The Yugoslav Dalmatian port city of Split was occupied by Italy in 1941, along with the entire Yugoslav Dalmatian coast. Some parts of the coast were annexed by Italy, while others remained a zone of occupation. Since Yugoslavia had ceased to exist after the April 1941 invasion by Nazi Germany and its allies, the occupied and annexed parts came under the rule of the so-called Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi satellite state that Germany and Italy created in 1941 and heavily controlled throughout the war. The administrative difference between annexation and occupation perhaps did not have immediate consequences for the local population, which had to deal with Italian soldiers and administration in either case. It did, however, make a difference between life and death for the Jews. In Italy proper, including Split, the Jews were subject to Italian racial laws, which were discriminatory, but they were not concentrated in ghettos or otherwise segregated or incarcerated, except for those accused of communist and anti-fascist activity, along with other enemies of the regime. In the Italian zone of occupation Jews were in effect safe from the Croatian fascist state which wanted to "purge" the Croat nation of Serbs, Jews, and Roma, even though the Italian-controlled territory was still nominally part of the Independent State of Croatia. In 1942 and into 1943, when the Germans had already decided to murder as many European Jews as possible, the fate of Yugoslav Jews in the Italian occupation zone became increasingly precarious. Nazi Germany and its fascist-run Croatian satellite increased the pressure on Italy to "deliver" the Jews to be deported and murdered in the killing centers of occupied Poland. Although Jews in the Italian occupation zone were confined to camps as civilian internees and their freedom of movement was restricted, they were not mistreated, forced to work, or murdered.1
For a number of complex reasons, the Italian Fascist regime resisted this pressure, and refused to surrender the Jews to Nazi Germany or the Independent State of Croatia. In the spring of 1943, perhaps in order to put an end to the German and Croatian pressure, the Italians evacuated all Jews, more than 3,000 people, from the several camps in which they had been interned in the occupation zone. They transferred them to a camp on the Adriatic island of Rab (Arbe in Italian) that was part of Italy proper. As a result, the Germans and Croats could exert less pressure in demanding the deportations. There is some evidence to suggest that this might have been done out of some genuine concern for the Jews. However, concerns of geopolitics were far more important. In a situation in which Nazi Germany was clearly going to be defeated eventually and in which Italy harbored territorial pretensions over former Yugoslav territory in the Adriatic, "the Jewish question" increasingly served as a convenient testing ground for redefining relations among these nominal allies. Italy could suddenly say "no" to Nazi Germany and openly humiliate the Independent State of Croatia.
The overwhelming majority of Jews from the camp at Rab survived the Holocaust. In early September 1943 when Fascist Italy collapsed, the Rab camp was liberated by Yugoslav partisans, who transported the Jews to the liberated territory they controlled in Croatia. Most able-bodied Jews joined the partisans, while the children and the elderly were protected.2
In August, however, before the end of Fascist Italy, this was all in the future. The following letter was written by the president of the Split community to the Italian commander of the camp at Rab. The Split Jewish community was located in Italy proper, exempting its subjects from transfer to Rab. It is full of gratitude and recognition of Italy's benign role with respect to the persecution of Jews.