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TESTIMONIES

North America

Presentation of the Scientific Monograph Čez ocean v novo življenje: Usode slovenskih povojnih političnih begunk (Going across the Ocean to Start a New Life: The Fates of Slovenian Post-War Female Political Refugees)

On February 7, 2024, at the Study Center for National Reconciliation, a monograph entitled “Going across the Ocean to Start a New Life: The Fates of Slovenian Post-War Female Political Refugees” was presented by the authors Marta Keršič, Neža Strajnar and Mirjam Dujo Jurjevčič.

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Janez Žakelj

Janez Žakelj was born in 1941 in the parish of Šentjošt near Horjul. In May 1941, the Gestapo arrested his father; in July, the whole family was exiled to Serbia. Because the father refused to join the Liberation Front after returning from exile, Partisans threatened to kill him. The father headed the initiative to establish a Village Guard in Šentjošt to defend the locals from Partisan violence. After the war, he went into hiding and kept returning to his homeland for a while; there, he was accused of spying for an intelligence service along with Mirko Bitenc. Janez’s mother was also incarcerated after the war, and their farm was confiscated by the authorities. The family was under constant surveillance by Udba. Janez’s father retreated to America, where he was joined by the rest of the family in 1956.

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Marie Dular, née Golobič 

Marie Dular presents the shocking story of her family during and after the Second World War. Her father and mother were educated and socially active, so they had to withdraw from Jesenice, where the family lived, before Germans would have deported them. They retreated to Ljubljana. After the war, the entire family except her mother went to Carinthia as refugees and then across the world. Marie’s mother failed to move and was severely persecuted by the communist authorities for a number of years, separated from her family. Marie found refuge in the Northern America along with her husband and father; her sister and brother did so in Canada. The first time the children gathered at their mother’s side was in 1967, when she was terminally ill; she died in the fall of the same year. Having endured great pain and suffering, Marie found peace, freedom and prosperity abroad, where she started a family and lived in a new home.

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Viktorija Bajda Kolarič

The testimony of Viktorija Kolarič, née Bajda, from Prebačevo near Kranj uncovers memories of wartime. Her father fled the Partisans and joined the Home Guard. Following a retreat to Carinthia after the end of the Second World War, he did not return to Yugoslavia due to his wife’s late pregnancy, unlike other Home Guard members sent there by the British. This is how he escaped certain death. The family moved to the US, where Viktorija got married and started a family. She first returned to her homeland only in 2003, when Slovenia was already independent, and was captivated by the beauty of her native land.

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Rudi Kolarič

Rudi Kolarič was born in a prosperous trader family in Brezovica near Ljubljana. The start of the Second World War, with the occupation, seriously impinged on their exemplary and peaceful lives. They had no liking for the occupying forces and were enthusiastic about the Liberation Front (OF), which promised freedom. However, after Partisan violence in their village, they realised communism lay behind OF and committed even worse atrocities than the occupying forces. A Village Guard kept them safe. In 1945, after the war, Rudi fled as a refugee and started a new life in the US.

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Srečko Gaser

Srečko Gaser was born in Jesenice, but his family often moved because of his father’s job. As a staunch anti-communist, his father joined the Home Guard in Kranj. After the end of the war, the family retreated to Carinthia, where they lived in several camps. Srečko trained to become a welder. They moved to Argentina, but Srečko had a girlfriend in the North America so he moved there, and they got married. They started a family, performed their jobs and were grateful to America for accepting them and enabling them a life of peace and freedom.

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Dr Vladimir Joseph Rus

Vladimir Joseph Rus was born in 1925 in Rijeka. In 1943, he was mobilised as a Partisan and trained for an officer. Discovering he was anti-communist, the Partisans intended to execute him, so he escaped to Sušak, where he graduated from a secondary school in 1944. After the war, he retreated to Venice and then to Trieste, where he served as the secretary for an organisation of Slovene students at the Trieste university. In 1951, he emigrated to the United States of America. He was first employed as a worker in different factories, then he taught at a high school, before becoming a professor at universities in Cleveland. Later, he also served in the Cleveland mayor’s cabinet, where he directed a committee for human resources and economic development for the city of Cleveland.

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Ivanka in Stanislav Vidmar

Ivanka Vidmar, née Ovsenik, was born in 1928 in Predoslje in the Gorenjska region. Her father, Janez Ovsenik, was interned in the German Loibl camp during the war. After the war, they left together for Austrian Carinthia, from where they emigrated to the United States of America in 1949. Her mother stayed at home and joined them, along with four children, only after twelve years.

Stanislav Vidmar was born in 1922 in Gradenc near Žužemberk. During the Rog Offensive, the Italians took him away for internment on Rab. He was sent to Treviso in January 1943 and transferred to Visco in February 1943. After the capitulation of Italy, he joined the Home Guard and was stationed at the outpost at the Ljubljana castle. Like many other Home Guard members, he fled to Austrian Carinthia at the end of the war but evaded returning to Yugoslavia. Between 1945 and 1950, he worked for farmers in Carinthia. He emigrated to the United States of America on 27 April 1950.

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France Habjan

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.

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Helena Arnež Gaser and Pavla Arnež Hauptman

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.

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Milan Zajec

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.

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Ivan Hauptman

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.

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Ivanka Tominec

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.

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Anuška Lekan

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.

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Pavle Borštnik

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.

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Karel and Majda Lončar

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.

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Nežka Ovsenik Vidmar

Mrs. Nežka Ovsenik Vidmar was born in Predoslje in the Gorenjska region. Her father was the local mayor and was imprisoned during the War in the Mauthausen camp, from where he escaped. Partisans tried to murder him several times, therefore he fled after the War to Carinthia and then to the USA.

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Ivan Zakrajšek

The couple Zdenka and Ivan met in America, where they, for fear of communism, found themselves with their families. They began to live a rich life in the Slovenian community, which helped them to maintain contact with their homeland. They still speak in beautiful Slovenian.

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Mari Kosem Celestina

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.

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Zdenka Mejač Zakrajšek

The couple Zdenka and Ivan met in America, where they, for fear of communism, found themselves with their families. They began to live a rich life in the Slovenian community, which helped them to maintain contact with their homeland. They still speak in beautiful Slovenian.

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Marija Tomažič Lavrisha

The route of a courageous woman, post-war refugee who, despite all trials, remained light-hearted and satisfied, and preserved her love for the Slovenian nation and her homeland.

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Mihajla Bitežnik Habjan

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.

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Cirila Traven Kermavner

Mrs. Cirila with a rich word recalls the unbelievable events she experienced in her life course, from childhood to her encounter with Hitler, coincidental avoiding death, to refugees into America, where she happily began to live.

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Marija Oblak Žakelj

The war brought a lot of fear, robberies, arsons and murders to the village of Sv. Gregor. There are remarkable memories of these times in Mrs. Marija. As a refugee, she came to America in 1949 and lived there freely.

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Marija Novak Pivik

An extremely interesting life story that leads Marija from war time, a post-war struggle for survival, an incredible meeting with a future husband, to a journey to America, and a pleasure and joy at work for Slovenians in Cleveland. She keeps upright due to the Slovenian song!

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Paulina F. Dolinar and Mira Kosem

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.

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