1. Section 1994 - 1996

Part #5

To: PROJECT MEMORIES FOR CHILDREN <memories@maelstrom.stjohns.edu>
Date: Sun, December 31, 1995
Subject: Reply to Cottage Grove students

Comment: You'd need a map of the ex-Yugoslavia regions looking for some places I'd mention too. You'd probably know that I'm that CROATIAN SOLDIER on the Panel of Elders of the PROJECT MEMORIES FOR CHILDREN CHATBACK. My answers might be somehow different compared to the ones from other authors on this panel. However, in some cases I'd have to extemporize giving a minimum of explanations you might need for better understanding.

Q1: What is your name?
A1: ZVONKO - being short form of the name ZVONIMIR [King Zvonimir was one of the most important Croatian rulers in 10th century).

Q2: How old were you during WWII?
A2: I'm born June 12, 1925 in Osijek (Croatia, Kingdom of Yugoslavia) - 100 years after King Zvonimir's coronation. Thus, my name is it. I was 16 years old when the WWII started at the South of Europe.

Q3: What country were you living in during the war?
A3: It was in the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" until April 10, 1941. From then onwards it was the newly set up "Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska" (its abbreviation "NDH" stands for Independent State of Croatia) until the end of WWII. Later, it became known as Marshall Tito's "Federal National Republic of Yugoslavia" ("FSRJ").
I have lived in Osijek until late October 1943 when I had been called to the Croatian regular Army. At that time, I was 18 and have "matura" graduated (K12 certificate = baccalaureate) at the Real Gymnasium in Osijek. Osijek is an important town near the confluence of the river Drava in Danube.

Q4: What purpose did you serve in WWII? How come you were forced into the Army? Did you have a choice to serve in the Army?
A4: Any young man capable for Army service had been called into it. One did not have any other choice - you HAD TO GO! Any desertion to such a call would be the same as a suicide and could jeopardize own family too. NDH had a Nazi oriented government and ruled by a dictator Dr. Ante Pavelic (known as "Poglavnik"). Its Army fought on Germans' Nazi side too. Due to my mother's Jewish ancestry, our family was under constant scrutiny and in a permanent mortal danger during WWII times too. Many relatives and friends of our family had been subdued by the fatal fate through Nazi's henchmen.

Q5: How long were you in the Army?
A5: Late October 1943, we left our homes in Osijek travelling in general cargo-wagons to Zagreb, capital of NDH. Several days later the camp had been surround by German Army Police on a late evening. We had not any chance for escape. At last late night of the 4th day we could leave the railway wagons at Stockerau, some 25km west of Vienna. By a mere chance, twenty of some 1200 young men had been separated and taken to the "Jaeger Kaserne"' (= Hunter's Barrack) at the East of Stockerau. By coincidence in our small group of 20 were 12 colleagues from Osijek.
Once there, we started the training for artillery officers (howitzer) which lasted until late October 1944. For a while we stayed in Zagreb but shortly before Christmas 1944 I got my promotion to a "Lieutenant junior". With it was an order to join a combat artillery unit horse drawn battery of howitzers with 100mm bore. The unit has been stationed in Osijek and guns were aimed northwards and over river Drava.
The river was the fire front line all the time until Apr 13, 1944 when the withdrawal westwards started by the Croatian Army. My peaceful and vivacious hometown turned into a gloomy and anxious one as well as in a deadly trap. The romance of our youth was gone forever. The ideals and hopes of our generations had been buried deep in our memories most of which forgotten by the survivors in the aftermath of WWII's ending.

Q6: When and how did you first hear about the possibility of a war starting in Europe? How did you find out that the war was going on?
A6: We moved to a house my parents bought in summer 1936. My father's first radio was a huge box made by "Telefunken" about the same year. Father, a well-known advocate (attorney) in Osijek, had been cautioning about a looming European War since 1936, so far I can remember. [Hitler came to power in 1933 and revoked the Treaty of Versailles of May 7, 1919 soon after. Mussolini attacked Ethiopia in 1935. In 1937 Hitler and Mussolini joined into the 'AXIS PACT'. The "civil war" in Spain started in July 1936 and ended in February 1939].

Q7: How did you get most of your information on the war? What was the view of war you were given by the media?
A7: My father who was good informed about political and economical developments in Europe. Also, we read local newspapers and heard to radio news. (Note: One cannot compare present news media's proficiency and potency with the ones of some 55 years ago!) Please consider that the NEWS MEDIA were NOT FREE at all. The relevant Information Ministries were strictly acting according the regime's policy and needs only. In a tyrannical and oppressive regime there isn't ANY PLACE for FREE NEWS or FREE SPEECH.

Q8: Why do you think the WWII started? Could you believe or understand why the war was happening? Do you think it was worth fighting in WWII? What kind of prejudice you saw around you? What's your interpretation of prejudice in your country during the war? Why did it have such an effect and why this was happening?
A8: Judging from my present knowledge and experience, the 'seeds' for WWII had been sawed in the Treaty of Versailles (May 7, 1919). The victorious Powers of WWI set borderlines for several new countries in Europe by the wrong ways. They were wrong from political and geographical and national points of view. Also, the Council of Nations (in Geneva) was inapt or incapable or weak to master the political circumstances occurring during 1920s and 1930s too.
One doesn't believe or even can understand why any warfare starts. It mostly does happen like a 'bolting out of blue sky' for anybody unconcerned. Very few experienced, educated and observant people do have certain foreboding but nobody listens to them. Also, these very few hardly can change the course of history - the later results from any human mass reaction following some schismatic or paranoid leader(s).
Why does a war start? Read history books and you'd learn more how and why wars do start. IMHO, the WWII started because of there wasn't any farsightedness to stop or change conditions which led to FASCISM, NAZISM, COMMUNISM and any other kind of RADICALISM. It's most unfortunate that the human race had few wise and prophetic geniuses. The MASSES didn't recognize them as such at their times or didn't follow them at all.
It's not worth a dime following any leader recommending a war all. Thus, it was not WORTH fighting in WWII for anybody. However, there are ideals, duties and times when everybody has to bring sacrifices on humanitarian grounds standing up for those everlasting civilization ideals. Unfortunately, by far too often we stand up for these ideals very late! In principle, the human masses are indolent and untaught, easily mislead and often misused by those self-proclaimed prophets.
The prejudice was part of fascist's system but the one of communists later was not better either. The question about prejudices should be better asked of the politicians and economists, leaders and preachers who guide their HERDS to the unknown DESTINY and into new historical catastrophes. Did any sheep ask the shepherd where he leads them at any time?
However, there are always the same events for any kind of prejudice caused say by: resentment and envy, weakness and aversion, goodwill and hatred. These causes are as old as the human race itself and would apply to any country as well as during the WWII too.

Q9: What kind of impression of Hitler and Mussolini you were given from the media? What were your feelings towards the war - approving or disapproving?
A9: What kind of opinion should one have about Hitler or Mussolini? In my family and many of our friends knew well that both were FASCISTS and DICTATORS. Europeans learned quite a lot from their history - but not enough to prevent these two fanatics to get to such POWERS.
However, there were MANY those who sympathized and lobbied for Hitler and Mussolini at those times too. Consider some states' policies like of England (Treaty of Munich - Sep 30, 1938) or USA (large business and industry interests, late entry into WWII only after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor) or Russia (Hitler/Molotov 'Bargain of Poland').
Whatever kind of feelings one has (don't forget I was a teenager in those critical times prior and during WWII) there isn't much you can do or achieve approving or disapproving any course of events. One MUST adjust and learn quickly how to survive under duress and repression - if one doesn't make it then there wouldn't be much time left for any feelings. One won't survive in the current of events. These are the bitter facts and the truth about any crisis. The war is one of such human crisis too.

Q10: List some of the subjects most talked about during the war. Why were they important? Was there any type of things you remember?
A10: Let me list some of the subjects one talked about in secret or with trustful persons only. Topics could be summarized like despotism and dictate; political oppression and persecution; lack or shortage of merchandises and commodities; hunger and different anxieties; terror and anxiety, mutilation and fear of death.

Q11: Do you have any good memories from the WWII? What was it like where you lived in WWII? Were any shortages during WWII? Did the war played a big part in your life?
A11: Do I have any GOOD memories from the WWII - it's a question I could not answer at ease at all. The war did play a BIG part in my life. I cannot give you any appropriate answer about because of my personal rather complex life history. One would need too many explanations to understand the background to it. Also, it would a VERY long answer, a very personal one though. I had learned MORTAL FEARS, experienced the INSTINCTS of survival, felt SCYTHE HUSH over me - survived the intended MASSACRE of CROATIANS in 1945. [Was it not an "ethnical cleansing" then in 1945 already?]
How was it like living through WWII times - many of you asked the same question? There was a lot of somberness mixed with moments of repose, subdued joys and hopping for that all those unpleasant and restrictive behaviors for teenagers would pass soon. The hopes and more unidentified expectations kept us humoring and having some fun at times.
Yes, there were shortages of different kind getting worse as the war had protracted. Food staff was distributed on ration-coupons including soap, candles, petrol, building materials like nails God only knows what else. It was easier living in smaller towns and in vicinity of villages with peasants' communities. Everyone had to find its own way to survival or one had to abandon all hopes perishing sooner or later anyway. No, there isn't any ROMANTIC STORY to be told about a warlike crisis, believe me.

Q12: Did you have any relatives or friends in other countries at the time of the war? What relations were they to you? How did they describe their situation? What happened to them? Did your family struggle to survive during WWII?
A12: There were relatives and close friends of our family most of who lived in Croatia (former Yugoslavia). There were few in Austria too. All of them - who were either detained for political reasons or abducted for their racial origin (Jewish ancestry) to concentration camps - DIED sooner or later during WWII. 1943 already except for her three sisters had eradicated Mother's family all whom married to husbands of proven Aryan origin. [Each of my uncles and my father had to support his Aryan origin by officially acceptable family tree.] Well, the rest of my family did struggle to survive through the too long lasting WWII.

Q13: Describe what you consider a climax in the war. Why was this a climax?
A13: The defeat of Rommel's Africa Corps and the Battle of Stalingrad. And, of course, when the 'D-DAY' became the reality! I was certain then, that the WWII would end within a reasonable time when the news came that the Allied Forces' landed in Italy (Sicily) and in Normandy few months later. Unfortunately, the WWII ended about a year later only - on May 8th 1945.

Q14: Did WWII have any impact on your life - not only emotionally - how about any other ways?
A14: As for myself, the WWII ended only 8 days later - which was May 15, 1945. On that day early morning, I lead the Battery soldiers into surrender to Tito's Armies - the Yugoslav Army - somewhere between Dravograd and Slovenjgradec (Western Slovenia). On May 17, 1945 some
40.000 POW (Prisoners of War) had started march eastwards from a temporary camp at Slovenjgradec. It turned into a DEATH MARCH on route no.2 (known also as CROATIANS' DEATH TRAIL). The topic "Death March" has been the TABOO during Tito's regime and communists' dictatorship in ex-Yugoslavia. Only recently (now, some 50 years later) one can talk about Bleiburg Massacre of Croatians and their Death Marches in public.
There are very few survivors left now a day who could report about their experiences. One of Tito's generals said: "A Croat is good enough as a dead one only" paraphrasing the say: "A good witness is a dead one only". Most of the survivors don't care talking anymore about those tragic days - they age is over 70 now. Their unspoken memories are buried deep by tenderness of subconscious spreading a blanket of oblivion over all horrors they had passed through. I have met only one other officer who walked on all the same route with me. He died some years ago but we never spoke about these gruesome days when we met by chance.
Sorry, this was really sarcastic - do not trust those humanitarian slogans as they always get too late to those affected or to be need of them. My apology about this rather long discourse but I believe it was worth the effort - both sides - isn't? I wrote these lines in memory of all that perished and suffered in and because of WWII. You probably wonder whether one would see or meet or recognize a war hero during such times of duress and dangers. IMHO let me say that one meets a real friend or gets help from somebody unknown lasting for a short time or sometimes even for a brief instant only. One couldn't be even conscious of it at the time - probably only much later - when the friend or helper is gone for good.

Q15: Which general attitudes changed because of the war? What were you doing when the WWII ended? How come you live in Austria now?
A15: The existing and relatively free market system before WWII in Yugoslavia had been abolished by Tito's new regime. It introduced the so-called "socialistic" state controlled marketing. This System prohibited any private enterprise. State ruled and owned everything: agriculture, industry, all lands and resources, houses and flats. The main social objective is the form of sound family in a sane society. This principle had to make way for a better form favored by the System as the form a "General Society". The people moved from their native lands (more than 70% lived outside of cities before WWII) flocking into towns trying to find some work there. This resulted in the greatest housing crisis and the worse dissatisfaction for many after the WWII.
Soon after my release from a POW camp in August 1945 I could return home. I have felt myself broken physically and my mind has been in turmoil. Late 1945, I have started my study at the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Zagreb. Early 1952 I had been promoted to the "Dipl.-Ing" (about as a B.Sc. CE). However, I have worked keeping myself afloat few years already in part-time jobs. I started my first full-time job in fall 1951 after we married in summer 1951. I did everything in the wrong order as my father had taught me. We didn't have any place to stay together and it was only in 1959 when we got our first flat. Our only daughter was born in spring 1954 and there are so many anecdotes from the first 10 years of our marriage. Let's leave something for the next time.
I had a very intensive and interesting CE career in my profession during the first 10 years. Late 1961 I got a post of Senior Lecturer at the Khartoum Technical Institute (Sudan) which gave the opportunity to leave Yugoslavia for good. I couldn't get any further promotion at the Faculty and didn't see any chance for improvements for our lives. After 3 years in the Sudan - which became our Gate to Freedom - we moved to Mombasa instead of intended emigration to Australia. In fall of 1964, I have joined an international Cement Manufacturing Company with works in Mombasa (Kenya). Thus started the Golden Years for all of us particularly when I have been seconded to Salzburg in spring of 1967. I have started here a design office for the cement industry and spent 20 years as its director. I had an extensive, very interesting and most acknowledgeable practice in Salzburg.
We started building our house on the Oak Hill in Anif community - some 8 km South of Salzburg City - in 1972. We moved in our new home in fall 1973 and live here since. We are so grateful the last 25 professional years of mine. Let's hope that we can enjoy many leisurely years of life together. Since my retirement by 1987 and I had to find some occupation for me too. Therefore, I started my 2nd study of Computer Science and System Analysis (at the University Salzburg). I'm the oldest 'OLD HOUSE' of COSY and have the privilege of not having to pass any exams there. I told you that my life is a rather complex one and there are too many anecdotes to be told.

DISCLAIMER : On URL: http://www.cosy.sbg.ac.at/~zzspri/ published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.

Email Zvonko Springer at : zzspri@aon.at