At the end of the second world war, my father left Yugoslavia, along with many thousands of other nationals. The Yugoslav Communists (Partisans) had won the civil war in the country and the fight against the Germans. All those who had fought the Communists tried to leave before they were captured by the Communists. They preferred to surrender to the British, who were based in Austria, in the belief that they would be treated fairly by them. I will try to explain the complicated situation in Yugoslavia in later posts, my father was on the wrong side in the war, but his brother was fighting the Germans. My father would guard the city for the Italians and be given arms from the Germans. He would then give them to his brother who would fight the Germans. Both were in more danger from the Communists, who were trying to take control of the country and had passed a death sentence on my Father’s family. The Italians had already taken control of their part of Yugoslavia. They were both trying to save their whole family and each other from death. It was a fight for survival.
My father travelled to the Ljubel pass with others in the Home Guard. His brother had died during the fighting. The Germans, who had originally armed the `Yugoslavian Home Guard, were now firing at them, to make them turn back and fight the Communists. Under fire also from the Communists, who wanted to stop them from crossing the border. He waited near the pass for two days as they could not get through, they were under fire and had two battles. Under fire he decided to cross over the top of the mountains above the pass. There was one last battle in Ferlach on the Austrian side just before the bridge they had to cross. After crossing the bridge they lay down their arms.
He had started his walk in Slovenia from his family’s farm and arrived in Viktring, Klagenfurt five days later. He was the last to arrive at the refugee camp.
The British then sent all those who had fought the Communists, back to Yugoslavia to their deaths, on locked cattle trains. it is well documented that the British lied to them, to get them on the trains, saying they were going to Italy to safety. My Father also confirms this. The Communists tortured, raped and shot the majority, only sparing those aged under 18 from death. My father was two months away from 18. Most were buried alive. There are over 600 death pits in Slovenia and an estimated 100,000 people killed after the end of the war. When the amnesty arrived, in time to save my father, he returned to the farm and later was drafted to serve in the Communist army. He was lucky he had the sense to return through back streets at night, as many of the survivors were killed on their way home.
I will be doing the same first walk this summer, with my husband, two sisters, one brother in law and one nephew. There may be others, but the details aren’t settled yet. Obviously we won’t be under fire, but we may be able to find one of the guns my dad had. It is buried on the farm and I have been told the location. We will dig it up and bury it again.
The second walk I undertake will the one he did two years after the end of the war, escaping from the Communists and a new sentence to ten years in the penal battalion, (certain death) He did this 150 kilometre walk, under cover of night, through forests, without food and water, drinking from streams, eating fruit from trees and sleeping in haystacks, to avoid being caught escaping. I intend to try to keep to the spirit and do it at night without food or water, as it will be next year and exactly seventy years after my Father did it.