WWII-Era Concentration Camp to Become Luxury Beach Resort

If you have always fantasized about staying in a former concentration camp, that fantasy could soon become a reality.

A former WWII concentration camp on the Montenegrin island of Mamula is going to be reborn in the near future as a luxury resort complete with pools, spas, restaurants, marina, and dancing.

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Mamula (also known as Lastavica) is located in the Adriatic Sea at the entrance to Boka Kotorska Bay. It is an islet, which means it is a very tiny island. Mamula islet is circular in shape and only measures about 200 meters in diameter. The Mamula Fort occupies approximately 90 percent of the islet.

An Austro Hungarian General originally built this structure in 1853, and while it is known as a “fort”, there were no battles waged at this site. Instead, the original reason it was constructed was to stop enemy ships from entering Boka Bay. However, over the years it filled several roles including serving as a concentration camp beginning on May 30, 1942, for fascist forces of Benito Mussolini’s Kingdom of Italy.

Men, women, and children were imprisoned in this facility. Based on Italian military documents, it is estimated that this former concentration camp held over 2000 prisoners and more than 100 people were either killed or starved to death.

In an article for Balkaninsight.com, Jovanka Uljarevic explained that her late grandmother, Ljubica, spent four months at Mamula Fort when she was only 12 years old. Ljubica was imprisoned at Mamula along with her mother and sister in the summer of 1942, after Mussolini’s soldiers had killed her father. Jovanka recounted that, “If the baby cried, soldiers would come in and beat everyone up until there was silence.”

Conditions were brutal.

“It was cold, they were starved and the overall conditions were very bad,” Jovanka added.

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Once the war was over and the fort was no longer used as a concentration camp, it fell into disrepair, and has stood empty for decades. The main visitors to the islet are relatives of people who were at the concentration camp or tourists who come to visit the fort for both its historical value and natural beauty.

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Many people agree that Mamula Fort needs to be saved and preserved. However, how this was going to happen has been debated for years, ultimately leading to a controversial decision by the Montenegrin parliament. The ruling body approved the luxury resort project from the Swiss-Egyptian company Orascom.

The head of Montenegro’s national directorate for tourism development, Olivera Brajovic, stated, “We were facing two options: to leave the site to fall into ruin or find investors who would be willing to restore it and make it accessible to visitors.”

Orascom was granted a 49-year lease, and the company plans to invest over $16 million into developing this new resort. The Swiss-Egyptian company will pay just over $4300 per month for the 323,000 square foot island for the next 49 years.

The company is excited about this revitalization project. There are plans to include several swimming pool areas with elaborate seating.

The resort will include deluxe accommodations with well-appointed bathrooms.

There are also plans to include a high-end restaurant.

People are divided about the approval to turn this former concentration camp into a luxury resort. The family members of people who were imprisoned in the camp feel this is not the right way to honor the memories of those who died and were tortured at this site.

“To build a luxury hotel dedicated to entertainment at this place where so many people perished and suffered is a blatant example of lack of seriousness towards history,” Olivera Doklestic told AFP.

Olivera’s father, uncles, and grandfather were all imprisoned at Mamula.

“No concentration camp in the world has been transformed into a hotel,” she said.

On the supportive side, both the WWII veterans association, and the city council felt the hotel would be a good idea.

Orascom hired a public relations firm called Magna to represent them for the luxury resort project. Dragana Becirovic, the direcor of the agency, said that Orascom will be sensitive to concerns of people regarding the landscape and architecture and would “completely preserve the historical value of the Island.”

Ms. Becirovic also made it clear that the project was going to include a museum or memorial room to preserve the history of Mamula. The plan is to host political debates, cultural events and art events in the memorial room or museum. She also went on to advise that the island and the museum will be open to tourists and locals year round, even when the resort is closed during the off season. Ms. Becirovic feels the project will increase tourism, and renovating the island will preserve its cultural heritage and historical character.

Opponents of the project do not put much faith in the words of Ms. Becirovic, because the artistic renderings of the proposed resort do not mention anything about a memorial room or a museum.

The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which is Montenegro’s ruling coalition party, insists that this luxury resort project will include either a memorial or museum to honor the concentration camp victims that will be open to the general public.

Back in Dec. 2013, the government advertised the leasing of Mamula Fort as an investment opportunity fit “to satisfy the needs and demands of a wealthy clientele,” which started a barrage of controversy.

In the past, the former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was very critical of the project. However, Ms. Becirovic says the former UN Secretary General later wrote to express support for a hotel complex that included a museum.

What do you think about turning a former concentration camp into a luxury hotel?