The Fossoli camp, near Carpi, 12.5 miles (20 km) north of Modena and 37 miles from Bologna, was instituted by the Italians in 1942 as a camp for British prisoners of war. It was handed over to the Germans in September 1943 and singled out as an ideal location for a fascist concentration camp because of its recently constructed stone walls and its strategic position on the northway railroad system. It was known as "War Prison Camp No. 73" and used for the transfer of deportees and earmarked to receive Jews, political prisoners, Italian soldiers and allied non-commissioned officers.
Immediately after the Germans took over, work began on enlarging the camp. When the first 827 Jews arrived the new buildings had still to be completed, and therefore some of the deportees had to be housed in the barracks of the ex-military camp. Since the beginning of 1944, the new camp was rectangular in shape and surrounded by three rows of barbed wire netting. The deportees’ barracks inside the camp were made of wood and stone.
In Fossoli, families lived together, the inmates wore civilian clothes, and their possessions were not confiscated. Yet they also suffered from starvation and callousness. The camp was operative for about seven months. Between November 1943 and the end of 1944, at least 3,198 Jews plus political opponents of the regime passed through Fossoli, the vast majority en-route to the extermination camps in Germany and Poland. Transports with primarily Jews were sent chiefly to Auschwitz. Of the eight train convoys, five of them were destined for Auschwitz alone. One transport with many Jews from neutral countries was sent to Bergen-Belsen. Those with mostly political prisoners were sent mainly to Mauthausen.