Jože Strah was born in 1944 in the settlement of Ločica pri Vranskem. With vivid words, a rich memory, a critical assessment of social developments and drawing on his personal experiences, he takes us back in time to World War II and the period of socialism. As he writes in his recollections, “the post-war period was marked by many anomalies that fell on the shoulders of an impoverished population unknown to the present time. Life was very modest, or, to use a better term, miserable. As there was no money, people resorted to austerity at every turn, in some places even to the point of starvation.” His experiences will revive many people’s memories of the socialist times which Slovenia experienced for decades after the War.
France Habjan was born in 1924 in Ljubljana. In 1942, when he was 18 years old, he was sent to the Gonars camp. Upon his return, he joined the civic guards and after the capitulation of Italy he joined the Home Guard. After the War, he made his way to Austrian Carinthia and then fled to save himself from being returned to Yugoslavia with other Home Guard soldiers. He left the Lienz camp for Italy. In 1955, he moved with his wife and son to Toronto, where whey settled.
Sisters Helena and Pavla Arnež were born in 1931 in Jesenice. During World War II, they suffered the consequences of the German occupation and, particularly, the revolutionary violence. Their father was killed by a Jesenice local and their brother fell as a soldier in the German army. Their home and bakery were plundered and occupied by the partisans. After the War, their mother was imprisoned in the Begunje prison. Helena and Pavla’s refugee journey took them to North America via a camp in Austrian Carinthia. In the United States, they joined the Slovenian community and started their families. They remained loyal to the Slovenian nation, the culture and values in which they were raised.
Milan Zajec was born in 1925 in Veliki Gaber in the Dolenjska region into a family of eleven brothers, six of whom were members of the Home Guard. One of them fell during the War and four were returned from Viktring and murdered in Kočevski Rog. On 2 June 1945, Milan was also brought to this place of death. He miraculously managed to climb out of the cave on the evening of 6 June and set out into the wilderness of the Kočevje forests.
Ivan Hauptman was born on 7 May 1930 in Ljubljana and spent his childhood in Stična. They lived on what they produced on their small farm and on what the father earned as a post office employee in Ljubljana. During the Italian occupation, their nationally conscious family was a thorn in the partisans’ side. Ivan’s brother Tone fell during the War, and his other brother, Vinko, was returned from Viktring as a member of the Home Guard and consequently murdered and thrown into a chasm or mine shaft. Ivan and his parents were transferred from the Viktring to the Spittal camp, from where they went as refugees to the USA. After several years of hard work, Ivan managed to start a successful business. He married Pavla, with whom he started a family. He was completely devoted to the work he did for the Slovenian community in Cleveland. He participated in many cultural activities and was actively involved in the parish community of St. Vitus and Mary of the Assumption. He left a strong mark on the Slovenian community.
Ivanka Tominec was born in 1924 in the parish of Šentjošt nad Horjulom. The family’s homestead lay in solitude, in a hamlet on the Ljubljanica River. Ivanka was a 17-year-old girl when the War started. She experienced the horrors of revolutionary violence in her home parish. She spoke of murders in nearby hamlets and villages, of arson and constant fear of the partisans. She also remembers the Italians, whom she feared just the same. She married during the War, in the autumn of 1943, when the Home Guard was already active. She gave birth to a daughter, Ivica. Her husband Matevž, who was a member of the Home Guard in Šentjošt, slept in the outpost at night, so Ivanka slept at the neighbours’ several times. After the War, they fled along with the refugees. Ivanka took only a few diapers, some bread and butter with her on the road which took them to Austrian Carinthia via Ljubelj. At first they lived in a village house and only later moved to the camp, where other refugees lived. They were not returned to Yugoslavia owing to a lucky coincidence. Ivanka and Matevž stayed in Spittal for eleven years. During this time, Ivanka fell ill with severe pneumonia and consequently was not admitted to the USA because her lungs were not healthy. They finally managed to embark on a journey to the USA in 1956.
Anuška Lekan, born in 1932, lived in Maribor during the first days of the War and later moved with her family to Ljubljana. Since her father was a staunch anti-communist, he fled with his daughters and son to Austrian Carinthia at the end of the War. Anuška and her mother stayed alone in Ljubljana. Anuška completed a teacher training education and got a job in Fara pri Kočevju. Her unwavering devotion to the Church and faith represented a very courageous act in the hard post-war years. It was not before 1960, when she travelled to America, that she saw her family again. She returned to her homeland once more and only in 1963 moved permanently to America. Despite the initial rejection among the refugees there, she later felt very well among them.
During World War II, the 18-year-old Pavle Borštnik from Ljubljana joined the Slovenian national underground movement, namely the detachment of the Notranjska region. In April 1945, his unit, along with other Chetniks and anti-communist units, withdrew to Italy, where it intended to meet with the Allies. Upon arrival, the Chetniks were told they had been taken under the auspices of the British Army, but in fact the British placed them in the former concentration camp in Visco and soon disarmed them. Borštnik lived with other soldiers and civilians in various refugee camps in Italy, he was then transferred to Germany in April 1947 and managed to reach the USA the following year.
Karel and Majda Lončar were born in Slovenia and live today in Cleveland, where they moved with their families as children. Karel met his father in the USA after spending eleven years apart. His father had to leave his homeland after the end of the War in May 1945, while Majda endured a refugee journey with her parents, a journey that began when she was no more than a six-week-old baby. Karel and Majda met in the USA, they got married and started a family. They accepted the new environment and became actively involved in the Slovenian community.
Mrs. Mari Celestina has always been led by optimism that helped her to survive turbulent and difficult moments. There were a lot of them in her life, as she tasted the occupation, revolution, refugee and life in the camp. She created the family in Cleveland, she is grateful to God for the blessing she received.
Mihajla is a daughter of Josip Bitežnik, a famous lawyer and politician from Primorska, born in Solkan. She experienced Ehrlich’s murder at Streliška Street in Ljubljana, moving from place to place and living in numerous refugee camps. After the end of the World War II, she fully felt freedom only in the new home in Canada.
The testimony of the sisters Mira and Paulina tells of the refugee of the Adamič family from Sodražica, who had to leave the native country due to interwar and post-war communist violence. In May 1945, with the thousands of Slovenian refugees, their father moved to the Austrian Carinthia and from there to America. The mother with children joined him only after ten years. Children quickly became involved in the life of the Slovenian community in Cleveland, and in their hearts there remained a great love for the Slovenia homeland.