© Ivan Krašnja private archive
The Women's sector of the Rab Concentration Camp captured in a postcard from 1943. Od the left side a small part of the Jewish sector (built barracks) is visible.  

A white-haired, svelte-figured man, who introduced himself as Ivan Krašnja (1947), approached me at the opening of the Last Witnesses, memories from fascist camps exhibition in Maribor. In his hand a black and white photo. It turned out to be a postcard from Rab, dated September 13th 1953. He was holding a postcard capturing a fascist concentration camp for civilians on a Croatian island of Rab, operating from July 1942 to September 1943. The concentration camp is represented in it's late phase of operation when the tents were removed and inhuman living conditions improved. 
His father Janez Krašnja (1911-1967) wrote a postcard as a former fascist camp internee sending regards to the family while participating at the 10th anniversary of the camp liberation. 
Janez was working as a teacher in Maribor and just got his firstborn child, daughter Jelka (1941), when the war in Yugoslavia broke out. In April 1941, Maribor was occupied by the Nazis. Janez decided to move his family to fascist-controlled Ljubljana, which was believed to be a safer place.

In July 1942 he was denounced to the Italian authorities as a member of intelligence and a reserve officer of Yugoslav royal army. He was sent to Rab concentration camp. Early in the year 1943 the Italian army started to mobilize internees for Milizia Volontaria Anti-Communista (MVAC), a fascist controlled anticomunist volunteer militia, which would help them fight the partisans.
Janez, weighing only 40 kilos at the time, was at the very end of his life strength and volunteered to join the militia he personally disagreed with. He considered this step as the only way to save himself and to see his family again.
Though totally exhausted, he managed to jump off a moving train on the way from the camp to Ljubljana. He was hiding in a village close to Ljubljana and got in contact with his wife Marica (1913-1963).  He slowly recovered and looked forward to join the partisan resistance movement.

Only in January 1944 did he manage to get in touch with the partisan movement. Years later he discovered why it took him so long.
In the paranoid war years he was considered untrustworthy for he was released from the fascist camp before the eventual capitulation of the fascist regime in September 1943. The stigma of suspicion had chased him deep into the postwar years.
Apart from its documentary value, the postcard is a medium of a touching war memory, which addresses a fundamental dilemma, familiar to the majority of the people during the war. Any war. Which principle to follow? The one that is in accordance with the idea of national liberation or the one that keeps you and your family safe? Often the two choices exclude one another.

                                                                                           © Manca Juvan

At 99, Anton Vratuša is the oldest living survivor of italian fascist concentration camps in Slovenia. During fascist occupation he was, as an academic and as a member of resistance, arrested in Ljubljana. 
Than he was in internment in four fascist camps.
First he was deported to fascist camps for civilians and political prisoners in Italy: Gonars, Treviso and Chiesanuova (Padua). From there he was transferred to a Croatian island Rab, a camp where the internees from Slovenia suffered the most.

Experiencing four of twelve major fascist concentration camps for inhabitants from occupied slovene ethnic territories of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia we looked forward to Mr. Vratuša for a simple answer about the character of fascist camps. 

 "I can not give an unanimous description of fascist concentration camps," Ms. Vratuša said. 
Each group of internees had a different experience depending upon the time of her internment. Living condition varied depending of the state of development of the detention facility and the geographical region. Some of the camps were in use as detention sites before the outbrake of the second world war, some were under construction and internees were caring out the building works. Internees experienced wildly differing circumstances. According to their testimonials they all suffered malnutrition, poor hygiene and general neglect. 
There was something Mr. Vratuša was able to summarize about Italian fascist concentration camps: "I noticed that the majority of internees suffered badly. They were thinking only about the tragedy they found themselves in. I've made a decision that I will carry on my fight inside the camp or from the outside. I don't remember experiencing tragedy. I was an activist and I behave as such, as an activist."
"Several hundreds students and university colleagues were sent first to a concentration camp Gonars," Mr. Vratuša told. The very second day of the internment Mr. Vratuša, at the time a young intellectual in his activist mode, didn't follow the orders to salut with a fascist Saluto Romano. His act of disobedience created confusion. He was tied at the pillar and left without food and water for a day. "After that they left me alone. I continued my culture work and taught internees as an activists of the national Liberation front. As many others I was fighting the aggressors with different means."

From Gonars he was transfered to three other fascist concentration camps: Treviso and Padua in Italy and the island of Rab in Croatia.

Did concentration camp managers used similar punishment methods?
"Tying to the pillar was a common method.  Sometimes internees were bitten, but not as much as at Rab. There the camp commander, Colonel Vincenzo Cuiuli, was feroce - ferocious. He used to hit internees with a whip and used his dog for intimidation. One of the internees was caught while escaping. Cuiuli in person shot him to death. Compared to other camps leaders he was the most violent. For that reason the concentration camp on Rab became known as an execution camp."
At the time of the Italian capitulation in September 1943 Mr. Vratuša was part of the underground military movement, who's leaders carried on a  take over of the concentration camp Rab. Between 3.500 internees, majority of them of Slovene nationality, 300 Jews and 60 of Croatian nationality formed a Rab Brigade and disarmed the italian army. No casualties were recorded. 

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