I was born in Remschenig near Eisenkappl into a Slovenian family; at my aunt’s, really, where my mother was a farm maid. There where Katarina’s sons Michael Sluga, Karl Paulitsch and Franz Rotter. Franz Rotter was a member of the German ‘Wehrmacht’; so was Karl Sluga, who crossed over to the partisans. Michael Sluga joined the partisans straight away instead of enlisting. In 1943 it became dangerous. Katarina Sluga escaped to the partisans then. My aunt was interested in culture and politics. She soon started to organise meetings against Hitler and to attend other meetings. Therefore she was politically suspicious. So we all were in danger. She was aware that something could happen. She had people who sent her a message to withdraw. For her it was dangerous now. So she backed away to the partisans and thought that everything would be okay if she went. But she was wrong. When the Gestapo came it was dangerous for all of them. They arrested all.
I was not at home. I was at the neighbour’s. When the neighbour saw that the Gestapo went to our house, she hid us in an outhouse and warned us: “Please, don’t look out of the window and stay quiet.” But us children, we didn’t understand that and didn’t keep quiet. We kept looking out to see what was going on until we saw that they were marching our family and relatives off. We were frightened then. Only then did we realize that there was danger. They came to the neighbour’s house after that and there was an argument in the yard. We were frightened that they would take the neighbour, as well, and deport her. After an hour it went quiet. Then the neighbour came and said we could come out now. It was such a relief that she came to us. I don’t know what would have happened, if we – little children – would have stayed on our own. The oldest one was six, then three years, four years and I was five years old. A cousin of mine had stayed at home. She was suffering with a contagious infection, scabies. The Gestapo saw that and did not take her. They were frightened of being infected. She came to the neighbour’s. The neighbour said that we could not stay with her, because she had five children of her own and she was alone with them, as well. They had taken the oldest daughter, the farmer girl and the farmer away. On the day they arrested our family, they arrested so many people that a horse stable near Eisenkappl was full. They took them away in lorries to Klagenfurt and from there to various concentration camps. Even my godfather, the neighbour, did not come back. He died in Dachau, but his daughter and the farmer girl came back. They were the only ones who came back from the concentration camp.
We were quite desperate. Then we remembered we still had another aunt nearby. We would go there; it was aunty Amalija. She had three children of her own, and her husband was still at home. We stayed there. But the aunt had such a small flat. So she went to our house, where she looked after the small animals and us children because we had enough to eat at home. But it was an area for partisans and there was always fighting. It was dangerous at the house. We could stay around the house during the day and at night she locked us into the cellar and went home. She left two of her children, because they were bigger and took the youngest one with her. So there were the two of us and the cousin. We slept in the cellar. It was an earth cellar, in the rock and it was very damp, cold and totally dark. Everything was padded with hay and covers so nobody would hear us. We weren’t allowed to cough or to go out to the loo. We could always hear people walk around outside, but we didn’t know whether they were Gestapo or partisans. It was very exiting but very dangerous.
At the end of January 1944 the aunt got us ready and dressed. We asked: “Where are we going?” The older ones already knew, but the little ones didn’t. She said: “Well, we are going to church.” So we asked: “At night? Why are we going to church at night? Why is there a church service at night tonight?” The aunt answered: “Well, because there is. Let’s go.” We had put a lot of clothes on – whatever we owned and she took a blanket. Everything seemed adventurous, but we were not frightened. We were just glad to get out of this cellar. Then we went, but not the way to where the church was, but up the mountains, a totally different direction. The oldest cousin was 14 years old and should carry a rifle, being really pleased about that. By then we knew: now we are going into war. There were men with us and because adults were with us, the fear went. We walked very, very far. There was a lot of snow. It was so hard that nothing sank in. It was very glittery, so it was a beautiful but cold night. During the first night we walked for at least three or four hours until we reached a bunker high up in the mountain. It was very cold in this bunker, but we were so tired that we were still glad we could lie down. Although there was only fern to lie on and a horse blanket to cover us up. I don’t know how long we lived in this bunker. It was cold and dark. There was not a lot to eat and we had to be quiet. Not being allowed to talk was very hard for me. I was such a lively and inquisitive child. There was nothing to play with either. There was nothing to talk about - not even with the adults. Even they did not talk much. I cannot remember what we had to eat, either. I can remember a partisan brought a loaf of bread and a can of milk once. We were so happy that we could at least eat properly. But we only got a little piece and one or two mouths full of milk. I was so disappointed. I thought: ‘Why does she give us so little all the time?’ We did not understand that she had to economize. After a while she gave us some more and explained that she had to ration. It was always dangerous to stay in one bunker for too long; far away from the farmers, resulting in bad provisions. So we went over a mountain into Yugoslavia. That time we walked the whole night. So long that I fell asleep walking. When we were outside at night I always watched the stars. That was the only amusement we had. Here and there we were in a stable, that was nice. It was warm in the stable and we were used to the smell. The main thing was that it was warm and safe there. But most of the time we stayed in bunkers. There was fighting, as well. Once, we were hiding in the forest when there was fighting. A partisan pushed me down behind a tree and held me down so I could not get up. They were shooting, we saw flashes the whole night. I do not know how we got out of that. But we did get out of it. Until April, there was fighting in Slovenia, in Solcava it was called, Logarska Dolina. It was so dangerous they decided the aunt should go back to Carinthia.
We went back over the mountain to Carinthia, when the snow was gone. We got to a farmer’s where the cousin’s grandmother was. The aunt asked the grandmother whether she could leave the youngest daughter there, because she was very ill. This woman said she could. The girl would die otherwise. I thought: ‘Oh, she can stay and I have to go again; and it is so nice and warm here.’ We were so full and it was wonderful. So I lay down on the bench and thought: ‘what could I do to be allowed to stay?’ I played being unconscious. Whenever they picked me up I fell down again until the woman said: “This one is so exhausted, you cannot take her either. Just let her stay here.” That possibly saved my life. When the aunt left she went to a bunker in Ojstra, in Carinthia, near Eisenkappl. This bunker was betrayed and she was shot dead. The others got away, but she didn’t. If I would have been there I don’t know what would have happened to me. At the farmer’s it was really nice. But it was still war and it was the last farmer before the border. There was bad fighting there.
We were always in danger of something happening and it did. One day three partisans came (friends of the farmer and one relative) and came in for a snack. The farmer said: “You did not put up any guards.” They answered: “We will be gone in a minute, anyway.” They got up and went outside but stayed in the hallway and kept talking for a little while. The children did what they always do when somebody comes visiting. I was standing next to a partisan when the police or the Gestapo came. They just shot wildly into the house. Two partisans died straight away. The third one followed me, when I ran away, into the kitchen. There he wanted to get out of the door. He was wounded. A bullet went through my apron but didn’t hit me. I hid myself in a hole under the stove. The Gestapo, or policeman, came in and stuck his machinegun into the hole. But he looked in and saw that there was only a child and pulled me out. I was not frightened any more, feeling nothing. I was in shock. Then I had to step over these partisans. He made me step over the dead people! One of them was not dead, yet. He begged to be shot again and was looking at us pleadingly. I had to step right over their heads. I still remember these eyes. Whenever I see blue eyes like these somewhere, I remember this man. I do have a problem with that; I cannot forget that. Then they took me inside to the two old farmers and my cousin. One of them just wanted to shoot us and burn the house down. Another one said: “You shouldn’t do that. The partisans have to be buried, everything cleaned. In two hours time a patrol will come and there mustn’t be anything showing.” And they did that. The farmer buried the partisans and the farmer’s wife cleaned up, wiped the blood up. It was hard for her to mop all that and she cried hard, kneeling in the blood. My cousin and I were totally shattered. The farmer’s wife said: “You stay indoors and don’t go outside. Don’t you tell anybody what happened.” We didn’t. If somebody told us to keep something to ourselves, we did. We protected the partisans so much when we were kids; they were our friends and the Germans were our enemies.
Towards the end of the war the message came that mother was dead. I don’t know how they got to know about it. I was so cold; I did not cry when they told me. Mother would not come back. I had no tears; not for the aunt, for nobody. I did not cry one single tear for anybody, although I was really suffering about not being able to see these people. Father had already died in August 1943. I had forgotten all about him. Whenever someone asked me: “Are you sad that your mother won’t come any more?” I always answered: “No, I’m not sad.” I said that out of defiance and out of furiousness. I got so furious when someone asked me about that. I either didn’t answer at all or I just coldly said: “No, I’m not sad at all.” Although I was very sad, really, that nobody would come back to the house of my birth. Two aunts got killed with the partisans, my mother and one aunt died in the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. Two uncles died in Dachau and one cousin got killed with the partisans, one uncle fell in Russia. Altogether it added up to 12 people that died. They were my closest relatives, who I grew up with, who were near and dear to me. The mother was in the concentration camp. Father went to the partisans. He had fought for Hitler in Finland or somewhere, before. He saw that it was wrong and when he came home on holiday, he went to the partisans. But he was with them for only for ten minutes and died, because somebody betrayed him.
There were conflicts because I was a Slovenian. I even had conflicts with other Slovenians. They could not understand why I had so much political interest and why I am for the Slovenes. Well, the disappointment was big when the English came and treated us like enemies again. We weren’t even allowed to go to church without ID. Even the English were quite discriminating. When the English came to the farmer’s the first time, armed and strict, I (being a child) thought: ‘Why does the war keep on, although it is over?’ We did not understand that there were still armed men coming to the house. Although we knew the English to be our confederates and helpers, it was a big disappointment later. I still can’t understand why the English let themselves be so influenced by the Nazis and we – the partisans and the Slovenes - were the enemies again.
I did have problems because of that. As long as I was healthy, nothing; but when I was ill, I started having delusions, bad feelings and fears about people. When I saw somebody in uniform coming, I used to hide. The Germans were my deadly enemies for a long time. It took many years before I had it worked out that it weren’t the Germans as such – it were just the fascists. But not all are German; they can be from anywhere, in other countries.