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Letter of the President of Jewish Community of Split to Colonel Vincenzo Cuiuli

Morpurgo, Vittorio Jewish community of Split letter 1943
Courtesy of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic, Rome

Following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the conquered territories were turned into a patchwork of different collaborationist states and annexed or occupied territories.1 Depending on where they were at the time the country was carved up, people in occupied Yugoslavia found themselves living under the control of German, Italian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, or Croatian authorities. The experiences of Yugoslav Jews during the Holocaust depended greatly on whose administration they lived under. 

The Yugoslav 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 stayed a zone of military occupation. In Split and other areas that were annexed directly by Italy, Jews became subject to Italian race laws. But these were less severe than those in Nazi Germany or the so-called Independent State of Croatia, which had been created with German and Italian support following the Axis invasion. 

In 1942 and 1943, the fate of Jews in the Italian occupation zone became increasingly uncertain. Italian authorities had protected these Jews from the Croatian fascist state's attempt to create an ethnically homogenous Croat nation by deporting and murdering Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Jews in the Italian occupation zone were confined to camps as civilian internees and their freedom of movement was restricted, but they were not mistreated, forced to work, or murdered. But now German authorities and their Croatian collaborators began increasing the pressure on Italian leaders to deport Jews in territories under Italian occupation to the killing centers of occupied Poland.2 

The Italian Fascist regime resisted this pressure and refused to turn over these people to Nazi Germany or the Independent State of Croatia. In the spring of 1943, Italian forces evacuated all of the Jews living in the internment camps of the occupation zone—more than 3,000 people. They transferred them to a camp on the Adriatic island of Rab (Arbe in Italian),3 which was Italian territory. There is some evidence to suggest that this might have been done out of some genuine concern for the Jews. The decision might also have been influenced by political considerations as the war began to turn against the Axis powers.

The featured letter was written by the president of the Jewish community of Split to the Italian commander of the camp at Rab. Split and the surrounding region had been annexed directly by Italy, which meant that its Jewish residents had been exempt from transfer to Rab in spring 1943. The letter is full of gratitude for the treatment of Jews under Italian authority and recognizes the consideration shown for the well-being of the Jews at the Rab camp.

The overwhelming majority of Jews from the camp at Rab survived the Holocaust. When Fascist Italy collapsed in September 1943, the Rab camp was liberated by Yugoslav partisans. They transported the Jewish inhabitants of the camp to the liberated territory that they controlled in Croatia. Most of the liberated Jews of fighting age joined the partisans, while children and the elderly were protected.4

See the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia for more on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Independent State of Croatia.

To learn more about World War II in Yugoslavia, see Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001). For the Italian occupation zone in Yugoslavia, see Davide Rodogno, Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation during the Second World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). On the Croatian fascist regime and its genocidal policies against Serbs, Jews, and Roma, see Rory Yeomans, Visions of Annihilation: The Ustasha Regime and the Cultural Politics of Fascism, 1941–1945 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013); and Rory Yeomans, ed., The Utopia of Terror: Life and Death in Wartime Croatia (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2015).

 

For more primary sources on the camp at Rab, see the related Experiencing History items, Diary of Elvira Kohn and Report of the Communist Party Committee in the Jewish Camp at Rab.

For this little-known episode, see Emil Kerenji, "'Your Salvation is the Struggle Against Fascism': Yugoslav Communists and the Rescue of Jews, 1941–1945," Contemporary European History 25:1 (February 2016), 57-74.

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THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF SPALATO [SPLIT]

Spalato [Split], August 20, 1943

To: Colonel CC. RR. Cujuli
Commander of internment camp I.C. in Arbe [Rab]
Arbe

Dear Colonel,

We consider it our duty to express our deepest gratitude for the warm reception given to our Dr. Giacomo Altaras by the command of the "Bergamo" Division, charged by us to transport and deliver the baggage of the San Martino [Sumartin] and Postire della Brazza [Postira] internees. He told us about the kind and thoughtful assistance offered by you and by the esteemed officers in carrying out his assignment, and also by your fatherly interest to improve the housing and food of these unhappy refugees, who have escaped a terrible fate in their country of origin thanks to the generous rescue by the generous Italian army. He told us in detail about the schemes you devised and put to work or will work out, for the supply of water, fresh milk for children and the sick, for sanitary institutions, etc. etc. in the camp.

While we are happy that our fellow Jews have found in you a benevolent and generous protector in their unhappy present circumstances, we must express our heartfelt thanks for all that you did and do to ease our conditions, and to entrust these people to your generous care also for the future.

You can be sure that the help we have received will never be forgotten and your name will be indelibly impressed in the hearts of the beneficiaries and in ours. You may not consider this important, but this is a saying of our ancient sages: "The reward for a good deed is the good deed itself." On our part we pray to the Almighty to reward you as you deserve for all the good that you do to help the wretched, innocent victims of a world upheaval which has carried away people and things, institutions and consciences.

With gratitude,
The Jewish Community of Spalato

President
[signed] Vittorio [Vid] Morpurgo

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic, Rome
RG Number 40.014
Date Created
August 20, 1943
Author / Creator
The Jewish Community of Spalato
Language(s)
Italian
Location
Split, Croatia
Split, Kingdom of Yugoslavia (historical)
Document Type Letter
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