Italian "ethnic cleansing" of Istria during WWII -- a historical note
Excellent information from John Kraljic. There is only one problem - a big one - which is that these type of books and/or statistics are written only in Croatian instead of being translated into English, German, French, and sent to appropriate addresses, influential government persons and newspapers. Otherwise it remains just a "secret" among us Croatians.
On Sat, 1 Nov 2003 09:07:16 EST RobNSanja@aol.com writes:
I received the following note from John Kraljic, which puts the recent IHT article I sent around -- about Croat and Slovene survivors of Italian war camps -- into an historical context and adds further details which the article did not discuss.
I thought your list readers might be interested in some more information
about the Rab Camp as reported in the International Herald Tribune.
It has often been noted that the camp was for Slovenes and Jews. In
fact, as the author points out in the IHT story, the camp was a prison
for Croats as well. According to Ivan Kovacic's work, Kampor 1942-1943:
Hrvati, Slovenci i Zidovi u koncentracijskom logoru Kampor na otoku Rabu
(Rijeka: Adamic, 1998) [translation -- "Kampor 1942-1943: Croats, Slovenes, and Jews in the Kampor concentration camp on the island of Rab"] , a total of 1,447 victims have been accounted for thus far in the camp. Approximately 15,000 people were housed in the
Of the 1447 victims, 564, or close to 40%, were Croats. Most of the
Croatians killed were from the area of Gorski kotar. Kovacic calculates
the following numbers for certain villages and towns: Trsca - 191; Cabar
- 145; Gerovo - 58; Prezid - 48 and Plesca - 30. These are obviously
the largest concentrations.
The Italians basically "cleansed" this entire region of its population
in order to stop the support that the locals had been giving to the
Partisans. This area was annexed by Italy after 1941. As in other
areas annexed by Italy, and as was done previously in Istria, the
Italians introduced a campaign of Italianization, which included the
slow but sure ending of Croatian language classes in schools. The
results of this campaign in Istria were well known where an estimated
100,000 Croats and Slovenes left as a result and countless others were
Italianized through brutal ethnic discrimination and oppression.
During WWII, the Italians placed tens of thousands of Croats in camps in
Italy as a means to both break the back of support for the Partisans and
to engage in ethnic cleansing of territory.
The means used by the Italians was not limited to internment of
civilians, but also involved mass killings.
On July 12, 1942, Italian army forces (and it should be emphasized that
most of these crimes were committed by regular army forces, not
blackshirts) killed between 91 and 128 people in the village of Podhum,
about 10 kms from Rijeka on the Rijeka-Zagreb road. Those killed ranged
in age from 14 to 60. The remaining 889 people who lived in the village
were shipped off to camps and over 320 homes were destroyed.
To put this in some context, it is interesting to see what the NDH's
consul to Rijeka, Zvonimir Caleta, said about the attack on Podhum (as
cited to in Kovacic's book): "Local Italian authorities justify these
acts on the grounds that Communists are in question. If this were
really the case, then the annexed continental (i.e., interior) portions
of the Kvarner region would be the only area in the world which is a
compact Communist one, because the entire population has been subjected
to these countermeasures. That the arguments of the Italian authorities
have no basis is shown by the recent and past political history of the
people in the area which is in question. Of all the vilages in this
area, Podhum has suffered the most, and that is a village which in this
area was a strong center of the national struggle of the Croatian people
in the past two decades. That village was politically speaking
pro-Croatian so that not one pro-regime (i.e., Yugoslav) party in this
largest village of the Grobinstina could ever get even one vote for
itself. Just as this village was not a Communist one, one cannot make
claims that other villages in the area are Communist as Communism was
never able to get a free ride here. This can be seen by the fact that
many rebels (i.e., Partisans) confess and take communion before they
leave for the woods (i.e., the Partisans)."
I had an opportunity to visit the Podhum memorial this summer which is
clearly visible on the highway from Rijeka to Zagreb. There are plaques
with the names of various individuals, some having fresh flowers on them
which shows how this massacre still resonates among the locals.
Even though the perpetrators of this crime were known, they were never
We should also not forget the crimes committed by the Germans. I
recently read that following the German takeover of Istria in 1943 after
Italy's capitulation anywhere from 2.500 to 5.000 Croats were killed in
Istria alone. I travelled to a number of towns in the interior of
Istria during the summer and this is evident by the war memorials which
list people killed, most dying in 1943.
A substantial number of Croats from Istria were subsequently sent to
German concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau.
A recent book by Vinko Sepic Ciskin, Gubici Liburnijskog kraja u Drugom
Svjestskom ratu (Rijeka: Adamic, 2003) [translation -- "Casualties in the Liburnian region in WWII"], contains a list of names of those killed in the region of Opatija, Matulji and the Kras region of Istria. The author found a total of 1230 people were killed from these
communities alone, of whom 519 were Partisans and 576 were what is
decribed as "victims of fascist terror." A further 79 died serving in
the Italian military. The lion share of these victims were killed in
1943 and 1944.
Of the 519 Partisans, 490 were Croats. Of the 576 "victims of fascist
terror," 498 were Croats, 58 were Jews (from Opatija) and 16 were
Italians. Of the victims of fascist terror, approximately 250 were
killed in one day in the village of Lipa, located about 5 kms from Rupa
on the Slovene-Croatian border.
In addition to the foregoing, the author lists the names of 48 people
"liquidated" by the Partisans.
I think it is important to note that when we talk about "Partisans" we
need to be careful not to make the mistake in assuming that they were
Communists. They were controlled by the Communist Party because of the
Party's control structure. Like the Domobrani, they were mostly
draftees (the Communists use the word "mobilizirani"). Practically all
Croatian families who lived on the coast were affected by this as the
Partisans took over the area for some period of time after Italy's