Friday 30 September 2016

Recognition -Povelja- to Studia Croatica (2010)

On Thursday, December 2, 2010, at the Hrvatski Dom - Croatian Centre in Buenos Aires, the ambassador Mira Martinec gave Joza Vrljičak M.A., chief editor of the journal Studia Croatica in Buenos Aires, the Recognition Charter (Povelja) of the Republic of Croatia for his particular contribution to the promotion of Croatian culture in Argentina, during the 50th anniversary of the appearance of the journal. At the recognition ceremony were present Studia Croatica´s contributors and representatives of the Croatian community.

These were the words spoken by Joza Vrljicak on that occasion:

On behalf of Studia Croatica I thank the Republic of Croatia and its president, dr. Ivo Josipovic to have given this recognition to the journal in its 50 anniversary.

I also thank Ambassador Mira Martinec and Consul Nikolina Zidek, who have initiated and driven this recognition. To the estimated Ambassador we bid a fond farewell and wish her success in her future missions.

Fifty years is not little and the work was certainly a team effort.

Studia Croatica was born in 1960 with the idea and the thrust of a group of Croatian patriots led and supported by Ivo Rojnica, among which were Ivo Bogdan, Branko Kadic, Andjelko Belic, Vinko Nikolic, Milan Blazekovic, brothers Bozidar and Radovan Latkovic, Srecko Karaman, Danijel Crljen, Ivo Huhn and Mate Luketa. Franjo Nevistic, Ljeposlav Perinic, Vjekoslav Paver and Pero Vukota joined later.

The first editor in chief was Ivo Bogdan, being deputy editor and tireless translator Branko Kadic.

After the death of the first editor in 1971, dr. Franjo Nevistic was named to the post and in 1984 became editor dr. Radovan Latkovic to 1994, being deputy editor Ljeposlav Perinic.

In 1995 this speaker took the helm and was deputy editor Mira Dugacki-Vrljicak until her death in 2004. That function is performed today by dr. Adriana Smajic.

As I was saying, many people have worked over these 50 years for the journal to be published in its various forms, on paper and in various electronic formats. They have done as authors, translators, typesetters, proofreaders, sponsors, administrators, tipistas, electronic publishers and other functions.

To name them all would be impossible in these circumstances. In this context, let me say that we are working on a book with the history of the Journal and the Institute for Croatian Culture, which we hope to have ready by early next year.

There are named to all authors, members, sponsors and other collaborators, and their number is 550.

I want to mention that among the contributors to the jounal there were and there are a number of prominent members of the hierarchy of the Church, and members of various religious orders, Franciscans and Jesuits in particular.


Since its inception, the journal always had content, perspective and international scope. The journal always had authors living in a variety of countries, mainly in Latin America, North America and Europe.

In its paper form, the journal was sent to numerous libraries, institutions and personalities worldwide.

Of course the journal could not be sent directly to Croatia, but somehow it did arrive. I was told a few years ago by the director of the Croatian National and University Library that Studia Croatica was received and kept it well hidden hidden drawers. In Yugoslavia the Croatian word was taboo.

International perspective that I mentioned before, was particularly noticeable with the active participation of the magazine in the HNV Hrvatsko Narodno Vijece - Croatian National Council. This organization coordinated the effort and struggle in the Diaspora towards the fundamental objective: the establishment of a state of our own, free, sovereign and independent.

That goal was finally achieved, certainly not easily, under the leadership of dr. Franjo Tudjman, founder and first president of the Republic of Croatia. Our journal is honoured to have him as a contributor already in 1981.

Studia Croatica want to emphasize that maintains relations with many institutions in Croatia and the emigration, and I shall mention here three: Matica Hrvatska Iseljenika – Croatian Emigrants Foundation–, who supported our work during years, the Croatian World Congress and the Union of Croatian Associations in Argentina.

Moreover, it should also mention the close links with other publications that shared the same ideals and objectives, and were published in other languages: Hrvatska Revija-The Croatian Review (in Croatian), Journal of Croatian Studies (in English) and Kroatische Berichte (in German).

Cooperation with the Journal of Croatian Studies continues to this day, to which we have to add, now in the Internet world, the various portals that conform the Croatian Constellation, based in New York, Zagreb, Montreal and Buenos Aires and colleagues in other cities.

While it is true that the fundamental objective of this and other publications were achieved with the establishment of the Republic of Croatia, we see as our current objectives the dissemination of Croatia and its rights as a sovereign state in the community of nations, and the affirmation of the Croatian identity and culture among its very large diaspora.

This work is currently performed by publishing through the Internet using several ways: emails, websites, blogs, facebook, twitter, youtube, ebooks and other.

During these 50 years, the total published in paper format was 11000 pages. A couple of months we have completed the re-publication of the entire collection of the journal as ebooks. Publication in the Internet era also ascended to the other thousands of pages and hundreds of videos.

But inspite all these electronic media, we understand that the paper edition is still important, that is why I've just re-published the book Croatia and her Destiny on paper, and soon we will publish Croatia: Myth and Reality (in Spanish), by our contributor, the recently deceased C. Michael McAdams. Another book we are preparing is about Blessed Cardinal Stepinac, who we hope will be proclaimed a Saint in the coming year and the Jubilee Book with the history of our journal, as I mentioned earlier.

Finally, I take this opportunity to thank those who are supporting materially this effort publishing endeavour, several of whom have joined us today.


That is all. Thank you for your presence and attention.

Anton E. Basetić (1879-1921) The First Victim of Yugoslav Terror among Croatian Émigrés

Anton E. Basetić (1879-1921)
The First Victim of Yugoslav Terror among Croatian Émigrés
Dr. Ante Čuvalo

The assassination of Croatian patriots in the ranks of émigrés was a trait of the infamous Yugoslav secret police, namely, the UDBA, during the time of Tito’s regime (1945-1990).  Actually, the liquidation of Croatian patriots began long before Tito’s time—that is, from the very founding of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 (Yugoslavia after 1929).  Persecution of every sort was one of the historical links that bridged the time of the bloody founding of the Kingdom until the even bloodier end of the Yugoslav State.  In fact, Greater-Serbian terror in Croatian lands began even before unification.  It started on the 9th of September, 1918, in the city of Vukovar, and we can still feel the ugly stench of death during and after the demise of Yugoslavia.  The primary subject of Serbian terror was to be found not only among the Croatians, but also among all those who were doomed to perish for sake of the “Greater Serbia” project.  That megalomania nightmare that swallowed so much blood and lives is, to our regret, alive and well even to this day and it is evidenced daily with equal insolence!

It is only recently that knowledge of those Croatians liquidated in the Diaspora (at the very least 69 of them) after the end of the Second World War is beginning to come to light in the Homeland.  Although “official” Zagreb shows little interest for these and other victims, truth is slowly seeing the light of day—thanks to the Courts of foreign lands, most notably German Courts, that are attempting to solve at least some of the assassination that took place in those countries.  In the meantime, little or nothing is known of the terror waged against the Croatian Diaspora prior to 1945.  Here we are talking about a portion of Croatian history that is yet to be investigated and waiting for the Homeland to eventually remember it.

The very first victim of Yugo-terror in America—and, I believe, among the Croatian Diaspora in general, that followed the fateful union of Croatian Lands with Serbia and Montenegro, was Anton E. Basetić.  He was the editor of the Croatian newspaper Glasnik Istine (The Herald of Truth) that was published in Chicago.  Because of his explicit Croatian patriotism and anti-Yugoslav political stance, he was perfidiously liquidated “in full daylight” in Chicago on the 5th of November, 1921.  This was not only the murder of a journalist, but also an attempt to frighten into submission all those who were not willing to link hands and dance the new “Yugo-dance” as accompanied by a “Serbian flute.”

The Life and Work of Anton E. Basetić
Anton Basetić was born in Primošten on the 17th of September, 1877.  Church records show the date as being the 20th of June in one instance, and the 20th of September, 1877 in another.  His father was Ivan, and his mother was Ana, nee Makelja.  Anton’s family numbered ten children.  Originally, his name was Ante Emilio Bolanča but upon arriving in America, he changed it to Anton E. Basetić/Basetich.  It is unclear as to why he changed his surname (and, to some extent, his first name), or why he chose the name Basetić, but we found out that his brother Leon (born the 11th of April, 1883) also changed his surname to Basetić or Bolanča-Basetić some time after his arrival to America on October 24, 1907.

Ante Emilio Bolanča set sail into the world from Genoa on the steamship The Spartan Prince.  He arrived in New York harbor on the 23rd of July, 1898.  He was received by his friend, Stjepan Baković, who lived at 177 Atlanta Avenue in New York.  As of the present writing, it is unknown as to what schooling Ante had, or where that schooling took place; what is known is that he was considerably more literate than the vast majority of Croatian émigrés of that time.  So, whether he had a formal education or he was self-schooled is still unknown.

From the information thus far gathered about Ante after his arrival in America, and after a period of time spent in New York City, we see he stayed in Butte, Montana in 1910 and was known as Anton Basetich.  The American Census documents from 1910 confirm that Anton was married at the time to 19-year-old Elsie, nee Coffin, from South Dakota.  From the same Census report, we learn that Anton was a journalist by profession.[1]

A year later, Anton and Elsie were living in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He was the editor of the Croatian Newspaper Radnička Obrana, (The Workers’ Defense).  The Salt Lake City Directory of 1911 records that Anton was the Editor and Manager of the aforementioned newspaper, and that Emil Basetich was the President of the Slavonian Publishing Company.  It is obvious that in both instances we are dealing with one and the same person.  Sadly, Anton’s wife Elsie died on the 16th of December, 1912.  According to the memory passed on in the family, Elsie died in childbirth of their firstborn, a girl.  It is not known with any certainty what became of the little girl.  It is thought that she was taken in by Elsie’s parents.

Following the death of his wife Elsie, most likely during 1913, Basetić moved from Salt Lake City to Duluth, Minnesota.  The Duluth City Directory of 1913-1914 indicates that the Slavonian Publishing Company's manager was Anton Basetich, while Milan Knezevich was the editor of Radnička Obrana.  The newpaper was published in that city every Thursday.  That same directory of 1915-1916 indicates that Basetich continued to be the publisher of the newspaper, but was located at a new address.  As gleaned from the newspaper itself, the title of the publishing company was no longer known as the Slavonian Publishing Company, but as the Croatian Publishing Company.  Clearly, Anton Basetić assumed ownership and editorial management of the Radnička Obrana.  The newpaper had branch offices in Salt Lake City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary. Indiana.

Though many Croatian newspapers saw the light of day in America, few of them survived for any length of time.  One of the rare numbers of Radnička Obrana to be found is the number dated March 11, 1916.  That edition indicates that it was the twelfth year of publication for that newspaper.  Clearly, this newspaper managed to survive longer than most Croatian publications in America at that time.

It would seem that around 1916, the Radnička Obrana ceased being published and that Anton moved from Minnesota to Chicago.  That same year, Basetić purchased the newspaper known as Hrvatski Rodoljub, (Croatian Patriot).  The paper was founded in 1915 and was published by B.F. Tolić in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Basetić transferred publication of the paper to Chicago.  This would indicate that he already lived in the city.

Between Yugoslavia and Croatia
This period of time was froth with war and was an especially worrisome time for Croatians in America as well as those in the homeland.  Aside from the wartime adversity, a deep political division and separation began to take shape among Croatians: there were those who were prepared to abrogate their national heritage and rights and eagerly accept unity with the Serbian Kingdom, and there were those who stood in defense of the right to Croatian Statehood.  Those in the first group were more vociferous, and political conditions then present stood in their favor.  The second group had to contend not only with the pro-Yugoslav element, but also with the burden of trying to prove to America and their fellow citizens (especially so after America’s entrance into the war in 1917) that they were not champions of Austria and the Central Powers, but simply desired freedom for their Croatian homeland.  So as to bring a shred of light into the political fog that overshadowed the time, a well-known and respected priest, Rev. Ivan Stipanović, established and published a Croatian journal, Rodoljub (Patriot), in Chicago in January of 1915.  Shortly thereafter (August of 1915), the journal's name was changed to Hrvatski Katolički Glasnik, (The Croatian Catholic Messenger).  It assumed a newspaper format and became the voice of (almost all) Croatian Catholic priests in America.  Before the end of that same year, the paper established editorial links with Narodna Obrana that was published in Duluth, Minnesota, as well as with Hrvatski Rodoljub in Chicago.  With such combined forces, a group of Croatian patriots now began to publish Glasnik Istine (The Herald of Truth).  The editorial board resided at 2979 S. Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.  Anton Basetić was chosen as its editor.  It appears that in 1916, Basetić's Radnička Obrana changed it name to Narodna Obrana and subsequently melded into Glasnik Istine.  Thus, he became its new editor.

While wartime blood flowed across the European front, a ferocious ideological war raged among the Croatians in America.  One group aligned with the Jugoslavenski Odbor, (The Yugoslav Committee) and welcomed, extolled, and aided the members of that committee on their arrival in the U.S., sending monetary aid and war volunteers.  Others were supporters of Croatian independence and warned about Greater-Serbian ideology and its future evil effects on the Croatian people.  A third group followed socialist ideas and also caused national and religious discord among Croatian émigrés across the world.  Under such conditions, Anton Basetić assumed editorship of the publication which by its orientation was Croatian and Catholic, and served as the representative and voice against the Yugoslav forces in Chicago and America.  

Even prior to his assumption of the role as editor of the Glasnik Istine, Basetić wrote and spoke against the union with Serbia.  A significant event in the Croatian Community of Chicago serves as a primary example of his role among Croatian-American émigrés: on the 10th and 11th of March, 1915, in the LaSalle Hotel located in downtown Chicago, a Yugoslav Congress was held.  More than 550 delegates and guests to the congress were in attendance.  At the congress they spoke of the “homogeneity of the Yugoslav people” (naturally, the well-known Serbian in America delegate to the Congress, Dr. Paul Radosavljević, a professor at the University of New York, considered all Yugoslavs to be Serbs) and of the soon-to-be created Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians, and Slovenes.  At the same time, a group of Croatians, mostly located around Wentworth Avenue in Chicago, held a massive counter-demonstration.  Some 3,000 Croatians gathered for that massive anti-Yugoslav counter-demonstration to hear one of its main speakers, namely, Anton Basetić.  Clearly, then, upon his move to Chicago and his undertaking of the role of editor of the Glas Istine, Basetić became a person of importance among Croatians not only in this metropolis but across all of America.

Before touching on his tragic death, it is appropriate that we say a bit more about his family.  Following the death of his first wife, Elsie (at the end of 1912), Anton married Sandra (Allessandra, Sanda) F. Herska while residing in Chisholm, Minnesota.  Sandra was from Severin na Kupilocated in the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia.  Two children were born from their union: Vera, a daughter, was born in 1916, in Minnesota, while Ivan (John) was born in 1919 in Chicago.

The Assassination of Anton Basetić
On November 5, 1921, around 8:15 a.m., Anton Basetić left his home at 140 West 31st Street and arrived at the real estate office of Cannizzo, Jurko, and Company that was located on 2927 Wentworth Avenue, not far from his home.  Although the Glasnik Istine was printed by the Croatian Printery located a short distance away, Basetić, from all that can be garnered, chose, out of fear, to receive his mail at the aforementioned real estate office.  He picked up his mail on a daily basis.  That fateful morning, Marie Pullano, a 19-year-old clerk, was already at work in the office.  Upon the entrance of Anton Basetić, she alerted him that two unknown men were loitering aimlessly across the street from the office.  He thought she was frightened by them, and his response was: “Never mind, I’m here.  Don’t be afraid.”  Soon after, these two scoundrels entered the real estate office.  Marie and Anton went toward the door.  Marie opened one of the double-doors and asked what they wanted.  They remained silent.  One of the men stepped into the office, drew his pistol, and fired six rounds at Basetić as he stood alongside the young lady.  Two of the bullets struck their target—one in his shoulder and another in his neck.  A few short minutes later, Anton expired.  Marie, the clerk, fainted, while the two thugs dissapeared without a trace.  The entire tragic drama unfolded in a few short minutes.

All the newspapers in Chicago reported the incident and death of Anton Basetić.  They stressed that his death was of a political nature.  One of the newspapers cited the thinking of the police officials, namely, that his murder had the mark of international political intrigue.  In the meantime, the news reports fostered the erroneous suggestion that Anton Basetić was a fervent pro-Austrian partisan rather than stressing that he was an ardent patriot for the Croatian cause.  Even then, the well-known “logic” was in place: all who were not Yugophiles clearly had to be Austrophiles—later, after World War II, to be labeled as “fascists.”  Naturally, the police and newspaper reports of the incident failed to engage the question of who was behind the loathsome crime.  No serious police investigation of the murder ensued: the police did not concern themselves with who it was that wanted him dead.  They simply decided that the murder was “an accounting among the émigrés,” hence, the loss of a young Croatian life was of no consequence and not investigated, despite the fact that it occurred in the metropolis of Chicago and in broad daylight.

To this very day, Anton’s descendants hold to the passed-down conviction that his murder was the work of the notorious “Black Hand;” it is known only too well what sort of a bloody role that terrorist organization played in Serbia and beyond.  Although the organization was “officially” suppressed in 1917, it adherents continued their criminal work and Anton Basetić, at the very least, was a victim of their ideology.

Basetić was only 44 years of age when he was murdered.  He left behind a young wife, Sandra, and two infant children, as well as his child from his first marriage.  Out of fear, Sandra, along with her children, moved to Minnesota and spent the next six months there.  She returned to Chicago and struggled to raise her children.  Among other jobs, she worked as a cook in a student cafeteria at the University of Chicago.  According to the stories passed on by members of her family, she simply would not speak of the murder of her husband or of any political matters: she had her fill of such talk.  Her goal in life was to raise her children and set them on their way to success in life.  By all accounts, she was successful in that goal as were many other Croatian widows of her time and later.

In Conclusion
The martyrdom of Ante Emilio Bolanča, namely, Anton Basetić, was supressed and silenced at the time of his murder.  Silence about him and his assassination has endured for some 90 subsequent years.  This silence would have continued had not his two granddaughters, Sarah and Ann, the daughters of his son, Ivan, wished to know the truth about Anton, their grandfather.  Sarah succeeded in interesting me in this tragic incident as well.  She shared a good deal of facts about her grandfather that I relate in this article.  I am sincerely grateful to Sarah for having acquainted not only me, but Croatians in general, about her grandfather.  All the evidence indicates that he was the very first political martyr among the Croatian émigrés following the portentous and fateful year of 1918.

The assassinations of Anton Basetić and of other Croatian patriots across the world, remain largely unknown to us.  They await further investigation, so that we might give them honorable mention in the history of our Croatian Diaspora, as well as in the history of our homeland. [2]
(English translation of the article „Anton E. Basetić – prva žrtva jugoterora u hrvatskoj emigraciji,“ published in Hrvatsko slovo (Zagreb), Year XVI, No. 817, December 17, 2010, p.16-17.)

[1] The 1910 Census document erroneously records Anton as having arrived in the U.S. in 1903. Perhaps he came to Minnesota in that year.
[2] The photograph of Anton Basetić and the drawing of the assassination are taken from the Chicago Daily Tribune, from November 6, 1921.

Doctor Branko Franolic passed away (1925-2011)

I have some very sad news to impart. Dr Branko Franolic passed away last night. His contribution to Croatia was huge, as many of you know. I shall miss him greatly, as I know many will. I will provide more information when I can. This is a link to an interview I conducted with him in 2005:
Brian Gallagher

(Rijeka 2 de julio de 1925 - Londres, 11 de enero de 2011), lingüista croata.

Interview with Doctor Branko Franolic

Dr Franolic is a prominent Croat linguist who has been resident in London since 1974. He is a
member of the Societe Linguistique du Paris.

Dr Franolic received an award from oil company INA for the defence of Croatian language abroad.
He has donated many books - about 2,000 - to UK libraries in particular the British Library but also
to others including the School of Slavonic studies, Oxford, Cambridge. CIL spoke to him about his
recent and current projects.

You’ve been compiling bibliographies on what’s in the British Library on Croatia.
Tell us something about that and your most recent work.

When Croatia became independent it was terra incognita - unknown country. There was hardly any
books on Croatia in the British Library, so I had to fill this gap and this was very necessary for
anybody who wants to write on Croatia or south-eastern Europe, they need a good bibliography.
People are discouraged because there are no books. Bibliographies are very important. I would call them ante room to any scientific research. You cannot do any serious writing without having a bibliography - books on a country or whatever subject.

I remember when Marcus Tanner (author of Croatia - A Nation Forged in War) started to write a book on Croatia, he had hardly any books on Croatia in London, he had to struggle. That’s why the supply of books to libraries is very important. Very often, librarians did not know what was published in Croatia, especially during the war. I had to supply them.

That’s how you came to write the bibliographies?

I realised that bibliographies were very necessary because anyone who wants to write on any aspect of Croatian life or culture or history must have the books. That was why I compiled my latest bibliography, A Survey of Croatian Bibliographies 1960- 2003. In the international world bibliography, published in Munich, Croatia was practically suppressed - because all the information came from Belgrade. So one had to fill the gap since 1960 to 2003. It includes different places, regions in Croatia and subjects - from Astronomy to Zoology.

A bibliography is the first step for research in any writing. This was our Achilles Heel. I met some people who were simply discouraged because no books were available. They wanted to write about Croatia but gave up.

You are working on a new project - ‘An Outline of Literary Croatian’. Can you tell us what this is about?

The Croatian language is still not thoroughly investigated. There are a lot of pre-conceived ideas about the heritage from the 20th Century. There is a Hungarian saying that says a nation lives through its language. The nation is a language, the language is a nation. A very important aspect of this the Glagolitic written language since the early middle ages - the Baska tablet - which is the cornerstone of Croatian literary development.

After the battle of Krbava in 1493 when the Turks invaded Croatia, an interesting detail is that the Glagolitic priest from Grobnik recorded in his breviary immediately after the battle that the Turks sacked whole Croatian lands and crushed the Croatian language - at that time language meant people. So language is people, people are language. It is very important to stress this, that from the middle ages - Glagolitic is slightly neglected - that Croats were among the first people in Europe to write in their national language.

Croats were alone in the Catholic church in the west who were permitted to keep the vernacular liturgy which set them firmly apart from the latin Catholics and ensured the retention of a unique identity. Whereas Catholic priests in France, Italy and Germany read in in Latin, Croatian Dalmatian priests read it in the vernacular so the liturgy could have the same kind of nationalising effect that the vernacular bible had in protestant countries. It was supplemented by new protestant translation of the new testament in Croat, printed in Glagolitic in Germany in the 1560s. This is an important fact that should be stressed.

What you are writing is taking us up to the present day?

Yes, because nowadays there is an assault on Croatian language again as in former Yugoslavia when Croatian was practically suppressed. So it was a very, very long struggle. From the middle ages via the renaissance, Croat writers on the Dalmatian coast had participated most extensively through regular Italian contacts in the culture of Western Europe, and were far from having experienced the intense isolation and intellectual poverty of Serbia - as said by Professor Adrian Hastings (late British historian).

There are a lot of half - baked linguists, pseudo-slavicists who try to suppress these facts. Very few people looked up Glagolitic missals/books - very important for the whole of (Croatian) literature, used not only in liturgy but also in administration.

It’s important to stress the Glagolitic literature, the work of our protestant writers who continued our traditions, there were fighting Venetian imperialism and encroachment on the Dalmatian coast. They were protestants, but they were first and foremost national priests who were afraid of being suppressed by Venice or the Turks.

We’ll see this article soon?

Yes, I hope so.

If you are interested in purchasing his bibliographies, Dr Franolic can be contacted at 15 Midmoor Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 4JD

Kajana Packo

Kajana Packo
Young cellist Kajana Packo was born in Split in 1985 and is currently student of Clemens Hagen at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. She started playing cello at the age of 9 and entered the Zagreb Music Academy when she was only 14 in the class of the renowned Croatian cellist Valter Despalj. From 2004-2008 Kajana studied at the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler“ in Berlin also attending classes at the Music school of Pitea, Sweden, from 2006-2008. Kajana took part in masterclasses given by David Geringas, Frans Helmerson, Gary Hoffman and Jens Peter Maintz.

As an outstanding music student she has been awarded a "City of Zagreb scholarship", National's "Top student" scholarship, DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), Rektor's price for the performance of the Rokoko variations by P.I. Tschaikowsky and many others. Kajana Packo won first prizes at several competitions in Croatia (1998 and 2000) as well as in Italy (Gorizia Marcosig Competition 2000, 2001 and 2003). She was chosen to represent Croatia in Moscow during the Vladimir Spivakov Foundation Concerts in 2002 and as well at the Eurovision Competition For Young Musicians in Luzern (2004).

She has performed with major orchestras and ensembles in Croatia such as Zagreb Soloists, Croatian Radiotelevision Symphony Orchestra, Split and Zadar Chamber Orchestras, Split Symphony Orchestra and Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra conducted by the leading Croatian conductors. Performances with orchestra include the cello concertos and works by Elgar, Schumann, Haydn, Tschaikowsky, Rossini and Boccherini. Except in solo performances Kajana is also very active in chamber music. She was a member of the cello ensemble "Cellomania" during her studying time in Croatia. In 2007 her performance of the Ravel's sonata for violin and cello, together with violinist Tristan Thery, got an outstanding rewiew in "The Independent" for the concert in London. In 2008, as a member of a piano trio, she played on a "Exzellenz-Konzert" in Berlin patronized by Daniel Barenboim. Apart from Croatia, Italy, Germany and Russia, she also performed in United Kingdom (London) and France.

Camp Fermo - The largest Croatian Refugee Camp in Italy - by Cristian Šprljan

Camp Fermo

From the journal "Studia Croatica" - Journal of political and cultural studies - History of the Croatian immigration to Cordoba "Author: Cristian Šprljan - Number 146, Year 2004 (pp. 89 to 96). Translated into English by Joza Vrljicak

The war was over. The summer of '45 was witnessing the first attempts to rebuild Europe. The winners of the war, after Yalta, had divided the world into two and those who until recently were allies, now looked at each other with suspicion. Throughout Europe, thousands of refugees and displaced persons traveled on foot, by carts, in cars or trucks.

Some were leaving, some were returning, others just wandered. In these rivers of men and women seeking their destiny, they were Croatians. Those who managed to cross the border before and had survived Bleiburg were to be found throughout Europe. The vast majority in Italy and Austria, but also had in Germany, France, Switzerland and Belgium.

In the new Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, state terror began to wreak havoc. The Partisans had total power over life and death. Anyone could be taken to the "people's courts", where the sentence was known in advance: prison, torture and death for any suspect.

But the chases and abductions were carried out not only within the boundaries of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav government decided to export the state terror throughout Europe, where there were cells of Yugoslav spies searching for and kidnapping or killing the Croatians or making them return to Yugoslavia and eliminate them.

After Bleiburg, some Western allies had taken pity on the Croatians and, as appropriate, did not turn them to Tito’s army because they were sure of their tragic end.

When the commander in chief in the Mediterranean, Field Marshal Alexander, saw with his own eyes what happened in Austria, he began to change his policy towards the Croatian refugees.

Firstly he was more accessible to the arguments of the refugees who were interned in camps for displaced persons. On June 4, a new instruction to the British military in Austria dealing with Croatian refugees was issued.

These new rules aimed at not making compulsory repatriations following the following points:

1) No Yugoslavian will be returned to Yugoslavia or handed over to Yugoslav forces against his will.

2) All Yugoslavian who fought against Tito's will be treated as an individual who surrendered and sent to Camp Vitkring on disposal;

3) All such persons shall be considered as displaced persons and eventually moved to Italy.

With this new regulation, the situation of refugees who were under Anglo-American occupation troops improved. Those troops had to face the problem of feeding and housing hundreds of thousands of fugitives from Central and Southeast Europe. For the time being the deportations were suspended, but only temporarily.

In this way the British began to settle the issue sending Croatians to Italy. British authorities that were in Klagenfurt decided that the three thousand Croatians who were in the neighbouring city of Krumpendorf, were to be transported by train to Italy and housed almost entirely in the refugee camp that later became the most important for the Croatians: Camp Fermo.

Camp Fermo is located in the Italian province of Marche, on the east coast, with the cities of Ancona, Macerata and Ascoli Piceno being the largest in the region. The camp was on the outskirts of the city of Fermo which gave it its name.

This city was an ancient episcopal see. The construction of the houses were old and were surrounded by a wall. Most Croatians arrived on August 15, Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. Over time more Croatians arrived from Italy and Austria.

"We were trucked from Austria to Italy. From there we were taken in freight trains across most of Italy. We looked like cattle. We were hungry, thirsty, and the children were sick. The elderly were dying. Great sadness seized us all.

When the train stopped at a train station, the soldiers did not allow people to approach us, we looked like a train full of lepers. The dirt and overcrowding meant that we all be filled with lice. Hunger was rampant among children. Survived only the most healthy and strong".

The refugee camp that had been assigned to Croatians was once a textile factory consisting of two buildings for housing and some ten warehouses for machinery and storage. In the halls to inhabit lived the British and had their offices there.

The barrack would be used for refugees. Each barrack had a capacity of between three and four hundred people. In many of the barracks were missing pieces of roof. The beds were very poor and were equipped with blankets and straw to serve as a mattress.

For each barrack a Croatian representative had to be choosen, who was called "Starješina". He was responsible for the barrack before the British and even earned a salary.

"After going through several cities and regions, we finally arrived at Camp Fermo, a real concentration camp. Were a dozen huge barracks, surrounded with very high walls that ended in electrified barbed wire. From the train station Fermo, they loaded us on trucks heavily guarded by British soldiers as if we were war criminals and taken to that prison that was Camp Fermo.

British soldiers were everywhere: at the entrance, in the booths, on the walls. Women and children were placed in a sector and men in another, separated by electrified wires. It was noon when we arrived. Each family was unloading their few belongings and gathered somewhere in these huge barracks. As it was summer time we had no trouble sleeping on the floor or on any bag or gender".

Despite the unfavorable first impression, the natural surroundings in which were and the organization within the camp was turned life in it more pleasant.

"The place where Camp Fermo was located was beautiful, surrounded by hills and far away you could see the snowy peaks of the Apennines. Nearby was a stream of clear water. The first day all the boys had their hair cut off and we are disinfected with a powder that I think was DDT. That first night was very sad.

In the darkness of the barracks, women sobbed thinking of his homeland and loved ones who were far away and may never see again. Children cried from hunger. In the other sector, men, many of them veterans, chewed their anger and powerlessness. Many cursed for having surrended to the allies rather than stay and fight in the mountains and forests of Croatia. They would prefer a thousand times to die with dignity in the fields of battle, to live in this cave of rats".

"Gradually people got organized in the camp. Those who were medical doctors began looking for a place to focus first on preventive medicine and then examine cases of varying severity, such as dysentery, anemia, or respiratory problems. Those who were teachers began to teach classes that consisted of songs, poems, all by hearth because we did not have books or notebooks. The first days as the weather was warm, we gathered in a section of the patio and there sitting on the floor, we learned to sing and recite verses in the Croatian language. "

As mentioned, the Croatian immigration after Second World War consisted of a broad social spectrum. This migration, which included professionals and illiterate, soldiers and housewives, old and young, rich and poor, etc. became one of the most characteristic facts of Fermo. The remarkable thing about this Croatian "small society" was, first, that the tragedy wiped out all social barriers.

In Camp Fermo did not matter whether one was a nobleman or a caretaker of goats; the pain for the suffered and struggle for survival was the same. Also, perhaps because that very human instinct, so wonderfully human, of building on what has been destroyed and managing to rescue a flower from the mud, the Croatians began to organize themselves according to their abilities. The doctors put together small offices, the builders constructed, women were sewing and making clothing, etc.

But they not only dedicated to rebuild bodies, houses and clothes, they also rebuilt souls. A printing shop was installed which published a magazine and even some books and the teachers organized makeshift schools for children from primary to secondary levels. With respect to culture, plays were performed as well as concerts by small Croatian folklore orchestras.

The pearl that grew out of Fermo was a choir composed of nearly two hundred voices that performed concerts throughout the region, even sang in the Vatican and from which came the chorus "Jadran" which for more than fifty years performs in Buenos Aires and carried Croatian music throughout Argentina. Even sports were performed as they practiced athletics, swimming and some even formed a football team "Nogometni Klub Croatia" who played and scored important victories against teams from Ancona.

Another group of refugees from Dalmatia and Herzegovina, devoted to more worldly pleasures. They installed a cigarette factory with the name "Macedonia", although this name had no reference to the Macedonian people. These cigarettes were sold all over central Italy, including Rome. The tobacco leaf was bought in Italy itself, then a group cut a very finite, another group put in an equipment to arm them, you cut the ends and was packaged. This action led to a major money income among the Croatians.

"What at first seemed as being hell and a cold jail, over time, it was becoming a beautiful habitat of solidarity and mutual aid. Each of the inhabitants of this area, working for the welfare of all. The social barriers collapsed as often happens in extreme situations. All were equal, there was neither rich nor poor. We were all equal. There was no distinction between professionals and illiterate, all contribute according to their capacity".

"Already at the first Christmas, in 1945, we gathered together around a large Christmas tree to pray for the repose of our dead who died for the fatherland and to give thanks to God for us being alive after five years of war. The Christmas songs were the best prayer on that cold Christmas. Snowflakes falling gently. Twas the Night of Peace".

In 1946, fate changed again. British and Yugoslavs sign an agreement to arrest and repatriate those refugees who were included in the list of "collaborators", made by the Yugoslav communist authorities. Thus, arbitrarily and without the British communicating the reason for the arrest, hundreds of Croatians were detained for being in the "blacklist." All returnees were convicted and executed.

In Camp Fermo similar situations arose. There were cases of British arriving with trucks and tanks during the night, going to the men's sector. There they tied their hands and feet, like bags of potatoes and piled them onto a truck. Only one was saved because he show a document which said that he had been exempted from military service. Also the British brought under any pretext, a large group of men, women and elderly, to other parts of Italy and then delay them in another detention centre and there took away those that were in their lists.

With all this the Croatians more than ever clung to the faith. Faith not only manifested toward religion, but also to believe in their own truth, values, traditions, in the future in the country, but mainly in returning someday. In the camp chapel that was installed in the centre of the Camp, Ante Turzan, who later emigrated to Cordoba (Argentina), painted a portrait of the Mother of God and under it the Croatian coat-of-arms, with the inscription "Advocata Croatiae Fidelissima". (Most faithful attorney for the Croats). Also were made pilgrimages to Our Lady of Loreto.

This faith was the main driving force to give life to the camp. From litter was passed to the iron and wood beds. Shoes that came from the Polish command in Ancona were refurbished for the poorest, while curtains were made with canvas to make divisions between beds and between families. In addition, the kitchen is organized for around two thousand to two thousand five hundred guests. Also they began to arrange the halls, garages and automobile service.

In the hope for a better future, the children were most privileged. School instruction was joined by religious teaching and even the formation of Boy Scouts groups.

"In the summer of '47, the teachers organized groups of Boy Scouts. The British army lend us tents. We were taught the rules of the Scouts, how to make different knots, how to pitch a tent, how to make a fire. During that summer the daughters of English Major in charge of the camp promised to bring us the sea. All the guys were crazy with joy. Each group began to organize. There were three groups of Boy Scouts: Bunnies, Cubs and Indians. My group was the Bunnies. We had an almost military discipline.

I was named standard-bearer. Our mothers along with other women, worked in the manufacture of uniforms and caps. The uniforms made them with a cloth that they dyed khaki. The handkerchiefs were made of other fabric, blue, and the triangle formed handkerchief embroidered on the back a fleur-de-lis, yellow, symbol of the Boy Scouts. The apparel caps ware made according to some cardboard molds. Our enthusiasm was so great that we would spend hours helping to cut the caps. Then our mothers sew them one by one. "

"Finally the great day came. British soldiers transport us in trucks to the shores of the Adriatic Sea, near Porto San Giorgio. They were wonderful sandy beaches. We unloaded the tents and other implements and started looking for the best place to camp. We were almost a hundred kids. By noon, all the tents were already set up.

In the afternoon we explored around the camp and then everybody to the water. At dusk we were forming in front of a flagpole where the Croatian flag was hoisted. The sun was setting on the horizon. The only sound was the sound of the waves. While two classmates slowly down our flag, Master Pedro, sang the Croatian anthem "Lijepa Naša Domovina" (Our Beautiful Homeland).

Almost in unison we all began to sing moved by an invisible energy, possibly what our elder call patriotism. One hundred children's voices rose from the beaches and were lost in the immensity of the Adriatic Sea. On the other side was Croatia. Our voices were pigeons carrying greetings to our loved ones: I was looking in my memories for dad, who stayed fighting in the forests and mountains of Croatia".

Fermo will not stop. Everyone tried to live as normally as possible while they were torn between the anxiety of other possible deportation and the hope of seeing a loved one or the arrival of money from a relative in America.

A surgeon performed more than a hundred operations, engineers improved the camp, built a swimming pool, directed the delivery of wood and other materials. Woodworking schools were outfitted as well as one school for driving cars and trucks. Meanwhile the teachers continued with schools, lawyers drafted a charter for the organization and regulation of the camp, which the British commander left entirely to them.

Were elected President and the executive committee, as well as tutors, cooks, drivers and cadets. The British commander received help from Croatian staff, secretaries and translators, both in offices and at the hospital.

In the chapel priests taught Catechism to children. There was a father, so big (he was almost two meters tall), as good, they called “Ošini po prašini”, (an old Croatian said he always repeated) was the one who performed the first baptisms of children being born at the camp, as well as first communions and even weddings.

"I received my first communion at Camp Fermo. Women who taught sewing made the white outfits, which manufactured from canvas cloth that we used to make partitions in the barracks. The parish priest went to Rome and got pictures of the Heart of Jesus and wrote the data back to the communicants.

My uncle Mičo, who lived in the barrack for men, made me my diploma reminder, embossing and molding artistically bits of can. It seemed to me a frame of pure gold. The church was full of people and we received with devotion the Blessed Sacrament".

By 1947, Camp Fermo was known throughout the area. Entertainment and religious celebrations were organized and personalities which came Fermo and Rome. Senior officials, the Archbishop of Fermo, Sicilian Cardinal Ruffini, the mayor, priests, teachers, lawyers and other persons in the area attended the celebrations, eventually becoming benefactors of the Croatians.

In just over two years, Camp Fermo became, as the Italians said, a "piccolo stato" (a small state). But the mood was still unstable. On clear days the mountains of Fermo could see the snowy peaks of the Velebit mountain in Croatia, which was revealing the nostalgia. Every so often new Croatians refugees arrived, relating more horrors about those who dared to stay in Croatia. This reopened the wounds and suffering.

Gradually the idea of emigrating became ever more present. The idea of returning to Croatia to fight was a crazy idea that many paid with their lives for trying it in small groups. Croatians realized that while they were in Europe would be safe and looked overseas countries. Many men saw their wives and children and crudely discussed the possibility of migrating to new lands with such different languages and idiosyncrasies. Finally they decided to ask for passports.

If any of them was hesitant to migrate, Tito agents roamed all over Italy and began to approach Camp Fermo. The Yugoslav spies, to win the consideration of their high command, send fanciful reports arguing that Camp Fermo was a military zone, where heavily armed Croatians conspired against Yugoslavia.

In late 1947 and early 1948, arrived to Fermo commissions mainly from Argentina, latter from the U.S., Canada and Australia, to offer the possibility to emigrate as refugees. Argentina was one of the most popular destinations, not only because her very name implied (for those who knew it) the idea of a thriving country with large reserves of food, and also many chose this location because it was neutral in the world wars: "My children will not live another war", men and women repeated in Camp Fermo.

So, little by little, Camp Fermo became gradually deserted. The Croatians started migrating around the world, leaving behind a destroyed Europe, which was hostile to them, to get on a boat and trust God for the good fortune to get a good destination.

Camp Fermo, still retains its mystique. It was a place of rather emotionally loaded situations. There it has been composed songs that spoke of the heroes of the homeland, the loss and nostalgia, that the Croatian immigration transmitted by word of mouth throughout the world.

Thousands of Croatians lived or passed through Fermo. This was a little break, if we can call truce being permanently threatened by Tito's spies, between war and the beginning of the most difficult: to start a new life in a new land ...

"Occasionally we hear about dad, who was in this or that place. All we wanted was to be with him. Some were telling us about his exploits ... others said he could be dead, but mom always hoped to see him again someday ...".

An Exclusive Interview with Michael Palaich, Producer of the Documentary Bleiburg Tragedy

An Exclusive Interview with Michael Palaich, Producer of the Documentary Bleiburg Tragedy: Great Britain Shares Responsibility for Post-World War II Mass Executions of Croatians by Tito’s Communist Forces. (Video)

SATURDAY, 19 MARCH 2011 01:58

The name of Michael (Mike) Palaich and his extensive activism on behalf of Croatian freedom has been well-known to the Croatians in America and beyond for a long time. In the 1980s, he was an eloquent spokesman for the Croatian cause in the Detroit area. At the same time, he had the vision and stamina of undertaking a major project, that of interviewing and recording eyewitnesses of the extradition of Croatian civilians and disarmed military forces by the British to Tito and his partisans in May of 1945. Most of the extradited were massacred by Tito’s communists and those who survived were taken via long and horrific routs to various labor camps located throughout the country, from Austria in the north to the borders of Greece in the south. During those marches tens of thousands more people lost their lives. In Croatian history this calamity is known as the “Bleiburg Tragedy and the Križni put/Way of the Cross”. (The extradition began near the town of Bleiburg in Austria.) The British authorities knew well what would happen to those who were forcibly handed over to the communists – certain death for most of them. Palaich’s documentaries have become an indispensable historical source for researchers of those tragic events in which hundreds of thousands of Croatians (and some others) were murdered and no one ever was charged for those horrific crimes.

In 1990, when Yugoslavia and its communist regime began to collapse, Mike wholeheartedly was involved in helping Croatians to gain freedom and to defend themselves from the Greater Serbian aggression. He was also providing help to the besieged Sarajevo and its people in various ways. During those hazardous times, his courage and resourcefulness was remarkable.

We are thankful to Mike for sharing with us the story of his work on behalf of the Croatian people. This time, we will focus on the interviews of eyewitnesses of the Bleiburg Tragedy and we hope to talk to Mike some time in the near future about his other contributions to the struggle for Croatian freedom and independence.

Michael Palaich - director and producer of the film

HRsvijet: Before we refer to the tragic events in the not so far past, would you please tell our readers who is Mike Palaich.

Palaich: My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Petrinja and Križ, Croatia, in the early 20th century. I was born 57 years ago in Detroit, Michigan. I graduated from the university with degrees in psychology and political science. Since retiring, my wife Sandra and I divide our time between the U.S. in the winter and Croatia in the summer. I have two grown children who both enjoy visiting us during the summer in Croatia.

The production of "The Bleiburg Tragedy" and the way to truth

HRsvijet: You are the author of a documentary dealing with the critical moments of the Bleiburg Tragedy. Being that you are a third generation American Croatian, what drew your attention to this subject?

Palaich: When I was young, my grandmother would talk about her four brothers who were hung by their necks from telephone poles by the partisans after WWII. I would like to think, however, that I would have taken on this video project even if Tito’s murder squads did not touch my family. The idea of interviewing people about the Bleiburg Tragedy came to me around 1985. Already in 1985, many of the survivors of Bleiburg and Križni Put were dying. When I first began the project, I felt compelled to simply record the memories of these aging survivors so that future generations could hear first hand the horrors experienced by the Croats who survived the massacres after they lost their own state.

Michael Palaich 1989 in Bleiburg

HRsvijet: You have interviewed some of the British officers who were directly involved in the ext raditions of the Croatians in May of 1945. Their accounts are of tremendous value for piecing together those tragic events and for singling out those that are responsible for the crimes committed. You have also done research on the subject in the British archives as well. What do the British participants have to say about the Bleiburg Tragedy?

Palaich: The next phase of project’s development was when I realized I needed to document the testimony of British Army co-conspirators involved in Bleiburg and the repatriations of Croats. I knew that the Croat testimonies would be more powerful if I could get their stories corroborated by the British co-conspirators to the war crimes. I heard many stories from Croat survivors who talked about their attempt to surrender to the British. Other survivors talked about British Spitfire planes flying overhead filming them with movie cameras on the field at Bleiburg.

HRsvijet: Before your departure to interview the British officers, I recall you saying that you had major doubts about the Croatian accounts, for it was hard for you to believe that the British knowingly surrendered so many unarmed combatants and civilians to their deaths. Did you finally change your mind about the role of the British in the extraditions? Also, how did you convince those aging officers to talk to you?

Palaich: I was skeptical when I went into this British phase of my interviews. I suppose I had a pro-British bias and simply could not believe that the British were guilty of the same war crimes that prosecutors in Nuremburg had charged others with committing. Nikolai Tolstoy lived in Great Britain, but was visiting Toronto, Canada, around this time and Ante Beljo introduced me to him. Beljo was still living and working in Canada at this time. It was Tolstoy who eventually put me into contact with several former British 8th Army officers involved in Bleiburg and forced repatriations. I have to say at this point that none of the officers involved wanted to speak to me at first. All of them claimed that they had very little involvement with the Croatian handovers and they mostly dealt with the Cossacks. I told them that I would like to speak with them anyway. They all finally agreed, but I always felt that my American accent (as apposed to a Croatian accent) is what made them feel less defensive and guarded about talking about the events from their past. I was on a plane to England to interview them before they could change their mind.

HRsvijet: Besides interviewing the British officers, you went to England once again to do research on this subject in the London archives. Give as a short overview of what you have discovered and the places you visited.

Palaich: The third stage of the Bleiburg documentary involved seeking the actual British documents written extemporaneously in May and June of 1945 that would support Croatian and British eyewitness accounts. To accomplish this it was necessary to go once more to England where I sifted through mountains of documents in the British Public Records Office, the British Imperial War Museum in London and the Ministry of Defense in London.

Bleiburg 1945

HRsvijet: You are telling us that there is an immense amount of public documents that are probably dealing with the Bleiburg Tragedy? Have these documents been already examined or are they still waiting for historians to do their job?

Palaich: There is still a huge number of documents related to Bleiburg and the forced repatriations that have yet to be touched by researchers. What Tolstoy, and later myself, found barely scratches the surface of what is yet to be discovered by some Croat researcher that will pick up the baton.

HRsvijet: Luckily the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Yugo regime was shaken, and you had the chance of coming to Croatia and finishing your documentary. Give us a few words on that phase of your project.

Palaich: Finally, in 1990, the winds of freedom were blowing across Europe and those enslaved by communism were breaking the shackles of communist oppression. I was convinced that Yugoslavia was on the verge of dissolution. I was also convinced that Croats who never heard of Bleiburg and Croatian politicians needed to see, in documentary form, what happens to Croats who surrender their sovereignty to their oppressors, or to other nations that have only their own national interest in mind. It was my hope that when Croats saw the video they would also recognize that surrender was not an option once the first shot of freedom is fired. It was for these reasons that I asked Croatian survivors to speak to future generations of Croats at the end of their interviews. I asked them to address Croatian youth who did not know anything or very little about these horrific crimes.

HRsvijet: And what did they say?

Palaich: Although they did not know each other, they all responded in the same way: by telling the Croatian youth how important it was to never surrender their sovereignty. In short – to learn the lessons offered by the past.

A trapped colone of croatians near Celje in 1945. Beside the colone on the white horse a member of the Yugoslav army

HRsvijet: When and how did your bring your documentary to Croatia?

Palaich: It was in May of that year [1990] that I smuggled four suitcases of my video into Croatia across the Austrian border as JNA soldiers patrolled the train between Klagenfurt and Jesenice. I knew what would happen if I was asked to open the suitcases, but the guards believed me when I told them there were only clothes inside.

HRsvijet: Where was the film shown for the first time in Croatia and what were the reactions to it at the time?

Palaich: The film was first shown at the Mimara Museum in Zagreb in May 1991. Yes, there were some in the back of the room at the Museum yelling: “Lies, Lies!”

HRsvijet: Where can British researchers find your documentary?

Palaich: Today many of the interviews can be found in the British Imperial War Museum’s video archive under the subject of forced repatriations. The museum also has transcripts of the interviews on file for researchers to view.

Marshall Alexander and war criminal Josip Broz Tito

The interviewed British officers and their role in the murder of Croatians – horrific accounts

HRsvijet: Who was the highest ranking British officer that you talked to during the making of the documentary?

Palaich: That would be Prof. Gerald Draper, who at the end of World War II held the rank of Major. He was a prosecutor for the Allied War Crimes Trials. We are probably most familiar with the trials at Nuremburg, where he was also a prosecutor. He was, prior to his death, the leading expert on “war crimes”, “crimes against humanity”, and “crimes against the peace”. He is the chief author of the British Code of Conduct for the British Army. Draper was also invited annually by the Israeli government as one of the main speakers for the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel.

HRsvijet: You were able to visit him and he opened up?

Palaich: The interview lasted almost one hour. It was conducted in Sussex, England in his home in 1989. Draper said two important things during the interview which are included in my full length DVD called Bleiburška tragedija.

HRsvijet: Being an authority on war crimes, how did Draper assess the role of Tito and his executors in the Bleiburg Tragedy? Could he, his military officers and communist party officials be charged for war crimes because of chain of command responsibility?

Palaich: Tito and his henchmen could be charged with war crimes, or crimes against humanity for killing in cold blood – women, men and surrendered combatants. The individuals who did the killing could be charged with war crimes. The officers up the chain of command could be charged with war crimes. Tito himself, in accordance with the international laws of war, could have been charged with war crimes. According to Draper, if Tito had been charged with war crimes and subsequently claimed, as his defense, that he did not know what those under him were doing, that would not have been a valid defense. Tito was in a position to know what his subordinates were doing and if he did not, he should have known. According to Draper, “Ignorance is not a defense against charges of war crimes.” There is, however, enough material evidence to conclude that Tito was fully aware of the war crimes (including elements of a genocide) perpetrated against the Croats.

Soliders from Great Britan and Partisans in Maribor(Slovenia) watching together a friendly soccer game

HRsvijet: Draper was the chief author of the Code of Conduct for the British Army. What was his view of British responsibility in the Bleiburg Tragedy?

Palaich: According to Draper, any British soldier, or officer who knowingly sent women, children, or surrendered soldiers into the hands of Tito knowing that they were likely to be killed by Tito’s forces could be charged with war crimes. Draper also states in the film that British forces could be charged with war crimes, or crimes against humanity even if they “refused to accept [the Croats] into British control and protection in circumstances that were perfectly apparent that they would fall into the hands of Tito adherents who would likewise be known to decimate them.” In this case the British acknowledge that they knew Tito’s forces would butcher the Croats. In Nigel Nicholson’s case he admits telling Croats that if they got into cattle cars, the trains would take them to Italy. He admits that he knew they were being killed when they got into Yugoslavia. He further admits that he had to deceive them by telling them that they were going to Italy, because if they thought they were going to Yugoslavia, they would not go onto the trains of death voluntarily.

HRsvijet: You have talked to Captain Colin Gunner who was directly involved in extraditions of Croatians to their deaths and a key witness to the British involvement in the Bleiburg Tragedy. Tell us about your interview with him.

Palaich: I interviewed Colin Gunner at his home in Bradbury, England in 1989. Gunner was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the British 8th Army. Captain Colin Gunner continued forcing Croats across the bridge in Lavamund, Austria even after watching them being killed and thrown over the bridge. He admits watching these murders for three days and three nights, because the procession of Croats passing over the bridge lasted that long. The murders he saw included women and children. He states: “Tito slaughtered. Tito didn’t have time for people in his way. The bastard slaughtered.”

Captain Gunner (1945) said: "The croats were killed by beating them into the head and were thrown off the bridge, a hundred times. Children were killed. There were babies in arms of mothers. Three full days and nights they passed over the bridge, 300.000 of them. We are ashamed that we couldn't tell the commanders to go to hell"

HRsvijet: Where was Captain Gunner positioned in order to see how Tito’s partisans were executing the extradited at Lavamund bridge?

Palaich: Gunner states that he sat in a military vehicle just at the foot of the bridge at Lavamund, as the Croats were being forced across and murdered by the partisans on the other side of the bridge while he was watching.

HRsvijet: While watching your conversation with Colin Gunner about the killings, one can observe certain emotional expressions on his part. Could you tell us a little more about this man?

Palaich: Colin Gunner was a very unusual man. He joined the British Army as an enlisted man with little education. He became an officer as a result of a military commission, which I understand is quite rare. He told me that he had come to enjoy the war, the "barrage" as he referred to it. He turned out to be somewhat of a drinker in his old age. He tried to pretend that the memories of taking part in the handover of Croats and their subsequent deaths did not bother him, but it obviously weighed on his conscience for decades. I interviewed him in 1989, forty-four years after Bleiburg and the guilt still caused him remorse. One interesting point concerning the end when he cries: I sensed he was guarded while talking to me on tape. Before the interview he was emotional. When I tuned on the camera he became more serious and less open with me. I learned after many interviews that no two subjects react the same to the camera. Therefore, at the end of the interview, I pretended to shut the camera off. I began to put things away and act as if we were done. I believe this helped him relax and all the emotion he wanted to release during the interview just came out, because he thought he was off camera at that point. Just a little side story.

I felt no sympathy for any of these old Brits. They were talking freely about committing war crimes like you and I talk about a memorable basketball game. By 1989, I was very active in the Croatian liberation struggle and had to restrain myself in order to get the story from these old guys.

HRsvijet: You have already mentioned Captain Nigel Nicholson. What did he have to say about the Bleiburg Tragedy and the role of the British in it?

Palaich: I interviewed Nigel Nicholson at his home in Cranbrook, England in 1989. Nigel Nicholson was a Captain and intelligence officer for the British 8th Army. He later became a member of parliament in Great Britain. Many people are not aware that after Bleiburg there were still tens of thousands of Croat men, women and children forced back to Yugoslavia and Tito forces in what is called forced repatriations.

Nicholson was the man who originated a sinister deception against the Croats.

HRsvijet: What was this deception about?

Palaich: Nicholson admits knowing that the Croats would resist if they knew they would be sent back to Yugoslavia to a known fate of murder. Therefore, he designed a plan of deception to tell the Croats they were going to Italy. He told them they would be used in the future for the eventual war against communism. At one point in his diaries, which I secretly filmed and which I will release shortly, he wrote, “The victims do not know where they are going.” Notice he refers to the men, women and children being sent back as “victims.” Like in a scene reminiscent of people being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, 60-80 people were forced into the cattle cars; the doors were locked from the outside and would not be opened until they reached their destination in Yugoslavia. It was on that side of the border that those who were not slaughtered were forced into the "Križni Put".

Disarmed members of the croatian HOS and Civilians - 15th May 1945. Field in the valley of Meze near Bleiburg

HRsvijet: You have talked to Major-General Bredin. Did he have anything to say about the events in Austria in May of 1945.

Palaich: This interview was also conducted in 1989 at the home of General Bredin in Essex, England. A priest named Fr. Sean Quinlan gave his name and address to me. Fr. Quinlan was apparently a chaplain for the British 8th Army. Bredin was a Lieutenant Colonel in 1945. Being a senior officer, he did not get his hands dirty directly with the event at Bleiburg, or the forced repatriations of Croats. However, he did relate knowing of the forced repatriation of Croats using the method of deception ending in slaughter. He was more directly involved in the repatriations of Cossacks back to the Soviets, who ended up butchering the Cossacks.

British are legally accountable for the Bleiburg crimes

HRsvijet: After interviewing the British officers, what were your personal thoughts and impressions?

Palaich: Some British participants in the war crimes, like Nigel Nicolson, describe their role in a very cold and calculating way with very little emotion. We have to remember in listening to these old gentlemen that while they may not have enjoyed their job, they obeyed their orders to the letter. In Nicholson’s case he designed the system of deception. In the case of Captain Colin Gunner, the viewer would think he agonizes over his role in 1945. However, he began his interview with me by telling me the following: “Listen, if I’m ordered, I’d shoot you like a dog, if I get the order, and I wouldn’t think anything.”

It is clear that even forty-five years after his role in massacres in 1945, he would still obey an unlawful order to send men, women, and children to a known death by murder. For Colin Gunner there is no distinction between lawful military orders and unlawful orders. But, in reality, it makes little difference if a war criminal is twenty, or eighty, if he feels remorse, or not for the crimes he committed. Those questions should only be discussed at the time of sentencing. They should not be factors in deciding whether or not to prosecute.

HRsvijet: What should be done?

In 1995, I was invited to take part in the fifty-year anniversary commemorating Bleiburg. This included touring Croatia and Hercegovina and giving lectures on the subject with Nikolai Tolstoy and two other British men who were workers in the refugee camps in Carinthia in 1945. I gave a short speech in the Croatian Parliament building in Zagreb. In that 1995 speech I stated that British officers involved in the handover of Croats in Bleiburg and in the forced repatriation of Croats from Carinthia should be charged with war crimes using the very same criteria that were used following post-WWII trials at Nuremburg.

HRsvijet: Why?

Palaich: First, the British knew that the Croats were likely to be killed by Tito’s partisans. If they use the defense that they did not know it at the time, we have to ask why they referred to repatriated Croats as “victims”. Second, there are eyewitnesses like Captain Colin Gunner who admitted to me in 1989 that he witnessed women and children being “slaughtered” at Lavamund in 1945. It would be difficult to use the defense of ignorance if you admit to witnessing murder and still follow orders to hand over Croats. Third, according to WWII War Crimes Prosecutor Gerald Draper, a soldier is required to obey “lawful orders”, not orders that result in slaughter. Fourth, British officers, like Captain Nigel Nicholson, were intelligence officers operating around Klagenfurt, Viktring, Villach and Rosenbach. It was Nigel Nicholson (a former member of British Parliament) who admits designing the sadistic plan to deceive Croats by telling them to board trains to go to Italy and instead shipping them to their deaths at the hands of Tito and his killing squads in Yugoslavia.

HRsvijet: How did the British participants in the anniversary commemoration react to your calls for charges?

Palaich: After my speech, one of the British attendees who was also invited to the commemoration chastised me. He stated that Nigel Nicholson should not be prosecuted as a war criminal, because he had shown courage when he wrote in one of his intelligence reports in June 1945, that the average British soldier finds the forced repatriation process “unsavory”. My answer to him was that that defense can and should be used at the time of sentencing, as should his age. However, to my knowledge, there is not a statute of limitations on murder, or war crimes that resulted in murder.

HRsvijet: You are, therefore, an advocate of legal processing of all those who participated in the Bleiburg Tragedy and post-WW II communist crimes?

Palaich: In my opinion, if we used WWII criteria for determining whether people should be charged with war crimes, then Nigel Nicholson was a prime candidate, and so were many other British participants. The fact that a person is old, sick, remorseful, or a good citizen, has never been accepted as a reason not to prosecute for war crimes. I vividly recall the images of Dr. Andrija Artuković being carried on a stretcher into the criminal courts of Yugoslavia to face trial for war crimes after being extradited from the U.S. in 1986.

Bleiburg 1945 - Croats

HRsvijet: What’s the number of victims in the Bleiburg Tragedy and Križni put? What do the witnesses say?

Palaich: All of the Croat survivors tell their story from their own individual perspective. When they are asked, for example, how many people were marched with you from Bleiburg, their answer is that they do not know. Why? There were so many thousands that if you were in the middle of the mass of people you could not see the end of the line. If you were in the back, or the front, you could not see the beginning, or the end. It is here that we need to talk about something very important – numbers. There is no way to estimate, using Croat survivor testimony, the number of Croats forced to return from Bleiburg, or later through forced repatriations at the hands of the British. We must, therefore, rely on official estimates of the British 8th Army from May and June 1945.

There were 200,000 disarmed Croatian soldiers and 500,000 civilians on the fields of Bleiburg

HRsvijet: What do the British documents say?

Palaich: British documents support claims that British Spitfires were used to fly over the masses of Croats in Bleiburg. Documents in the British Imperial War Museum also prove that the pilots of these airplanes were filming the Croats at Bleiburg. Official British 8th Army documents state that there were 200,000 Croat soldiers and 500,000 civilians at Bleiburg. Colin Gunner, British Army witness to the murders at Lavamund stated that the surrendered men, women and children were walking four abreast while crossing the bridge at Lavamund. He also stated that it took the Croat victims three days and three nights to cross the bridge. It would be easy enough for researchers to calculate the number of people crossing the bridge with those figures. We must remember, however, that only half the people went through Lavamund. According to Petar Miloš, another survivor and later President of Počasni Bleiburški Vod, the other half left the Bleiburg field and went the more direct route to Dravogard. We have no way of estimating that number. There are two roads that lead from Bleiburg to Dravogard and for some unexplained reason the Croats were split into two columns. In addition to these numbers, we have to add the number of Croat victims that the British 8th Army sent directly to their deaths using cattle cars, the same way the Nazis shipped their victims to concentration camps. Documents of the British army, that I have copied and which will be published in the near future, state that 60-80 people were forced into the cattle cars. People were told that they were going to Italy. However, after the cars were filled and locked from outside so that no one can escape, they were sent directly to Jesenice.

The victims only realized they were in the hands of Tito and going back to Yugoslavia when they arrived at the train station at Rosenbach and saw Tito’s partisan soldiers and the red star on their caps. Former British Intelligence Officer, Nigel Nicholson, stated that it was at Rosenbach that many Croats began committing suicide while still locked in the railroad cars. They could see through the wood slats of the cattle cars the partisans’ red stars. It was then that they realized the British had deceived them all. The British kept very good records concerning the number of victims who they forced onto the trains and to their subsequent deaths. One Croat witness was just a girl then, and she witnessed the trains being shipped to Yugoslavia full of Croat victims. “Where are you going?” she yelled at them from the railroad tracks. “We are going to Italy.” they answered.

Bleiburg 1945 - Croatian colone

HRsvijet: What do the surviving victims say about this tragic story?

Palaich: Each Croat soldier had a horrendous story of their own. Some witnessed crazy murders by partisan women that only a lunatic could fabricate - if they were not true. Others escaped at night and hid for days in the same spot fearing any movement would mean their capture and murder. Many who were unknown to each other and interviewed in different countries related a period in the march when the brutality increased even more as special partisan killing squads were sent to take over the death columns. Some even recall partisans murdering innocent Croat peasant women who came out of their houses to offer raw potato peelings to some of the starving Croats being marched through their village. What they all experienced was mass murder, torture and slaughter being committed in the most degrading and humiliating way.

Yugoslav Partisans in Austria - 1945

HRsvijet: How would you compare the Bleiburg crimes with those committed during the recent War of Independence in Croatia, as well as in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Palaich: Interviewing Croatian survivors and British co-conspirators meant listening to hundreds of hours of peoples’ most horrendous memories. Unfortunately during Croatia’s war of liberation I was forced to listen to the same stories repeated by a new generation of victims. A convicted war criminal I interviewed in Sarajevo in 1993 recalled his involvement in a new series of recent war crimes. This time the Serbs, and later the rest of the world, would refer to the slaughter of innocents as ethnic cleansing. In Karlovac, I recorded survivors of the infamous death camp Omarska. They related to me the incredible acts of depravity committed by Serbian soldiers that shocked even the hardened listener like myself. So what is the point? Are we destined to experience the same thing every other generation? Why record interviews? Why gather supporting documentation? If we do not learn the lessons of history, are we really doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Are only some people held to the legal standards for war crimes? Is it true that the winners not only write history, but are also immune from war crimes prosecution?

Croatian president Ivo Josipovic celebrating the partisans

HRsvijet: What’s your reaction to the glorification of the communist symbols in today’s Croatia?

Palaich: Croats have been lamenting the slaughter of hundreds-of-thousands of their people since 1945. Several books have been published on the subject. Movies and documentaries have been produced. Yet, still today not one former partisan from Tito’s murder machine has been prosecuted. In fact, today in Croatia there are people who are pictured proudly in photographs wearing a hat with a red star, while the mass graves of their WWII victims are being excavated. It may not be the same person who slaughtered Croats and it may not be the same hat on the same head of the same person who slaughtered Croats. But, the red star that they so proudly display even today, is the exact same symbol that was worn by those who murdered and slaughtered family members of people who share the streets of Croatia with them today. On a recent trip to Rovinj, I was appalled to find a cigarette tobacco called “Tito” being sold in a store. On the front of the package was a picture of Tito complete with a bright red star. When confronting the sales clerk, her only response was, “It comes from Belgium.” “Yes, but you sell it.” I replied.

In the past, the red star was the symbol of death that was displayed proudly by those representing the communist party and its ideology as the criminals slaughtered their way through their Croat victims in 1945. Today, ironically, it is again proudly displayed in public. A much bigger travesty is that the perpetrators of the war crimes of 1945 still walk the streets with the rest of us, without ever having seen the inside of a courtroom, let alone a jail cell.

Former croatian predsident Stjepan Mesic said:

A person who accepts the idea of personal freedom must condemn fascism and communism

HRsvijet: What is your view on the entire issue of investigating crimes committed by the communists?

Palaich: We would hope that if there is so much attention to war crimes in Croatia today, then it is good to document the crimes perpetrated against Croats in 1945 with eyewitness accounts, government documents and forensic evidence. This makes little sense, however, if the evidence is not used to bring the guilty to trial and give a sense of fulfilled justice to the Croatian people. Furthermore, the international community cannot systematically sift through war criminals and decide which ones to charge with crimes based on their nationality, and which ones to ignore. We cannot accept that some in the past have been charged with forcing men, women, and children onto cattle cars to a known fate of murder, while British officers who admit committing the same crime went on to become British members of parliament, never having been charged with a war crime. We cannot accept that the United States extradited eighty-year-old Dr. Andrija Artuković to Yugoslavia in 1986, but a Croat and former Tito partisan walked free in Mississauga, Canada most of his adult life despite the fact that he slaughtered countless Croats at Jazovka in 1945. We should not accept that streets and squares in Croatia are named after the same Josip Broz Tito that orchestrated the slaughter of a generation of Croats, while his disciples claim he was a hero for fighting fascism. Any person who embraces the concept of individual liberty and freedom must condemn both fascism and communism. Fascism and communism are the antithesis to individual liberty and freedom. Being opposed to fascism does not make you good if you are a communist who slaughtered in 1945. Conversely, being against communism does not make you good if you slaughtered on the other side in 1941.

HRsvijet: How can this painful and unresolved issue be solved ?

Palaich: The solution is simple. Let us not be selective when it comes to the prosecution of individuals for war crimes. We should not just ship Croats to The Hague for prosecution, while those who are guilty of war crimes in 1945 still walk the streets of Croatia – even if they walk the streets with a cane. We should not try to emulate the selective treatment of war criminals in countries like Great Britain, when the British have known for decades that some of their soldiers committed war crimes against Croats as defined by their own WWII prosecutors. The prosecution of war criminals is not a matter of vengeance. It is a matter of justice. Croatia will never be able to heal until this festering wound called Bleiburg is healed, and the only cure is justice for the victims.

Questions by Goran Majic

Translated into english: Ante Chuvalo

The Bleiburg Tragedy on Youtube with the eyewitnesses...