Carcere di San Vittore

Main detention center for political prisoners, partisans, strikers and Jews, who were later sent to concentration and extermination camps.

Built on the ancient convento dei Cappuccini di San Vittore agli Olmi, in Piazza Filangieri 2, the prison in San Vittore, during the fascist regime became place of detention for the numerous political opponents, victims of the Tribunale speciale per la difesa dello Stato. On 12th September 1943, after occupying Milan, the Germans seized a wing of the prison which, from that moment on, was managed directly by the SS stationed in Hotel Regina: they seized control of the 4th and 6th row dedicated to political prisoners, and of the 5th one, dedicated to Jews.

At first, the Jews were packed on the last floor of the fourth row of the prison, which was so cold during the winter between 1943 and 1944 that the floors in the hallways were usually covered by a layer of ice.

Later, with their number increasing, they were locked in the lower floors as well and, during Spring 1944, they moved to the fifth row and gathered on the last floor, not in two-people or four-people cells, but instead in 18 huge rooms hosting 20 people each.

For the Jews, San Vittore served as a provincial concentration camp, as well as a prison for those arrested in the areas bordering with Switzerland and other big cities in the north (Turin and Genoa); furthermore, it also served as a regional detention center for political prisoners.

They would all be directly moved either to nazi lagers or transit camps: initially in Fossoli, later in Bolzano. Starting from September 1943, the person in charge of the German section of the prison was Helmuth Klemm, later replaced by deputy marshal Leander Klimsa, who later passed to Gestapo.

After Klimsa, the role passed to the Chief Corporal Franz Staltmayer, nicknamed “la belva” (the beast) or “il porcaro” (the swine breeder) because he used to walk around San Vittore armed with a riding whip and an Alsatian dog he set against the detainees.

Helping the Germans and carrying out the tortures on prisoners were the Italians Manlio Melli and Dante Colombo, agents of the Ufficio politico investigativo (UPI) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR), under the command of major Ferdinando Bossi.

The rules of the prison were particularly strict and hygienic conditions were dire. The jews were denied even the few rights granted to other political and common prisoners, like the courtyard hour, health care, the possibility of receiving and sending letters and packages as well as buying food products at the prison shop. Interrogations were carried out in a room on ground floor, called the “refectory”. Here, maltreatments of all kinds were inflicted mainly on Jews not giving away hideouts and addresses of their relatives, suspected to be sheltered in the Milan area by the spies sent by the SS. Of all the Jews locked up in San Vittore, seven died in jail, three of whom for unknown causes. The Jews detained in San Vittore who were deported were 15. The first one was sent to Auschwitz on 6th December 1943, the last on left for Bolzano on 15th January 1945.

Among those who tried to make life less miserable for the detainees were Sister Enrichetta Alfieri and the two anti-fascist doctors Gatti and Giardina, who managed to save a few of them from deportation and helped some political prisoner escape.

San Vittore was liberated on 26th April 1945 by the partisans of the Brigate Matteotti.

Roberta Cairoli