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Angelo Spinelli: Behind the Barbed Wire
Contact: Peter Vellon Geoffrey Claroni
  (212) 642-2037 (212) 642-2038

Italian American Museum: (212) 642-2020

-- Photos secretly taken in captivity document life in a German POW camp --

NEW YORK, March 12, 2003. The Italian American Museum proudly hosts its third exhibition: “Behind the Barbed Wire: Angelo Spinelli’s Photo-documentation of Life and Culture in a POW Stalag Camp.” The exhibit of 92 photographs—taken under risk of death--will be shown from March 17 through May 16, 2003 at the museum’s transitional residence at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, 25 West 43rd Street Street (17th Floor) in Manhattan. The photos were culled from 400 extraordinary shots, which constitute the largest collection of prisoner of war camp photographs in existence.

Angelo Spinelli, an Italian American and native New Yorker, is the only United States prisoner of war known to have taken photos while in captivity. Shot between 1943 and 1945, mostly in a camp near Furstenburg, Germany, the photos document the grim and mundane aspects of prison life, as well as the sometimes humorous ways prisoners learned to cope. Whether depicting the printing of a clandestine newspaper called “POW WOW,” getting hair cuts, sharing rations or singing in Easter and Christmas choirs, these photos bring to life the rarely seen experiences of many Allied prisoners during World War II.

“Nowhere is the compelling story of life behind barbed wire more poignantly portrayed than in the photographs of Angelo Spinelli,” says Fred Boyles, superintendent of Andersonville National Historical Site in Andersonville, Georgia, which holds the photos in the collection of its National Prisoner of War Museum. “The photographs provide invaluable insight into the monotony of camp life, the means of coping and each individual’s yearning for freedom.”

Adds chief ranger Fred Sanchez: “The photographs and negatives are truly a national treasure. Their importance will be recognized and appreciated for generations to come.”

Assigned to a combat photography unit because he loved cameras and had taken pictures in high school, Spinelli was told to document all aspects of GI life. Captured in North Africa, he was sent to a POW camp in Germany, where he quickly learned the value of bartering cigarettes, donated by the Red Cross, for vital commodities. Desperate to tell the story of those held in camp, Spinelli traded cigarettes with a German prison guard and received, in return, a camera, tripod, and film.

Spinelli hid the camera in baggy paratrooper pants and, risking his life repeatedly, captured life lived within the confines of POW camp Stalag III-B. Now 85 and a resident of Florida, Albert Spinelli credits his faith for his survival and a desire to do his duty. He says simply, “I was told to take pictures, and I did.”

The photographs in “Behind the Barbed Wire” are a living testament, not only to the heroism and determination of Italian Americans, but also to the human spirit. The exhibit, curated by Concetta Macchia, is open to the public from Monday through Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, and by appointment (212-642-2037).


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Deputy Director of News Services
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Maria Matteo
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(718) 997-5593

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