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Testimonies and legacy of time

Why to testify?

Since the foundation of the Study Centre for National Reconciliation (SCNR) (2008), we have collected the testimonies of victims of the war and post-war violence, political prisoners, refugees, exiles and other victims of totalitarian regimes and their relatives who suffered from violence and violations of the fundamental human rights and freedoms committed against Slovenians by totalitarian systems in the 20th century. On the basis of a systematic collection of testimonies, the Archive of Testimonies of the Study Centre for National Reconciliation (hereinafter referred to as the SCNR Archive of Testimonies) was created, in which over 400 testimonials have been recorded in written, audio and video formats. We keep a record of each collected witness, with all the collected data and media records.

Witnesses are mainly older, although they were juvenile or children at the time when an event occurred. Some witnesses are very open in the conversation and without restraint they tell numerous, also traumatic events, while others push painful memories into oblivion, and their resuscitation of scenes from the past wakes up renewed traumas and pains. Many have been silent for many years due to the fear of reactions in the workplace, among neighbours, friends and, last but not least, in order to maintain “peace” among relatives and in the family to avoid offending anyone. They also go silent when they perceive that the social climate is not in favour and their narratives are labelled as ‘second-rate’. When they become independent from external factors in later years of life, they are ready to share the story also with the general public.

An important moment in confession is the primary family. If they discuss more about past actions and openly talk about their memories and traumas, the witnesses can also more easily open themselves outside the family framework and present the story to a wider circle. Otherwise, the deposition is more difficult. Many say that during the period of aging, they are pushed by some kind of internal force that helps them to speak. They feel obliged to speak. They are unburdened of many worries to support their families and have more time to think. They are also relieved by a greater time distance of events and the society democratization after the independence of Slovenia. A great incentive for an individual is broadcasts, articles, books and debates, in which testimonies similar to theirs are published.

Treasury of memories

Published testimonies are divided into lots. In the basic section, they are divided into Europe, South America and North America. We can monitor a testimony through a video recording uploaded to YouTube. Every narrative is added a summary, which shortly outlines or sums up the narrated story. The witnesses are opening up in front of us as a treasure, step by step, memory after memory, story after story. The witnesses help us understand the moment of time they spent on the journey through history.

Through the website, the voices of many who have to date not been heard have now been heard. We are spoken by men and fathers who had to leave Slovenia in 1945 and go on their way across the ocean or across Europe, we hear mothers and wives who joined their husbands after years of separated life, sons and daughters who had to leave the safe environment of their homes as children and to deal with the new world, new habits, language, culture …

These voices speak of the difficult times and stories of people who had to flee a rampant army, who were deprived of carefree childhood, the possibility of schooling, employment, who overnight became without anything, barefoot and naked on the way to an unknown world. Their human dignity was deeply trampled, they searched for justice, but were forcibly silenced. The stories presented are various, from tragic, painful, to hopeful and victorious. There is no demand for revenge and accusation of offenders, however, a correction of injustices is expected, the return of good name and the condemnation of all totalitarian acts that have been cut into the rights, freedoms and dignity of man. 

The survival power, which was stronger than the factors of defeat, led them to a new objective – to stay and to revive. Although in another environment, start from scratch. And there slowly returned dreams to a better future, to happiness, faith in the victory of the good over the bad, the joy of life.

It is not always easy to speak out, so we must try to break silence. With the spoken word, we namely make out the events that happened to us and which marked us in pain and distress. The word helps us to cope with traumas and liberates us from the burden of silence. It sets us in front of the mirror and asks us whether we are able to meet with ourselves. Without fear and accusation. Self-confident and upright. This takes time and courage.

Use of testimonies

Testimonies at SCNR are used for a variety of purposes, whereby primarily the wish of a witness is taken into account. They are intended for publication in papers and research works, as an addition to archival documents for publication in documentary films and for the needs of exhibitions. So far, we have published 44 books, of which even two-thirds include testimonies. The testimonies represent important material for further researches and analyses, mainly due to the fact that a huge amount of documentary and archival material of modern Slovenian history is destroyed or still inaccessible[1]. During the dissolution of the party from power almost 80 percent of archival documents were destroyed in Slovenia, which suggests that the credibility of the recent history is difficult to assemble only on the basis of written materials, documents and literature. Testimonies help us to fill up the white spots.

We also include testimonies in educational work and other forms of cooperation with young people (visiting schools, historical summer school, meetings and interviews with witnesses in prison cells …). The witnesses are companions at our round tables and conferences, where we have introduced a frequent practice that one of the panels is dedicated to discussions with witnesses or a shorter copy of a recorded testimony is broadcast. We regularly publish our testimonies in the My Story broadcast by Radio Ognjišče.[2] The testimonies broadcast in this context are highly appreciated, as seen by the responses of the listeners who later contact us, recommend new witnesses, anyway, they help to spread the circle of those who are addressed. On Radio Ognjišče, there also operates a website where it is possible to monitor the testimonies in the audio form and listen to the recorded broadcasts backwards.

Our witnesses come practically from the whole Slovenian territory, and we record also the Slovenians living in the neighbouring countries and Slovenians around the world. The SCNR co-workers actively cooperate with Slovenian communities in the neighbouring countries, the United Kingdom, Argentina, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Among them, we recorded a lot of testimonies and obtained some archival material from personal collections. These testimonies are also regularly broadcast by Radio Ognjišče, or are used in the publication of books and papers. This time we present them in the video form on the website of the Treasury of Memories.

Despite technically more humble products (we have some amateur cameras, recorders, photographic cameras), we try to ensure that the testimonies are as useful as possible, and we try to reach the broadest possible professional and wider public.


Getting a witness is not always easy. The personal deposition encroaches on the individual’s feelings and, therefore, requires the personal commitment of the one who tells the story, and likewise the respect and compassion of the one who asks or listens are also required. To date, many witnesses of their stories have not trusted anyone, not even their friends, relatives or their closest family members. There often happens that husband and wife have not for several years dared to talk about the violence that their families spent under the violence of totalitarianism. The stories are deeply buried in individuals and the witnesses are not ready to share them with anyone. Parents also prefer to keep their painful past secret from their children, as if they were having difficulties in schooling, finding a job, and similar for this.

Most of our interlocutors come from the interwar and post-war anti-communist camp. They are followed by the convicted in court trials, political prisoners, those who suffered as children, refugees in the camps in Carinthia and Italy, expatriates and forcibly mobilized in the German army. There are very few of them who were on the side of the Partisans or who in the post-war period cooperated with the new political system.

There is still fear among people, how and when to speak at all. The situation in the Slovenian society, even good 70 years after the end of the World War II, does not offer a safe environment where people would dare to talk about the pernicious and painful events of life under totalitarianism, without fear of having any consequences. Many simply feel that it is better to keep quiet.

We note that the number of witnesses also varies in proportion to the current political situation in Slovenia. In case it is more dramatic, tense and unstable (for example, before the elections, before the announced mass gatherings …), the number of witnesses is reduced. Although we have already agreed with some for recording, the cooperation is cancelled later. In response and apology, they inform us that there is currently no proper time to testify and that they will wait a little longer, or that they do not have a story worth publishing. Fear and insecurity deter them from trusting researchers or the general public

Our generation is one of the last to listen to the direct narrations of the victims and their relatives who suffered during and after World War II. It is therefore more important that we collect as many personal and family stories as possible, in addition to having a great testimony value as well as they are an important historical source. They represent complementing and highlighting of those events that are not documented or they are destroyed. The white spots are visible mainly in the material relating to the inter-revolutionary violence of the Partisan units, the massive post-war executions of political opponents, the location of numerous cemeteries, the operation of the secret political police, out-of-court processes and presentations of the privileged position of authority holders after the World War II.

Another important reason for collecting stories is the confrontation of an individual with his personal past, with difficult events he has experienced, with pains, memories and traumas he has experienced. As ascertained by Erzar married couple therapists and many other researchers, traumas, if not convicted, are transmitted from generation to generation and: “… the treatment of memory does not depend on years that have elapsed since trauma, but on the amount of tears that could later be cried out into a secure lap.”[3] So we need a safe environment, trust and empathy of a man to discover difficult memories. Only the deposition and the disclosure of pain allow the beginning of treatment and the liberation from traumas and severe survived events. The said applies the same to victims who have experienced violence, as well as to executioners who have carried out violence. We find that the silence is still present, and it is much deeper on the Partisan than on the anti-communist side. The soul of a Slovene man is deeply buried in silence. Many have not concluded the mourning process, or they have not had the opportunity to even start it.

The third, also important moment in collecting stories is raising the young generation awareness with events from the past. It is only the man who has a history and that he remembers his past.[4] If history is the teacher of life, the knowledge of a nation’s history must be the basis for a young man to build a value system, to learn and to deal with human rights violations and the consequences of violations. At SCNR, the processed records are sent to the witness’s home to store them in his family archive. Thus, stories are also available to his descendants.

Common to all the stories that we store in the SCNR Archive of Testimonies is the fact, which talks about the cruelty of totalitarian regimes, about the magnitude of consequences brought by serious violations of human rights and dignity, and not the least of war as an exceptional time, which for decades marked the Slovenian national body in its homeland, neighbourhood and in the world. In spite of difficult circumstances, people faced difficulties, sought strategies that enabled them to survive, and made them stronger.

[1] During the dissolution of the party from power, a large amount of incriminating material was destroyed in Slovenia. Former Director of the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia Matevž Košir said about the destruction of the archival material: “In 1998, the ARS took over the so called historical archives of the Ministry of the Interior. It also included the material of the former SDV: Italian and German material from the time before and during the World War II, various materials of VOS, Ozna and National Protection, material on political parties from the time of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and World War II, Kulturbund material, material about the Cominform, materials of some post-war trials, 800 files of some already dead people, emigration cards from 1963, 40,000 checking and 872 microfilm discs. Most of the material is from the period until 1975, and the fragments extend also until 1990. In 1968, for example, 22,000 cartons of ‘anti-human elements’ were destroyed. Based on the 1976 census, we can conclude that in 1990 about three quarters of paper material was missing. A part of this material is preserved in copies on microfilms. “Tino Mamić, Sova still has a part of the Udba archive, 13/09/2017

[2] The project entitled My story is being created in cooperation between the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia, Study Centre for National Reconciliation, Commission of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for the Implementation of the Law on Correction of Injustices and Radio Ognjišče. There is about a research and documentation centre wherein the life destinies are discovered, registered, recorded, explored and presented, which in various ways were affected by the totalitarian terror of the 20th century and its consequences on the Slovenian territory, among migrants, emigrants and immigrants, among natives and newcomers. The second part of the preservation of historical memory concerns stories, records and documentation about all who have anyhow contributed to the development of Slovenian sovereignty, nationality. My story is broadcast every Sunday at 8 pm., 25/08/2017

[3] Katarina Kompan Erzar, Tomaž Erzar, Vojna se je končala, bitka za čustveno preživetje pa se komaj začenja: Medgeneracijski prenos travme. Izvor odpuščanja in sprave: človek ali Bog?: spravni procesi in Slovenci (The war has ended and the battle for emotional survival is barely starting: Intergenerational transmission of trauma. The source of forgiveness and reconciliation: man or God?: reconciliation processes and Slovenians (off. Juhant…), Zbirka Znanstvena knjižnica/Teološka fakulteta (Theological Faculty) 26. Ljubljana, Družina 2011. p. 68

[4] Polish Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004), 04/09/2017