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Ivan Žnidar

Ivan Žnidar was born in on 19 May 1920 in Suhadole near Komenda. There were seven children in the family, two of whom died early. Their father was a tailor. After primary school, Ivan became a hairdresser and began working in 1936. He was also the secretary of a boys’ association, which was abolished when the War broke out. When the Germans were deporting priests and scholars, the German police visited Ivan and interrogated him. He was mobilised to the German Army on 30 March 1943. He attended a 14-day training in Lenggries near Munich and was afterwards sent to Dijon in France, south of Paris, where they had four months of military exercise. He returned to Lenggries, but as he was unfit to fight in the War due to an impairment of his eyes, he was sent to Freising, a town located forty kilometres from Munich. There, he performed construction work, guard duty, worked in a bakery and as a barber.

He was on the list to be sent to the Russian front, but he asked for a leave that he was entitled to and was granted it. This way, he managed to avoid the eastern front. He went home, even though he was not allowed to do so, owing to the risk that he would join the partisans and never return. After a few days of living at home, the partisans indeed visited him. They arrived at night and threatened to break into his house if he didn’t open the door. They wanted Ivan to leave with them, but he made an excuse saying he was not fit to be a soldier. They told him that they would return and that he should decide by then. But Ivan returned to his unit in Germany. The German officers displayed a proper attitude towards the Slovenian mobilised soldiers. He himself experienced no problems, was regarded as one of the German soldiers.

On 7 January 1944, the unit went to Greece and settled in the town of Ioannina. Ivan was tasked with less demanding work there, namely bakery work and guard duty. In autumn 1944, he contracted malaria. He was sent to a hospital in Thessaloniki, while the capitulation of Germany was already on the horizon. One evening, when it was time to go on guard duty, Ivan and ten mobilised men from Alsace and Lorraine left the barracks in a squad with military equipment. They left a main street in Thessaloniki and entered side streets, where they were captured and disarmed by the ELAS[1] Greek resistance fighters. The resistance fighters took them to a village. The mobilised men were hungry and had no knowledge of what would become of them.

When the British occupied Thessaloniki, the Greek partisans decided to turn over the prisoners to them. The British took them by ship to Taranto, Italy, as former German mobilised soldiers. Ivan was then taken to the camp in Carbonara near Bari, where he stayed with the British for three months. He wore a British uniform and was, although unarmed, considered a soldier of the British Army. He was then sent to Santa Cesarea near Gallipoli in the southernmost Italy, where there was a military and civilian camp. On 7 May 1945, the internees were taken to Eboli, where there were also Chetniks from the Chetnik detachments of Notranjska and Primorska, who had retreated across the Soča and surrendered to the Allies in Friuli. They performed guard duty and laboured in workshops, for which they were paid. The food was excellent and they were treated well.

In September 1945, they were sent from Eboli to Lammie Camp in the south of Naples, which was the largest British base in the Mediterranean. There was a Slovenian camp within this base and a Yugoslav flag without a star. They wore uniforms and had their officers. Order and discipline were enforced and there was a lot of sporting activities. They also had a chaplain, Ignacij Kunstelj by name, who later left for Great Britain. The camp received high-profile visits from former high officials, including Minister Miha Krek.

From the Lammie Camp they were sent to the camp in Trani near Bari, which was a former military barracks. There were also some Slovenian families in the camp. Some of them felt homesick, so they returned home. In 1948, Ivan moved to Argentina, which welcomed also 250 other young men, formerly mobilised Slovenians.

[1] ELAS – Ellinikos Laïkos Apeleftherotikos Stratos, The Greek People’s Liberation Army

Recorded: November 2013, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

The conversation was led and recorded by: Renato Podbersič

Preparad for publication by: Mirjam Dujo Jurjevčič