Sunday night German police reported that part of a wrought-iron gate at the former Dachau concentration camp bearing the Nazis’ cynical slogan “Work sets you free” — Arbeit Macht Frei — has been stolen.

Dachau, near Munich in Germany, was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in 1933. More than 40,000 prisoners died there before it was liberated by US forces on April 29, 1945.

In late 1944, my grandfather was captured off the coast of Cyprus on an Italian ship, interned in Dachau and sentenced to hard labour. When I was a teenager, he told me about the hunger, the lice, the cold and most of all its unreal silence…

My grandfather was not a Jew, so he didn’t risk the ovens, but instead of dying of starvation.

In the summer of 1944, Hitler and Mussolini made an agreement. The military prisoners interned must be considered as civilian workers, but this did not have a particular effect on every day life. In many camps, including Dachau, the Nazis did not bother to inform the inmates about their process of “civilization”; in reality it appeared as a mere bureaucratic formality: in substance, however, nothing changed, because the soldiers would continue to work as before.

It should be emphasized, however, that despite the pressures of the environment, the hardships of living conditions and the objective difficulty to organize the dispersion in the various “Arbeitskommando,” the 1st January 1945 (according to German sources) 69,300 soldiers and officers persisted to refuse to sign the measure of “civilization”: a form of marginal resistance, but of great symbolic value as ideal behaviour, in the name of their dignity as men and soldiers. My grandfather was one of these, but it was not a great thing for him, rather finding with another soldier a jam deposit which they ate greedily …

As for the last months of imprisonment, release, expected return and finally the return to Italy, the story of the soldiers were similar to those of the officers. On the eastern front, the release, however, was marked by brutal massacres by the escaping Nazis, 130 soldiers were hanged in Hildesheim on 27 and 28 March, thirty shot in Bad Gandersheim in April, 150 in Treunbrietzen April 23.

My grandfather survived — he came home not healthy but alive. My grandfather was afraid of anything and he always said: if you have been there all the rest is nothing.

So, you, Dachau desecrators, you will never take my memories away. I wish you could have talked to my Grandpa…