Once the Italians had occupied their zone of the Independent State of Croatia after chaos had gripped the country in the aftermath of wanton ustaša violence of the spring and summer of 1941, the situation in the southern and western parts of the country, including the entire Adriatic coastline, became relatively stable. The ustaše lost control of half of their "independent state" and the Italians effectively struck a non-aggression pact with Serbian nationalist guerillas operating in the forests and mountains of the Adriatic hinterland. The remaining force fighting both the Italian occupiers and the Serbian nationalists were the Yugoslav partisans, led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. However, in the first two years of the war, partisan operations were confined to the areas of the Independent State of Croatia dominated by the Germans.
In parts of Yugoslavia under Italian control Jews were relatively safe, as the Italian authorities routinely refused the demands by Ante Pavelić (the leader of the Independent state of Croatia) and his German patrons to deliver the Jews who found refuge in these areas.1 In November 1942, for complex reasons, the Italian occupiers decided to concentrate Jews from the so-called "Zone II" of the Independent State of Croatia, which Italy had fully occupied in the fall of 1941, in four major centers. The four camps included Dubrovnik, Kraljevica, Brač, and Hvar, with several sub-camps. In December, Italian military sources put the total number of Jewish internees in these camps at 2,661.
One of the four camps on the Dalmatian coast in which Jews were concentrated in the Italian zone of occupation was the camp at Kupari near Dubrovnik. The letter that Kupari inmates sent to the leadership of the Jewish Community in Zagreb in January 1943, featured here, illustrates several important aspects of their situation. Confined to the camp for about two months, the group was a collection of different Jewish groups and individuals who somehow ended up in the territory controlled by the Italians. There were "German Jews"—in reality, mostly Austrian and Czechoslovak Jewish refugees fleeing the expansion of the Reich in 1938 and comprising the "Čapljina group," named after the town in Herzegovina where they had previously been stationed—as well as Yugoslav Jews, who came from different regions of Yugoslavia. It is unclear how many people were in the "emigrant group Samobor," for example, but they had come to the Italian zone from the area around Zagreb that was firmly in the German sphere of the country.
Another important fact that the letter reveals is the dynamic of correspondence itself: it is addressed to the leadership of the Jewish Community in Zagreb. Nominally, in the absence of an umbrella Jewish organization in the country—the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities of Yugoslavia had dissolved together with the country itself—the Zagreb communal organization was the central Jewish organization in the Independent State of Croatia. Indeed, the "Fund for aid" in the camp is seeking approval from the Jewish Community in Zagreb for the financial transaction following an apparent personnel disagreement. But despite this nominal hierarchy, Jewish life in the two different parts of the Independent State of Croatia had diverged radically. In Kupari, as in other camps in the Italian zone, the movement of the Jews was constrained, and Jews lived as inmates in "camps," which were sometimes housed in hotels or other buildings in towns themselves. They were allowed to pool their savings, organize a "Fund for aid" and maintain their daily lives without a persistent threat of death. In contrast, even the leaders of the Jewish Community in Zagreb were living under constant pressure and threat of deportation and death. The numbers of community members kept dwindling—people being taken to camps, or going into hiding, fleeing to the Italian zone, or joining the partisans—and the leadership was overwhelmed by the simultaneously shrinking tax base and the rising demand for humanitarian aid for camp inmates. In addition, the threat of deportations was very real: the president of the Community himself, Hugo Kon, addressed in the letter, was deported to Auschwitz a few months after he received this letter, where he was murdered upon arrival.
We can assume that most people in the camp at Kupari survived the war.