© Ivan Krašnja private archive
The Women's sector of the Rab Concentration Camp captured in a postcard from 1943. Od the left side a small part of the Jewish sector (built barracks) is visible.  

A white-haired, svelte-figured man, who introduced himself as Ivan Krašnja (1947), approached me at the opening of the Last Witnesses, memories from fascist camps exhibition in Maribor. In his hand a black and white photo. It turned out to be a postcard from Rab, dated September 13th 1953. He was holding a postcard capturing a fascist concentration camp for civilians on a Croatian island of Rab, operating from July 1942 to September 1943. The concentration camp is represented in it's late phase of operation when the tents were removed and inhuman living conditions improved. 
His father Janez Krašnja (1911-1967) wrote a postcard as a former fascist camp internee sending regards to the family while participating at the 10th anniversary of the camp liberation. 
Janez was working as a teacher in Maribor and just got his firstborn child, daughter Jelka (1941), when the war in Yugoslavia broke out. In April 1941, Maribor was occupied by the Nazis. Janez decided to move his family to fascist-controlled Ljubljana, which was believed to be a safer place.

In July 1942 he was denounced to the Italian authorities as a member of intelligence and a reserve officer of Yugoslav royal army. He was sent to Rab concentration camp. Early in the year 1943 the Italian army started to mobilize internees for Milizia Volontaria Anti-Communista (MVAC), a fascist controlled anticomunist volunteer militia, which would help them fight the partisans.
Janez, weighing only 40 kilos at the time, was at the very end of his life strength and volunteered to join the militia he personally disagreed with. He considered this step as the only way to save himself and to see his family again.
Though totally exhausted, he managed to jump off a moving train on the way from the camp to Ljubljana. He was hiding in a village close to Ljubljana and got in contact with his wife Marica (1913-1963).  He slowly recovered and looked forward to join the partisan resistance movement.

Only in January 1944 did he manage to get in touch with the partisan movement. Years later he discovered why it took him so long.
In the paranoid war years he was considered untrustworthy for he was released from the fascist camp before the eventual capitulation of the fascist regime in September 1943. The stigma of suspicion had chased him deep into the postwar years.
Apart from its documentary value, the postcard is a medium of a touching war memory, which addresses a fundamental dilemma, familiar to the majority of the people during the war. Any war. Which principle to follow? The one that is in accordance with the idea of national liberation or the one that keeps you and your family safe? Often the two choices exclude one another.

                                                                                           © Manca Juvan

At 99, Anton Vratuša is the oldest living survivor of italian fascist concentration camps in Slovenia. During fascist occupation he was, as an academic and as a member of resistance, arrested in Ljubljana. 
Than he was in internment in four fascist camps.
First he was deported to fascist camps for civilians and political prisoners in Italy: Gonars, Treviso and Chiesanuova (Padua). From there he was transferred to a Croatian island Rab, a camp where the internees from Slovenia suffered the most.

Experiencing four of twelve major fascist concentration camps for inhabitants from occupied slovene ethnic territories of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia we looked forward to Mr. Vratuša for a simple answer about the character of fascist camps. 

 "I can not give an unanimous description of fascist concentration camps," Ms. Vratuša said. 
Each group of internees had a different experience depending upon the time of her internment. Living condition varied depending of the state of development of the detention facility and the geographical region. Some of the camps were in use as detention sites before the outbrake of the second world war, some were under construction and internees were caring out the building works. Internees experienced wildly differing circumstances. According to their testimonials they all suffered malnutrition, poor hygiene and general neglect. 
There was something Mr. Vratuša was able to summarize about Italian fascist concentration camps: "I noticed that the majority of internees suffered badly. They were thinking only about the tragedy they found themselves in. I've made a decision that I will carry on my fight inside the camp or from the outside. I don't remember experiencing tragedy. I was an activist and I behave as such, as an activist."
"Several hundreds students and university colleagues were sent first to a concentration camp Gonars," Mr. Vratuša told. The very second day of the internment Mr. Vratuša, at the time a young intellectual in his activist mode, didn't follow the orders to salut with a fascist Saluto Romano. His act of disobedience created confusion. He was tied at the pillar and left without food and water for a day. "After that they left me alone. I continued my culture work and taught internees as an activists of the national Liberation front. As many others I was fighting the aggressors with different means."

From Gonars he was transfered to three other fascist concentration camps: Treviso and Padua in Italy and the island of Rab in Croatia.

Did concentration camp managers used similar punishment methods?
"Tying to the pillar was a common method.  Sometimes internees were bitten, but not as much as at Rab. There the camp commander, Colonel Vincenzo Cuiuli, was feroce - ferocious. He used to hit internees with a whip and used his dog for intimidation. One of the internees was caught while escaping. Cuiuli in person shot him to death. Compared to other camps leaders he was the most violent. For that reason the concentration camp on Rab became known as an execution camp."
At the time of the Italian capitulation in September 1943 Mr. Vratuša was part of the underground military movement, who's leaders carried on a  take over of the concentration camp Rab. Between 3.500 internees, majority of them of Slovene nationality, 300 Jews and 60 of Croatian nationality formed a Rab Brigade and disarmed the italian army. No casualties were recorded. 

 Peter (second from the left) among friends, who were all diagnozed for tuberculosis. Jože and Anda Ovsec (the two on the right) died in a couple of years. 
The original photo is kept in the private archive of Peter Starič.

Peter Starič (1924) was a 16-year old student of secondary school, when the Axis powers occupied the Kingdom Yugoslavia. As a kid he wasn't much interested in the politics and war interpretations, he was more into music and teenage things.  He was also a keen amateur radio operator and was lucky he wasn't caught for that activity.

On 26th of June 1942, when he was only 17, he was arrested and later deported to the Gonars concentration camp with many other peers. According to the secret war decree, all men in the area from 15 to 50 years of age were meant to be confined. Students particularly were considered a dangerous element in the eyes of Italian authorities for they might join the Partisan forces.

At first he was convinced they would all be freed from the camp for there was nothing they did wrong and no trial was initiated against them. Slowly he started to realize that the 'mistake' is a consequence of the paranoid war time, which tended to disable every potential opponent.

During the first day in the camp, he met his sister’s boyfriend Ivo whom he failed to recognize. »Oh, I didn't know it was you. You're so terribly skinny!«, »You will be the same soon«, responded Ivo rather cynically.

Malnutrition weakened almost every one. They were supposed to get 800 calories a day, but the majority got substantially less, for much of the food was stolen or distributed unjustly. Consequently, the immune system of the internees dropped significantly.
Peter remembers they laid in beds for the whole day in order to save up energy. Many  - Peter as well  - suffered from severe disentery outbreak in the hot sunny weather.

As autumn approached he was transferred to the Monigo concentration camp. Living conditions there were slightly better, but poor nutrition continued. Apart from that the internees were molested by lice. Peter gradually got weak, dizzy and terribly tired. At that time, he believes, his tuberculosis began to evolve. At the intervention of his brother Jože, who befriended an Italian officer, he was freed from the camp already in the end of December 1942. In time. 
Peter was a tall boy of 187 cm, but he only weighted 41 kg when he returned back home. “They offered us an effective slimming treatment in the camp”, remarks ever witty Peter.
Once back in school Peter refused everything Italian. »If my Italian teacher called me in front of the blackboard, I couldn't open my mouth, though she was kind to me. I didn't make any homework or anything regarding my Italian lessons. I simply couldn't make it. I couldn't do anything at all,« writes Peter in his recently published memoirs Moje življenje v totalitarizmu [My life in totalitarianism] (1941-1991).

In the following weeks after the return his health condition seriously worsened and he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was fighting the disease, which was still rather lethal at that time, for eleven years. 
He was lucky to have survived, for many of his friends didn’t.
His story suggests that the internment didn’t end with the closure of the camp, but continued with prolonged memories of starvation, imprisonment, homesickness, humiliation etc. It continued with his exhausted body that needed years to recover.
Not only the mortality rate in the camp itself, also the (lethal) consequences in decades following the internment should be taken into consideration when rethinking the harshness of the concentration camps.

© Manca Juvan
When Marjana Pahor called on the phone I was strongly impacted by the intense narration. She tried to summarize and convey the destiny of her grandfather Angel Pahor.
Most of all she was proposing a social act of remembrance: "We keep the identification number of his internment. Is there a possibility to write his name on the memorial in Gonars? The history forgot him." I didn't have the answer to Ms. Pahor's request but I was experiencing pain and suffering contained in the memory about her grandfather.
I remember our phone conversation beginning with: "My grandmother never got back the body of my grandfather." With this words a grandchild Marjana Pahor set the content and the flow of a conversation.

"He dug Teleskop with his hands. Pirnat (Niko) and Magajna (Bogomir) told it," Ms. Pahor began a string of second- or firsthand collected memories mentioning two representatives of Slovene cultural elite at the time. According to what she was told her grandfather was connected with a group of internees who dug an underground tunnel and escaped the camp. The escape was named Teleskop. "I am not asking for his name to be written down because he is my grandfather. I am talking about a person who was a friend of Srečko Kosovel, a person who supported the culture." She enforced the statement by revealing that Riko Debenjak, a Slovene painter and printmaker was her grandfather's friend. He became his son's Sergej Pahor godfather. When the family lost a father, Debenjak supported the education of Angel's sons. One became a journalist, the other a scientist and a professor of quantum physics.

In Pahor family Italian fascist camps were not a topic of a conversation. Internment was a later stage in Ms. Pahor's family experience of fascism.
Her ancestral past was changed by a Treaty of Rapallo. Italy, by signing the treaty, recognized the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In exchange a portion of territory inhabited by Slovene ethnic group, known as Primorska (Littoral) Region, came under the Kingdom of Italy. From year 1922, Angel Pahor and his family became subject to forced cultural and ethnic assimilation of the native minority populations living in the former Austro-Hungarian territories. "The family fled fascism and escaped to Ljubjana," Ms. Pahor told. 
Later in the day of our phone call I visited Ms. Pahor. She shown me documents and objects preserved after his grandfather. She preserved a drawing, a caricature, of her grandfather made in the concentration camp Gonars. Angel Pahor was in internment as an activist and anti-fascist. "My grandmother told me how she run after a transport train living the station in Ljubljana for Gonars," Ms. Pahor shared transmitted memories.
"My grandfather is a tabu in our family," Ms. Pahor said before verbalizing testimonials about him. 
In search of her grandfather Angel Pahor (1897) past Ms. Pahor learned that he was extremely honest. In internment he gave the last piece of bread to children. It is of immense importance to her hearing from one of the witnesses that her grandfather left the concentration camp in Gonars among the last. "He went in the camp and checked if someone was left behind," she repeated what she was told. 
"He came to Ljubljana from Gonars after the capitulation of Italy. Than he was killed and left somewhere …. This was such a pain," Ms. Pahor shared a family's loss and unfinished grieving. 
The past of Angel Pahor as known by his descendants is fragmented. He died after the internment in situation unknown to his family. He has no grave, he is not remembered among fascist camp internees, he is not remembered as anti-fascist. 

What is provoking a constant pain in his granddaughter who is making attempts to create his legacy?
 "As a young girl I could't understand that he has no grave, that he has no place to lit a candle," she told.
To establish his internment and have his name written on the Gonars concentration camp victims memorial Marjana Pahor should contact the Concentration camp Rab-Gonars commeette (Taboriščni odbor Rab-Gonars). Reconstructing Angel Pahor's past the Archive of Republic of Slovenia is a right place to search. A large collection of documents (kilometers of documents) created in the administration headquarters of the occupied Province of Ljubljana, among them documents of arrests in the Province of Ljubljana and name lists of internees in the fascist concentration camps, is preserved. A novel Teleskop (1954), written by  Ivan Bratko, one of the organizers of the escape from the concentration camp Gonars, is a valuable document of past events too.  

Hopefully last suggestions will help the Pahor family in the process of a rightful and truthful remembrance of Angel Pahor. 

© Manca Juvan

When Magda Lovec Trtnik (1932) attended school in occupied Ljubljana she wasn't allowed to tell her father was shot as a hostage and her mother killed at Urh, a location known for torture and killings of partizans and supporters of the resistance. "Tell them they died before the war," were the instructions Ms. Lovec Trtnik, a World War II orphan, received.

For years she was holding for herself events that marked her life since she was nine years old. For her as for many others the Word War II and the italian occupation of the slovene territory turned into a life sentence.
The truth is that her father, a political activist and member of resistance, was shot by italian soldiers as hostage in Ljubljana at Gramonza jama on June 11, 1942. 
Tone Trtnik, later a national hero, was one of seven hostages killed that day. Shot hostages were buried in two graves. "At the time my aunt visited the graves and lit the candles. One candle died out. She decided that my father is buried in the grave with the lit candle," Ms. Trtnik explained how this simple belief influenced the location of her father's grave. It stayed unquestioned until today. It is of immense importance and consolation to Ms. Lovec Trtnik to have a known place she can visit and pay respects to her father.

Her mother, Justina Trtnik, was an activist and member of resistance too. "One morning when she left for work - she was working at the paper factory Papirnica Vevče - italian soldiers arrested her," Ms. Lovec Trtnik remembered the September 18, 1942 events. Her mother was arrested and sent in internment on the island of Rab. "The soldiers searched for me too. My grandmother sent me on time to known people in a neighboring village," Ms. Lovec Trtnik beleives that day she escaped the internment.
Letters and postcards her mother wrote in interment where messages of encouragement, care and love. Ms. Lovec Trtnik preserved all of them. She read them many times and she shown them to her children and grandchildren. "When I read her letters and postcards I cry," she told.
Letters are full of mother's care for the daughters survival and future. She was allowed to write to her doughtier on Thursday, we learned form Ms. Lovec Trtnik. Through letters Justina Trtnik encouraged her doughter to learn at school, get healthy and never turn down anything important. In a child story stile she described the internment. She wrote about animals in internment. She wrote about lice.
In April 1943 her mother was released from italian fascist internment. 
Once back home Ms. Lovec Trtnik remembers her mother being weak. But nothing was in a way for Justina trtnik to go back to work. "It's from work that she once came home and announced the capitulation of Italy," Mr. Lovec Trtnik remembered.

The capitulation of Italy was just a short period that turned to be a period of exchange of occupiers, soldiers and troops in Ljubljana and its suburbs. Soon German soldiers took over the territory. With Germans their local allies the so called White Guard and Slovene Home Guard - domobranci got power. They arrested Justina Trtnik at the end of November 1943, seven month after her release from the internment. "She never came back," Ms. Lovec Trnik said. Her mother is one of non-identified victims at Urh.
Ms. Lovec Trtnik assisted to the exhumations of the mass grave at Urh. She was a 13-years old war orphan and she was standing and staring at corpses in an attempt to recognize her mother's outfit. 
The exhumations stopped before all the victims were unburied. Justina Trtnik was never found and she doesn't have a grave. "It is difficult to explain the importance of a memorial place where you can visit your dear ones," Ms. Lovec Trtnik told.

She shown us all the material heritage she is preserving from her childhood: letters, few photos, articles cut from newspapers … Among them was a little orange notebook. She opened it on a page where she wrote dates of her father's birth, arrest and death and of her mother's arrest. It was heart braking to step in shoes of a ten or thirteen years old girl who is writing down in her notebook dates of loss of her parents and not dates of falling in love with a boy from the same class.

We prolonged our time sitting in a car parked in front of the functioning military area of Caserma Luigi Cadorin in Monigo, a subburb three kilometers north-west from the historic downtown of Treviso. It served us to calm down our hesitation. We were about to walk to the guard. He was fully equipped and looked like a soldier, who just came back from mission in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan. Both, the photographer and I, were perplex at the look of a young soldier dressed in camouflage military uniform and wearing a bulletproof vest. He was listening to our inquiry from behind the glass of the facility that was separating soldiers from us, the civilian population.
The armed guard listened to our inquiry and turned his back to speak to someone we couldn't see. Turning back to us, standing on the other side of the glass division, he confirmed that he area of the caserma - an area of military barracks and training course - was once an area of detention. "Inside there is nothing marking the past," he said. 
Mainly Slovene and Croatian civilians were in internment in Monigo from July 1942 until the capitulation of Italy in September 1943. It is estimated that over the operation period 10.000 civilians were in detention.
As in other italian fascist concentration camps so in Monigo internees suffered hunger. Among estimated 200 victims hunger was the main cause of death, followed by tuberculosis, illnesses caused by cold and overcrowding.  
Leaving the military area parking lot we headed to Treviso, the capital of the italian region of Veneto. In preparation of our search of fascist concentration camp locations we learned that in January 2013 a memorial to victims of fascist camps was inaugurated in Treviso. The media reporting the event didn't report its location. We seek help from locals. Finally a taxi drivers joint search with their smart phones got as back on track. Our findings are captured in a video.

          © Manca Juvan
Ivanka Zamida, a survivor of three italian fascist camps, greeted us at her home in Kočevje - the largest city in the area that was exposed to extreme fascist ethnic cleansing and designated, as a region reach in timber, to be populated by Italians from South of Italy. Ms. Zamida welcomed me even if her health was deteriorating. She was open to tell what she remembers. Deeper in the memories we went more upset and agitated she got. Nonetheless she didn't stop. She was committed to make herself available until all what she find important was told.

She was born in a poor peasant family of six children in 1929 in the village of Papeži. Her account began with an incursion of Italian soldiers. "It was an ordinary day. They came and surrounded the village. Soldiers were robing the houses. They took everything. There was not much. They took the chickens, put the pigs on a truck. They killed what they couldn't take. Our heifer didn't want to move. They shoot it and drag it down. They tied the men and locked them in the school building."

The next vivid memory Ms. Zamida recalled located us in Western Croatia, in horse stables in a coastal town of Bakar. At the time she didn't know she arrived in a concentration camp for civilians, first of the three she was in internment. 
Ms. Zamida didn't know her internment didn't start on Rab but in Bakar. How could she? During the time of war she knew her home was burned down, the live stock taken away or killed and that they were forced to leave the village. The internment in the concentration camp was unprecedented to her and to the memory of her family. She was familiar with the war and the loss of soldiers. Many men from her area were enrolled and fought the WW1. The concept of internment of civilians was new.

Later, during the post WW2 period in Yugoslavia she could't gain much insight in her internment - fascist concentration camps were not a topic of significant importance. Similar was at the level of european historic research of WW2 and social awareness.
Until today Bakar concentration camp for civilians remains poorly researched. The area of the camp and it's cemetery are part of an industrial area. 
The Italian army established the concentration camp for civilians in Bakar soon after occupation of half of Croatia's territory in June 1942. Visiting the area with a colleague, an audio documentarist Andrea Giuseppini, a writer, journalist and translator Giacomo Scotti, known as a fervent anti-fascist and communist, and a kind local men, Ivan Butković, who guided us to the camp location, we were looking for a memorial. Nidless to say, we found a vast industrial area and looked at the supposed cemetery of camp victims over a high metal fence. 

Ms. Zamida remembered her mother being in an awful condition in Bakar. "The doctor said, she would receive help if not an interee," Ms. Zamida recalled. Shortly a whole family, except two sons who where migration workers in France, was transported to the concentration camp on island of Rab: women in a female section, their father in the male section of the concentration camp. Her mother, Julijana Zbašnik, died soon after arrival on Rab. 

"Father was visiting us during our stay on Rab. Three sister and me were so foolish to put bread aside for him. If he didn't come to collect it, we sent it through our cousin. He never delivered the bread to our father. He ate it himself."

In the concentration camp Kampor on the island of Rab children until age of 14 were forced to the sea. "I was so sad. I couldn't socialize. I sat on my mess bowl touching the sea with my feet. I couldn't do much. I was so sad." And they were suffering hunger.

As children they searched kitchen rotting leftovers hoping to find something to calm the persistent hunger. "Out of desperation I was once among this kids. Suddenly an officer hit me on the head with a stick having a metal square and a hook on the top. I was wounded. I've got a bruise and a swelling on my head."

There were other reasons than officer's violence that prevented her from searching food scraps: "Didn't take us long to learn that kids eating rotting food were soon gone." 
Remembering a short documentary made on concentration camp of Rab Ms. Zamida got upset. "My son Dušan brought me the documentary. I can not watch it," she made it know that remembering requires a substantial amount of control to cope with strong emotions that could overwhelm her at any moment. At that moment I was questioning myself if awakening survivor's past memories of dehumanization, suffering, pain, mistreatment, violence, loss, death and illness is appropriate. As a researcher and an interviewer I needed to stay with my grief. The gift of empathy at moments seemed to be a curse.

"My uncle died there, my aunt, … I lost at least ten relatives on Rab and at home, where they were killed," Ms. Zamida summarized her family loss in war.

She was moved from Rab to a concentration camp in an italian town of Gonars, to a barrack number 21. She remembers arriving during a cold snowy winter.

Among many memories she recalled a priest who was holding a mass. "I didn't attend. I stop attending mass since I saw the priest blessing the dead and the alive who were than shot. I don't judge the existence or the non-existence of god. If there is God, he would act at the time when we were suffering so much," Ms. Zamida placed herself among many who, while exposed to atrocities, looked forward for an action of an interventionist God. As for many, so for Ms. Zamida, God died during WW2. 
To whom could possibly turn a 14 years old girl who is kept captured in an unknown land, suffering extreme deprivation and fighting flies, malnutrition and dysentery.

In September 1943 she and her sisters left the concentration camp at Gonars among the first. They were disoriented and walked the Italian territory left to the mercy of its inhabitants. "One of the woman told us to left behind our handicapped sister. Can you believe this? " She recalled they walked from Gonars to Udine and back to Palmanova where they caught a train to Slovenia. The train was taking them for an approximately hundred kilometers ride back home to the occupied territory where Slovene Partisans, an anti-nazi resistance movement, were fighting Nazi Germans.

Her cousins didn't left with first groups of internees. They were captured by Nazi Germans and transported to the Dachau concentration camp. "They died in Dachau. If they would left with us, they would be alive," she remarked. 
Ms. Zamida and her three sisters reached their village to find out that nothing was left behind. Begging for food marked their recovery from internment until they find a job as maids. Her father returned from the internment too.

Our interview was over and Ms. Zamida's son Dušan joined us. He was tensed and overwhelmed by the event too. While talking in the living room there was more light and less heaviness. Looking at Ms. Zamida I noticed her face mussels relaxed. Her right hand stopped shaking.

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