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Guardians of the Spoon: Shedding Light on Italy’s Past

Before she died, Martina Košak gave a silver spoon to Janez Herman, a former, and fellow, internee at a World War II Italian Fascist camp.  She wanted Herman to become the guardian of both the physical object, and the historic memory it symbolized. Košak, who had been a nurse at the Rab concentration camp, had carried the spoon with her always – in jail, in camp, and when she joined the National Liberation Army.

Guardians of the Spoon,” a book by Slovenian photographer Manca Juvan, journalist Saša Petejan, and historian Urška Strle, “is an act of remembrance, and a way to pay respect to the past victims and survivors of Italian Fascist camps and their relatives,” write the authors. The book looks at the shifting conditions of memory.

As opposed to Germany’s Nazi concentrations camps, the history of Italy’s camps has gone largely unacknowledged. During World War II, Italy created hundreds of camps within its borders and inside what was then Yugoslavia, parts of which Italy occupied between 1941-1943. Under the command of dictator Benito Mussolini, the camps interned more than 50,000 Slovenes, Croats and other South Slavs. It’s unknown how many people died in the camps, but their stories recall extreme cruelty and an unyielding threat of death. 

The women who created “Guardians of the Spoon,” a collaborative project that includes a dedicated website in addition to the book, wish to illuminate fragments of the fates of the victims of Italian Fascist camps. The project also sheds light on those who outlived the survivors, becoming the guardians of their memories.

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