Vida was born in the Vrhnjak family in Pameče near Slovenj Gradec. Her father Vinko, a forestry engineer, married a teacher, Marija Ferenčak, in 1933. They had seven children. The father inherited from his father a farm occupying over 32 hectares of land, but the economic crisis in 1937 forced him to also take up a job in the forestry profession and leave the farm management to his wife. He took on a job in Straža pri Novem mestu. After the German occupation, in April 1941, his oldest daughter Vida and a year younger Jelka moved in with him, while the other two daughters stayed with their mother. Before that, in 1938, his little son Cici had died. The new German government abolished Slovenian schools, so the mother lost her job as a teacher.
On 16 August 1941, the father was arrested by the Italians and taken to an unknown location. After a lot of effort, the mother managed to escape from Pameče and join the older daughters, who settled with their aunt in Brezova Reber after their father’s arrest. Around the New Year’s 1941/42, the father was released from an Italian prison after being reproached with communist orientation, so he lost his job and apartment. He found a new place to live in Sela, near the river Krka. In the meantime, Vida’s mother got a job as a teacher in Ajdovec, but she soon tasted the partisan intimidation tactics, when she and her colleague were imprisoned, threatened and interrogated for three days. She then got a job in Vavta Vas and gave birth to a daughter, Irena.
After the Italian capitulation, the family moved to Novo Mesto, where other families from nearby villages also moved out of fear of the partisans. The men joined the Home Guard, and Vida’s father was given the rank of first lieutenant in Bršljin near Novo Mesto. The mother gave birth to the seventh child, a son named Ivanček. In the spring of 1944, the father was transferred to Mačkovec and later to Dobrava pri Škocjanu.
In the meanwhile, they received the news that, in Pameče, the Germans shot Vinko’s brother as a hostage, in addition to 10 other Maribor prisoners. Due to frequent German bombings of Novo Mesto, the family moved to Dobrava again, and in 1945 for a short time to Dobruška Vas. It is from there that the father started his refugee journey on 9 May 1945, together with other members of the Home Guard from the Šentjernej area.
A few days later, the mother with six children and her sister’s family moved to Brežice, where they settled in Sela pri Dobrovi, in the house of their grandparents, which had previously been vacated by the Kočevar family. From there, they took the train to Maribor, then to Dravograd, from where the mother went alone with the children aged 1 to 11 to their former home in Pameče. They found the house empty, looted and, above all, the father was not there. They had hoped to meet again.
The father’s fate was in the hands of the local partisans. After leaving Dobruška Vas, the father arrived to Pameče, where he was arrested by the local partisans activists while attending vespers at church. He was taken to the Slovenj Gradec prison, along with several women from the village. All trace of him was lost. The mother searched for information about him at various institutions and offices, until she received a decision in January 1948 which stated that her husband Vinko had not survived 1 September 1945. A new ordeal began for her and the children. She lost her job at the school and, despite numerous job applications, did not get a new one. Ensuring the children’s survival as well as the farm’s upkeep was very concerning. The partisans emptied the house and barn and tried to nationalize the father’s property with several proceedings, even though it had already been inherited by the children.
The mother was forced to take on a job as an administrator at a stonecutters’ cooperative to support her family and other relatives who lived at the house, and then became a waitress in her own house, where the municipality opened an inn. It ran until October 1953, when the municipality closed the inn. The mother re-applied for a teaching post, but her application was rejected. In 1954, she got an administrative job at the District People’s Committee in Slovenj Gradec. She once again applied for a teaching post without success. She retired at 54, but worked as an administrator for another three years to support her children and enable them to receive education.
The children were harassed and deprived of many benefits during their schooling. They severely felt the difference between them and the combatants’ children. Nevertheless, they got their education and found employment. The consequences of war and post-war horrors marked them for the rest of their lives. They especially affected the youngest son, Ivanček, who died at 52 without offspring. It was him who should have continued the Vrhnjak family line in Pameče.
We received the testimony in 2009 from Vida Vrhnjak Duler’s daughter, it was also published in the Zaveza magazine, No. 90, September 2013.
Preparad for publication by: Marta Keršič