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.



© Manca Juvan

A road Padua-Vicenza lead us to Chiesanuova. We were searching for a military facility, indicated as a former fascist concentration camp area for Yugoslav civilians, mostly Slovenes. Driving we passed by apartment buildings, houses, bars, shops and stores, a church … when suddenly, a wide area opened up and an orange brick building caught our attention.

We were supposedly standing at the entrance of the caserma Romagnoli, a shut down Italian military area. It is surrounded by high walls and rusty barbed wire. Gates are locked with chains.

In an absence of a sign, we were guessing if we found a location that during Word War II was a fascist concentration camp, established at the end of July 1942.
The first internees - they were 1.429 - were Slovene men from the Province of Ljubljana - an occupied and annexed territory. The camp was in operation for twelve months. Later it received internees from Croatian islands of Zlarin and Rab, and from an Italian island Ustica. During the twelve months of its operation 70 men died.
Facts we share are gathered from history books. There is no memorial preserving the historic memory at the site.
Walking the street we greeted people taking care of their garden. Their spacious home is facing the wall of the caserma. I didn't hesitate to ask if they know, what was behind the walls during the war. A lively conversation developed followed by an invitation to enter the house. Our host, remembering his roots and the history of the house, brought a book. He opened it on the page with a large areal picture of Padua, taken during the war. He pointed with a finger his family house and the military area in Chiesanuova. "This area was heavily bombed during the World War II. Do you see the explosion craters? Our house wasn't hit. We were lucky."

I repeated the question if, as a family living in the neighborhood of the military area for more than hundred years, he knows if the facility functioned as a concentration camp? Instead of answering he suggested to contact Ugo Usardi, an old man who is knowledgeable about that period of local history.

Living Chiesanuova we felt bitter. There is no designated place to remember, grieve and pay our respects. There is no memorial with names of men who died in the internment in Chiesanuova.


The first chapter of Cristina Sartori's book entitled Padre Placido Cortese (2010) holds a title after Majda Mazovec               ©Urška Strle

When a tiny, long-haired elderly woman curiously opened the door of her cozy flat, I was a bit surprised, for I expected a rather different figure in regard to the facts I was told about her. Dr. Majda Mazovec (1920) is a retired, yet still vivid pioneer of Slovenian cardiology, who considers humanistic foundations to be essential to her medical vocation.

During the WW2 she was a promising student of medicine at the University in Padova, Italy. While at the outskirts of Padova, in Chiesanuova, one of many Italian fascist concentration camps was located.
Majda learned about the nearby camp when she tried to get in contact with her arrested and interned cousin, who – as it turned out – was also among the internees in the Chiesanuova concentration camp.
Soon Majda became a part of undercover help network, led by a Franciscan monk Placido Cortese (1907-1944) who secretly operated as an assured anti-fascist and helped many who were being prosecuted by the fascist regime. As a priest he was appointed to Chiesanuova concentration camp to conduct a religious service for the internees. However, it was young and determined Majda, who convinced p. Cortese, “a small limping man with glasses, dressed in black monk robes”, to help the internees with extra food, money, providing them letters and information.
“I was motivated for such an activity, for I found it extremely unjust that I could study medicine while others were dying of starvation. There were also my relatives and friends among them and maybe people, who were more important to be in the world than me, a green student of medicine,” dr. Mazovec told.
Majda worked as courier and was in charge of smuggling money, letters and information on relation Ljubljana–Padova. That was a very adventurous and dangerous task, which might have proved costly at the expense of her life in case her legal activities in the excessive time of war were discovered. She was lucky enough she hadn't been caught. She never visited the concentration camp herself, neither did p. Cortese tell her about the circumstances in the camp - for safety reasons.

Prompt and witted, courageous and empathetic, "a green student of medicine" later became an important Slovenian cardiologist. It seems she has chosen the right profession, if we take into account the difficult, yet hearty actions that could have cost her a life.

Her venturous deeds unintentionally question us, what would we have done if we were in her shoes. Would we risk our lives to help others as many anonymous individuals like Majda did? Would we?


© Manca Juvan

Usually photography is about capturing this key moment, the "now" in an unfolding event. In this photographic project, it's equally if not more about confronting the past.

In a way, Remembering fascist camps project is a continuation of my previous long term project Unordinary Lives that speaks about the war and its consequences on civilian population; they both address the war trauma and bring out things that are usually unpleasant to address or to look at.

While in Afghanistan the war is ongoing and still very much part of the 'present', in Slovenia the war our project refers to is practically a reality of seven decades ago. However, the long term consequences of it, the trauma transferred through generations, is still much a thing of the present.

Photography is surely not a perfect medium - as written or oral testimonies aren't either. Consequently it has been, unjustly, a subject of much critic by modernist and post-modernist critics for its anti-analytical nature. If we expect that photographs explain us how and why things happen(ed), elucidate bad things that people do to each other, and not just to document it, we often forget that it is photography more than any other medium that brings out our visceral feelings. Maybe we can't articulate them instantly or well, but, I believe that this is a condition for one, for the viewer, to connect with what Roland Barthes called "the thereness of the world." Moreover, by joining various narrative perspectives in this project we hope to add to the stories we're telling another dimension.
Hanna Arendt in her writing about Aushwitz called photographs "instants of truth", and added that such instants, though not absolute or perfect, "are in fact all we have available to us to give some order to this chaos of horror." 
That's why looking at what photographs communicate, I belive, and not getting trapped by deconstructing them in sense of technical or aesthetic measures, is all the more necessary.


                                                                                                © Manca Juvan

As a preteen, Albina Vogrin was deported to a fascist concentration camp with her family. They first stayed in a tent on the island of Rab, and later they were transferred to barracks in Gonars. Their transfer to the concentration camp in Gonars and the subsequent move into barracks at first provided a source of happiness for them in those desperate times of cold gripping terror, weakness and starvation.

I arrived to find a lively and spirited 83-year old woman who was patiently awaiting my first question to help awaken those distant memories for our face-to-face interview.
Historically her words are all that is left from her internment - an internment as lived by a 12-year old girl. There are no photographs, no personal items, no institutionalized collective memory of the Italian fascist concentration camps.
We began with her forced separation from her roots.

Like other families in occupied Slovenia, Albina's eight member family was violently forced out of their home. They ran into the nearby hills, taking almost nothing of their possessions. What they saw when glancing back was a fiercely burning fire where their house and their village once stood. "Seeing our house in flames hit me badly."
Only after the war was over, when Ms. Vogrin was invited to a bonfire, did she realize how deeply she had been wounded: "Seeing the fire I collapsed and ran away. After witnessing our home on fire, I wasn't able to stand the sight of fire for decades." 
Ms. Vogrin’s flow of memories brought her back to August 1942, when, for a short period of time, Italian soldiers had captured the whole family. They fetched the villagers and gathered all the men in a line, among them was her father. That was the last time the 12-year old homeless girl saw him. "There was a man pointing at three of villagers. He didn't speak Italian. He just said: "Partizans. Beng. Beng." Only after the war did she discover that her father was buried in a mass grave that he and the other hostages had to dig before being shot.

As I was listening to the witness's subjective testimony, I became aware that her word was the sole source of the interview's authenticity. And I felt that was appropriate at the first stage of oral history, which attempts to preserve memories that are at risk of loss. What follows is a very careful crafting of those memories, sensitively extrapolating the fragments of Ms. Vogrin internment experiences.


Memories of internment on Rab


Upon arrival at Rab concentration camp, Ms. Vogrin's family was housed in a weathered tent. She shared the stretched canvas shelter, made to accommodate maximum of four people, with eight others of her family: her eighty year old grandmother, her mother, two sisters, two brothers, her aunt and a cousin. Their tent was just one among hundreds of tents located within the concentration camp whose borders were marked with multiple rows of barbed wire. From the watchtowers, hostile armed guards maintained a vigilant watch. "We arrived on August ninth. It was hot. They didn't give us water. We got a little food. We could all fit into our tent only if we were lying down, one next to the other. It was horrible! And we were always hungry. I know that at that time I was always very, very hungry."

Immediately upon their arrival lice with their piercing mouthparts infested their bodies and feed on their skin. Her mother couldn't hide Albina when the military introduced haircutting as a measure to reduce the parasitic insects. She lost her long braid while the lice stayed. "They gave me the cut braid back. I didn't need it. I was terribly hurt. I was bold. It was hot … I was thirsty … hungry," Ms. Vogrin was re-experiencing her internment.

Occasionally the Italian military provided a reservoir of water, she told. "People crowded around. They were fighting, instead of each person waiting to get some water. Half of the water was spilled." Death soon flooded Ms. Vogrin's memories. It wasn't long after their arrival that people began dying. 
She discovered that death at a concentration camp arrives unnoticed. 
"I heard women's lament and looked into the tent close to ours. Three boys were lying in the tent, covered in lice. Their mother had died earlier and no one gave them food or checked up on them. Couldn’t anyone have taken a look into their tent?" Ms. Vogrin asked rhetorically.

"Many family members died only because they fought over food. They were screaming: 'You've got more. No, you've got more'," is what Ms. Vogrin recalled from her early teenage memories. Under their tent, they always took care that the little brother was fed. "We counted the macaroni we've got in a watery soup and shared them equally. That's why we survived."

One night a sudden wild storm developed over the island. "We didn't know how bad it would be. Suddenly water had run up over our sleeping bodies. We jumped up and rushed towards an exit situated at the highest point of the camp. The guards didn't let us stay out. They chase us back." Ms. Vogrin was speaking faster, her gaze focused on her fingers. The waters took people away. Some drowned; others were knocked over by the streams. "It was horrible. I remember the screams. I remember the cries. Children’s cries. Children were screaming." 
She said that the event was so shocking that later anyone could describe what happened that stormy night. 
"In my family we were all crying after two small bread squares that were swept away by the sea." She extended her arm and opened her palm to show the size of the bread. With a finger of her other hand she drew a square covering nearly half of her small open hand.


Fighting illnesses in Gonars


In December 1942 all members of the family were transferred from Croatia to Italy, to the concentration camp Gonars. "Regarding illnesses, we were not in such bad shape at Rab. The worse began in Gonars," Ms. Vogrin continued her story of the heavy past that was becoming more and more palpable.

"My grandmother died on May first, 1943. Then my mother got ill. She couldn't move her hands. My cousin got typhoid." That's how Ms. Vogrin began remembering Gonars. Next surfaced a memory of her mother putting together money to buy a kilo of onions. "I jumped on a largest one and ate it. I got a horrible diarrhea." Her mom brought her to the clinic. "I couldn't walk. I was just observing how they moved us from bed to bed. I've noticed that the helplessly ill were in bed closest to the door." The agony began when Ms. Vogrin saw that they covered the face of someone lying next to that door. "She was dead," she said. It was her understanding, death was waiting for the person in that last bed next to the door. Ms. Vogrin was three beds away. "I didn't want to reach that bed. I throw myself on the floor, grabbed the legs of an iron bed, and began pulling. That way I dragged myself to the toilet. I gained such a strong willpower."

"I've pulled myself out of the worst," said Ms. Vogrin and alleviated the heaviness of the past. 
With the capitulation of Italy, the door of the concentration camp in the Northern Italian city of Gonars opened, setting them free. It took them a month to reach the West of Slovenia where once their family home stood.  That journey is a story another on its own.
Although they survived the fascist internment, now they didn't have a home to return to. Ms. Vogrin was then 13-years old and weighted only 21 kilos. Her mother weighted 35 kilos, she remembered. World War II was still raging. Her mother began a new life by walking enormous distances, begging for food from village to village. They had made it to freedom.





 © Manca Juvan


Stanko Kotnik (1925), whom I met at the presentation of a bitter graphic novel entitled Italian Winter, turned out to be an impressive voice of heavy memories from Italian fascist camps. We recorded more than eight hours of conversation, marked with his extraordinary diction, powerful articulation, dramatic narration, and improvised dialogues. 

Following his recounts of dreadful details on depravation was challenging. When memories were too painful to be disclosed, he paused them with silence. Frequently, my eyes were filled with tears. Weeks after our interview, I was still awaking in distress.

On a plateau of Kampor field on the island of Rab, turned by Italian army into concentration camp in the late July 1942, living conditions were outrageous. There was a severe shortage of water in the seething summertime. The diet was scarce and low in nutrients: a cup of watery coffee in the morning, watery vegetable soup containing some macaroni or rice for lunch, and a piece of bread the size of a child's fist with a small cube of cheese for dinner. Parcels of food sent from home were considered a treasure. An internee was allowed to receive a maximum of five kilos of essential goods per month. There was enough food, yet the regime denied it to the internees.

At the dissolution of the camp, hundreds of rotten, mold-covered parcels were found in the concentration camp storehouse.

Mr. Kotnik described how unbearable thirst and starvation aroused barbaric behavior among the internees. Some were stealing food from others. Others were deliriously accusing others of theft or selfishness. Some were begging for a tiny piece of bread, rashly promising a cow or a piece of land for it. Yet, some were willing to share what little they had. In such agony many people were driven insane. They were hallucinating, swearing, crying, praying in despair ...

"We were living in worse conditions than monkeys in a zoo, clustered in tents on everyone's sight, without privacy for months ... We were creeping skeletons dressed in dirty ragged clothes, ... starving, stinking, ... our bodies were full of wounds, we were enduring pain ... We were completely dehumanized."

In January 1943, when exhaustion brought Mr. Kotnik close to death, he was ordered to prepare and leave the camp. On the way to the concentration camp of Visco and Gonars in Northern Italy, where he was kept untill the capitulation of Mussolini’s Italy, they stopped at the sanatorium of Reka (nowadays Croatia). "There we've had nothing to eat for the whole day. Finally they called us for dinner. All of us, miserable internees, formed a line. I was among the last. I saw they filled everyone’s mess bowl full with macaroni. ‘They're gonna run out of food before it's my turn!’ I've panicked desperately. Finally, when my bowl was filled with pasta, I've realized I might survive and see my home again. I've sat down on a staircase and began to eat. I started crying. Tears were falling into the bowl, full of macaroni, but I kept eating while trembling.”

The aluminum mess bowl, which he brought back home, holds a memory of one of the gravest periods of his life. At the same time it is a symbol of survival in extreme inhumane conditions. On the outer side the names of fascist concentration camps of Rab, Visco and Gonars with the dates of relocations, are engraved. Surrounded by a large heart shape, Reka holds a special place on the bowl. I instantly understood why.


© Manca Juvan

We came across this large field in our attempt to locate the site of a concentration camp on the island of Rab. Comparing the reality in front of us to the printed old map indicating this camp for civilians, it all seemed so incomprehensibly bigger now.

Then, an unexpected storm approached. Suddenly, I found myself trudging through the marshy grass field, my feet with every further step becoming wetter and wetter. Within moments, while my step was already sinking, I traveled back in time, to the year 1942.

On this island where water was otherwise scarce, a sudden autumn storm then flooded the camp. The section where mainly women, children and elders were stationed was hurt the most. It only took moments, according to the survivors' testimonies, for hundreds of tents to be soaked and blown away, and the interned shouting in panic: The sea's rising, we'll sink!
Flood water was rising so fast that it went up to people's waists, and its force was such that it carried away the children. But, none of them had any other place to go. Children were found next morning on the barbed wire and in the nearby spring. Dead. Drowned.
Soaked myself in only moments from this otherwise normal April weather storm, standing on this very field now barely flooded, I could almost feel the screams and panic which that night storm brought.




© Manca Juvan
A memorial to victims of Mussolini's fascism in Gonars was erected during the cold war period in year 1973. At the local cemetery a shrine was created by a Yugoslav sculptor Miodrag Živković. The 453 remains of Slovene and Croatian citizens who died in internment were then moved to two crypts at the shrine. 

At the time of our unannounced visit municipality workers opened the collective burial place without hesitation, even when in order to do so, they had to drive to Gonars town to get the keys. The keeper spoke reverently about the past. He was eager to tell us about schoolchildren visiting the shrine and a historian Alessandra Kersevan leading educational tours on location. With affection he remembered the presence of Barbara Miklič Türk, a wife of a former Slovene president, a state representative at one of recent yearly commemorations.


Visiting the shrine was a deeply moving experience. Coming out of the silent humid crypts one faces the sculpture representing a flower: stainless steel petals surrounding a round, blood red mosaic. A keeper suggested to me to step in the middle of the mosaic. His invitation: "Say something", met my discomfort and curiosity. I don't remember what I've uttered, but something unexpected happened. 
The waves of sound bounced back amplified. I felt them within my body, in my guts. I gazed in awe at the keeper whose smiling eyes revealed familiarity with the visceral experience I went through seconds ago. 
I walked away changed. 

This experience reinforced the importance of visiting the locations of internment, a commitment we've made when starting the project Remembering Fascist Camps. Our aim's been to be first person witnesses, documentarians of locations that once were Italian fascist concentration camps for Slovene civilians. 

Summarizing our 2000 kilometers drive in Italy and Croatia, with less than clear maps and directions marking locations of internment, i
t was because of local people's help, our persistence and intuition that we've found all five locations in Italy: Visco, Gonars, Monigo Chiesanuova and Renicci, and one location in Croatia.  
It was a place where we could pay our respects to the victims, that we were in search for. 
 While in Gonars (Italy) and the island of Rab (Croatia) memorials are easy to find, on other locations the traces of once existing fascist concentration camps are scarce. However, it's the testimonies of survivors, which you will be able to learn about through this blog, that will reveal otherwise untold fascist interment experiences and memories. You are kindly invited to follow us.

© Manca Juvan


© Manca Juvan
                                                                                                                                                                            
 A silver spoon holds war memories of a nurse Martina Košak (1911-1997). Among them dreadful memories of inhumane conditions at the nursery of the Italian fascist concentration camp on island of Rab. 

Because a nurse, Martina Košak was immediately appointed to an improvised nursery in a building at the time known as the outhouse of Hotel Kontinental. "She was in charge of children. They were laying on the floor. She said it was horrendous. As a woman and as a nurse she should be helping people, being children or adults, but she had nothing to help with," said Mr. Herman Janež, an internee himself, who became a custodian of the spoon.
"There was no water, no paper to put under those children who all had terrible diarrhea.  Warms grew under their bodies. There were no clothes. She told me the experience was so horrible for her that as a woman and as a nurse she couldn't withstand it," Mr. Herman Janež conveyed.
From collected memories, it became known that first babies who were born in the concentration camp Rab were delivered under tents. The nursery didn't improve the conditions. Chances of survival for babies born in the camp were close to none. 

After the war Ms. Košak made a research whether any babies born on Rab have survived. She found four Slovene women, one of them was Marija Mohar who died in 2011. Mr. Janež, who was also researching the issue, found nine men. According to a list of internees on Rab created by Mr. Janež, at least 163 children under the age of fifteen died during the internment. 
Researchers and historians estimate that the annual mortality rate in the Rab camp was higher than the overage mortality rate in the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald. 
Concentration camp on Rab was operating from July 1942 to September 1943. 


Concentration Camp Rab: Courtesy of a Slovene National Museum of Contemporary History








We ran into Ms. Ada Rebov in Gonars. "I came to see, where my three brothers were in internment", she said. To visit the location and memorial of a fascist concentration camp in this northeastern Italian town, not far from Venice, it took her an hour and a half long drive from Slovenia.

During the Italian occupation of Ljubljana, her three brothers, Bogomir, Anton and Marjan Javornik, were educated young men. They were arrested in a raid and later deported to a concentration camp in Gonars.
With the Italian occupation, educated and cultured individuals and intellectuals, no matter their age, became a threat to fascist expansionist policies and its cultural and ethnic assimilation. 
Written communication from and to the concentration camp was allowed, as were allowed parcels with food sent to internees. "That's what I was taking care of", Ms. Ada Rebov explained her role as a girl during war time.

She was searching through streets of Ljubljana, at the time an annexed city within a barbed wire fence and under severe control of Italian military. An act of repression turned the actual capital of Slovenia in a camp with controlled and limited exits.
"We barely succeeded. We were allowed to send five kilos. One parcel, each month, to each of them", Ms. Ada Rebov remembered from the period of her brother's internment.
Once in internment, men, women and children suffered hunger, illnesses and poor hygiene. For many of them, parcels - if delivered - granted survival. For some, the sudden intake of received food was fatal.


 © Manca Juvan

The collaborating at Remembering Fascist Camps came as second to my academic research project within Scientific Research Center Of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. This blog and the upcoming exhibition in September 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia were a natural development of a "dream trio" joined forces.
Today it is clear to me that I perceive both projects as a call of duty with regard to my ancestors. 
I grew up with nono Pepi’s (1915-1993) funny and bitter anecdotes about his interwar period on the island of Sardinia. In 1943 he was "mobilized" along with other young men to be isolated from the war events and used as unpaid labor force in such distant places. While Franci (1927-1991), grandpa on my father’s side, kept telling me the touching story of how his father was shot dead as a hostage "by Italians". His broken, blood covered corpse was left to his wife and three children to be buried. Consequently, the oldest of them freaked out for good. Soon afterwards, only 15-year-old Franci grabbed his father’s rifle and went to the woods to fight the occupiers …
 
The idea for the academic research project had been raised from the poor recognition of Italian war crimes in the international context.
Italian occupiers are mostly considered as indulgent and benevolent, and their concentration camps as mild and favorably inclined. 
Initially, as a research team, we thought finding internees seven decades after the tragic events, who would still be sufficiently lucid and open to share their dreadful stories, would be uneasy. Out of over 40.000 deported and interned Slovenians only several dozen former internees are believed to be alive nowadays. 

Luckily we found a handful of intellectuals, eloquent witnesses, who provided precious, detailed and well structured testimonies. 
Some people refused to cooperate.  Their major argument revealed as persistent internment memories: bursts of fear, subjection, confinement, homesickness, shame, dehumanization, recollections of loss, illness, starvation and death. Occasionally, the internment revives in nightmares. Silence, however, is also very telling.
Later, to reach as much witnesses as possible, we published a call for collaboration in various newspapers. Many survivors – to our great surprise – responded positively. These narrators are mostly outspoken persons who never publicly revealed their experiences. They represent the major group of internees, coming predominantly from rural areas, areas of extreme ethnic cleansing and internment policies led by Mussolini's Italy. 
They were excited to be given the voice. 
Their experience turned out to be of immense importance. Many testimonies revealed also items from private archives, like photographs, letters, drawings, pictures and other objects used in the camps. Unexpectedly, such objects give an added documentary value to the research.

Finally, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the majority of testimonies expressed gratitude for the research we conduct. We take the occasion to thank all and each of them for bravery and willingness to participate through their experiences to the collective memory of Europe. 



 © Manca Juvan

The collaborating at Remembering Fascist Camps came as second to my academic research project within Scientific Research Center Of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. This blog and the upcoming exhibition in September 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia were a natural development of a "dream trio" joined forces.
Today it is clear to me that I perceive both projects as a call of duty with regard to my ancestors. 
I grew up with nono Pepi’s (1915-1993) funny and bitter anecdotes about his interwar period on the island of Sardinia. In 1943 he was "mobilized" along with other young men to be isolated from the war events and used as unpaid labor force in such distant places. While Franci (1927-1991), grandpa on my father’s side, kept telling me the touching story of how his father was shot dead as a hostage "by Italians". His broken, blood covered corpse was left to his wife and three children to be buried. Consequently, the oldest of them freaked out for good. Soon afterwards, only 15-year-old Franci grabbed his father’s rifle and went to the woods to fight the occupiers …
 
The idea for the academic research project had been raised from the poor recognition of Italian war crimes in the international context.
Italian occupiers are mostly considered as indulgent and benevolent, and their concentration camps as mild and favorably inclined. 
Initially, as a research team, we thought finding internees seven decades after the tragic events, who would still be sufficiently lucid and open to share their dreadful stories, would be uneasy. Out of over 40.000 deported and interned Slovenians only several dozen former internees are believed to be alive nowadays

Luckily we found a handful of intellectuals, eloquent witnesses, who provided precious, detailed and well structured testimonies. 
Some people refused to cooperate.  Their major argument revealed as persistent internment memories: bursts of fear, subjection, confinement, homesickness, shame, dehumanization, recollections of loss, illness, starvation and death. Occasionally, the internment revives in nightmares. Silence, however, is also very telling.
Later, to reach as much witnesses as possible, we published a call for collaboration in various newspapers. Many survivors – to our great surprise – responded positively. These narrators are mostly outspoken persons who never publicly revealed their experiences. They represent the major group of internees, coming predominantly from rural areas, areas of extreme ethnic cleansing and internment policies led by Mussolini's Italy. 
They were excited to be given the voice. 
Their experience turned out to be of immense importance. Many testimonies revealed also items from private archives, like photographs, letters, drawings, pictures and other objects used in the camps. Unexpectedly, such objects give an added documentary value to the research.

Finally, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the majority of testimonies expressed gratitude for the research we conduct. We take the occasion to thank all and each of them for bravery and willingness to participate through their experiences to the collective memory of Europe. 



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