attack the evils and cauterise its outbreaks. We are helped, where the law is silent, by the provision of the Police Confinement to be adopted against the most stubborn among whom I point out…”
From the report of Commissioner Molina
Catania Police HQ, 20 January 1939 A. XVII
1st Station | Beneath the Arvulu Rossu
3rd Station | Detained, Disappeared