Eric Gobetti, an Italian historian, told BIRN that “fascist crimes, in general, are not known in Italy”, and nor is the history of Kampor.
“The Italians have, in their imagination, a vision of a ‘good Italian’,” Gobetti said, explaining that there is a widespread opinion that during World War II, the Italians under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini were not as brutal as their German allies.
Gobetti said that people in Italy associate the notion of a concentration camp with Nazi Germany, but not fascist Italy.
“When we talk about fascist camps and the camp on Rab, people are surprised, not only students but also adults,” he said.
This is why Gobetti got involved in the project with Topografia per la Storia entitled ‘Camp on Rab: An Italian Story’ to fund more research and create public resources about Kampor.
They are also planning a memorial trip to Rab next year, on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the camp’s opening.
Gobetti explained that documents related to the camp are stored in various places – some are in military archives in Rome, while some are in Slovenian or Croatian state archives.
“It is not known the exact number of people who died in the camp and the total number of those who entered the camp, and that is exactly why we started this project,” he said, adding that it is particularly difficult to obtain documents in Italy as the authorities “do not favour investigations about that”
He said it is estimated that around 1,400 people died at Kampor, mostly of starvation or disease.
“There are many documents that suggest that the Italian generals knew about the conditions in which the people lived but did nothing about it,” he added.
He said that 100,000 ‘Yugoslavs’ were interned in fascist camps. Detention sites like Kampor were also established in Italy, Albania and elsewhere in Croatia.
Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, but even before that, there was anti-Slavic propaganda in Italy. In 1920, in a speech in the Croatian town of Pula, Mussolini stated that the Slavic race was “inferior and barbarian”.
Fascist camps set up near the Adriatic were intended to sever contacts between the Slovenian and Croatian population and the local Partisans, members of the Yugoslav anti-fascist resistance movement led by Josip Broz Tito.
Civilians were initially taken to the camp so they could not provide support to the Partisans, Gobetti said, and then later in 1943, around 3,000 Jews were arrested and interned there.
Following the Italian capitulation, the camp guards and Italian soldiers left the island of Rab and a joint force of local Partisan fighters and Partisan inmates liberated Kampor in September 1943.
The camp was a free territory for some time, but then was taken over by the Germans. Jews who stayed in the camp because they were too weak to leave or join the Partisans were captured by the Germans and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Tourism in history’s shadow