Boris Pahor at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, 2010

Mourning for Boris Pahor

Slovenian-Italian writer and former inmate of Mittelbau concentration camp dead at age 108

With deep sympathy we learned that Boris Pahor passed away today at the age of 108.

Boris Pahor, who was born in Trieste, belonged to Italy’s Slovenian minority, for his formerly Austro-Hungarian hometown fell to that country in 1918. In 1920, he watched as militant Fascists burned down Trieste’s Slovenian cultural center. Two years later, the Fascists took power and began pursuing a politics of Italianization. These early experiences shaped Boris Pahor, who advocated for Slovenian interests all his life.

In 1940, Boris Pahor was drafted into the Italian military. He was initially stationed in the Italian colony of Libya, where he witnessed the Italian army’s brutal treatment of the local population. In 1941, he was transferred to Lombardy, where he worked as a military translator for Yugoslavian prisoners of war. Simultaneously he took up university studies in literature at the University of Padua.

After the ousting of Mussolini and the armistice between Italy and the Allies, Boris Pahor returned to now German-occupied Trieste in 1943. There, he joined the Slovenian partisans. In January 1944, however, he was denounced.

Boris Pahor was sent to Dachau concentration camp. From there, the SS transferred him to Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp and on December 9, 1944 to Mittelbau concentration camp. There, he had to work as an orderly in the Harzungen satellite camp due to his multilingualism and the nursing training he had undergone in Dachau. In April 1945, Boris Pahor came to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with one of the so-called evacuation transports. He was liberated there on April 15, 1945.

After the liberation, Boris Pahor spent a year in a French sanatorium and returned to Trieste in late 1946. He finished his university studies, got a PhD, started a family, and worked as a teacher of Italian literature at a Slovenian-language high school in Trieste from 1953 to 1975. Additionally, he was active in politics and published numerous works of fiction in his Slovenian mother-tongue. Therein he processed, among other things, the trauma of his concentration camp imprisonment, e.g. in his most famous novel “Necropolis” (1967).

Due to his critical attitude toward Yugoslavia’s Communist government he was long denied access to a broad readership. Only after the collapse of the Eastern bloc did his literary work reach an international audience thanks to translations into French, English, and German. Numerous awards followed, among them a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.

Boris Pahor regularly visited Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp memorial. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation he held a commemorative speech in 2015, in which he urged greater remembrance in particular of the bravery of the political prisoners from all over Europe, who suffered and died in the Nazi concentration camps.

Our thoughts today are with the bereaved, to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences. We are filled with deep sadness at the loss of this principled, talented, and engaged person.