A border between poverty and persecution

A temporary exhibition on smugglers and refugees between Italy and Switzerland during the Second World War.

The border with Italy was by far the area which saw the most intense levels of smuggling. The exhibition traces the history of smuggling, focusing on its most memorable period: the Second World War. Spared from the expansionist ambitions of the menacing Axis powers, Switzerland was literally invaded by an army of smugglers. Men, women and even children from the Italian border villages saw this tough and dangerous activity as a means of alleviating their difficult financial situations.

In those turbulent years, with the centre-north of Italy occupied by the Wehrmacht and ravaged by civil war, thousands of military and civil refugees, especially politicians and Jews, poured into Switzerland. Around 26,000 military and 12,000 civilian refugees were granted entry into Ticino and Mesolcina, of whom around 4,500 were Jews. But many people were also turned away. Some of the Jews who were refused entry were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, from where few returned.


Commissioning unit
Federal Office for Customs and Border Security FOCBS

Overall project management
Maria Moser Menna

Curator and project manager
Adriano Bazzocco

Exhibition concept
Adriano Bazzocco e Stefania Bianchi

Graphics and design
Studio Emmanuel Urban
Aaron Corda, Manuela Mazzola, Giada Melone, Micha Dalcol, Emmanuel Urban

Elettronik Sagl

Lighting systems
Nicola Petraglio Sagl

Language Services of the Federal Department of Finance FDF

Direzione dogana sud Lugano; Archivio di Stato del Cantone Ticino, Bellinzona; Archivio di Stato di Como; Archivio federale svizzero, Berna; Archivio storico della Città di Lugano; Archivio storico di Mendrisio; Biblioteca comunale di Chiasso; Centro documentazione ebraica contemporanea, Milano; Museo nazionale svizzero, Zurigo; Museo storico della Guardia di Finanza, Roma; Società storica Val Poschiavo

Fam. Bossi, Chiasso; Ornella Ottolenghi, Milano; Silvia Liuzzi, Firenze; Villi Hermann, Bedano; Cristina Di Noia, Mendrisio; Sarah Bazzocco, Morbio Inferiore; Giovanni Bruno, Cugnasco; Fiorenzo Rossinelli, Ligornetto; Cristina Kaufmann, Museo Sasso San Gottardo; Anna Segre, Torino; Atelier fotografico Pedroli, Chiasso; Chicco d’Oro, Balerna; Polus SA, Balerna