© Manca Juvan

Fanika Baraga (1920) was a 21-year-old peasant woman when World War II broke out. Italian army occupied her village. During those turbulent times, when her life was at stake, she met a respectful, handsome and intelligent man. They fell in love and got married. Because he was a sympathizer of the partisan movement, he was captured by Italian soldiers and shot as a hostage. It was only 40 days after her wedding day when Fanika became a widow - a pregnant widow.

A few weeks later Fanika - along with her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law - was arrested. Despite being heavily pregnant she was taken to Gonars concentration camp in cattle wagons in December 1942. She spent several months in detention without knowing why. Living conditions in overcrowded wooden barracks were wretched; starving and benumbed internees were constantly molested by lice and scabies.

Luckily, Fanika got well along with the majority of women who helped her. At the end of January 1943 she gave birth in an improvised barrack, supposed to be a sickroom. Fortunately nothing went wrong and she had a relatively easy delivery.  
For Fanika had nothing to wrap her newborn baby, an inmate made a small dress for a little girl out of her clothes.  
Alas, her newborn baby was exhausted already at the birth and died three months later.

A washed out baby-dress retains Fanika's bitter and touching memories of the hellish camp period. She never remarried nor had children again. The loss of the two she loved was way too painful for her. She dedicated herself to people in need and to God, which according to her own words, gives her shelter and power to withstand the burden of life. Strangely enough, I can't recall to meet a woman of almost 93 years of age – so vital, joyful and warm.

This map shows only the western portion of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia - currently known as Republic of Slovenia - and its divisions between the Axis Powers. 

Gray stripes: Fascist Italy occupied territory, known as The Province of LjubljanaBrown: Nazi Germany occupied territory; Green: Hungary occupied territory; Black: Area already annexed by Italy with the Treaty of Rapallo

On April 6, 1941 when the Axis Powers invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Slavic union was largely occupied by Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy, while smaller territories were occupied by Hungary and the Independent State of Croatia. In the process of annexing this territories to their parent land, the various occupiers imposed racial laws, conducted ethnic cleansing, and forced cultural assimilation.

Our research is limited to Slovene territories under Italian rule from 1941 to 1943, which was then renamed as the Province of Ljubljana. An estimated twenty-five thousand people, or 7.5 percent of the total population, were deported during the duration of this occupation. Villages were destroyed, houses were burnt, and people were interned in concentration camps, such as Rab, Gonars, Monigo (Treviso), Renicci d'Anghiari, Chiesanuova and elsewhere.

Our human concern compels us to document what has happened to our ancestors.

By the atrocious standards of the Second World War, the Italian concentration camps may be perceived as only a footnote of evil. We do not attempt to measure that evil. We intend to memorialize Italian war crimes that have not been fully investigated until now. There were no trials of Italian war criminals, such as there were for the Germans and Japanese. 

We are recording testimonials of survivors to document these atrocities. By doing so, we are creating a missing context of Italy's concentration camps in the annals of Western European history. 

© Manca Juvan

"This is part of my identity," Barbara Miklič Türk said while holding a pink knitted cap in her hands.
On this well preserved historic object, made by her mother during her internment in Italian fascist concentration camp in Gonars (Italy), are embroidered names of inmates and years of internment "42 - 43", meaning years 1942 and 1943.

In Ms. Miklič Türk's hands was a material representation of events that happened 70 years ago, when Kingdom of Italy occupied half of the territory of Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and when an estimated 7.5% of Slovene population was displaced to Italian fascist camps.
Italy wanted the occupied territory, not its inhabitants. In internment they were referred to as alogeni, an Italian word used to describe a less than human. 
Barbara Miklič Türk, wife of the former Slovene president, who has served for majority of his career in the United Nations, has been carrying this cap along with her wherever they lived. On occasions she spoke of historic events and remembered her mother's and her maternal grandparents' internment. Her memories often evoked surprise as listeners discovered the very existence of Italian fascist concentration camps.

In the years 2008-2011, during several encounters with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Mrs. Napolitano, President Dr. Danilo Türk and his wife Barbara Miklič Türk spoke about the tragic experience of Slovene and other internees in the Camp of Gonars. These conversations helped raising sensitivity for this aspect of history in Italy.

In the year 2011, at the invitation of the Major of Gonars Marino Del Frata she attended the commemoration of the victims of the Gonars camp. The ceremony was attend by Slovene state representatives, representatives of the Slovene minority in Italy and combatants association, and the delegation of the Republic of Croatia. In her speech she expressed respect for the victims and remembered the tragedies of fascism and the World War II.
For Ms. Miklič Türk everyone has a right for her pain to be respected. 
In Ms. Miklič Türk's perspective it is important to spread the awareness about this specific period in European history. We need to remember and make our best to prevent something similar to occur again. Her memories serve as ambassadors keeping the experience of a period of suffering, terror and destruction in Europe and in the Balkans present. 

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