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24 March 2023

Lucy Salani (1924-2023) upholsterer, concentration camp survivor

Salani was born in Fassano in Piedmont, and raised in Bologna with the name Luciano. As a teenager Salani was unsure of what she was, information about Hirschfeld’s clinic and what it achieved being unavailable in Mussolini’s Italy. Salani adopted the self description of homosexual, even though it did not properly fit. Homosexuality as a crime had been removed from the 1889 Italian criminal code, although the Fascisti often acted as if it were still illegal. This self description led to estrangement from her family. 

In August 1943 the 19-year-old Salani was called to be conscripted into the army. As homosexuals were prohibited from the army Salani admitted being such, but this was ignored as many claimed the same to avoid being drafted. Salani was assigned to an artillery unit. A month later Italy surrendered to the Allies – the Armistice of Cassible. Germany quickly occupied most of Italy and set up a puppet state, Repubblica Sociale Italiana, also known as Repubblica di Salò. Salani, not wanting to fight for Germany, changed to civilian clothes and walked home to Bologna. The family was fearful of reprisals and Salani hid with another deserter. However they were found and beaten and Salani was inducted into the Wehrmacht, and was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit in a suburb of Bologna. After a bout of bronchitis, Salani was hospitalised and deserted again, and survived in Bologna as a sex worker with even German officers as clients. However she was recognised. Salani was sentenced to a forced labour camp over the border in Bernau am Chiemsee, working on parts for the V-1 rockets. With another inmate, Salani escaped. However they got on the wrong train and ended up in Berlin rather than Italy. When they were recaptured the friend ran and was shot dead: Salani was this time, October 1944, deported to the Dachau concentration camp, and had to wear a Pink Triangle. Salani had the task of marking corpses with number plates and transporting them to the crematorium or mass grave on carts. The camp was liberated by US troops 29 April 1945. While many inmates were compelled into death marches away from the camp as US troops approached, Salani was in a group that was lined up and machine-gunned. Salani was hit in the leg but was found alive under some dead inmates. 

The Salani family was amazed at her return and actually threw a party in celebration, but the estrangement over her gender continued. She left Bologna, worked for a while in a drag show, and worked as a prostitute. In Turin she managed to find work in an upholstery shop that employed women – unusual at that time. Lucy made trips to Paris and met trans women there. In the 1980s she accompanied two trans friends to London where they had transgender surgery, and later she also had the operation. However she was left with no sensation in the genital area.

At the end of the 1980s, Lucy returned to Bologna to look after her elderly parents. By the 2010s she was living alone, until discovered by LGBT groups, Movimento Identità Trans and Arcigay. She became an advocate for concentration camp survivors criticising how they were ignored and forgotten. She did receive 5 million lira (less than €3000) compensation. She applied to enter retirement homes but was rejected in that she did not have a male body to use male toilets, and could not use the female ones in that it said ‘male’ on her identity papers.

In 2009 Gabriella Romano published Lucy’s biography in book form, and two years later as a documentary film. Lucy was featured in two other films: Felice chi è diverso and C'è un soffio di vita soltanto, and appeared on various television programs.

On 2020 Lucy was awarded the Turrita di Bronzo from the city of Bologna.

She died in 2023, at the age of 98.

  • Gabriella Romano. Il mio nome è Lucy: L’Italia del XX secolo nei ricordi di una transessuale. Donzelli Editore, 2009 .
  • Gabriella Romano (dir) Essere Lucy with Lucy Salani, Italy 2011.
  • Gianna Amelio (dir). Felice chi è diverso, with Lucy Salani. Italy 93 mins 2014. IMDB 

  • Matteo Botrugno & Daniele Coluccini (dir). C'è un soffio di vita soltanto, with Lucy Salani. Italy 95 mins 2021. IMDB.
  • Noemi di Leonardo. “Addio a Lucy Salani, unica transessuale sopravvissuta al lager di Dachau”. Bologna Today, 22 Marzo 2023. Online.

IT.Wikipedia           DE.Wikipedia


  1. This is a wonderful story. I'm amazed how Lucy survived all that she went through.

  2. Anonymous25/3/23 20:51

    Lucy has a biogram on english language Wikipedia now, gaining some edit traction (as it often is with recent deaths)


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