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Testimonies and legacy of time

Slovenian refugees after the end of the World War II

At the end of the war, many civilians and members of the Home Guard from the Slovenian territory withdrew to Austrian Carinthia and Italian Friuli. In 1945, 17,000 refugees left Slovenia, including a large part of intellectuals. In the fear of communism and in caring for the survival of bare life, they only took the most urgent, some clothes, money and food for some days. Many believed that they would soon return.

About five thousand Slovenian refugees found refuge in Italian camps. In the first half of May 1945, however, the majority of refugees settled in the Vetrinjsko polje near Klagenfurt, which belonged to the British military administration. In a few days, the Slovenians built there emergency accommodation and took care of the most urgent things they needed to survive. The return of refugees back to their homeland began at the end of May 1945. The Slovenian members of the Home Guard were returned by the British under the pretext to take them to Italy, but they actually came into the hands of the Partisans. Collection camps for returned refugees were in Kranj, Škofja Loka, Šentvid near Ljubljana and Teharje. From there, many were taken to death. From Teharje, they were transported by cars to the abandoned mine pits near Hrastnik and to Barbara pit, and from Šentvid by train to Kočevje and further by trucks to karst abysses at Kočevski Rog. The largest execution places were at Tezno near Maribor, Kočevski Rog, Slovenska Bistrica, on the Hrastnik hill and in Huda jama. Murders were executed by the members of OZNA at the request of the leadership of the Slovenian OZNA.[1]

The remaining part of the civilians who remained in the camp, despite the awareness of what had happened with the returned members of the Home Guard and civilians, did not give in to despondency and despair, but in a short period of time they took care of the conditions that enabled as much as a decent life possible. Already ten days after coming to the camp, regular classes began at the folk school.


Likewise, the Slovenian refugee grammar school was organised soon. Various lectures, courses, cultural and sporting activities, choirs were organised for the adults, and the spiritual care of all refugees was well organised. At the end of June 1945, the British occupying authorities decided that the camp would be closed due to poor and inadequate conditions, and the Slovenian refugees would be deployed to several camps in Carinthia, Austria. They were sent to Peggetz near Lienz, to Spittal on Drava, to St. Vid on Glina and to Liechtenstein near Judenburg. In each of these camps, the refugees to their best ability took care of conditions worthy of a man and despite modest conditions they knew to be satisfied. They were particularly successful in establishing kindergartens, primary schools, craft, household and vocational schools and grammar schools. Adults with their craft knowledge and skills set up numerous workshops where they produced various useful items that were sold in the surrounding areas. Anyone who had a possibility went to work to nearby farms or to factories.

At the initiative of the Yugoslav authorities, the Allied authorities increasingly exerted pressure on refugees to return to their homeland. Propaganda for the return was also carried out by Yugoslav repatriation commissions, which repeatedly appeared in the camps and promised good conditions in the event of their return to Yugoslavia. Their persuasion was in most cases not successful. Among refugees, there was still a painful memory of the returned and massacred members of the Home Guard. These promises were not a guarantee for a safe return. Distrust to the communist authority and its unanimous rule was too great. Until the end of 1947, only about 850 people returned all together.

After more than two years of being in camps, some refugees decided to stay in Carinthia, some of them moved to different European countries, and the majority opted to go across the ocean. They went to North and South America and Australia. The refugees from the Italian camps, who mostly opted for a trip to Argentina, joined them.[2]

There followed the way to new, unknown countries. Although it was uncertain and full of unknown, it was a path of hope and faith into a better future!

[1] The Department for People’s Protection (OZNA) was the Yugoslav Security–Intelligence Service. The Department was established on 13 May 1944. In 1946, OZNA was divided into a civilian unit (UDBA) and a military department (KOS), which were later re-formed. After the end of the World War II OZNA organised and administered concentration camps and carried out post-war mass massacres. The largest mass executions in Slovenia were between May and July 1945.

[2] See more: Lenart Rihar, Helena Jaklitsch, Cvetoči klas pelina, Slovenski begunci v Avstriji po letu 1945 (Blooming ear of wormwood, Slovenian refugees in Austria after 1945), Založba Družina, Rafaelova družba, Ljubljana 2014; Lenart Rihar, Helena Jaklitsch, Helena Janežič, Kajetan Gantar Rojstvo novih domovin: bogata ustvarjalnost slovenskih beguncev v Italiji in Avstriji (The birth of new homelands: The rich creativity of Slovenian refugees in Italy and Austria), Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica (National and university library), Založba Družina, Ljubljana 2017; Marjan Kocmur, Umik čez Ljubelj, maj 1945, skozi objektiv Marjana Kocmurja (Retreat over Ljubelj, May 1945, through the lens of Marjan Kocmur), Mohorjeva družba Celovec, Celovec, 2015; Marta Milena Keršič, Jelka Piškurić, Jaz vem, da sem Slovenka, jaz ljubim domovino: begunska pot družine Adamič iz Sodražice (I know that I am a Slovenian, I love the homeland: The refugee path of Adamič family from Sodražica), Študijski center za narodno spravo (Study Centre for National Reconciliation), Ljubljana, 2016.