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.


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