Oral History

Isaac (Mike) Danon describes conditions in Yugoslavia and Italian occupation forces there

Isaac lived with his parents and three sisters in Split, on the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia. When German and Axis forces invaded and partitioned Yugoslavia in 1941, Italian forces occupied Split along with other coastal areas of Yugoslavia. Italian occupation authorities in Yugoslavia generally prevented violent attacks on Jews. The Italian zone became a safe haven for those fleeing the Nazis or the Ustase (Croatian fascists). After Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in 1943, the area was occupied by Germany. Isaac and his father joined the partisans. They then escaped to Allied-occupied islands off Yugoslavia and Italy. Members of Isaac's family were eventually reunited in southern Italy and arrived at Fort Ontario, New York, on a refugee transport in 1944.


There was about two hundred Jewish families in town. Well, after a few months the number swelled to four or five thousand, and then maybe up to ten thousand people that came from other places. And at that point the Italians started getting panicky -- the Italian authorities -- so they asked the Jewish community to disperse them throughout the area that they controlled. And then finally they started taking them away to I guess we can call them internment centers. Both different areas along the occupied coast and also in Italy proper. Uh...I didn't think of this too much but the Italians were really, uh, what shall I say, they helped many people. They saved us, for one thing. And they...and many times when the Germans or their quislings, the Croatians, they wanted to occupy certain towns or they wanted take certain Jews away to concentration camps, the Italians would step in and say, "this is our area and you can't cross." You know, it was...for them it was, you know, a territorial issue but for us it was a case of life or death.


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