In Naples, Fashion And Tattoos Mark A Real Mobster

Mobsters ride together, they style together, and sometimes they serve time together. In Naples, it's the Camorra for life, and even behind bars, there is a dress code and codes for inking.

"We are all boss," reads the graffiti in Naples' Scampia neighborhood, a Camorra stronghold
"We are all boss," reads the graffiti in Naples' Scampia neighborhood, a Camorra stronghold
Antonio Salvati

NAPLES — As the proverb goes, the habit does not make the monk. Though when it comes to the Camorra crime sydicate"s mafiosi and their tattoos, it does.

In the early days, mobsters wore rings, with ranks and the marks of different clans easily visible. In the 1980s, bosses in the Mazzarella clan, a Camorrist faction in Naples, wore rings in the shape of a lion's head. Today, the distinctive accessories are even more diverse — even in prisons.

Mafia informer Nicola Cangiano, a former member of the Casalesi gang, told anti-mafia prosecutors how the dress code imposed by the clan is strict even behind bars. "You can tell the men in the Sagaria clan apart from the others by what they wear," he said. "They all wear Samsonite shoes, designer clothes and even cashmere socks. They still get their salaries from the gang — even on the inside."

The Schiavone group has its own rules when it comes to clothing. "They all wear Hogan shoes," Cangiano continues, "and they all must keep their beards trimmed and their hair without gel, as required by Nicola Schiavone" (son of the infamous Francesco). We mustn't forget Cesare Pagano, a boss in Scampia, and his love for Paciotti shoes and T-shirts with faces of Hollywood stars on them.

But more permanent symbols have a long history among mobsters. Tattoos and the mafia date back to the early nineteenth century, when members of the Camorra loved to cover their skin to prove their loyalty and permanency, especially when they were in prison.

A 1905 drawing of a Camorrista — Soure: Storia della Camorra, by Vittorio Paliottivia

Two centuries later, a splinter group — drug traffickers from Scampia and Secondigliano — can be identified by their Rolexes. Those who can't afford the real thing have the iconic crown of the Swiss watchmakers inked onto their wrists.

During the 2004-2005 feud in Scampia, many gangsters inscribed "Do not touch my family" on their forearms — an appeal at a time when there was no hesitation to kill anyone and everyone to get to the enemy.

Last week, Italian police arrested an organization that was dealing drugs in Ponticelli, a suburb in eastern Naples. The members were young, on average about 20 years old, and they were trigger-happy — more like a Latin American gang than the Camorra clan. They've already earned the nickname "the tattooed ones," as they all marked their skin with the name of their boss.

So "Bodo" is inscribed on the forearms and backs of these young members, who are led by Marco De Micco. The font is gothic, with stylized characters, and some have decided to make the concept more clear by adding "Respect, loyalty, honor" as well.

Roberto Boccardi, at just 23, let his imagination run wild. At the bottom of his back, he has Bodo's name surrounded by two smoking guns. Just to clarify the concept.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!