Rab concentration camp

Rab concentration camp

The Rab concentration camp (Croatian: "Koncentracijski logor Rab"; Italian:"Campo di concentramento per internati civili di Guerra – Arbe") was an Italian concentration and internment camp on the Adriatic island of Rab during World War II. It was one of a considerable number of such camps built on Italian-governed territory during the war to hold civilians, those accused of partisan activities, as well as interned Jews. The camp was established in July 1942 but soon became known for its appalling conditions, which caused the deaths of numerous inmates. It was closed down after the armistice with Italy in September 1943. Although most of its inmates were safely evacuated, some of its remaining Jews in the camp were deported by German forces to the extermination camp at Auschwitz.

Establishment of the camp

By the summer of 1942, Italian forces in occupied Yugoslavia (more specifically Dalmatia and western Slovenia) were facing an ongoing campaign by local resistance groups, the Yugoslav Partisans. The Italian leadership decided that a new, severe policy of reprisals against the civilian population was required to suppress the insurgency. As General Mario Roatta told a conference of Italian officers in Kočevje in August 1942, internment was to be used to punish Slovenian villagers, including men, women and children, who were suspected of harbouring partisans. Roatta told his staff: "Don't worry if those expelled include innocent people. Operations must be brief and effective: if necessary don't shy away from using cruelty. It must be a complete cleansing. We need to intern all the inhabitants and put Italian families in their place, families of dead or wounded soldiers."Steinberg, Jonathan. "All Or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust, 1941-1943", p. 34. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415290694]

Italian troops throughout Yugoslavia thereafter undertook a campaign of village-burning, summary shootings and the wholesale internment of civilians. The decisions on whom to intern were often quite arbitrary; Uroš Roessmann, one of those interned, later recalled: "There were frequent "razzias" when the train taking us to school in Ljubljana from our village of Polje pulled in to the main station. Italian soldiers picked us all up. Some were released, and others were sent to concentration camps. Nobody knew who decided, or on what grounds."Corsellis, John; Ferrar, Marcus. "Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival After World War II", pp.26-27. I.B.Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1850438404]

The camp at Rab, built near the village of Kampor, was one of a number of such camps established along the Adriatic coast to accommodate Slovenian and Croatian prisoners. Opened in July 1942, it was officially termed "Camp for the concentration and internment of war civilians - Rab" ("Campo di concentramento per internati civili di Guerra – Arbe"). [Manini, Marino. "Zbornik radova s Međunarodnog znanstvenog skupa Talijankska uprava na hrvatskom prostoru i egzodus Hrvata 1918-1943", p. 659. Hrvatski institut za povijest, 2001.]

Prisoners and camp conditions

The camp held up to 15,000 prisoners at its peak, mostly Slovenes and Croatians who were housed in more that a thousand open-air tents arrayed across a valley and surrounded by razor wire and guard towers. "Kampor 1942-1943: Hrvati, Slovenci i Židovi u koncentracijskom logoru Kampor na otoku Rabu" ("Kampor 1942-1943: Croats, Slovenes, and Jews in the Kampor concentration camp on the island of Rab"). Rijeka: Adamic, 1998.] Many of the camp's inmates were civilians from Italian-ruled Dalmatia who had been rounded up in anti-Partisan sweeps or reprisals. [Sluga, Glenda. "The Problem of Trieste and the Italo-Yugoslav Border: Difference, Identity, and Sovereignty in Twentieth-century Europe". SUNY Press, 2001. ISBN 0791448231]

Conditions at the camp were described as appalling: "filthy, muddy, overcrowded and swarming with insects." The Slovenian writer Metod Milač, who was an inmate at the camp, described in his memoirs how prisoners were quartered six to a tent and slowly starved to death on a daily diet of thin soup, a few grains of rice and small pieces of bread. Prisoners fought with each other for access to the camp's meager water supply, a single barrel, while many became infested with lice and wracked with dysentry caused by the unhygenic conditions. Part of the encampment was washed away by flash flooding. Some of the Italian authorities eventually acknowledged that the treatment of the inmates was counterproductive; in January 1943, the commanding officer of the 14th Battalion of Carabinieri complained:

Although the conditions at Rab were particularly atrocious, it was far from unique. According to James Walston, the annual mortality rate in the Italian camps was at least 18 percent and " [t] ens of thousands of internees died of disease and malnutrition." [Walston, J. "History and Memory of the Italian Concentration Camps," "Historical Journal" 40 (1997)] The number of deaths in the Rab camp has been put at some 1,400 people, with a further 800 prisoners dying later when they were relocated to other Italian concentration camps such as Gonars and Chiesanuova near Padua.

Jewish internees at Rab

By 1 July 1943, 2,118 Yugoslav Jews were recorded having been interned by the Italian army. Starting in June 1943, they were moved into a newly constructed section of the Rab concentration camp, alongside the Slovenian and Croatian section. Unlike the other prisoners, the Jews were provided with proper accommodation, sanitation and services; they were provided with wooden and brick barracks and houses in contrast to the overcrowded tents sheltering the Slavic prisoners. The historian Franc Potočnik, an inmate in the Slavic section of Rab camp, described the much better conditions in the Jewish section:

The difference in treatment was the consequence of a conscious policy by the Italian military authorities. In July 1943, the Civil Affairs Office at the 2nd Army HQ issued a memorandum on "The Treatment of Jews in the Rab Camp", which was enthusiastically approved by chief of the office and the 2nd Army's chief of staff. The memorandum's author, a Major Prolo, urged that the infrastructure of the camp must be:

He concluded with a clear reference to Italian awareness of the massacres of Jews that were ongoing elsewhere in German-occupied Europe:

The difference in treatment is explained by Jonathan Steinberg as arising from the differing Italian views towards Slovenes/Croatians and Jews. Italy's Slovenian and Croatian subjects posed an active political and military threat to the regime, as they rejected Italian rule and took up arms to resist. Jews, by contrast, were not seen as a threat. Some members of the Italian military also saw humane treatment of the Jews as a way of preserving Italy's military and political honour in the face of German encroachments on Italian sovereignty; Steinberg describes this as "a kind of national conspiracy [among the Italian military] to frustrate the much greater and more systematic brutality of the Nazi state."

Apparently there was some positive interaction between the Slavic camp and the Jewish one, since according to the Slovenian Rab survivor, Anton Vratusa, who later was to become Yugoslavia's ambassador at the United Nations: "We were prisoners; they were protected people. We used their assistance."

Closure of the camp

By mid-1943 the camp's population stood at about 7,400 people, of whom some 2,700 were Jews. The fall of Mussolini in late July 1943 increased the likelihood that the Jews on Rab would fall into German hands, prompting the Italian Foreign Ministry to repeatedly instruct the General Staff that the Jews should not be released unless they themselves requested it. The ministry also began to put in place a mass transfer of the Jews to the Italian mainland. However, on 16 August 1943 the Italian military authorities ordered that the Jews were to be released from the camp, although those that wished could stay.Rodogno, Davide. "Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War", p. 354, 446. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521845157]

The island remained in Italian hands until after the armistice with Italy was signed on 8 September 1943, when the Germans seized control. About 245 of the Jewish inmates of the camp joined the Partisans, forming the Rab battalion, though they were eventually dispersed among other Partisan units. Most of the Jews from the camp were evacuated to Partisan-held territory [http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/20031029AtCroatiareunion.html At Croatia reunion, survivors mark passage from prisoners to fighters] , Jewish Telegraphic Agency] , but 204 (7.5%) elderly or sick people were left behind. They were immediately sent by the Germans to Auschwitz for extermination. [Zuccotti, Susan; Colombo, Furio. "The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival", p. 79. University of Nebraska Press, 1996. ISBN 0803299117] For his actions in saving Jews evacuated from Rab in September 1943, Ivan Vranetić was honored as one of the Croatian Righteous Among the Nations [ [http://www.massuah.org.il/pages/subcategory_details.asp?intGlobalId=50&intTypeId=92&intLangId=2 Massua | Holocaust Martyt's and Heroes' Remembrance Day ceremony ] ] .

After the war

In 1955, a memorial and cemetery were built on the site of the camp to a design by Edvard Ravnikar. [Nebojša Tomašević, Kosta Rakic, Madge Tomašević, Madge Phillips-Tomašević, Karin Radovanović. "Treasures of Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedic Touring Guide", p. 161. Yugoslaviapublic, 1983] The site has also been given explanatory memorial notices in Croatian, Slovene, English and Italian to inform visitors of the camp's history.

It has been said that "By the murderous standards of the second world war, Rab was only a footnote of evil" [http://www.iht.com/articles/2003/10/29/camp_ed3_.php Survivors of war camp lament Italy's amnesia - International Herald Tribune] ] and due to Italian "amnesia" and their role on the Allied side in the last years of the World War II, not much is known about this camp outside the borders of the former Yugoslavia. In 2003 the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the Italian newspaper "La Voce di Rimini" that the fascist government of Benito Mussolini "never killed anyone" and "Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile".

Survivors of the camp include Anton Vratuša, who went on to be Yugoslavia's ambassador at the United Nations (1967-69) and was Prime Minister of Slovenia (1978-80), and Elvira Kohn, who described her experiences at the camp in some detail [ [http://www.centropa.org/index.php?id=177&page=rdetails&rtype=bio&table=biografien Elvira Kohn - Centropa.org] ] .


Further reading

* [http://www.pinerolo-cultura.sail.it/gouthier/134campiitaliani.htm Campi Italiani d Internamento e di Deportazione (in Italian)]
* [http://www.iht.com/articles/2003/10/29/camp_ed3_.php/ Survivors of war camp lament Italy's amnesia]
* [http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/20031029AtCroatiareunion.html Survivors mark passage from prisoners to fighters]
* [http://www.oris.hr/oris_br_27/tekst_02.htm Concentration camp memorial complex]
* [http://www.cendo.hr/upload/Prezentacija_FINAL.pdf Report on the Jews who escaped the holocaust via the Adriatic coast]
* [http://www.unive.it/media/allegato/dep/Ricerche/4-I_bambini_sloveni_nei_campi_di_concentramento_italiani.pdf Slovenian Children in the Italian Concentration Camps (1942-1943) (in Italian; abstract in English)]
* Milač, Metod M.: Resistance, imprisonment and forced labor : A Slovene student in World War II. ISBN 0-8204-5781-7

External links

* [http://www.oris.hr/oris_br_27/tekst_03.htm Oris, magazine for the architecture and culture] A memorial plaque for the victims of fascism in Kampor on the island of Rab
* [http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomazk/2283010087/ Kampor - concentration camp sur Flickr: partage de photos]

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