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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia


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Report of the Communist Party Committee in the Jewish camp at Rab

Camp Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia for the Jewish Rab Camp, report 1943
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
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tags: activism community resistance

type: Report

Despite the dramatic transport to the Jewish camp at Rab that Elvira Kohn described in her diary, life in the Jewish part of the Rab camp was relatively tolerable. Compared to other labor and similar camps in the German-dominated parts of Europe, the daily routine that Jews faced was bearable. This was not the case in the Slovenian part of the camp, where the inmates were tortured, forced to work under harsh conditions, and were frequently killed or otherwise imperiled by hunger, exposure, and other kinds of ill-treatment. In the Jewish part of the camp there was no forced labor, food rations were more frequent and more substantial, and the daily threat of death was far removed.1

Both the Slovenian and the Jewish parts of the camp were infiltrated by communist cells, which maintained contact with the Yugoslav partisan movement on the mainland. On the eve of the Italian collapse—according to the dating of the document, it was written the very day on which, in the evening, the armistice between Italy and the Allies had been announced—the communist cell in the Jewish camp wrote a report to the mainland communist organization, informing their comrades about the situation in the Jewish camp.2 The exact dating of the document is unclear; it is likely that the report had been written a month earlier than the purported date (September 8, the very day of the Italian surrender) and smuggled out of the camp. The reason for the report is not clear, but the curious first sentence reveals that it was written in response to an inquiry of the mainland organization to the Slovenian section of the camp. Did the Jewish communist cell feel slighted? Did they perceive their work as being marginalized?

Whatever the reason for writing, and whether it was written in August or September that year, the report provides insight into both the actual situation in the camp and the communist perception of it, fueled by its own propaganda. The propaganda work listed in the report had probably taken place, though it is likely that its extent and impact were exaggerated. In a similar vein, as Elvira Kohn's diary suggests, Jews in the camp did not prove to be a highly conscious group versed in Marxist literature and eager to join the partisans: her remark that, at the hour of liberation, most people were making plans to go home, reveals that the reach of communist propaganda work was much more limited.

On the Jewish camp in Rab and the communist operation that followed the Italian collapse, 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. For the larger Italian policy of occupation in the Adriatic and Dalmatia, as well as for conditions in the Slovenian part of the camp, see Davide Rodogno, Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In early July 1943, the Allied forces landed in Sicily and started the push northeastward, across the Italian mainland. As the King of Italy had been critical of the Italian war effort and Mussolini himself for a while, and as the Allied invasion brought turmoil to Rome, high-level court intrigue resulted in a coup, the arrest and removal of Mussolini on July 23, and the appointment of Pietro Badoglio as prime minister, who promptly commenced to secretly negotiate the surrender of Italy to the Allies. On September 8, armistice was announced. For the timeline of the Italian surrender, and the general history of World War II, see Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft ("Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science"), widely known as Anti-Dühring was written by Friedrich Engels and published in 1878. It is a classic text of Marxist scholarship. "An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism" sounds like a collection of Marxist writings, probably by various authors.

NOF is the acronym for Narodnooslobodilački front, the Front of National Liberation. This was the umbrella organization of resistance groups in Yugoslavia, dominated by the communists.

NOO are Narodnooslobodilački odbori, or Councils of National Liberation. These were proto-government communist cells that the communists formed in camps and in liberated territory.

AFŽ is Antifašistički front žena, or the Anti-Fascist Front of Women. This was the main communist women's organization.

SKOJ is the acronym for Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije, the Union of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia. This was the main communist youth organization.

NOV is the acronym for Narodnooslobodilačka vojska, the Army of National Liberation. This was the offical name of the partisan army, the armed forces of Yugoslav resistance, dominated by the communists.

This was the communist greeting: Smrt fašizmu—sloboda narodu, meaning "Death to Fascism—Freedom to the People."

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Camp committee
C[ommunist] P[arty] for camps II and III [i.e., for Jewish sub-camps]
Rab, September 8, 1943

 

To the comradely Committee of [the] C[ommunist] P[arty of] C[roatia] Pag-Rab

Velebit.

 

Dear comrades!

In response to your inquiry to the comradely Committee of Slov[enian] int[ernees] in Rab, we submit to you the state of organization in Jewish camps II and III.

There are about 2,500 persons interned in both camps, among them large numbers children, women, and the elderly.

One party unit comprised of 4 members coordinates the entire work in both camps. Work is being carried out in closest coordination with the comradely Slov. Committee, and is thus organized according to the same principles as in other unliberated places. It is being carried out in the following directions.

1/ Work on the party line. Regular meetings of leadership and groups are being held where individuals are introduced to the basics of Marxism-Leninism (we have a copy of Anti-Dühring, An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism, and several brochures), their class consciousness and fighting spirit are raised.1 The work encompasses 77 people. We note that the majority of those work in the organization of NOF mentioned below, in order to introduce the fighting spirit into it and put through the correct line.2

2/ The organization of NOF. The work is organized on the basis of groups of between 3 and 5 people. The ideology of NOF and partisan struggle are being popularized, [people] are informed about daily events and the traitorous role of the London government [the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile] and its followers. Popular aid is being collected. We informed the L[ocal] C[ommittee] in Rab about it, asking for directions about what to do with it; since we received no instructions, we used a smaller part to [support the] poor and [treat] sick comrades. Physician comrades give medical courses, and medical material is being collected. Weekly reports feature commentary on the political situation and ideological articles. At the same time, NOO is guiding the public life in the camp.3 This work encompasses 190 men.

3/ AFŽ.4 The work is identical to the work under point 2. Female comrades [drugarice] are being educated as medical workers, and this organization encompasses 78 women and girls.

4/ SKOJ.5 The work of SKOJ consists of a forum with 3 subgroups. The youth is being educated ideologically on the basis of the materials at our disposal, and papers that we produce ourselves. It encompasses 105 male and female youths.

5/ The entire work is focused on preparing the fighters for NOV.6 We have one unit of about 150 fighters, formed into subunits with commanders, sergeants, and corporals (those are comrades with military training). Apart from that, a medical unit that can support a battalion (600 people). The unit has its own staff, including a commander, a political commissar, a quartermaster, a medic, and a technician.

For secretarial services, we have at our disposal typewriters, a hectograph, and some paper.

There are two more groupings in the camp, animated by an explicitly četnik [Serbian nationalist] spirit, without a connection to the outer world, and with no internal organization. The groupings are founded on personal connections. The strength of those is about 50 persons. They are not developing any particular activity, neither in the sense of propaganda.

For further successful work, we would urgently need revolutionary literature, especially the history of the C[ommunist] P[arty], and, if possible, a political economy. We are also asking that you deliver regularly the fresh reports of partisan struggle as well as party propaganda material. This is especially important since the morale and resilience of the people due to long internment and disconnection from everyday events is falling rapidly.

We hold that in this way we have submitted to you a detailed report of our work and organization, and we emphasize that we stand at NOF’s disposal and that all of us want to join the ranks of active fighters as soon as possible.

 

With a comradely greeting, S.F – S. N.7

[Camp Committee of the Communist Party] for camps II and III

Secretary

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
August 1943 to September 1943
Publisher
Camp Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia for the Jewish Rab Camp
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Rab, Croatia
Arbe, Italy (historical)
Document Type Report
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