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Associazione Zonderwater Block ex Pow

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nel Progetto: “Caduti per la Patria, Fiore all’occhiello degli Italiani”. Dedicazione al Milite Ignoto del Myosotis (Non ti scordar di me) e adozione dello stesso quale simbolo floreale dei Caduti per la Patria



Zonderwater: a concentration camp in South Africa.

Murales Recreation Club Cullinan


Premier Diamond Mine, Recreation Hall,

Cullinan, Gauteng (ex Transvaal)


 Il  videoclip è opera di Sr. M. R. T. - OSB , figlia di pow


Murales dipinti dai prigionieri di guerra italiani, sulle pareti del Mystique Cullinan, precedentemente noto come il Circolo Ricreativo a Cullinan.

Nel campo di Zonderwater era stato istituito un centro d'arte. Sulle pareti del "Club Premier Recreation Mine" a Cullinan, quattro prigionieri di guerra italiani di grande talento, hanno dipinto otto massicci murales da 4 x 3 metri, raffiguranti scene Inglesi e Sudafricane. I nomi degli artisti sono sconosciuti. I dipinti, di grande valore storico, nel 1948 sono stati purtroppo ricoperti con un tavolato morbido per migliorare l'acustica della sala adibita a cinema, per la nuova installazione proiettori cinematografici. Solo nel 1993 queste opere d'arte sono stati riscoperte.
A causa della copertura inchiodata al muro, gli affreschi sono stati tutti danneggiati, alcuni gravemente. Degli otto murales, tre sono copie di dipinti del Sud Africa (Erich Mayer/W.H. Coetzer), come il "Great Trek" (l'esodo), l'arrivo di Van Riebeeck presso il Capo di Buona Speranza e della fauna selvatica, gli altri cinque rappresentano ciascuno: l'Union Building di Pretoria, Westminster e il Tower Bridge di Londra, un veliero e, infine, una scena di cespugli d'acqua. Ogni affresco ha un bordo dipinto in stile  barocco.
Tutti i dipinti sono stati riportati al loro antico splendore e dopo la riscoperta sono stati visti da migliaia di visitatori provenienti da tutto il paese e da fuori confine.

Murals painted by the Italian POW's on the walls of the Cullinan Mystique, formerly known as the Recreation Club in Cullinan.
In the Zonderwater Camp was set up an art center. On the walls of the "Premier Mine Recreation Club" in Cullinan, four gifted Italian POW's, painted eight massive 4 x 3 meters murals, depicting British and South African scenes. The names of the artists are unknown. The paintings, of great historical value, were unfortunately covered over with soft boarding in 1948 to improve the acoustics in the hall for the newly installed cinema projectors, and it was only in 1993 that these works of art were rediscovered.
All of them were damaged, some severely, due to the boarding being nailed to the wall. Of the eight murals, three are copies of South African paintings (Erich Mayer/W.H. Coetzer), as the "Great Trek" (the exodus), Van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape of Good Hope and wildlife, the other five one each represent the Union Building in Pretoria, Westminster and Tower Bridge in London, a sailing ship and finally a bush water scene. Each mural has a painted Baroque surround.
All the paintings have been restored to their previous splendour and since the discovery have been seen by thousands of visitors from all over the country and outside the borders.


Premier Diamond Mine, Recreation Hall, Cullinan, Transvaal


 Recreation Hall, durante il periodo della II° Guerra Mondiale

Premier  Diamond  Mine, Recreation Hall, Cullinan, Gauteng (ex Transvaal) 1912


 Recreation Club Cullinan, oggi

Recreation Hall, negli anni della Seconda Guerra Mondiale
In the years of II World War
Recreation Club Cullinan, oggi

Premier Mine Recreation Club in Cullinan – Murales dipinti dai prigionieri di guerra italiani 

Premier Mine Recreation Club in Cullinan - Murals Painted by Italian POW’s

POW   32040 FORNACIARI Giovanni  (2° Blocco)

POW 114589 BUSONI Valentino   (1° Blocco). 


The Great Trek 1
The Great Trek 2
Scena Sudafricana
Scena di cespugli dacqua
Union Buildings Pretoria
Westminster di Londra
Un veliero
                               Tower Bridge - London









Who is behind ”Zonderwater.com”


"The recovery of the events, the keeping of memory, the discovery of being there because we are the offspring of a common fate: this is the spirit of the group."

We are all relatives of the Zonderwater concentration camp pows.
Our goal is to spread the knowledge of that period even forgotten by history books. Through the present media like the Internet, we try to bring to everybody's knowledge what has been hidden for such a long time.
If you have some material and documents to share or you simply want to join in this cause you can send a message using our contacts.


Zonderwater: the pow’s city.

Zonderwater (South Africa), the biggest detention camp built by the Allies during World War II. The camp, built 43 kms from Pretoria, hosted, from April 1941 to January 1947, more than 100,000 Italian soldiers captured by the British on the North and East Africa fronts.
The Zonderwater human adventure starts from the tent city of 1941, transformed in 1943 into that huge and permanent built up area formed by red bricks and wooden constructions then bound to become almost a legend: "14 blocks, each of them made up, normally, by 4 camps (they were 44 in total). Each camp hosted 2,000 men, therefore a block could accommodate 8,000 prisoners. Overall, Zonderwater had a total capacity of 112,000 men.
Zonderwater - The Senior Committee - POWIt definitely was a great human event: over there, in the red bricks town it was necessary, to avoid surrender, to invent one's own world, forcing oneself out of dejection and apathy, keeping mind and muscles fit.
That is where the will to get organized, to promote initiatives, to create from nothing all start. What miracle arose from it?
Language schools, primary schools for illiterate and technical/vocational school with specific textbooks; libraries, literature and literature awards, a camp magazine, theatre plays (17 active theatres) musical activity, handicraft, sports and recreational activity,  (16 football fields with running tracks and stands, 80 areas for playing bowls, 16 fencing fields, 6 tennis courses, boxing and Graeco-Roman wrestling rings, basketball and volleyball fields, etc). Last but not least: religious assistance.
Undoubtedly, various elements helped in the achievement of such a miracle: first of all the appointment of a South African commander like Col. Prinsloo, an officer gifted with extreme competence and humanity (see picture..) In the second place the concrete support by associations like YMCA and the moral and material assistance of both the International and the Italian Red Cross. Moreover, the presence in South Africa of an always active and helpful background represented by the local large and wealthy Italian community (Zonderwater was a little more than 40 kms far from Pretoria and slightly farther away from Johannesburg. Also the countrymen from Cape Town actively cooperated within the Assistance Committees for the Italian pows which were timely formed and gave their generous contribution).
Further, the work carried out by the Mutual Assistance Fund within the pows themselves with fraternal solidarity. Lastly, the building of the huge hospital (3000 beds) almost exclusively assigned to our medical officers and those of the Carolina Health House.
One could argue that we are lingering only on the positive sides of this mastodontic grief city. Fraudulent events and unwise behavior belong to all detention camps and but they are more part of dishonesty than they are of history: while escapes, common to all detention sites, are part of the latter one. Many were attempted but a few succeeded.
252 ex pows rest in the "Tre Archi" (Three Arches) cemetery where, an inscription on the big central cross base says: "Morti in prigionia/Vinti nella carne/Invitti nello spirito/L'Italia lontana/Vi benedice in eterno/ MCMXLIII" (Dead in captivity/Defeated in flesh/Undefeated in spirit/ Faraway Italy/Blesses you forever/MCMLIII)

"Nobody loves his homeland because it is large but because it is his own homeland"

(Lucius Annaeus Seneca)



 "Memories are good for the spirit and for the present, both to avoid errors and to cast an eye full of peace and forgiveness at the past ones. Memories are also good to unmask dangerous and vain historical illusions which cause damage to a large part of mankind"

Sister M. Roberta Tiberio OSB, daughter of pow Vittorio.                                                                                            (All rights reserved)




Zonderwater, Cullinan, Gauteng, South Africa (Google Maps) 


The details in the historical images section:  http://www.znderwater.com/en/pictures/historical-pictures.html

Anyone interested can request a copy of the book by making a donation of 34.00 Euros. (30.00 Euros for Zonderwater Block Association, 4.00 Euros for shipping).

Donation for: "Getting information and documents of prisoners to Zonderwater Block ex POW Association"

The Zonderwater museum archives keeps 109,000 cards, one per POW, filled in at the camp entry moment and containing biographical data and information given by the POW on his army corps and date of capture. Later other info were added like medical records if  pow had admission to hospital and, finally, the repatriation date.These  very precious  evidences  are  the only documents left and are jealously kept by the  Zonderwater Block Association. Anybody wanting to get information on the POW Case History and other documents owned by the association, is kindly requested to make a donation of € 10 – 15, as a help to partly cover the maintenance expenses of the Zonderwater museum which supports itself on donations, personal contributions, and voluntary work by the Executive Committee.

We trust that our goal is clear to you and we assure that is has no hidden purpose.

Moreover, we commit ourselves, in case two months elapse without providing a reply, to reimburse the paid amount.

Use the button "Donazione per l'Associazione Zonderwater Block ex PoW"


Zonderwater, or: “Where do we put them?”

North Africa was probably one of the fronts most neglected both by Hitler and Mussolini during the Second World War.  The conflict began with a few skirmishes along the border in June 1940 and ended in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis troops in Tunisia. But this theatre of war certainly was not of secondary importance given the number of soldiers involved in the fighting, the increasing number of events that took place, the consequences of these events in respect of the European scenario and finally, the fact that these arid deserts were the site of the first truly bloody battles of the war. Rommel was recalled to the homeland by Hitler as he was trying to break through to El Alamein and reach the Suez Canal in order to arrive at the oil wells of the Middle East. But the person sent to replace him temporarily compromised the Italian-German offensive by erroneous decisions and by the time Rommel hastily returned in October, he was left with no choice other than to order German troops to withdraw. The Italians were left with the thankless task of protecting the flight of its ally. In May 1943 the dream of the “fourth flank” vanished.

After the battle of Sidi El Barrani (December 1940), as part of Operation Compass, English troops found themselves in a hostile environment, having to manage the logistics of thousands of prisoners that the rules of caution and good sense, even more than the rules of military strategy, dictated should be removed from a scenario too close to combat zones, where the situation was still highly fluid and with no possible winner in sight.

The solution, almost inevitable, was offered by its joint state of war with the Commonwealth of South Africa, whose government, headed by Jan Smuts, had rejected neutrality and even an alliance with the Kingdom of Italy and with the Third Reich, by a narrow margin. Thus it was that many Italian prisoners in Egypt were embarked in Suez on the same ships that, in the opposite direction, had brought troops to the Mediterranean front. The prisoners were disembarked in Durban and taken to numerous prison camps in what was and still is the largest state, South Africa. The white minority in power, in part of British origin, ensured loyalty to the Crown and guardianship of the vast territory.

The largest of these camps (actually the largest Italian prisoner of war camp anywhere during the entire conflict) was Zonderwater, which in the Boer language means “without water ". It’s not easy to find on maps of the Gauteng Region, known as the Transvaal up to 1994, capital Johannesburg. Beginning in the spring of 1941, the first ten thousand prisoners coming from the fronts of Ethiopia and Eritrea were brought to this desolate and arid wilderness, shaped like an amphitheatre, near the Cullinan mine (where in 1905 the largest rough diamond in the world was found, weighing 3,106.75 carats).

At the time the barracks had not been built yet and the soldiers had to sleep out in the open in tents Tents of the first period 1941 - 1942 and endure harsh treatment by the guards. Food was scarce according to the super partes reports of the International Red Cross; confirmed by the diaries and letters of prisoners that had escaped censorship, prisoners whose number quickly rocketed upwards.

By the end of the following year Colonel Hendrik Frederik Prinsloo Hendrik Frederik Prinsloo was put in charge of the camp. When he was a child Col. Prinsloo had been interned in a concentration camp by the English during the Anglo-Boer War and thus he had firsthand experience with the harshness of segregation. Because of this he displayed a sense of strength and humanity by having the prisoners themselves build a small city of 14 Blocks, each with 4 Camps of 2,000 men each, each camp having 24 barracks with sheet metal roofs. An agglomeration destined to hold over 100,000 soldiers, with 30 km of roads, mess halls, theatres, schools, gyms, where the internees could be kept occupied and avoid hunger and despair; there were also hospitals with over 3,000 beds New hospital in Zonderwater and churches where military chaplains tried to impose a minimum of discipline that other officers, sent to India in disregard of the Geneva Convention, could no longer provide.

Inside the Blocks surrounded by barbed wire fencing and guarded by armed sentries on raised platforms, the p.o.w. (prisoners of war) could circulate freely, but it was still a prison, and after months or years of combat and deprivation, humiliation and defeat, anxiety and uncertainty regarding the date of repatriation, the psyche of all concerned was severely tested. Some went literally mad and were hospitalized in a special unit of the hospital. Some attempted to escape toward Mozambique, where there was an Italian Consulate, but once recaptured they were sent to the “red house” for 28 days, where they suffered harsh punishment.

All the prisoners were counted (sometimes even two months after capture, a period during which the soldier was declared as “lost”) and a clinical record compiled for each, regardless of his health status. Copies of these cards are still preserved by the Associazione Zonderwater Block ex POW, thanks to copies that had been providentially made of cards that had been sent on a ship bound for Italy and that was unfortunately sunk.

Three Arches - CemeteryFrequently the prisoners were transferred from one block to another. This procedure followed very specific ideological criteria after September 8, 1943, when the understandable tensions of exacerbated souls sharpened according to the various political orientations of the soldiers. Some chose to collaborate with their captors and were sent to work outside the camp, in various activities, and for them life was less difficult; others remained loyal to their oath and preferred to wait for repatriation in spite of the uncertainty of food and general conditions. But repatriation was not achieved by 252 of these prisoners: they rest in the cemetery that, together with the museum, chapel and a monument called The Three Arches (today a symbol of the camp) now represent a little corner of Italian soil in South Africa, all that remains after the departure of the last p.o.w. in 1947, when the sheds were torn down and the camp dismantled.

Here, every first Sunday of November, the Italian community comes together in the presence of diplomatic authorities of both countries to commemorate the approximately 109,000 soldiers who, ten thousand kilometers from Italy, sacrificed part of their youth as they waited and yearned for their return home. Tre Archi - Memorial


Siti che parlano di Zonderwater e link utili


Link per ricerche:
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Ministero della Difesa – Onorcaduti


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Modulo richiesta notizie Onorcaduti

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Ministero della Difesa - PrevMil - III Reparto - 10^ Divisione Albo d’Oro



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Ufficio Storico dello SME




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Croce Rossa Internazionale



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Dimenticati di Stato (Roberto Zamboni)


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Archivio di Stato Vaticano


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  2. Per l'Associazione Zonderwater Block ex PoW:                                                                                              a) Album P.O.W.       b) Richieste di informazioni sui prigionieri 
  3. Albero del ricordo: nel terreno antistante il sito che ospita il Cimitero c'è la possibilità di piantare un albero a ricordo di un ex pow il cui nome figura in una bacheca aggiornata annualmente dall'Associazione Zonderwater Block ex P.O.W.
    L'importo da noi suggerito per la donazione è di 100,00 Euro. 60,00 Euro/600,00 Rand sono per l'albero, come stabilito dall'Associazione. La differenza di 40,00 Euro va al Museo della stessa Associazione per l'annuale manutenzione.