Oral History

Ivo Herzer describes conditions in the camp in Italian-occupied Yugoslavia to which he was taken in November 1942

Ivo grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Zagreb. He experienced little overt antisemitism until the Germans and their allies invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941 and installed a fascist Ustasa government in Croatia. The Ustasa regime began killing Jews, Serbs, and Roma (Gypsies). Ivo's family escaped to Italian-occupied territory, where the Italians tried to protect Jewish refugees. Ivo lived in Italian internment camps, including the Rab island camp, before moving to mainland Italy in 1944. He worked for the Joint Distribution Committee for a time, then moved to the United States.


And November '42, the Italians arrested all of us, put us on trucks, and we were taken to this camp--still Croatian-Yugoslav territory, but under Italian flag. We didn't know again, we thought maybe this was just a stage before our being turned over to the Croatians. And unfortunately there were two people who committed suicide, and the morale was very low. And the Italian commander of the, of the Second Army, which is a very high official, he came personally to the camp to give us a speech to reassure us that we would be protected as long as that flag flies that nobody can touch the camp. And we were told that we were free within the camp to organize ourselves, which we did. They gave us the possibility of having a school, elementary and high school, synagogue, social hall, medi...medical facilities were, in the camp were primitive, but all serious cases--and there were many--were taken outside the camp into the Italian military hospitals. So that while the camp itself was an ex-Yugoslav, uh, military base for the cavalry, so that we really lived in stables, but, it, conditions were harsh but quite tolerable. There was no physical threat, there was no outright hunger even though the rations were quite small. But we had opportunity to buy food, extra food. There were people with means, who were allowed to contribute, and then someone would go to Italy and bring food. The Italian Jewish organizations helped us, because they were allowed to function under Mussolini. So that while we didn't have the ideal nutrition, nobody really starved.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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