Risiera di San Sabba, Trieste

Risiera di San Sabba Civic Museum


The Risiera di San Sabba is the only World War II concentration camp that was on Italian soil that had a crematorium. It was also used as a prison and a transit camp for deportations to other camps in Germany and Poland.

For years I had known about the camp but had some vague idea that it was in the mountains outside of Trieste. Then a couple of years back, during a conversation, my father pointed out to me that the location was one that I was very familiar with as it was about a 10 minute walk from where one of my grandmothers lived! I had spent years passing close by it on a bus when visiting my grandmother.

It is difficult to find if you don't know where to look, there are no signs to show a visitor where it is. This is my one criticism of the museum, it's a fascinating place to visit, if you can find it! 

The original building was built on what was then the edge of the city of Trieste (now just another part of it) in 1913 as a rice husking factory. With the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Germans occupied the city of Trieste and the Risiera was used as a prison for Italian soldiers.

An old photo of what the Risiera looked like before it became a camp.

After being a prison camp for Italian soldiers for a short time, it then became a transit and sorting camp for deportees being sent to Germany and Poland. It also was used as a collection point for storing property belonging to prisoners and deportees. In April 1944 an incinerator was built and used to exterminate the mainly political prisoners who were kept at the camp. 

As seen from the street.

After World War II, the Risiera was used as a camp for ethnic Italians fleeing from communist Yugoslavia. In 1965 it was declared a national monument and later a museum. The entrance to the Risiera is created during this later period, it's between 2 high concrete walls which created a path into the Risiera. It's supposed to create a feeling of dread and it's quite successful in creating that emotion when you enter!

The entrance to the Risiera di San Sabba Civic Museum, with the only sign that gives a visitor any idea of what the building is.

Entering down the concrete pathway, created in the 1960s I think.

The first major room you see was used as a sorting room for Jewish deportees as they were sent to camps in Germany and Poland.

The cells where the prisoners, mainly political ones, partisans from surrounding areas were kept.

The cells were tiny and up to 12 men were kept in each cell. I have some eye witness testimony as to the conditions in the cells as a family friend was imprisoned there during the war. He survived and died last year at the age of 90. His crime was that he didn't want to be conscripted into the army, his family hid him underground, under their barn for 11 months before he was found. He was then imprisoned in the Risiera, he talked about how it was impossible for all the men to sit or sleep so they had to do so in shifts, with the others standing, there was only a small circle of light coming from the door. After 3 weeks he had enough and agreed to go into the army but fortunately for him, the war ended a few months later and he was released and could return home.

Most of the prisoners were political prisoners, partisans, this was scratched into the wall of cell number 7. It says "From Istria, Celestin Rodela (his name) 2.10.14" (date of birth) then what looks like "Podpee 15' which could have been his address (village and house number)

The "Room of Crosses", when it was a rice husking facility I assume there would have been floors at the different levels for the rice to be laid out to dry. Currently it has an exhibition of pages of journals kept by a young Triestin during the prewar and war years. (Just in Italian) Not sure if this is a permanent exhibition or not, as in previous visits this room was empty. (Except for the wall cavity displays)

The whole Risiera is really well labeled with signage in 5 languages, Italian, Slovene, English, German and French, but all that's written for this room is its name "Room of Crosses" nothing about how it was used. I'm guessing that perhaps this was the storage room for the items stolen from the Jewish deportees. There is a small display in the wall.

Items taken from Jewish deportees, just incredibly poignant to see.

At the end of April 1945, the retreating Germans blew up the crematorium and chimney, they blasted them with dynamite. The outline of the crematorium can be seen on the wall and the ground area is recessed and tiled to show where the crematorium was.

The museum has an exhibition space of some donated items, including the uniform worn by concentration camp inmates. These are from 2 different people imprisoned in camps in Germany. The set on the right you can see the red disks (triangles) attached to the clothes with the letter 'c' that signifies that the prisoner was a communist. Jews had the letter 'j', other groups wore their identification tags on their clothing as well.

This was quite amazing, women prisoners kept in Ravensbruk camp, the list was of female deportees from Trieste, it has their names and addresses, it was compiled secretly and brought back to Trieste by Rosalia Poropat. (After the war)

This plaque is on the wall outside the Trieste bus station (next to the train station) It states "From this station in the 20 months of German occupation 1943-45, departed the major part of the death transports to the Nazi extermination camps. To the perennial memory of the victims of Nazism (? as not sure what the acronym stands for) placed the 8th of September 2003. (which was the 60th anniversary of the Italian capitulation)

The Risiera di San Sabba is well worth visiting if staying in Trieste, I highly recommend it. It can be reached by the number 8 local bus which you can catch from Piazza Unita', the direction is 'Valmaura' stay on the bus until the terminus next to the stadium (it's big you won't miss it!) Walk back down the hill the way the bus just came, past Cosco style supermarket carpark, the road on the left is called "Via Giovanni Palatucci" (or just Via Palatucci) turn into this street, the Risiera is 2 minutes walk on the right.

Entrance to the Risiera is free.