The father, Wasilij, was still young. He kept saying of National Socialism: “That will be no good.” Afterwards, the authority was taken over by the Nazis, they immediately locked up a number of people of the Slovenian minority and priests. We saw it would not be the way it had been promised before. It was a time without work and bread. That helped the national socialists to come into power. And many let themselves be led by the propaganda and even believed that everything would be okay again. That the people would live well – under Adolf Hitler. But when the first Slovenians were locked up, we already knew my father was right. The people lost their belief in Adolf Hitler and the resistance formed against fascism and Hitlerism. The first deserters from the ‘Wehrmacht’ had already escaped to Yugoslavia in 1939. After the occupation of Yugoslavia they were arrested or had gone into hiding under a false name; as my colleague Karl Potoschki did. He was working under false name at a hotel in Bosnia. On the 20th October 1939, he was shot together with 20.000 ‘chosen ones’ and finished off. Those coming back after the occupation of Yugoslavia were mostly locked up, respectively were the cadres of the liberation front of the Slovenes of Carinthia. Some joined the partisans straight away; others later on, but the beginning had been made. From day to day the resistance grew stronger. Today, when you realise how courageous the people were – then again it involved the ‘head’ and the people didn’t have a clue. The plain people were the ones that helped the rebellion. Without the help of the rural population, resistance would have been impossible. Only because of this it was possible that the number of partisans became bigger each day. And the hope that one day things would change.
We had already heard in 1942 that partisans were staying in our area. But the first contact was at Easter 1943 when the first partisans came and knocked at the door: “Mother, open! The partisans are here; the army of the Slovenian people. We will destroy fascism and you will be free once more.” Afterwards we had regular contact. We sang a song I will never forget. There was a woman who had a harmonica. We were friends straight away. Afterwards we had to help them every day. Into the forest, delivering food. In the evenings they came again. That was the way the resistance was organised and kept getting stronger.
Well, there were only few that weren’t with the partisans. In the town there were more. Bleiburg is a known town and Carinthia was a Nazi stronghold, but the population outside was of different opinion. There were only few and they did not report us to the police – kept quiet and did not keep in touch with us. But only about 10 % weren’t with us.
In March 43 I had to go to the army physician because I had to enlist. I already had connection to the partisans. In August I received the call-up to the army. I said: “What shall we do?” They wanted me to enlist but my mother was against it. Mother was frightened: “They will destroy everything and burn our house down” and cried. But I thought that the families would not have to pay so much. So I enlisted in Klagenfurt. From above we might get a contact. When I was in Klagenfurt, you know how it is with the military – today like this, tomorrow like that. From Klagenfurt to Salzburg; from Salzburg to Lienz, East Tyrol. Then to Italy via Venice, Rome up to … near Monte Cassino. Then we were sent to the front. There I was wounded, had a first and second-degree frostbite and because of that I got into the military hospital in South Italy, in Sora. From there to Venice, then to Merano. Then back to Germany, Black Forest, Solingen – there was a hospital. Afterwards I always thought: Well, I have to get out. I made an application to be moved to the military hospital in Klagenfurt. They allowed it. On the first day in Klagenfurt, my mother came to see me. She told me that the partisans said: “Come and join us soon, we are waiting for you!” After 14 days the medical consultant of the hospital said: “I will grant you a holiday although I know 100% that you will never come back.” My answer was: “I will come back, where else should I go?” I was with walking sticks, I couldn’t go anywhere. It is just a shame that I didn’t go back to that doctor after the war. Then I could have reported: “Mr. Consultant, I am back.”
So I went home. On the first evening the partisans, acquaintances were already there. After 14 days the holiday was over. “Well, what are we going to do, mother?” My mother was crying again. She sprinkled me with holy water. “Mother, that doesn’t help! I will not go back to the ones that sentenced us to death.” So I went and the commander of the partisans said: “We will come and pick you up. We will bring enough people so your family won’t be resettled or get locked into jail.” The evening came. No partisan called up, but the commander had told me I would be gone in the evening. I went back to Bleiburg and picked up my military equipment. On the next day I met the commander of the partisans and said to him: “Why didn’t you come?” He said to me: “You know by yourself where you belong.” That was easily said in those days. But it was not an easy thing to do. But the English bombarded Klagenfurt in those days. When the police came afterwards to ask if I had reported somewhere, my mother said: “Maybe he has been killed in the air raid.” My Mother was clever. There was an illegal co-worker of the partisans in Bleiburg. After 2 to 3 weeks, my mother gave one of them a parcel to take it to this woman. Later this woman took the parcel to the post with my military address on it, the one I should have reported to after my holiday. The parcel came back again… The parcels kept going backwards and forwards.
With the partisans life was slightly different. Nowadays you say: “Not everybody had the opportunity to join them.” Many would have had an opportunity but didn’t risk it. I was not fit to work for the front any more. For me there would have probably been a job. But I didn’t want to. I could not share the responsibility to work with the ones that wanted to eliminate us. The partisans had problems with the provisions and sleeping in the forest overnight. Here and there in houses as well, still, but most of the time in the forest. Even in the cold and snow. The clothes froze on you. You felt stiff as a straw mattress. Only those of really a tough nature were able to handle that. People incapable of handling this deserted. That didn’t help.
First I was allocated to the couriers, the news unit for a while. Later I was with the sabotage units. We blew up bridges and telephone masts. Afterwards I was in a battalion with 300 men. That was slightly different. When a few men came, because of the food there were no problems. Once 200/300 people are together it was problematic with the food. Some was given to us by the people, some was bought, and some was taken - well, the way every military, unfortunately, does it. But we only took from those against us, against the partisans. Otherwise it was voluntarily and paid. After the war they handed in and exchanged their vouchers for livestock. We were glad the war was over and we had survived.
The way it was organised was wonderful. From home the news went to the neighbour; from the neighbour to somebody else and so on. A few hours before the police came from Bleiburg to go hunting for partisans – or bandits – as they said, we already knew. It was agreed that a red flag on a house would indicate danger; a white flag meant everything was fine. So we were already warned. Except of when the police came at night. At night the news supply was not as good as during the day. But it worked.
Most of the young people took a lot of the responsibility. The police did not control the children quite as strictly as the older people. The little children used to carry the mail for us and so on. And they informed us as well when somebody was wounded.
The women were really poor. Because they really had to pay for this, more than the others. But they were really brave women. Some were braver than the men. Three of those women I took into my heart and will never forget. They had no fears. If there was any returned shooting they shot just the same as the others. But some were placid. They had nothing to laugh about, because of their “monthly problems”. To manage all that and get through was not easy. But they did get through and showed courage. Most of them did the paper work in the battalions, for the bigger organisations. But not everyone got a job like that. But it was not easy for the women. Some women were picked to help the wounded. They were also very courageous. They helped as well as they could. When I was wounded on 19th March 1945, women were there, as well. They helped me first and then carried me to a farmer’s and from there behind a hut that had been a wood shed before. They had a shack for the forestry workers and that was where I lived until the end of the war. Again it were the women who helped me. They brought milk, bread and sugar. They cared for me like my mother. I will never forget these people. You cannot repay for that either. Only a real thank you, nothing else.
I had been looking forward to the day when the war would be over. But unfortunately, I was wounded. My brother was with the partisans, as well. He came with a horse and took me home. He came into the shack. The horse came first and then the man. “Who is coming into the forest now?” Then he said: “Lipej, come on. The war is over!” We did not believe him that it was really true; that the war was over. That was unbelievable – persecution, respectively the hunt for the resistance fighters would be over one day. In those days we sang, ate, were happy, and kissed – nobody can imagine the way it was in those days. We were all so happy. That’s why for us the end of the war is still the most important day to be celebrated. Back then it was the end of the Nazi fascism and we cannot forget all the ones who were in the forest, in a concentration camp or locked up by Nazi fascists. For all those it is unforgettable. We cannot understand that the people care so little about this day, 8th May – the end of the war. We were happy, but it just looks as if it was the other way round. They lost the war and that’s why they never celebrate. Later on they made the 26th October a national hiking day or so. What do they hike for? Nobody thinks about that. What happened and what was achieved by that – peace. We are always for it; every day. Never again: war and fascism.
The main Nazis, they hid away. Back then, when the partisans were there. Some of them came back out of their holes the end of May and for a while they were like the Stasi (secret police of East Germany). Again, as time went on they showed themselves as Nazis. They believed us to be the betrayers. Even today the word ‘betrayer’ or ‘betrayer of freedom’ sticks to us. How can an Austrian or authority say ‘betrayer’? In those days when the roll call came: “Let’s go against fascism, for Austria” – where were the people? In Stalingrad, did they fight for Austria? The ways are so different and we will never agree about what happened. We celebrate the big party and the others are the losers. For the ones who were members of the German ‘Wehrmacht’, the governor and authorities always lay down wreaths on All Saint’s Day. But never in front of a partisan’s grave. There are 53 monuments and graves of the partisans in Carinthia. Nobody ever put a wreath down – nobody, officially. And there were 50.000 deserters who were shot in Germany. Nobody remembers them either, as if there hadn’t been any. Only the one who was with Hitler up to the end was the right one. That was quite sad, it drags on. According to them we were all betrayers. But we did not betray Austria. Them betrayed Austria in the year of 1938 who voted for Hitler.
Lipej Kolenik (1925 - 2008)
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Original interview language (German)