I want to ask about the movie Life is Beautiful

It is portrayed, in the movie, how that protagonist Jew is sent to extermination camp in Italy.

I thought Jews in Italy were not usually sent to concentration camps. Those who were usually survived. I thought Italians were not as anti-semitic as Hitler (something I do not know).

So I wonder if the story is historically accurate, or how accurate it is?

  • 1
    In Polish language there are both "obóz koncentracyjny" (concentration camp) and "obóz śmierci" (death camp) in use. Can you tell the difference between words "Vernichtungslager" and "Konzentrationslager"? I don't speak German unfortunately, but those are names of German Wikipedia versions of "Extermination camp" and "Concentration camp" articles. Mar 13, 2013 at 4:08
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    Literally "Vernichtung" translates to destruction and annihilation whereas "Konzentration" simply means aggregation. In the historical context, of course, in both sort of camps million of people died and differentiation is blurry but the "Vernichtungslager" where built with the purpose of systematically destroying human life and were constructed later than "Konzentrationslager".
    – Stockfisch
    Mar 13, 2013 at 11:03
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    Actually that's the whole issue of this question. I THOUGHT jews aren't sent to extermination camp in Italy. However, Life is Beautiful, the jewish protagonist IS SENT to extermination camp. Turns out, some jews are indeed sent. That's what I want to know.
    – user4951
    Mar 14, 2013 at 10:57
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    I don't understand why the qeustion was so heavily downvoted... Mar 14, 2013 at 11:19
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    I may have made the mistake early. Also many may have thought that I am some sort of holocaust denier. Well, holocaust did happen, but in German and Balkan instead of Italy.
    – user4951
    Mar 14, 2013 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


The movie is loosely based on a real story of Rubino Romeo Salmoni, Italian Jew who was kept in Fossoli Camp and later moved from there to Auschwitz (as 700 other Jews). Luckily he managed to survive the war and passed away in 2011 at the age of 91.

Italians, being on Axis side, could follow their own policy regarding Jews. There were concentration camps and restrictive law against Jews all over the country, but in contrast to Germany, Italian policy didn't envisage mass extermination.

In July 1943 Allies invaded Italy from the south and the Fascist regime collapsed. This paradoxically caused the situation of many Jews to become worse, because in consequence, Hitler took over the north of the country, Mussolini came out of prison and Italian Social Republic was created.

Concentration camps in Italy were used both for Jews and political prisoners (as in many other places) as a work camp or a temporary place. The Sicilian camp in Farramonti, which was the biggest from all 15 internment camps, thankfully was taken by Allies at the beginning of Italian Campaign.

But from the camps on the north, that were took over by Germans, many of prisoners were transported from there to further camps in other countries, in order to die. Also many Jews have been killed in the camps in Italy. For example, as Frediano Sessi writes in his book Non dimenticare l'Olocausto, on 12th of July, 1944, 67 Jews and political prisoners were shot in the already mentioned Fossoli Camp.

The worst situation was in Risiera di San Sabba. The same source describes that those Jews who couldn't been transported to Auschwitz, were killed at the place. Together with political and war prisoners, there were 3000-4000 people killed. In this aim there was built special crematory connected with 17 death cells, in which prisoners were killed with car exhaust, after being tortured.

This way I find the movie quite reasonable, speaking of historical accurateness.

As for the second question about the percentage of Italian Jews killed during II World War. Depending on the source, there were only 40000-44000 Jews in Italy before the war, which is a very small number in comparison to other countries. Around 7500-8000 of them were killed, what gives 15-20 percent. Here and here you'll find the tables comparing particular countries.

  • 1
    See also Primo Levi and his books.
    – Jon Custer
    May 23, 2018 at 21:45
  • Oh so the reason not many jews are killed in Italy is because there aren't many there to begin with
    – user4951
    May 1, 2021 at 5:37

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