|© Manca Juvan|
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.