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Ivan Drajzibner

Ivan Drajzibner was born in the village of Sladki Vrh in the Štajerska region. In 1942 he was mobilised to Hitlerjugend and sent to Spittal an der Drau for three months. Afterwards, he was released to go home. In 1943, he was summoned to an SS (Schutzstaffel) unit, but he and his neighbour, who was also summoned, missed the train. A few months later, he was conscripted to the Reich Labour Service. He served in the Czech Republic near Prague and in Slovakia. In addition to the Germans, the Czechs, Poles, Austrians and Slovenians were also mobilized. He spent six months there and was then sent to Wehrmacht, the German Army, where he served in the artillery. He was supposed to go to the Russian front, but he got an abscess at that very time and had to go to hospital. His regiment was sent to the Russian front, but he was sent to the French Riviera after his recovery and it was not so bad for him. Among the mobilised, who were of different nationalities, they got on best with the French from Alsace and Lorraine. Many Poles, Austrians and Germans were mobilised. He was sent home on vacation in February 1944. The mobilised were warned, however, that their entire families would be exiled if they didn’t return from vacation. There were only four mobilised Slovenians in his squad. He also met the German General Erwin Rommel several times, who came to inspect the cannons and fortifications. According to Ivan, Rommel was a modest man, eating the same food as the soldiers, sitting among them and asking them about the food and how they were treated. Ivan was always planning to desert as soon as possible because he did not want to fight for foreign interests.

In the summer of 1944, the disembarkation of the Allies caused the front to to begin to collapse. The unit Ivan was in began an organised retreat to the north, towards Germany. They hid during the day and retreated at night. Ivan and his wartime friend from Prlekija intended to flee to Switzerland, but did not do so, which later turned out to be beneficial to them. They did not know that the Germans had an agreement with the Swiss to return any escaped soldier. The Germans would surely have killed them as deserters. At the end of September 1944, when other German soldiers were retreating, they remained hidden in a ditch. They were captured by French soldiers, members of General de Gaulle’s army. As war prisoner, Ivan had to unload heavy cannon shells from trains. Fourteen days later, the prisoners were turned over to the Americans, who took them to Marseille and then by ships to the Averso prison camp in Italy. They did not suffer greatly there, since they could rest in tents and received good food. Among them were about 800 Slovenians, former forcibly mobilised soldiers. They remained in Avers until January 1945 and were then turned over to the British. They were transported to a camp near Brindisi. Located opposite the camp was a partisan hospital, where the heavily wounded from Dalmatia were treated. In early February 1945, a partisan officer came to them and asked them to enlist with the partisans, telling them that whoever did not do so would not be welcome at home. They all enlisted. At that time, a Slovenian priest, dr. Matija Šaruga, was visiting them from Rome and warned them not to go home, stating that the Germans would kill them all as fighters of the Overseas Brigades if they enlisted with the partisans. So, they removed themselves from the list. Out of 800 prisoners, only 40 joined the Overseas Brigades.[1] Ivan later found out that almost all of those who left at that time fell as partisans.

After the end of the War, the British appealed to the camp inmates to join the British Army, and several hundred, including Ivan, volunteered. They transported war equipment from Italy to Austria and Germany, to the British and American occupation zones. They were treated well by the British officers, received excellent care and were paid the same as British soldiers. They had weapons, good food and two uniforms each. This was after the end of World War II, until 1947.

That year, the British left Italy, so they no longer needed them. They had to turn in their military clothes and weapons and were sent to civilian camps. Ivan went to the Senigallia refugee camp and stayed there for two years. They were informed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) that those who had been in the German Army could return home and that nothing would happen to them. He decided to go abroad. He and his wife, whom he had married in the camp in 1947, left the following year for Argentina, where her parents were already living. In 1949, they boarded a ship to Argentina from Bremerhaven, German. Ivan did not speak Spanish, but he found his knowledge of Italian very helpful. After arriving in Argentina, he worked for an older German settler near Buenos Aires. He gave him food and a very good salary. After three years, he came to San Carlos de Bariloche, where some of his acquaintances were already living. Many former German soldiers and four former German officers found home in Bariloche, including Erich Priebke,[2] who was Ivan’s neighbour and thus personal acquaintance. Ivan liked it a lot better in Bariloche than in the hot Buenos Aires. He started working as a caretaker of three villas in the Llao LIao resort. He stayed there for eight years and made good money. He later began importing Elan skis and visited the Elan factory in Slovenia several times. But when others started importing skis as well, he no longer found it profitable.

Ivan visited Slovenia for the first time in 1971. That is when members of Udba came to his home and asked him if he knew various people. He replied that he did, but that they certainly knew them, too, or they wouldn’t have been asking him about them. After that, they left him alone. He kept on returning to Slovenia every second year. He started a family in Argentina. They spoke Slovenian all the time and had no problems because of it. He maintained his language proficiency by reading the Svobodna Slovenija, Ognjišče and Družina magazines. Ivan explains that in Argentina, “if you speak a foreign language, they respect you even more, because they think you are more intelligent”, and adds that Slovenians have always been very respected in Argentina.


[1] The Overseas Brigades were a military unit formed as part of the Yugoslav army outside the Yugoslav territory, namely on the Western Allies’ territory and under their supervision, particularly in Italy. There were five Overseas Brigades comprising 27,000 soldiers who had been mobilised to the Italian and German Armies during the War as well as to the Royal Yugoslav Army or had been interned abroad. About 1,000 partisans fell in these units. See “Prekomorske brigade NOVJ”, Wikipedija – prosta enciklopedija, retrieved in January 2022, https://sl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prekomorske_brigade_NOVJ.

[2] Erich Priebke was an SS commander and a war criminal. He was responsible for the massacre in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome, where 335 civilians were killed in 1944. After the War, he fled to Argentina, which in 1995 handed him over to Italy, where he was tried. In 1998, Priebke was sentenced to life imprisonment for this massacre. Due to his advanced age, he served his sentence under house arrest in his apartment in the Italian capital. He died in October 2013 at the age of 100. See G. V., “Umrl nacistični zločinec Erich Priebke”, RTVSLO.si, retrieved in January 2022, https://www.rtvslo.si/svet/umrl-nacisticni-zlocinec-erich-priebke/319901.


Recorded: December 2013, San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina)

The conversation was led by: Renato Podbersič and Tino Mamič, camera: Renato Podbersič

Preparad for publication by: Mirjam Dujo Jurjevčič