© 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. 




                                                                             © Manca Juvan

On postcards sent from the concentration camp Gonars, Karlo Boštjančič (1915-2003) wrote about conducting the choir and concerts. The existence of a choir named Gonarski zvonček (Small Bell of Gonars) was life saving during times of induced hunger and lice infestation causing rashes or in worst cases epidemic typhus.

“He told me the baton was made from a broom handle. You can see that this is a broom handle”, Ms. Stanovnik introduced her family heritage. We clearly saw carvings representing slovene ethnic symbols: heart, coronation and wheat plant. At the hendel’s end of a conductor’s baton was a small harp and a metal badge with an inscription: “Gonarski zvonček, to our conductor, companion number 5389, Boštjančič Karl, 4.10.42”.
Mr. Boštjančič’s baton is a unique representation of a cultural life in an italian fascist concentration camp in Gonars.
It is unknown what songs they sang and if they were in Slovene language. “What a pity that testimonies were not more accurate and that I didn’t take notes. You now, when you are young, it just touches you briefly”, Ms. Stanovnik expressed her regret for missing memories.

Before Italian occupation of Ljubljana, Karlo Bošjančič was developing his academic career as young biology professor and expressed his musical skill level at the Opera. “I know that he was arrested during a rehearsal. Italian officers aligned the artists on the stage. Someone, hiding behind the curtain, was indicating whom should they pick up”, Ms. Stanovnik told about her father’s past. She knows the exact days of his internment. It was June 28, 1942 when he was transported to concentration camp in Gonars and later transferred to Monigo and back to Gonars. He was released from there on June 12, 1943.

Asking about reasons for her father's interment she answered: “What reasons did they have? They took the students and young intellectuals because they thought they might be unruly and will join the Liberation Front.”







We walked all around a vast closed area in search of a sign or a memorial saying we are at the former Italian fascist concentration camp site. Instead, in Visco, a small community in Northern Italy, we found walls, fences, barbed wire, gates and bushes keeping us out from what during WW2 was a concentration camp and later a military area.
As much as we tried, we didn't find a memorial place to pay our respects to the victims of this concentration camp, operating between February and September 1943. 
During eight months between 4500 to 6000 prisoners, mostly civilians from Slovenia and Croatia, were kept in internment there.

The concentration camp was a detention center mostly for people belonging to ethnic groups living in territories occupied by Italian army during WW2. Under the rule of fascism civilian inhabitants were displaced from areas today belonging to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro.

At that point, we find it important to remember that as a result of the mistreatment of civilians interned during WW2, the Fourth Geneva Convention was established in 1949, in order to provide for the protection of civilians during times of war. We believe that in times of enormous human development and achievement, we need to remember the basic values of humanity and human responsibility. We should own the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which restricts the use of internment. Article 9 states that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." Enforcing the Declaration of Human Rights, we pay our respects to victims of Italian fascist camps.


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