What was the main reason for your leaving Slovenia?
Slovenians fled to neighbouring countries to escape the Communist regime with its mass killings and lack of freedom of speech or enterprise. The high rate of unemployment resulted in thousands of people relocating in search of a new life. Each person has their own story to tell in relation to reasons for leaving Slovenia and the subsequent developments that unfolded.
Stefan, Hinko, Maria, Vida and Lucija have their own particular story in relation to reasons for leaving Slovenia, their experiences on the long, frightening journey and the uncertainty of a new life in a foreign country. Of this, they tell unreservedly…..
‘….In 1956 we escaped across the border into Austria, under cover. I went with two of my sisters… The first time I tried to escape, I risked my life going over the border. I got caught and spent four years in jail. The next time we were more careful. They found us in Austria. We were wet and cold from being in the trenches but we were free. They looked after us. The next day we were put in jail where we had a hearing. I had to stay for one week then we were allowed to continue. We decided to go to Australia because I had rheumatics and I wanted to go where it was warmer. At that time Australia was accepting refugees’.
Lucija tells :
‘…..My husband and I were working in Koper at the time. He tried to escape over the border but was arrested and imprisoned for 7 years. He served 4 years in jail and was released to spend 3 years out of jail, but with no civil rights, meaning that he wasn’t allowed to work for that time…’
‘….I left Slovenia because I lost my job. At that time, after the war, things were very hard. When the war ended, things changed in the company I worked for. It had bought new equipment, then dropped the wages and increased the working hours. The cost of living increased and they couldn’t cope with paying the higher wages. So, the last person starting the job was the first to lose it. I had to get another job. I tried very hard at many places – Maribor, Ptuj. I sent all my papers to get a job but got no answer. So, I decided it would be better to go because I couldn’t stay at home with our large family…’
‘….. After WW2 Communism was still in Slovenia. The communists were hiding in the forests. Communists attacked, then Germans killed our people. If one German was killed, they shot 10 civillians – I witnessed it. I saw ten killed in Vedrian.
I grew up in Vedrian, it was under Italy. It stayed like that for 2 years. When borders were made we were under Italy. I worked in Italy. From our village, twenty-five girls walked to work. There was no food, work, money. We helped each other. We worked all day 11-3pm. There was no lunch, they didn’t give us lunch. We had to bring our own. On the farm, we had some fruit, vineyards, if there was any, that’s why there was hunger – there was much hunger.
In our family there were five children. Mum looked after us, cooked, looked after the farm. Father was sick. All the young people left…. I was twelve years old. Mother said, ‘go over the world. There is nothing here for you’. I went on my old bike and escaped over to Italy.’
‘….. At that time Slovenia was under the Communists. They controlled the country and there was a lot of religious persecution. I didn’t like that and I wanted to leave. So we escaped over the border and didn’t return.’
After finishing my apprenticeship as a bricklayer, I decided that I would follow in my older brother’s footsteps and follow him to France. In those days it was imposable to leave Yugoslavia unless one escaped illegally under the cover of night in search of better opportunities.
My first attempt was foiled out of respect for my mother. My brother Andej was already living and working in Paris. We organized a meeting across the boarder in Nova Gorica, I was prepared to jump the boarder then, but being mindful of my mother’s presence, I postponed my plans. A week later, towards the end of August 1959 I decided to set out on my adventure. The only person aware of my plan was my older sister. It was late into the night that we said our goodbyes, and I took of on foot towards Trieste, Italy. My path took me from Podnanos, past Storje towards Sežana. Fearful of walking along the road, I kept a distance of some 50 meters between the road and me. About 5 o’clock the next morning I reached Opicina in Italy. There I exchanged some money and proceeded to visit my aunty Metoda living in Trieste, hoping to meet up with my brother Andrej who was supposed to meet me there. Alas, he left the night before. My aunty told me to return to my mother who must be grieving for me, after all, I was still a child. In a dilemma what to do next, I finally decided to report to a police station, handing myself in as a refugee. Following an interview I was transferred to San Sabo camp where I spent a whole month in limbo. During this time I attempted to enter France, hoping to proceed to Paris. My brother returned – escorted me to the Italian – French boarder. There we parted, he crossed legally, I attempted to cross illegally again on foot into Mentone. It was not meant to be. I was caught at the boarder. Upon searching my personal possessions, discovering an immunization card from the refugee camp in Italy, I was returned to San Sabo under police escort, without meeting up with my brother at a prearranged meeting point.
. . .”I left Slovenia as a thirteen years old to follow my parents who left two years earlier as refugees, looking for a better future, better opportunities. Under the communist system in then Yugoslavia, not being party members, my parents foresaw no future, no progress only discrimination. A fact that I was already well aware of as well. Therefore my fate, my move to leave Slovenia, was in the hands of others.
I travelled to Australia as a regular passenger, with Yugoslav passport, to join my parents and my sister already living in Australia. As a result, I was spared an internment camp. This did not however spare me the anxiety or trauma of separation felt by many that left their loved ones, like my parents, illegally under the cover of darkness. First it was parting from my parents at the age of eleven, then parting from my beloved grandparents who I spent most of my young life with and all my friends.
My grandfather left me in Zagreb, from there I travelled on my own, but for some recent acquaintances I met for the first time at an Australian consulate in Zagreb a few days earlier on to Trieste where I spent a week at a hotel waiting to sail to Australia on an old ship, ½ cargo ½ passenger, called Toscana with facility for only some 750 passengers in all, on its final journey before being retired into some ship yard.