Ljubljana – Boris Pahor, the internationally famous Slovenian writer from Trieste, celebrates his 108th birthday on Thursday. Throughout his life, Pahor has warned against totalitarian regimes, also in his novel Necropolis, where he describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. He has also received numerous honours and awards.
Pahor was born in 1913 into a Slovenian family in Trieste, during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a year before the outbreak of the First World War.
During the inter-war period, he cooperated with Slovenian anti-fascist intellectuals in Trieste. He was conscripted into the Italian army in 1940 and sent to Libya in 1941, but after the Italian capitulation, he returned to Trieste in 1943 and joined the Liberation Front.
In January 1944, he was arrested by collaborators and handed over to the Germans, who transferred him between various Nazi concentration camps. He was finally liberated in April 1945.
Pahor summarised his experiences of concentration camps, among other things, in his best-known novel Necropolis (1967), which was first translated into French in 1990 and subsequently into many other languages as well.
He is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, and was also the subject of a BBC documentary entitled The Man Who Saw Too Much (2019).
Throughout his life, Pahor has warned of the dangers of totalitarian regimes, of which he himself was a victim, and highlighted the necessity of a self-confident, upright posture based on a sound knowledge of history and one’s own identity.
The writer from Trieste, also a sworn fighter for the rights of endangered languages and cultures, has always stressed that national consciousness is essential for the survival of Slovenians in Italy and for the survival of humanity.
As a child, Pahor also witnessed the fascist torching of the Slovenian Cultural Centre – National Hall in Trieste, which Italy returned to the Slovenian community on the occasion of last year’s centenary of this tragic event. On that occasion, Pahor was honoured by the presidents of Slovenia and Italy.
Pahor has also received several other awards and honours for his work. These include the Prešeren Prize (1992), Slovenia’s most prestigious accolade in culture, the Silver Badge of Honour of Slovenia (2000) and the French Legion d’Honneur (2007), as well as the honorary title of Cultural Ambassador of Slovenia on the occasion of his 102nd birthday.
Celebrating the Trieste writer’s 108th birthday, Zdravko Duša, a long-time editor at the Cankarjeva Založba publishing house, also contributed his view on Pahor’s legacy. He stressed that Pahor was never just a writer, but always an activist, inextricably linked to the culture and city of Trieste.
“Pahor has never been embarrassed to refer to himself as the unjustly neglected Slovenian writer in a city famous for its Italian, Austrian and Jewish writers, yet he also insisted that certain features of the Trieste vernacular should remain in the Slovenian edition of his selected works.”
According to Zdravko Duša, foreign publishers still frequently choose to translate Necropolis and are considering the possibility of translating a wider selection from Pahor’s oeuvre. A bundle of his writings and diaries from the beginning of the pandemic last year is also currently undergoing editorial treatment.
On the occasion of Pahor’s 108th birthday, 26 colleagues also paid tribute to him with a publication entitled Boris Pahor – Scrittore senza frontiere. Studi, interviste e testimonianze (Boris Pahor – A Writer without Frontiers. Studies, Interviews and Testimonies).
“This publication is the result of a collaboration between two cultures that have lived separate lives in the same city for too long,” said one of the editors, Walter Chiereghin, who described Pahor as a great writer and Necropolis as the most important work of Trieste in the last century.
The publication was co-published by Mladika and La Libreria Del Ponte Rosso, and a presentation is to be held at the San Marco café in Trieste, according to the newspaper Primorski Dnevnik.