In a small town called Gonars, just about ten kilometres south of Udine in northeastern Italy, the Italian fascists established a prisoner-of-war camp meant for Soviet prisoners of war. However, some Soviet prisoners of war never arrived at the camp, but in the spring of 1942 the camp became a Yugoslav collection camp, imprisoned in connection with raids in and around Ljubljana. At that time, the territory in which Ljubljana is located had been occupied and incorporated into Italy. Like the Germans, italians also stifled any nationalist tendencies in the occupied territories and in many cases used draconian methods to suppress the Yugoslav population. Villages were burned down and potential enemies imprisoned or murdered, especially so-called intellectuals because they were considered capable of organizing an underground resistance movement. On the night of 22 and 23 February 1942, Ljubljana was barred by barbed wire and the Italians arrested all men, the majority of whom were later also imprisoned. Similar raids also took place elsewhere.

The camp consisted of three sections called Alpha, Beta and Gamma and the prisoners were forced to live in both barracks and tents. The camp was built for about 3,000 prisoners but in the summer of 1942 there were about 6,000 prisoners (mostly men) and the spread of diseases due to malnutrition and poor food contributed to the beginning of prisoners dies. In August 1942, Slovenian resistance fighters imprisoned under a false name made an escape by digging a tunnel from barrack 22 to the outside of the camp. After this escape, the prisoners were transferred to other camps, presumably to divide the remaining resistance groups. But the camp soon came to be filled with new prisoners, this time with men, women and children arrested at raids in Gorski kotar, a mountain region just northeast of Rijeka, Croatia.

In the autumn of 1942, prisoners arrived at Gonars from a camp on the island of Rab just off the Croatian coast. These were in deplorable condition and during the winter of 42/43, about 500 prisoners died in Gonars as a result of starvation and disease. About 70 of these were infants whose lives began and ended in a camp. Like all other fascist camps, Gonars ceased to exist in connection with Italy’s capitulation and the subsequent German occupation of Italy. The remaining guards fled and the prisoners were abandoned or released. In the following months, locals demolished the camp to use the material for other buildings. The only thing left of the camp today is the foundations of one of the barracks.

Current status: Demolished with monument (2011).

Location: 45° 54' 26.07" N 13° 14' 10.89" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

Gonars was an Italian fascist camp without any German intervention. Gonars was not the only camp established by the fascists, the most famous is probably the one on the island of Rab off the Croatian coast. How many of you have heard of it? The fascist camps are far less known than their Nazi counterparts, but that does not mean that those who sat and died in the camps would somehow have suffered less than those who sat in the nazi. But the systematic executions and extreme working conditions prevailing in several of the Nazi camps were far less frequent in the fascist ones. But if Germany made up with its Nazi history, perhaps the opposite prevails in Italy. Some trials against former commandants and guards have more or less been non-existent. This is probably due to an unwillingness on the part of the Italian to prosecute and bring any culprits to justice. Mussolini and fascism still have legitimacy and credibility in Italy, which thwarted the unanimous position of the political establishment against the fascist history of the country.

Follow up in books: Reale, Luigi: Mussolini’s Concentration Camps for Civilians: An Insight into the Nature of Fascist Racism (2011).