WWII concentration camp to become spa-resort

Island of Mamula in Montenegro, a concentration camp under Mussolini, granted tender to become a hotel and spa resort.

Raphael Poch ,

Mamula fortress
Mamula fortress

A World War II concentration camp is set to turn into a hotel and spa resort, sparking outrage.

While many of Europe's former concentration camps have stood as solemn memorials to those who perished within, the government of Montenegro recently granted a tender involving a 49 year lease to the Swiss-Egyptian developer Orascom to develop the fortress on the island of Mamula, which held a concentration camp,  into a hotel and spa resort. According to an AFP report, the company said that it will invest $16.3 million to revamp the fortress into a modern resort that according to plans will contain swimming pools, a yacht marina, a spa, various restaurants as well as a dance bar.

The move has sparked international outrage as well as outrage among the families of prisoners who were interned there. Among those angered by the plans are family members of the camp's wartime prisoners.

"No concentration camp in the world has been transformed into a hotel,"  Olivera Doklestic told AFP. "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." Doklestic’s grandfather, father and uncle were among the prisoners at Mamula.

Mamula is situated on the bay of Kotor, which lies at the border between Montenegro and Croatia. During World War II it was used as a concentration camp by occupying Italian troops under Benito Mussolini. Supposedly some 2,300 people were imprisoned in the fortress, and 130 of those were killed or died due to starvation and the harsh conditions.  The story of the fortress spawned a movie called “Mamula Camp”.

Government sources defended the idea of turning the fortress into a resort.  Olivera Brajovic, head of Montenegro's national directorate for tourism development, told AFP that the government was a bad alternative of either letting the site fall to ruin, which wouldn’t commemorate the memories of the fallen or allow investors to restore the site.  "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." The government chose the option that will boost the Island nation’s economy.

Salt & Water, the firm behind the new design for the fortress turned spa, issued a statement on its website that said that the idea of preservation of the site will be upheld and respect will be paid to those who were imprisoned and died there. The post said that they company intends to preserve "one of the most impressive architecture landmarks of Montenegro. "The plan includes a memorial room or museum to the prisoners."

In the past Nazi resorts have been turned into luxury housing, and more recently Germany began using the camp at Buchenwald to house asylum seekers that are flooding the country.  But this is the first instance of a WWII concentration camp being turned into a hotel and spa resort.