Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A TOUR OF YUGOSLAVIA 1985. My travel diary.

 Friday 10th May 


Greek trains are dreadful. From experience I can tell you that the Hellas Express was not a patch on the Vienna Express from Belgium to Vienna. Both offered identical facilities, but the Hellas Express is old, dirty, and the bedding needs repair. Still, Lyn and I had a couchette to ourselves that usually slept six. In Athens, we had been provided with two sheets, a pillow, pillow case and blanket, and I, at least, slept like a log. The Swedish couple and daughter who were with us managed to move to the next compartment, and have it all to themselves.

At midnight, we crossed the Yugoslav border and were affirmed of the fact by an enormous guard waking us up to demand our passports in a very gruff voice. His sheer size was alarming. During the night we had passed through Macedonia, and early the next morning pulled into its capitol, Skopje, near the border with Kosovo. The countryside in Yugoslavia is very pretty. More lush, I think, than Greece. The houses are not square with flat rooves, but made of brick and plaster with red tiled sloping rooves.

About 8.30am our carriage filled up with people travelling to work, and I had this amazing conversation with a girl next to me, half in Serbo-Croat and half in German, because she knew no English. It was my first attempt at Serbo-Croat – I had chickened out with another couple an hour before – and was achieved with my head in the textbook most of the time and the girl writing down what I couldn’t understand. We got a little way with much laughter and gesticulation and I, at least, felt more confident.

The scenery is very much like Austria. Green and lush, lots of trees, houses which look pretty from a distance, market gardens, cows, sheep, pigs, and horse-drawn ploughs instead of tractors! I think it is a very poor land, judging by the farms and villages. The people wear drab, shapeless clothes, and headscarves. The old ladies, as in Greece, are often dressed in black.

Saturday 11th May

We dropped off some carriages along the way and picked up others, so the train was eventually very long indeed, and too high off the ground to get our luggage down easily. The third class sections filled up with many young men dressed in green khaki uniforms all leaning out the windows, so that by the time we pulled into Belgrade, the Hellas Express looked like a train from ‘Bridge over the River Kwai.’ The station itself was covered, and long enough to match the train. There were a number of very tall men waiting around, not thin, as tall blokes often are in Australia, but well-proportioned without being overweight. Several taxi drivers standing on the platform asked Lyn if she wanted a lift – notice, no one asked me; maybe they thought I was a local – so we finally chose one, and were whisked off to the palatial Hotel Jugoslavia where we were waited on hand and foot.    

Although Belgrade looks a bit grotty near the station it is, later on, a nicely laid-out city with wide streets, a big river crossed by many fine bridges, and green lawns, shrubs and trees everywhere. This morning, we went for a walk into town – about three kilometres – along the Sava River and over one of its many bridges. Apart from the gardens along the bank, there was also a large space of grass and woodland down from the hotel, and on this was staged a military display to mark Yugoslavia's 40th Independence Day. It was a huge turnout. I haven’t seen crowds like it since Queen Elizabeth came to Australia in 1970 and we went to see the fireworks. To make matters worse, many of the locals are very tall and well-built, so for once in my life, I couldn’t see over the crowds. There were jet displays with stunt flying, and red, white and blur tail flares, missile exhibits. On the river zoomed speed boat tactics, tanks on barges and pontoons. The land contents was a series of deafening explosions, soldiers climbing up trees, radio controlled planes, tents and other equipment. All this was accompanied by brass and military band music and a male chorus that sounded for all the world like the Red Army Choir. There was dancing in National Dress, too, so I took some photos.


The city is cleaner than Athens and the buildings are nicer to look at, but to us it was still fairly drab. The older buildings have an interesting architecture and would look attractive with a bit of care.

Our planned tour of Yugoslavia began at the hotel at 6pm in fine style: red carpets, room service, chandeliers, beautiful blue and white damask table cloths and serviettes. Drinks were followed by a speech from Saša, our guide, and a four course dinner.

       Menu:

        Cheese and cured meat with bread.

         Tomato Soup.

         Skewered pork, beef and sausage, carrots, beans and French Fries.

        Chocolate layer cake with an uncooked meringue topping.


I’m trying to eat half of everything so I don’t waddle off the bus when the tour ends. There are many Americans touring with us who can be, in some cases, overbearing. They think money can buy the world and the earth is America’s oyster. Joan and Don Taylor are a nice couple from Bendigo whom we have teamed up with. As with us, he works in a hospital.


Sunday 12th May

Today is Sunday and I haven’t been to church for three weeks, which I regret. At eight we sat down to breakfast preparatory to two and a half hour tour of Belgrade showing the old and new parts of the city. Belgrade was extensively bombed during the war, and a lot of older buildings were destroyed. “Belgrade” means “white city”, a name given to it because of the white stone it was made of. Yugoslavia has had a long and checkered history. It was settled by the Celts in the third century BC and then taken over by the Romans in the second or third century AD. From then there have been Slavs, Turks, Austrians, Germans, Hungarians and the modern people fighting for domination. The history is long and complicated and needs a detailed study to understand it correctly.

There are six states: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Belgrade is the capital and there are three religions: Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim. Near the hotel two rivers converge, the Danube and the Sava, and a walk along the Sava towards this confluence immediately identifies the strategic importance of Belgrade for its conquerors throughout history. Here is built the fort, which dates from Roman times.

Belgrade is dominated in the new section by large areas of parkland, un-kept, usually, dotted with huge housing complexes and sky scraping offices rising out of the greenery. The parkland was once swamp which has been filled in by sand and built on since 1948. In the older city are many large public buildings and beautiful churches creating some interest in the otherwise grey, straight streets.

The next stop was an interesting, if exhausting, hike to the tomb of President Tito. This is a very sacred place for the Yugoslavs and they come in large numbers to pay homage, often bowing before the simple white marble rectangular tomb. There is a guard of four soldiers there 24 hours a day, and the whole tomb, as we walked around it, was surrounded by beautifully coloured, cultivated flowers. The effect is very nice and certainly reverent. Tito obviously meant a lot to them. The hike, by the way, is because the tomb is at the top of a hill in a densely wooded park. Since the weather is so humid and the older members of our party so slow, I was pretty wacked going up and down.

This evening we went to a lively and traditional area of the city where crowds of people go to eat both traditional food and dishes borrowed from other countries, inside or al fresco. Our restaurant was a lovely oak-panelled room with frosted and patterned glass doors and soft romantic lights. Very like something from the Orient Express. The band moved around the room, playing as they went to various sections of our party, some of whom decided to dance. As the band played, they often sung in rich voices and beautiful harmonies. There was an excellent violinist, a guitarist, a dark ukulele, a double bass and a piano accordion. All men. All the bands, inside and out along the cobbled streets, were unamplified. Needless to say, the atmosphere inside our restaurant, with the band and superb male singing was as near to heaven as I could imagine. They sung fast, they sung slowly, loud and soft, mournful and exciting. I was so wound up in thoughts and the spirit of the night that, when the party rose to leave, I got such a surprize that I almost didn’t follow them.

Menu:

Cheese, cured meats and polenta.

Salad, bread and sauerkraut.

Veal stew and red and yellow capsicum, with rice.

Apples stuffed with nuts, with meringue and cream.


Monday 13th May

We left the hotel at 9am and headed south west from Belgrade to Sarajevo where the 1984 Winter Olympics were held. Initially the fields were flat, cultivated by hand and horse-drawn ploughs, or occasionally primitive tractors. I don’t remember very much of the trip because I kept nodding off. Not because I was tired but because I was sitting in the sun and the bus was very comfortable.

During the last half of the journey, we passed through hilly country, and the road and the railway through the mountains near Sarajevo pass through tunnels cut into the rocks. When you consider that I’m used to seeing hills covered in dark Australian gum trees, the vivid green of these local trees was a striking contrast. The land is, apart from anything, very green, so different to home. Everything looks fertile. Among the hills nestle little towns with one, two or three storey houses and sloping rooves, very much like Austria. The difference is, again, that the people are poor and their houses are not terribly well kept. However, it is so green and relaxing, that I prefer it to the high rise dwellings in Belgrade. Notice how hay is stacked in tall, peaked domes, maybe six or seven feet high. Also note the many farm animals inside the rickety hand-made yards: cows, pigs, big black boars, chickens, dogs, ducks. Without the highways, these little towns and farms with their hand made buildings and fences, and especially the hand drawn ploughs, could be taken straight out of the seventeenth century.

The whole landscape is terribly pretty and scenic. Villages are set into the greenery of deep gullies and the caps of the distant mountains are snow-covered. In fact, there was still snow by the side of the road, although it had turned to ice.

Our hotel, the Holiday Inn Hotel, is even grander than the Hotel Jugoslavija in Belgrade. It is very modern with grand entry lobbies and stairs, even a series of small shops. The rooms have bigger beds than ours at home, with huge pillows, bionic showers that blast you with water – a bit violent maybe – and everything that opens and shuts. Even a fully equipped mini bar in each room.

Menu:

Ham dumpling soup with bread.

Deep fried pancakes with tartare sauce.

Stuffed onions, capsicum, spinach leaves, plus two meatballs in stock, with salad.

Baklava.

In one area of Sarajevo there has been, and still is, a heavy Turkish influence. Firstly you notice the mosques, but secondly, the dress of the women. They wear long skirts or billowy pantaloons down to their ankles and often little coloured slippers on their feet. While driving in, I saw a woman dressed like this drawing a wooden plow through a field – by hand!

Where was her husband?

Tuesday 14th May

This morning we had a short tour of Sarajevo including the Turkish mosque, a Serbian orthodox church, and the old markets. The mosque was painted inside and out with frescoes and contained beautifully shaped candle holders, now replaced by electricity. However, the most memorable things were the lovely Turkish carpets in intricate patterns and bright colours. One was so complicated that we were told it had to be done by children’s nimble fingers. The clock tower outside was built in the seventeenth century and inscribed with Turkish numbers. It is designed to read twelve o’clock at sunset, so does not read in the same way as ours. Note the two mausoleums as big as a lounge room, for one man each. Turkish women get little graves with a single headstone. So much for equality of the sexes!

The Serbian Orthodox church was founded originally in about the sixth century AD. It has been destroyed by fire several times since. Today’s edifice dates from 1730. Again note the beautiful interior with marble candle holders and many icons, like the Greek Orthodox. There are also small lit candles to offer prayer for the living and the dead. The atmosphere in the church, which was reverent and holy, was shattered by crowds of tourists, of which I, unfortunately, was one. The open markets were very interesting, and contained a lot of leather work and other traditional arts like macramé, copper work and wood work.

Back in the bus we journey south, stopping for lunch at Mostar. This is a unique and charming town featuring a sixteenth century white marble bridge. Although it has raised ridges to walk on – so the cattle wouldn’t slide back the way they came – the marble, polished by centuries of wear, was incredibly slippery. Lyn had to take her shoes off to get over. There are young men who will jump off this bridge at a price gathered from the tourists. I took a photo of one, but he wouldn’t jump. Drats!

There are two drawly Americans behind me in the bus who express wonder and amazement at EVERYTHING and laugh at all the jokes from Saša, our guide, whether good or bad. I shall make a second determined attempt not to let them disturb me. 

Saša is a very talented man where languages are concerned. His English is excellent and he makes jokes in it, which I always feel shows that you have the hang of a language. Mind, the jokes are usually about Communists, Russians, exiles in Siberia and, of course, the national airline.

Joke 1: A JAT passenger jet was on its way across the Adriatic when engines one and two failed. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said the Captain. ‘All those passengers who can swim, please move to the right side of the plane. All those who can’t, please move to the left.’ Shortly after, engines three and four failed. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,' said the Captain. ‘Those on the right hand side, good luck! Those on the left, thank you for flying Jugoslav Airlines.’

 

Joke 2: An Irishman, an American and a Yugoslav were drinking and discussing the best thing that could ever happen to them. ‘Gorgeous girls and an endless supply of whiskey,’ said the Irishman. ‘Enough money so that I would never have to work again,’ said the American. The Yugoslav said, ‘A big black car drives up outside and shortly there is a knock on my door. I open it to find two large threatening men from the KGB standing there. “Are you Ivan Ivanovich?” they demand. “Not me,” I say. “He lives next door.”


This unfortunate Ivan Ivanovich came in for a lot of teasing on the trip.

Late this afternoon we arrived in the Adriatic town of Dubrovnik, and are planning to hear a performance of the Four Seasons by Vivaldi after dinner.

                                                TO BE CONTINUED






 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

THE TRIPLE MYTH , A Life of Archbishop Stepinac by Stella Alexander – book review.



You cannot find two things on the internet about Aloysius Stepinac that do not contradict one another and I almost feel sorry for the poor man that Pope John Paul II ever agreed to raise him to the altars, because there has been no peace about him in heaven or earth since.

The preface to this fascinating book, published in 1987, did not fill me with confidence. ‘There is only one main primary source available to the ordinary researcher,’ Alexander commences rather dismally, ‘…two other sources exist but are not available.’ Another source ‘is not always a reliable witness’, a further source requested by the author was ‘refused’ and several others suffer from ‘tendentious’ tendencies or came from representatives of the foreign press who may have had ‘little knowledge of Yugoslavia.’

I know that this is not the reason Pope Francis put Stepinac’s canonization on hold and upset everybody, but it’s tempting to suggest that Pope JP2 could have done his research better (had he been able to). As an example, although the Pope allowed the archbishop to bypass the two miracles required for sainthood by proclaiming him a martyr, the communist government in fact looked after him comparatively well, precisely because they did not wish martyrdom to occur. ‘He was never ill-treated…He was imprisoned in decent conditions, in a double cell with a third neighouring cell arranged as a chapel where he celebrated mass every day. He had books and writing materials and was allowed visitors from time to time.’ He was well fed, and his sister visited him once a month, bringing with her whatever he needed.

To have been archbishop under the Ustasha government seems to have been as confronting an experience for Stepinac as it would conceivably have been for us. Whilst condemning the atrocities against Jews and Serbs, he nevertheless kept up a running tirade against a theoretical communism, so that I had to reread several of his passages in order to understand what he meant. (Stepinac had a tendency to overwrite.) His unfortunate references to returning the ‘schismatics’ (the Serbs) to the ‘true faith’ (Catholicism) are typical of his time, as is the European anti-Semitism he gradually sloughs off as the war progresses. The elegant and conciliatory language of his letters towards Ante Pavelić, leader of the Ustasha, renders his refusal to break from them (on the pretext of not being able to help people if he had) more poignant.

‘Two things stand out,’ writes Alexander. ‘He feared communism above all; and he found it hard to grasp that anything beyond the boundaries of Croatia, always excepting the Holy See, were quite real.’

In 1945, as Pavelić fled Zagreb and Stepinac, grim-faced, awaited the arrival of the Partisans, there were so many accusations and counteraccusations between the two sides that it is possible to believe whatever one wants.

‘Objective history will show that the representatives of the Catholic Church in Croatia never betrayed their callings and that the mistakes of a few priests are trifling beside what is happening…[under] organized atheism’ – Stepinac.

‘Some of his ideas about the role of the Catholic Church in recent happenings were basically incorrect’ – Partisan response to the Catholic Bishop of Šibenik.

‘Only individuals personally and directly responsible for crimes would be brought to justice’ – communist policy towards relations between the state and the Catholic church.

‘I dare to say that the Croatian people will refuse to accept any regime either of the far left or the far right which does not completely respect its more than thousand year old Catholic tradition’ – Stepinac.

‘We want to create a great community of South Slavs in which there would be both Orthodox and Catholic, who must be closely linked with all the other Slavs. The Orthodox are nearer to this than the Catholics’ - Tito.

The mix of these strong and flawed personalities created a huge mess. Certainly, in not breaking with the Ustasha government when he was advised to, and in launching himself into a head-on collision with the communists after the war, Stepinac gave Tito enough rope to hang him with. Yet, as Tito correctly pointed out, Stepinac did not broadcast the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Serbs by the Ustasha with anything like the same energy as he uncompromisingly defended the Croatian Church against communism. 

My own feeling is that the Partisans who so upset the archbishop in Zagreb after the war had been witnesses of the unspeakable atrocities of the Ustasha genocide against the Serbs, Jews and Roma. Because the Ustasha claimed to be Catholic, and some of their crimes were committed by Catholic priests, and because Stepinac refused to break with the Ustasha government, the Catholic church in Croatia was compromised. The Partisans, many of whom were Orthodox, were hurting, they were angry and, as other writers have observed, revenge was in the air. Stepinac does not seem to have empathized with their trauma. To him it was simple: the communists were attacking the Catholic church in Croatia because they were atheists.

The archbishop’s trial I found particularly fascinating. Though it was no doubt set up to find him guilty, its political implications are not well known and are worth considering here. Alexander writes, ‘the actions of the government in bringing Stepinac to trial were understandable,’ and she goes on to list reasons, such as the unstable nature of Yugoslavia in 1946 (which his attacks on the government weren’t helping), disillusion with the Allies regarding land claims and ‘its conviction that the Vatican supported the expansionist aims of Italy in its territorial dispute with Yugoslavia.’

Various communist excesses against the church continued to take place, from time-to-time observers from the west made encouraging (or otherwise) observations about religion in Yugoslavia, and the battle between the two sides seems to have gradually resolved in the years between 1950 and 1953. I can’t help feeling that the Vatican was a major player that allowed neither side to move freely, Stepinac, because he referred all important matters to them, and the Yugoslav government, because the Vatican was a political body.

The Triple Myth ends by lengthy examples of how political opponents in Yugoslavia have exploited the archbishop’s memory for their own ends.

Not a lot of peace there. Let’s hope the Pope can sort it out.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN - GOULBURN MEN WHO WERE PRISONERS OF WAR

 

 

  

     GOULBURN EVENING                              POST

         Wednesday December 19th 1945
  
   Goulburn Men Who Were                Prisoners of War
                     _____________

           Story of Adventure and 
                Real Romance






Gunner DW Walker, son of Staff Sergeant WC Walker of Sydney, and a Goulburn native, and Private RW O’Grady, also born in Goulburn, both came back to Australia by the Aquitania, and they found on the Aquitania, when they compared notes, they had a lot in common. Both started out life by being born in Goulburn. Walker, who is a nephew of Mr Ted Walker, of Goulburn, enlisted in Sydney, and O’Grady in Goulburn. Although in different units, both were taken prisoner at the First Battle of El Alamein. 


Walker, at the armistice, escaped in Italy and did sabotage work. O’Grady was taken by the Germans to Austria and released by the Russians. Both found wives in the countries where they were imprisoned and are bringing them to Australia. The stories of both of them are human stories shot through with romance, faith and hope but, above all, a courage that endured in the face of severe trials.

Private O’Grady was serving with a machine gun corps when taken prisoner at El Alamein in the desert fighting. The four months following he spent in an Italian guarded camp at Benghazi.

“It was not a very pleasant turn-out,” Private O’Grady commented.

“How did they treat you?” he was asked.

“Oh, wickedly,” he returned. “For food we had one very small loaf of bread per day, a tin of bully beef between two men and a bottle of water. We were also given and issue of five cigarettes every few days.

“We went out one day to work,” Private O’Grady recalled, “but we were so weak we could not do anything.”

                                                              THEY WERE LUCKY 

After Benghazi – Italy. The prisoners were transported in two ships. On this occasion Private O’Grady was lucky. He found himself in a boat where there was plenty of food. It happened to be a cargo vessel laden with food for Libya but there had not been time to unload her.

“Every prisoner on board was sick because,” Private O’Grady explained, not having a square meal for so long a time, he ate to overcapacity.”

Apart from this, conditions on the ship were very bad. There were 500 men in the fore hold and 500 men in the stern, and none was allowed on deck except for a few minutes.

                                                                    RED CROSS 

From Taranto, where the ship put in, the prisoners were taken to a prison camp at Brindisi. There again, the food was very poor except what came through the Red Cross. Things remained like that until Italy capitulated in 1943. Then the Germans took over and Private O’Grady was sent into Austria – to a place called Spital. From there he was drafted to work in a magnesite factory at Treben but after a while he was shifted to another prison camp at Wolsburg and from there to Mureck. 

Conditions here were “fifty-fifty” as Private O’Grady put it.

“If you had a last wartime guard over you,” he said, “you had a fair time of it, but if you had a young fanatical guard it was not so good.”

                                                     BEGINNING OF ROMANCE 

It is at this point of the story that the first hint of romance emerges.

“One day,” Private O’Grady recounted, “I went into a milk depot to weigh myself. I wanted to see how I was going for weight. And there it was that I met my future wife, Edith Romer of Budapest. She was finishing off her schooling in Austria when the war broke out and the Germans sent her to work in the milk depot. We saw a lot of each other and things began to progress. Just at that time Red Cross parcels were not coming along because railway transport had been knocked out by bombing, and my girlfriend helped me with food.”

On April 1st of this year the Russians were making rapid headway on that front and the Germans gave orders for all prisoners to be evacuated.

“But I didn’t want to go,” said Private O’Grady. “I wanted to be liberated by the Russians. So at ten o’clock one morning I got out of the window of the laager and hid in a barn until nightfall. Then I went to the house where my girlfriend was all alone – her aunt had gone away – and there I stayed for five weeks.

“In the meantime between 15 and 20 SS officers were put up in the house. They were always wanting to peep into the room where I was hiding. But my friends put them off with excuses.

“A colonel of the partisan army was keeping me company just then and, one afternoon when he and I were listening to the wireless and my girlfriend was digging in the garden, the door of our room was opened and in walked an SS officer. He examined the Colonel’s papers, but I had none to show. My girlfriend came in and told him I was a Polish worker from the milk factory.

“He said I should have to go with him to the commandant and be recognized. We all went outside but I then managed to return to the room and hide in a big cupboard. Afterwards I went to an attic and remained there until nightfall. In the interval my girlfriend went to the milk depot and asked a Pole to tell the SS officer he was staying at her house if he questioned him. I was very lucky. If I had been ‘rumbled’, my friend would have been shot.”

What follows is soon told. The Russian forward sweep encircled the territory in which Private O’Grady had been held prisoner. Hostilities ceased on May 8th and on May 13th Private O’Grady and Edith Romer were married at the Roman Catholic church in Mureck. Trouble ensued when he tried to get his wife out of the country.

After a while he sought the aid of a Russian born Belgian - man who had a force of about 100 men under him and had carried out a lot of sabotaging – and together they got a couple of Jeeps and took the bride with them.

In the end Private O’Grady reported to an Allied Repatriation Unit at Klagenfort where he asked if he could take his wife on the [unreadable print] …..…informed that his marriage was illegal because he had not first obtained permission. However, he and his wife got to Naples where they were remarried.

In October they got permission from the War Office to go to England.

                                                            GNR DW WALKER 

Gunner Walker was serving in an anti-tank battery when taken prisoner at El Alamein in July 1942. He was sent from there to Benghazi, then to Tripoli and next to Northern Italy. For a time he worked in a camp at Piedmont.

On September 8th 1943, when Italy capitulated, he was liberated and a month later he joined the partisans. He remained with them until November of last year. Then a British mission landed by parachute in the area and he worked with it until the end of the fighting.

“I met my wife (Marina Savini is her maiden name) while I was with the Partisans in Northern Italy,” Gunner Walker said. “That was in September of last year. We were attacking one day and our party was split up. At the beginning I was able to see her pretty freely, but then the Fascist activity became very strong.

“While I was with the British Mission my wife-to-be kept myself and other members of the mission in her home for some time. Unfortunately somebody split on us and she was kept in prison for two and a half months but later was liberated by the partisans.”

Gunner Walker and Marina Savini were married at Biella in Northern Italy on May 26th last. They landed in England on October 1st at Eastbourne.

                                                                    THEY LEFT 

Asked how it came about that he was liberated and why the Germans did not get him across the Alps into Germany, Gunner Walker said they had heard that the Italians had thrown in the towel and the Italian guards were not very particular at the time. It was in September 1943 that he was freed. Actually he walked out of the camp and took the risk. He joined with the Partisans and found them operating in the territory near the Swiss border. He fought with them more or less as a sabotage man and in general actions until the British Mission arrived in 1944.

Before that British parachutists had joined up with them and he was regarded as the sabotage expert of the group. He had plenty of excitement, and it was when making one of the attacks that he met the girl who was to be his future wife.

The charge against her was one of espionage and “being engaged to an ex-prisoner of war”. There was price on the heads of all Australians who had escaped. She was 17 and had been at college until she linked up with the Partisans. She was valuable, as she could speak French and English as well as her own Italian. She was working with the Partisans until the end of the war. Her arrest for espionage came about a fortnight before the armistice. The fight at the gaol lasted about two hours; this was at Aosta near the French border. Walker was one of the nine men who made the assault on the goal and liberated her.

There were actually 80 got away from the same camp as Gunner Walker. They were guarded by “out of service” men and mostly left the Australians to it. However, the Germans got 30 of the 80 and ultimately only four were left of the 80 who got away. The others were captured, shot or got away into Switzerland. All four were doing sabotage work when the armistice came.

On all Australians the sum of 1800 [?] lira was offered dead or alive and they had in the… [?]… of the time… [?]… whom they could trust. 


In fact, the Australians were badly wanted by both sides. The Partisans liked them and, when they got one, generally made him a captain. The Fascists wanted them too but for a different reason.

This article refers to my father-in-law, Doug Walker. 

Below is his award from the Italian government, signed by Field Marshal Alexander. 







Friday, October 23, 2020

Poems of World War 2 - Josip Cazi and the Yugoslav Partisans



        



 






Through Forests and Mountains - Kindle edition by Walker, Margaret. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.


THE BOMBED FOREST  

                         by

                  Josip Cazi                                            


This morning Papuk was awoken at the crack of dawn, but not from birds chirping or squirrels clicking - a reconnaissance plane was searching over Papuk this morning, an ominous vulture in that dreary first light.

And round about the peak and its rugged sides ruby flares spread like blood into the branches of the firs, scarlet in the crimson dawn, as if snarling wings had cast over Papuk a bleeding squadron of fire.

The forest collapsed. Appalled and shaking, it roared and death flowed from the air like fiery rain. Lightning felled trees centuries old. Lucifer danced through Papuk and all its hell. Demons shrieked and shrieked all day, demanding the Partisans from the heart of the inferno.

But the heart they sought - in the mighty bosom of the mountain with its immense heartbeat - from it lashed hundreds of flaming arrows. From it shot thousands of thunderbolts, and the vultures slanted and slid. They overturned and fell in flames into the fiery forest. 
 
 
The wounded forest screamed appallingly: the cries of frightened deer and howling wolves by the thousand, in pain and with panicked voices. In the lake of fire flowers seemed to bloom, an inferno hissed from the surging flames, yelping and reeling.


All day Papuk was shaken, thundering and booming, all day Lucifer danced beside Papuk.
But now it is quietened and, as the day wanes, the glowing fires, in a hundred colours proud and exquisite, quiver in the forest, my mother.


And at sunset, Partisan songs sweep through it like an inexhaustible fountain. Along the slopes the column of soldiers moves out into the lowlands. They will go into action at night – the cycle of history is still turning. Above Papuk the fires die in the evening.





            MEETING 

                 by 

          Josip Cazi 


On rainy evenings we used to walk through the muddy factory town beside the Danube, Jelice, my blue-eyed girl - both tired from work.

But now you’re a fighter in the brigade of the Slavonians, my factory girl, the apple of my heart, whom I met on the slope of the mountain after many years. You used to be a child of the suburbs, the daughter of a fisherman.

Our meeting would be brief: a warm handshake.

Your mother?

     - in the camp.

Your house?

     - devastated.

Your fields?

     - unploughed weeds.

But the column of soldiers is moving on now. Again the brief grip of the hand, the regard in her blue eyes, lit up with joy. The warm trembling voice and sweet smile, like a fragrant, blossoming rose.

Jelice, my blue-eyed apple girl, my partisan rose with the wild hair, my fragrant quince in the blushing dawn, in pearls of dew.

My small hero.

Long ago you already entered the mountain peaks and I am still, for a time, down on the plains.

Through the forest glades and dewy shrubs I have a vision that the sun sent me your fragrant and dancing hair in greetings of golden ribbons.



A PARTISAN LETTER  

                by  

         Josip Cazi 

                        

Fireflies! In the bruised dawn the warm gold invigorates them. We are resting in the high mountains beside the forest. In the top of the beech tree, whose pearl overflows, a rooster is crowing at dawn and a blackbird plays on its silken flute.

The entire night we were in a hellish shootout and now we are in a meadow full of flowers. We are celebrating gladly by the woods and up the hill is heard the song of our comrades.

Hey, what are you singing about? About yearning, that like a barque sails through the soul. Oh, when I have a voice and when I sing the blood of my heart would pour into our song.

But you know how much I think about you, while my exertions mock me in the whistling shots and spattering shells, and death that follows them swiftly. My dear darling, this moment I am embracing you. This moment I care for you like a loving parent.

Oh, how I would love in any way to come to you, to lay your gentle head on my chest and shower you with kisses. After so many days and nights, my desire, my early dawn, my most beautiful flower among flowers!

Here in the sky the morning star is fading with all its grains of dazzling gold. Its name is dear to you, and so you are to me.

And the bird from our nest, our small son, our little treasure?

I heard that for fourteen nights and days you endured devastation while the mountains of Slavonia burned, with our toddler in a sling in your arms. The poor little thing, our white dove. Slavonia was a blazing sea. The villages were on fire, the bushes choked. Ancient forests – our mountain jewel and the shield of our land – all were swallowed in a fiery hell.

Oh, how you are, my sufferers? It was severe for you. Did the little one cry a lot? Where are you now? – for black sorrow gnaws at me. Over and over again I hope that I will meet you somewhere in some village, some refuge or on some Slavonian road. Your eyes are looking for me. My heart expects you.

Daddy! – some little orphan piped up yesterday as, all happy, he twitched my moustache. The grandmother scolded him bitterly but, to me, while I was caressing the golden strands on the child’s head, brimming tears trembled in my eyes – and I saw in my thoughts your two dear faces.



THE KISS

    by Josip Cazi  1941




At the first sight of our free homeland I sunk my head into the juniper bushes.

The morning smoked and froze. It expanded over the bay and the partisans held their rifles cocked in their arms behind a rocky outcrop.

Oh, free woods! Oh, free mountains! My native land!

I am kissing you, naked cliffs, full of zeal and joy like the son returning home to his old mother.

 

Hey! To the forest where the timid deer runs,

Where he smells the firs and the green pines.

To the hills where all wounds are healed,

Buds like flowers, in sunny freedom.


Hey! When would you come to me, my comrades, and rejoice, and with bowed head kiss the free cliffs over our bay.



 




 




 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Yugoslav Partisans and the Poems of Anđelka Martić

 

 


























At the beginning of the twentieth century, two opposing political movements emerged from the fall of the old empires: the extreme right of fascism and the extreme left of communism. Today we hold communism in horror as something that restricts the freedom of the individual, but it should be seen in the historical context of those times.

Following the end of feudalism in Europe in 1848, there was a call for the national rights of individual countries that had once been part of empires large and small. Using Italy as an example, the Risorgimento became a movement to unify a country that had either belonged to a succession of empires or been independent city states like Florence, forever at each other’s throats. Italy was united in 1860, Venice was added in 1866 and finally Rome in 1870. If everything had stopped there, it might have been fine. Italian nationalism however, developed into ultra-nationalism and, from there, into a fascist empire in which Mussolini demanded more and more territory inhabited by people who did not speak Italian. Hitler was once known as ‘the German Mussolini’.

Enter World War Two and the Yugoslav Partisans.

Josip Broz Tito was a non-commissioned officer in the Austrian Army when he was bayoneted through the back in the Carpathian Mountains and taken prisoner by the Russians in 1915. Tito had no love for the Austro Hungarian Empire into which he had been born and, following his lengthy recovery, learned about communism in Russia. That he tended, nevertheless, to do things his way is illustrated by his break with Stalin in 1948 when Stalin attempted to boss him around. I spent two weeks in Yugoslavia in 1985 and, to me, it seemed a happy modern country.

Bearing this history in mind, I was delighted to read the poems of Anđelka Martić who joined the Yugoslav Partisans after her brother was killed in occupied Yugoslavia in 1941. I discovered her in 2018 when I bought a book in Rijeka called ‘Po Šumama i Gorama, Through Forests and Mountains, the Poems of the Fighters’. It was clear to me, as I read the poems, that the Partisans in Yugoslavia fought against fascism. As Basil Davidson writes in his book Partisan Picture ‘for them the equation was a simple one and, in destroying the apparatus of corruption and privilege and cruelty they understood by Fascism, they saw the way to their millennium.’

Anđelka Martić wrote her poems in Croatian. The verses are rhythmic and rhyme in either an ABAB or ABCB format. I’m still working on this in English, but for now I’d love to record the depths of Anđelka’s heart that I believe one can only find in poetry. 


TO MY FALLEN BROTHER by Anđelka Martić 


You’re gone, but the place in the line of soldiers

At which you waited is not empty,

Your young sister gladly took your heavy rifle

In her tender hands.



Now I am walking where you would have been, beside the mountain.

I am stifling my pain for you in a blaze of colour.

Dream quietly, brother, I know what you wanted,

Until the end your faithful rifle will be heard.



THE LONELY GRAVE by Anđelka Martić 


A lonely mound in a pine forest.

Silence everywhere, only the wind is whistling.

Somewhere far away, a lonely mother

With tearful eyes wails for her son.



But the trees in the forest, the branches sob.

They sway sadly, now easy, now more

Now the forest trembles again like her who calls,

Now the forest is stronger, it is ardent, it is calm.



Why, trees in the forest? Why does your wood

Disturb the silence on a peaceful day

And the scent of the flowers on the bleak grave?

This forest tells the story of that dead partisan…



It whispers to her about our struggle,

About wonderful life when the people win,

About our joy in the success of everyone

And how much these graves are worth!



And a long story about him while the darkness falls.

And when the dawn brightens the sky,

Then the whole forest shivers with whispers:

“Hail! fallen fighters, glory to you!” 




WHO ARE YOU? by Anđelka Martić 1944

       U listu “Slavonac” III. Bat., XXI, ud.div.



Who are you, who call us in order by our names?

Who from a distance come closer and closer, illuminated by the sun of joy?

Who are you, for whom lives fall, for whom they gently perish,

For whom our hearts will not stop yearning?



Who are you, who like a goddess calls us your own,

For whom the canons thunder, for whom we love to murmur,

For whom the villages long,

Without whom no one would want to live?



Who are you, who in ours ears whispers to us splendid and beautiful words,

Whom we think of in the fiercest colours?

What is your name, from where do you come?

O come soon, we desire you, we want your presence.



Who are you? What is your name?

O tell us, tell us, what is your lineage?

Through the mountains, through the gorges, the many rivers and fields,

Comes the echoing voice:

I am called freedom!

I am called freedom and I will come soon! 



I translated four of Anđelka’s poems and have two to finish. They reflect the beauty of the land for which the Partisans fought and which, it was clear to me, lay very close to her heart. She writes ‘Red [cyclamen] are everywhere through the forests where the fighters are moving. They see them and smell their pungent aroma. We twitch the gentle stems, we roll up the small flowerets and think it takes us back to the warm streams of our childhood. Once we ran in the woods, gathering red cyclamen. Our song filled the paths and tracks of the forest, but today the forests have become the graves of our fallen comrades.’ In her poems Anđelka first writes about the beauty of the land, but the tragedy of war always follows. ‘And so on a clear spring day, dreams are muddied by reality. But we are not sad because this struggle of ours, the story of thundering guns, concerns beautiful freedom.’

As Tito wrote, ‘Tuđe nećemo svoje nedamo.’
Tuđe means 'foreign' or 'other people's'. Nećemo is ‘we don’t want’.
Svoje is a possessive pronoun. It means ‘one’s own’.
Nedamo comes from the verb ‘dati’ to give. It means ‘we do not give’.

So ‘Tuđe nećemo svoje nedamo’ may be translated as ‘other people's [land] we don’t want, our [land] we don’t give.' 




My new novel about the Yugoslav Partisans will be published next year by Penmore Press. Its title is Through Forests and Mountains.

















Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Slovenian Trieste

 This article first appeared in TOTAL SLOVENIA NEWS on 4 August 2020.

                                     

By what convoluted route did an Australian come to write an historical novel about Slovenian Trieste? It’s a long story.

Asking my birth mother Silvana (1920-2020) for her family history was like getting blood out of a stone and, when at last she began to reminisce about her earliest days in Istria at the age of 90, it was a race against time to record it. Nevertheless, I discovered that her father came from Trieste and her maternal grandmother, Marija Matiasić, had run away from a village in Slovenia aged 16 sometime in the 1870’s. I began to write His Most Italian City so that these memoirs might not be lost, in the process uncovering the history of Slovenian Trieste that ran parallel to it.

In common with Sydney, where I come from, ports are multicultural places and in my novel I have drawn Trieste this way. It is a city perched at the crossroads of Slav, Latin and Germanic peoples and, before World War One, served as the port of Vienna. Half its population spoke a dialect of Venetian, like my mother, and the Slovenes, who made up one quarter, were the largest ethnic minority. When I wrote on page 117 of the novel that ‘half his friends came from mixed marriages,’ you can easily see this ethnic diversity in the nineteenth century marriage records of Trieste. 

‘Repressed by Austria no more! Viva l’Italia!’- page 65. Austrian tolerance of multiculturalism was a threat to an Italy only recently united, and deeply resented by its intellectuals and politicians who had been the driving forces of the Risorgimento. Declaring themselves the inheritors of ancient Rome, they envisaged an Italian Empire, and developed a movement involving land claims where Italian ethnic or language groups lived, called ‘irredentism’. Its definition varied from reasonable to extreme. For example, in the novel my Istrian grandmother Dolores is half Slovenian and half Croatian, speaks Venetian but considers herself Italian. If a town contained enough people like her (or even if it didn’t) an irredentist might claim that the town was Italian. For the Slovenes in Trieste the movement signified that irredentists considered Austrian Trieste to be ‘unredeemed Italy’.

Piazza Oberdan by Boris Pahor begins by chronicling the growth of the irredentist movement in Trieste and its effects on the Slovenian population. The book is the collected memoirs and stories of a particular place at a particular time by an author who was frequently an eye witness. It is essential reading for anyone who is interested in Slovenian Trieste. Unfortunately, I could only find it in German and Slovenian. (Translators, please note: when can we expect an English edition?)

 ‘The Irredentist movement became particularly significant in Trieste after 1870’ with the Italian occupation of Rome and the Vatican. ‘The Irredentists so strongly influenced public opinion that gradually the citizens began to give way to it… This was not in harmony with the Slovene population….The irredentists, therefore, turned their attention to the Slovene middle class and often provoked clashes between Trieste citizens of Slovenian descent and Italian agitators.  

 Apart from the fact that they wanted to shake off German dominance, the Italian nationalists had an additional motive for connecting the city to Italy: resistance to the economic and cultural growth of the Slovenian people. Although this population had been an integral part of the city for twelve centuries, it consisted of peasants in the suburbs, but in the city itself it consisted of carters, waterside workers, cooks, nurses, masons, labourers, and small merchants…In 1848, as in Vienna, so in Trieste, people demanded the recognition of their Slovenian identity, and so gradually began to form a Slovenian middle class.

[The construction of the Narodni Dom in 1904] ‘was a great provocation to the anti-Slovenian Italian agitators, accustomed to seeing the Slovene community composed of small karst farmers, dairy maids, housewives and labourers. When, after the end of the war, Rome seized control of the city and its surroundings, the Narodni Dom became one of the main targets of the hate that had hitherto been suppressed.’

Pahor records its destruction.

‘On that afternoon of July 13, 1920, the sky had turned blood red before sunset, and at the same time we learned of the fire… we ran downhill in the direction of those dull voices that came up from the piazza. We were actually witnesses of the events when we stopped at the corner in front of the coffee house Fabris. Everything in front of us was as if it were on a stage: that screaming crowd, over which the flames were zipping out of the windows of the Narodni Dom. We were shocked, held each other's hands, and stared at the firefighters. The attackers refused to allow them to direct their streams of water at the burning building… I probably wondered, as was the case later, why this fire, what was this crowd, this assault on the fire hoses, so that the water did not shoot up but poured itself on the ground? I learned later that people from within the Narodni Dom had doused it with petrol from the barracks, and that two people had jumped out of a hotel room onto the street.’

 In what has been termed ‘Trieste’s Kristallnacht’, a great deal of other Slovenian property in the city was also attacked. 

 Pahor continues, ‘As the editor of the newspaper Il Piccolo, Rino Alessi, put it in his article “Trieste has placed itself at the head of fascism.”’ He goes on to detail the violence towards the Slovenian community in Trieste and in the Slovenian territory given to Italy after World War One.

 In order to record a balanced judgement, it’s important to put this historical period into context. Fuelled by misinterpreted Darwinism, racism was in vogue not only in Germany and Italy, but even in Britain. This meant that, in response to Italian demands at the secret Treaty of London, which in 1915 brought Italy into the war, Britain had few qualms about incorporating one third of small Slavic Slovenia into an enormous Italy already on the brink of Fascism. After the war, the single voice for the national self-determination of the Slavs was Woodrow Wilson of the US who addressed this issue in his Fourteen Point Plan. Unfortunately his suggestions were ignored and Mussolini, who was shortly to take up office, was a vocal anti-Slav racist. What followed were the ravages of Fascism as it stretched its tentacles far and wide.

The best referenced article I have read about this time was written by Gianfranco Cresciani. ‘A clash of civilizations? The Slovene and Italian minorities andthe problem of Trieste.’ Italian Historical Society, Australia. Volume 12, No. 2 July-December 2004.  

Dr Cresciani writes: within Trieste and Istria the Fascist regime ‘progressively shut down most Slovene or Croat institutions. Between 1918 and 1928, 488 primary schools were closed, as well as some 400 cultural, sporting, youth, social and professional organizations and libraries, three political parties, 31 newspapers and journals, and 300 co-operatives and financial institutions.’ 

One day when Silvana was 97, we were out for a walk when suddenly she said, ‘My father was very unhappy. The government wanted to move him all over Italy.’ This was Romano Tonon (1886 -1956), born in Trieste of an Italian mother and a Venetian father, but apparently limited in his career choices because he was educated in Graz rather than Italy. On page 138 of the novel, my great uncle (1896 – 1984), who was Slovenian and Croatian and also educated in Austria, was denied promotion at the University of Florence. Silvana deplored the discrimination he suffered. She mentioned it on many occasions. I have a photograph of Zio Lin, as she called him, still lecturing about a mosquito that attacked olives at retirement age. In 1928 his family’s name was Italianised. The original Italian in the birth register reads: Il controscritto cognome di Micatovich è stato corretto a quello di Di Micheli con decreto del Prefetto di Pola.’ ‘The countersigned surname Micatovich has been corrected to that of Di Micheli with the decree of the Prefect of Pola’ – page 18 of the novel. In the same register a further round of Italianizing Slavic names occurred in 1933.

I believe that any article about Slovenian Trieste needs a reference to Britain. There are several of these in the novel. ‘Britain, in particular, will back Italy as harmless if it serves British interests’ – page 24. ‘Istria was given to Italy after the war by the winners because the Italians asked for it, and to reward it for fighting on their side’ - page 174.

In 1923 King George V ‘conferred upon Mussolini the insignia of the Order of the Bath and congratulated the country for emerging from its recent crisis “under the wise leadership of a strong man of government”’.  (Fascist Voices by Christopher Duggan, Vintage 2012.) And according to my father-in-law, who was an Australian soldier in Italy between 1942 and 1945, it was fear of the communism of the Italian Partisans (not Yugoslav) that led Britain to approve of General Badoglio as Prime Minister following Mussolini because, despite his Fascist war crimes, he was anti-communist. Douglas Walker received the Certificato al Patriota for his work with the Italian Partisans but he continually stressed the importance to the Allies of stabilizing Italy.

Lastly, Trieste Goes to Australia by Gianfranco Cresciani (Padana Press, 2011) documents the fate of so many Slovenians in Trieste when the city was returned to Italy in 1954 after nearly a decade of being a free port under Allied occupation. Particularly poignant are the photographs of the Audace Pier crowded with thousands of forced emigrants, ten percent of Trieste’s population. After their departure, depression fell upon the city. 

Today is a time for understanding and healing between two nations. Italy has thirty times the population of Slovenia, and at least that number again living around the world claim Italian heritage. We are far enough removed from Mussolini for these Italians who may not know of his excesses to study them objectively. So my last words will come from an Italian:  To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain forever a child – Cicero.