Well, I come from a tradesman’s family. My father was a tradesman, a woodworker. My mother was a cook. My mother came from Styria and my father from Carniola. They both met in Ljubljana. I was born 19 April 1924 in Recica near Savinja. Then we moved. As far as our residence is concerned, we moved from Sentjanz, Radmirje, Menges, Luc and we ended up here in Kropa. On 10 July 1942, I was mobilized to the German Arbeitsdienst, the German labor service. I was mobilized into this service, which was a sort of paramilitary type. I was in the Arbeitsdienst for six months. Then I returned in December 1942. By the time I got home, the call-up for the German army was already waiting for me.
We were recruited while serving in the Arbeitsdienst. I was assigned to the German infantry. By the time I got home in December 1942, I was recruited into the German army, forcibly mobilized. I was an 18 year old youth at the time and had no idea what the army was or what a weapon was. I came to the German army at Brno in the Czech Republic; it was called Brünn in German. I was in the army December 1942, and January and February. We had what they call in German Ausbildung, which was a drill using German weapons. We were given an assignment of which I knew nothing about: to fight against the Russian soldiers. We were sent in February 1943, Germany was suffering from hard times due to the Soviet troops conquering German troops in Stalingrad, up in Leningrad, and we were sent to the eastern front.
After some heavy fighting at Dnjepr Petrovski and at Orel in the hinterland of the German fighting line, I came to the small village of Balakleja. There I came to stay with a family. The parents had two daughters. One was my age; the other was two years younger. I collaborated well with these two. At the time I knew Slovene and a little Serbocroatian. We had learned some in school. That’s how we communicated. One morning the mother brought a picture, an icon of the Mother Mary. I said mother in Russian to her – a little Russian, a little Slovene and a little Serbocroatian – and I asked her why she brings this picture. I explained that we have such pictures hanging on our walls. She said that her girls and boys were communists. I knew almost nothing about communism. Basically because we never learned anything about it or about politics and political parties. She said at the time you know, mine are komsomoljki. The word komsomolj was foreign to me. That’s how well we communicated, we worked well together, and we gave food to these girls for their efforts. Once, the younger girl said Ivo, listen, I have a bomaska for you. You’re wondering what a bomaska is? It’s a quarter piece of paper on which something is written, half in German and half in Russian. Can you read Russian? Yes, I said, so-so. She asked how so-so? I just said so-so. The Russian alphabet has more letters than Cyrillic’s. I knew a little German and a little Russian and a little Serbocroatian and of course Slovene; so I read it. The younger girl told me that if I get caught by the Soviet’s, that this bomaska will get me an extra piece of bread. I had no idea why this bomaska was so valuable. At any rate, it’s what the younger girl said to me, that when the Russians capture me I must show this and I’ll receive an extra piece of bread.
Perhaps it was a week or two or three, I can’t say because we didn’t follow calendar days. They didn’t even know calendars in Russia at the time. I was taken prisoner when i was riding my horses, packed with food, to the front line, to the German front. I swear it was a Russian stallion and I swear, when that stallion sensed the Russian language, I didn’t even hear it, he started neighing. I guess I wasn’t careful; I was taken by surprise. I rode on another few hundred meters and then five or six people, girls too, surrounded me. They said that I was mobilized into the German army. I even said so myself. But I wondered how these strangers could know. One of the soldiers said to me, actually he was a civilian, to show my bombaska. How is one to know? …foreign people, strangers … So I pulled it out of the pocket of my German uniform, up here on the left side we had a pocket, and I took the paper out and handed it over. The leader said votja, charasho, meaning thank you that I gave him the paper. They took my horses there, when I was surrounded; and I was made to taste some food, to test whether it was really edible. I don’t know if later they ate that food or not. They chased me three or four kilometers away. But even before I was taken prisoner, the watch was taken off my hand. I remember thinking how it made no difference. When they caught me, they took me to the village called Balakleja and they locked me up in a hen coop. Perhaps it was two by two meters, or one by one. I just know that I was locked up for an eternity, at least it seemed that way. I don’t know whether it was afternoon or the next day, but two soldiers came in and asked me if I’m German or not. No, I’m not, I’m Yugoslavian. They knew nothing of any Yugoslavians. They tied me up with some wire and shoved me to some headquarters. There was a huge table in a very large room, and the officers were sitting over there. I don’t know what kind of officers they were. They asked me all sorts of things. Perhaps I’d been thinking about it in the hen coop, I was asked for my surname. I said Ivan Ivanovic Srcnikov. That was almost my death, although I didn’t know it. And then one of the officers, he says to me in Russian what’s your surname?! I responded Ivan Ivanovic Srcnikov. He said I’m not Yugoslavian, but rather a Vlach. The Vlachs were Russian soldiers who had gone over to the enemy side, or who had been taken prisoner. They had gone over and joined the German army. Then that officer said sitchas mi vidjot, meaning we’ll see now, if you really are Yugoslavian. I wondered how he could figure that out over a thousand kilometers away. They shoved me off again, untied me and locked me back in the hen coop. I was there perhaps a day or perhaps only hours. Hours were an eternity. The same two soldiers came again and tied me up and covered my eyes. I thought: goodbye Slovenia, Yugoslavia, I’m going to be shot. I knew that the Russians shot the German soldiers somewhere down there by the plum trees. I was sure I was going to be shot. The two soldiers tied up my eyes and I thought goodbye parents, I’m going to die now. We stepped out of the hen coop and one of them said that we’re going to headquarters. When we got there someone asked me my surname. Once more I said Ivan Ivanovic Srcnikov. He spoke Russian and said something about some measurements; I didn’t understand because he was speaking too fast. He explained to me that I was standing before a table and that something is on the table, but he didn’t say what. He said that I would have to show him by the time he counted to ten. I still didn’t know what. My eyes were still tied. He untied my eyes and said that I must show him where Celje is. I forgot to mention that I had said I was from Celje. I thought that if I were to say I was from Kropa, they wouldn’t know where it was. If I were to say I was from Gornji grad, it’d be even worse. So I said I was from Celje. This man, the one who pulled out the map said that if I can show him where Celje is on the map, then I am a Yugoslav. He said by the time he counts to ten; if I can’t, then I go to the Slivnjak, down by the plum trees. Then he counted ras, dva, tri, shetiri… And I showed him, here it is. He patted me on the shoulder and said ti Jugoslav, meaning: you are a Yugoslav and now you’ve convinced us. I went to Siberia. We went with these German people; they took us to Siberia, where we met up with other Slovenians. All the Slovenians gathered together and we were told that we may each choose our own group. And once the group was formed we would get our work. That’s how we came together; there were ten of us Slovenians. Then we got our tools, saws, axes … We were sent into the forest to cut down trees. There was enough food while we were in Russian captivity. Perhaps there wasn’t much bread. The Russians up in Siberia, in the taiga, they only cook ‘supa’ and ‘kasha’. You’re probably wondering what ‘supa’ and ‘kasha’ are. ‘Supa’ is everything that is cooked and still fluid. ‘Kahsa’ is porridge; everything like mashed potatoes, solid foods. We only got fish food there, which there was enough of, not much bread, but enough. After a while, it was still winter, all the Slovenians and also Croatians and other nationalities were all together according to the nationalities. Maybe the Slovenians and Croatians were together …
Then the order came, you’re going out. I don’t know if there was any guard there at all; where would one escape to anyway? Winter was perpetual, no not perpetual, but the snow… They brought us to Moscow, or really it was Krasnogorsk. There was a prisoner of war camp in Krasnogorsk. There were all sorts of nationalities represented there: Slovenians, Croatians, Czechs, Polacks and even French. They sort of trained us in Krasnogorsk. That’s what I think and we also debated it among us - we were going to be sent in against Hitler, against Germany. We all decided that we would do it. So in Krasnogrosk we were prepared, they changed us … it’ll sound a bit wicked how I say it … from Fascism to Bolshevism, or from Nationalism to Bolshevism. That’s how we imagined things were at the time, because there was no sentry or guard watching over us in Krasnogorsk. I think we were there in Krasnogorsk perhaps about one month. Once, Mesic came to visit; by rank he was a general. He was the father of the current Croatian Mesic, the one who is now president or something. So his father came to us and said boys, whoever wants to join the brigade can go and fight the Germans. It was either to get away from the encampment, or maybe just to get away from being controlled, or maybe even we were fully conscious, but we chose to join the units. I joined the Yugoslav brigade; that’s what it was called later, but then it was a detachment. At the time there were perhaps about 200 of us, or 300, 400 … I joined and I don’t know if I was weak or not; I probably was. [00:03:06.10 But I came to that headquarters where Mesic was the commanding officer and he said that I’d be going to someone. Who? I didn’t know. But it came to be that I went to this man who had been living in Russia since 1918, or maybe even earlier, since WWI. His name was Jevremovic. I came to this man wearing a uniform, and I spoke Serbian with him, and he told me that I was going to be with him as his courier.
So we trained there. Initially I was in the company for ties, and then I was a radiotelegraph. It was in September or October of 1943 that we left. We went to the front. We didn’t go to the frontline, but we were right behind it. As the Soviet units marched on towards Germany, we cleaned up behind as the German units got dispersed in the forests and we had to clean them up. We crossed Romania, the Carpathian Mountains, and mostly we kept moving at night. To get enough sleep at night, the entire company would gather together and a rope would be tied to the cart and horse and then we each tied that rope around our waists, so we walked and slept. You would sleep while walking. If anybody in front of you fell down there would immediately be ten in a pile. That’s how we crossed the Carpathians. Then we came to Turnseverin. That was the Romanian – Yugoslavian border at the time. We crossed the Danube into the former Yugoslavia, or rather, occupied Yugoslavia. We were already liberating them at the time. We then joined in the combat at Cacak. Things were really bad at Cacak. Up to here the brigade counted 1000 or 2700 men. An extravagantly dressed man then came to Cacak, he rode a horse. He said his armed forces – we called them Tchetniks and that was also their formal name – surrendered to our soldiers. Because we were from all over Slovenia and from Croatia, and there weren’t any of these locals in our brigade. That’s basically how they saved their lives. There were also Partisans from Cacak and they knew these people; but the Partisans and Tchetniks didn’t really got well on together at the time. This man brought some plans to Mesic. Before he got to see Mesic though, he was stripped naked and searched by our guards; we had to make sure he wasn’t carrying any weapons before he was allowed to see our commanding officer Mesic. He handed him a letter. It was written in the letter that on such and such a day our artillery was to fire from such and such a position at particular locations where the Germans were best organized. It also was written that the Tschetniks, the Serbs, would surrender to our unit. Our commanders, Mesic fell for it; and so our troops began with the preparations and then with the attack on those particular stated locations. Well, there were no Germans there. The Tschetniks attacked us from behind and they massacred the Partisans from behind. We lost 700 men in one night and one day in that slaughter. When it was all over, I wasn’t in the headquarter brigade at the time yet, but I was still in the troop and we had a mobilization in Cacak. Upon our arrival to Belgrade, well we were there for only a short while, we were at Topcinder. We were split up in battle and some of us went to Bosnia, some of us went up towards Srem, towards Sid, and we went to Drvar. Then we were on the Srem front, where there was plenty fighting and we headed in one direction once and another direction another time … Slowly, slowly, we moved towards Slovenia. It was 1945 already. We spent the New Year on the Srem front, but we continued heading north and we came to the Croatian – Slovenian border on 11 April. We came to the Sotla River. Sedlarjevo was on the Slovenian side. I don’t remember the name, it was a small village.
Our brigade stepped onto Slovenian soil at Sedlarjevo without a fight. The Germans were retreating and we went right on in. Then we came down to Podcetrtek. There were people standing along the road in Podcetrtek. We passed by, I was riding my horse – because now I was already a commanding officer of the ‘rear support unit’ – so I was riding my horse and someone calls out Ivo! I felt a shudder of fear. Who could possibly know me here? I had never been to Podcetrtek or anywhere hereabouts. And then a second time Ivo, Ivo, come here! I looked around and recognized the girl. She was a former classmate of mine. She’s still alive today. She came to me and invited me to come over to eat. I told her Thank you, but if I come anywhere near there will be a crawling carpet all over the floor. Why? I explained to her that I was full of lice; we all were. So then we came to Celje on the 12th of April. I wondered how I could get up to here. Well, I was the commanding officer of the ‘rear support unit’. So I went to Mesic and said: Mesic, I’d like to go home. I spoke in Serbocroatian; we didn’t speak Slovene. He asked where I was from. I lied and said that maybe four, five or six kilometers away. Already my heart began to race. We were permitted to take leave for only up to five kilometers. So he looks at me and asks again how many kilometers? I said five, maybe five and a half, not six, I struck that out quickly. He asks how I will go. I say on foot. When I got out of that building, I saw a bicycle right out front. It was a German bicycle. Maybe someone had left it there, maybe it even belonged to someone in that very building, I don’t know. I saw it and I stole it, truly. It doesn’t matter; it was German. So I steal this bicycle and I start riding. It’s a little less than 50 kilometers from Celje to here, but I just disregarded that extra zero digit and I said it was only five. That’s the way I was. I got there, to where my mother lived on the Savinja side. I get to the left bank of the Savinja River and I see that the house is still standing up on the hill.
When I arrived I went and found my mother. Then this man had to bring us across because the bridge was down. It had been burned. He brought us across and my mother and I, me with my stolen bicycle and she with hers, headed up through the Zadrecka valley. It’s about eight kilometers uphill. Then the Partisans stopped me and claimed that I was a German soldier dressed as a Partisan, who wants to stay in a liberated Yugosalvia. I said listen, listen … But they pulled out a revolver and aimed at me. My mother began to cry. They would have shot me if it hadn’t been for her. They claimed that I had killed a Partisan, dressed in the Partisan uniform and thrown away the German one. It wasn’t true. I joined the Partisans in 1943, I had all my documents, and I could prove it. In the end we made it home. It was the morning or maybe afternoon of May 16th when I arrived here at Kropa. That’s just how things were at Kropa after the war; people were gone. I went back to Celje too; with the bicycle. Our brigade had already left. Mesic had said to me that he had heard we would be moving out of Celje. I said that if they move before I return, for them to leave a message at this woman’s house. There was an old woman, perhaps she was in her 60s or 70s. Upon my return with that bicycle, I got the message and it wrote Mali – that was my Partisan name – we went to Zagreb, to Maksimir.
As soon as I got to Celje, not lazy, went straight on to Kumrovec. I went to Kumrovec from Celje by bicycle. Just before reaching Kumrovec, there were these wooden houses with people living in them. I came up to one of those houses and there was a woman inside. I asked if I could sleep there. Why? Because I’m on my way to Zagreb. She asked when I would be leaving. I said early in the morning. She said I could stay. She made a bed for me; it was so puffed with feathers that I was covered in them. She asked again when I’d be leaving and I said at dawn. When I woke up, perhaps it was five in the morning of the 17th May. There was a huge plate of fried eggs waiting for me. I ate, we said farewell and I continued on to Zagreb. But when I arrived in Zagreb, the brigade was no longer there in Maksimir. I was still on that bicycle. I left the bicycle in front of Maksimir and I went inside to the doorman. When I came back outside, the bicycle was gone. Someone else had stolen it. Easy come, easy go. Of course I had a message. Mali, you must report to general headquarters in Belgrade. I traveled on to Belgrade; it must have been 10 or 12 days. Sometimes I was on a train, sometimes I traveled by foot. The routes were in ruins. I came to Belgrade; I think it was already the end of May. I reported to general headquarters in Belgrade and I spent some time there, a week or two, or even a month. Then I was sent to the headquarters of the 1st regiment in Nis. I arrived there and was in the 'personnel department'. My job was to question those who joined the Partisans and became noncommissioned officers. I had to ask them where they had been, I had to thoroughly interrogate them and find out what kind of past they had. So that’s how it came to be that I was in the 1st regiment up until November 1945.
Eventually the day came that I was to be demobilized. I received 5000 dinars; that was a lot of money at the time. When I left the office of Sekulic, he took hold of my epaulettes, tore them off and stomped on them. These two stars, I had two on each shoulder because I was a second lieutenant, I still have them today. That’s how I was demobilized, in the end of november. I got home and immediately I became a secretary for the Liberation Front (LF). The LF was set up then without districts. There were just the LF’s, they had the power. There was this man who was the president of it and he was also a Partisan. I was doing woodwork for my father and this policeman comes into the workshop and asks if I’m so-and-so. I said that I’m Srcnik. He tells me to go with him. I ask where? He says you’re coming. So we went out into the road. Another policeman is ushering the LF president. I asked what was going on, what did we do? Continue! You’re not permitted to speak! So we went on… Anyway, so we came to this bridge and he said that we’re going to that house. Why? Don’t ask, let’s just go. So we get to that house and a car drives up; it was a German Volkswagen and there were two people inside. I don’t remember whether they were dressed as civilians or not. One of the two entered, while the other stayed outside in the car. He gave the cue to the two policemen that we should go inside. An examination followed. I won’t go into what was found. That’s how this civilian life began.
Ivo Srcnik (1924 - 2017)
1943 - 1945: Rečica (Croatia)
Yugoslav Resistance Movement