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The Passion of the ‘Arrusi’ | 3rd Station, ‘Detained, Disappeared’

LGBT+ History Month Italia | gli arrusi Puglia copyright ©️ the Puglia Guys for the Big Gay Puglia Guide.

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.

Some things are better not spoken about.

The first arrests seem to have been forgotten. Some things are better not spoken about. They disappear, leaving no trace.

“Twenty Arrusi are imprisoned in January. Among them, however, we find only one from the small group that frequented the arvulu rossu: Girolamo ‘a Carbunara, the meekest and a loner. The others will not be detained until February. And this leads us to two conclusions. Firstly: the police struggle to understand the movements of the arrusi of Catania. That’s why they don’t apprehend everyone right away – on the contrary, at times they seem able to make only random arrests, based on certain tip offs. This risks the others going into hiding. Secondly (and more surprising): those who will be arrested later, in February, know without a doubt what has happened, yet they remain in the city, staying resident in their homes, and even continuing to frequent the hall in Piazza Sant’Antonio. Taking comfort from the low level sanctions that have historically been applied, certainly less severe than confinement. Other reasons include their naivety, the belief that they have done nothing wrong and above all that they have always been “discreet”. And then the lack of money, support and concrete alternatives: the induced passivity of the poor. Those who had a way out, as we shall see, probably took advantage of it.”

— La città e l’isola: Omosessuali al confino nell’Italia fascista by Gianfranco Goretti, Tommaso Giartosio

LGBT+ History Month Italia | gli arrusi Puglia copyright ©️ the Puglia Guys for the Big Gay Puglia Guide.
The Arrests

They have been rounded-up. Then they disappeared,
Taken from their work, at home, and even from bed.
The police act. To take them all together.

The first group arrested, vanished. Into thin air,
Some things are better not spoken about.
But this boy, a carefree sixteen-year-old,
He witnesses everything from the darkness of the alley.

Panic rises, fear spreads,
Police and carabinieri, coming and going.
More arrusi and masculi shoved into vans,
Taken, leaving no traces.

Those arrested parade in front of the commission,
With useless excuses, but beautifully typed.
But there is no opportunity for any defence to be given.
Only five years of confinement, without appeal.

The judgement is made, the ruling is given.
The arrested are taken away.
Distant, disappeared, leaving no trace.

Disappeared. Without trace.

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