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.
The Island of San Domino
The island chosen was San Domino, part of the Tremiti archipelago, in Puglia. Brought to the island in handcuffs, mocked by the authorities and often beaten and arrested simply because they are considered “unnatural“.
— From the article ‘Quando le isole Tremiti erano il confino per omosessuali’’ di Alessandro Bovo
And Handcuffed Of Course
“At last the final departure. From Ustica, like Filippo, and those from Favignana or Lampedusa. The ship for the mainland, the train, then – from the port of Manfredonia – the steamer once more.
We do not have a detailed account of this particular trip. Other inmates of the time testified that the journey could last several days, between endless and inexplicable stops in the cells of the main city, or at some railway junction, or in the smaller ports of Puglia: Vieste, Peschici, San Menaio, Rodi Garganico. Dirty, unhygienic conditions, verbal and physical bullying, and lack of food. Lucia De Martino – the only witness from the arrusi confined on the Tremiti that I have managed to meet, as well as Gaetano Carducci – recalls that many arrived with their mouths inflamed, lips cracked and skin broken , from what they had eaten in prison and while travelling.
And handcuffed of course. They tied us up two by two, Mario Magri would later write, author of the most thorough testimony (a book that should be republished) of how anti-fascist political prisoners confined to the Tremiti Islands lived in those years. The right wrist of one tied to the left of the other so as to leave the other hand free to carry bags and suitcases. The pairs were chained together in groups of twenty.
Some of the prisoners were healthy young men; many others were not. An extreme case, as far as the arrusi are concerned, is that of their oldest Gioacchino ‘a Sciupara. Already in 1935 he had been repatriated after six months of confinement in Sardinia for a bad gastric ulcer, which in the meantime was compounded with a bilateral hernia and chronic bronchitis. What’s more, he only had a few teeth in his mouth, all in the lower jaw. He was so battered that a few days after his arrival on the Tremiti Islands they had to operate on him. As an exceptional case, at the first cold snap he will be able to return home (remaining subject to the caution). But now, in May 1939, he is traveling with Filippo. He left Ustica four days earlier. Certainly the islands, after that endless journey, must have seemed like a liberation.
“— La città e l’isola: Omosessuali al confino nell’Italia fascista di Gianfranco Goretti, Tommaso Giartosio
5th Station | ‘Confirmed Homosexual’
6th Station |