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Milan Zajec

Pavle Borštnik from Cleveland submitted to the Study Centre for National Reconciliation two records, in which he describes his memories of Milan Zajec, one of the rescued survivors of the post-war massacre in Kočevski Rog.

In the first letter, Pavle Borštnik recalls his life during and after World War II, including the meetings with the rescued survivor of the Kočevski Rog massacre, the home guard by the name of Milan Zajec. In the letter, he expresses deep respect for his attitude and actions, primarily marked by Milan’s testimony, as he was one of the few who managed to escape certain death in the Kočevje abysses. Borštnik also expresses his admiration for the wisdom that led Milan Zajec to sober reflections on the post-war period mission of the surviving members of the Home Guard in exile.

The second letter emerged as a farewell to Milan Zajec at the time of his passing in 2013 in Cleveland. In the letter, Borštnik dwells upon Milan’s uncomplicated and sincere character, adding: “… he did not achieve incredible success in any particular field, he did not obtain an impressive academic degree, he was not an artist, a writer nor a musician, but fate granted him an honorary title, which he bore until his true death: he was — a Slovenian Home Guard soldier.”

A brief description of the life of Milan Zajc

Milan Zajec was born in 1925 in Veliki Gaber in the Dolenjska region into a family of eleven brothers, six of whom became 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 witnessed the terrible murders of thousands of the Home Guard soldiers and experienced the touch of death himself, when he spent several days searching for a way out of an abyss filled with corpses of his comrades-in-arms. 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. He found refuge at his aunt’s place, where he was visited by the later Bishop Lenič. He helped him to escape across the border to Italy in April 1946. In December 1947, Zajec left for the United States. He described his memories of the cruel experience in a book titled Ušel sem smrti (in Eng., I Escaped Death). He died on 20 December 2013 and was buried on 27 December in Cleveland, USA.

You can access Pavel Borštnik’s letters using the following link:

Preparad for publication by: Marta Keršič

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