Memories of a Croatian Soldier - Life Story

Note: My native language is Croatian but I do communicate in English and German adequately.

My name is Zvonko - being the short form of ZVONIMIR. Most of old Croatian names are ending at "-MIR" which means peace. Thus, "Zvonimir" translated in English would mean "Bell-ringer for peace". This name belonged to one of the Croats' most prominent King Dmitar Zvonimir (1074-1089).

I was born June 1925 in Osijek, a large town on River Drava some 25 kilometers upstream of its confluence into Danube. One had celebrated the coronation millenium of Duke Tomislav who became the first King of Croatia Independent State. A young linden-tree (a sacred tree to most Slavic tribes) has been planted on this occasion. The tree grows had suffered severely during Serbs' dominance which started after the end of World War I. in 1918.

At the time of my youth was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (King Alexander I. assassinated in Marseilles 1934) followed by the so called Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in 1941 until the end of World War II in 1945. Then it became Marshall Tito's Federal National Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ).

I was 16 years old when the German Armies attacked Yugoslavia on Apr 6th 1941. I remember the day the German Army marched through my hometown Osijek. Many people cheered and some had an armband with a 'swastika' on their upper arm. There were many citizens of German origin who lived in this region known as the "Danube Swabians". I was fascinated and mesmerized by this event too although I would learn soon what anxieties and dangers lie ahead.

I made my baccalaureate at the Male Real-Gymnasium in Osijek in summer of 1943. Few months later I was called to join Croatian Home Guard's service (Hrvatski Domobran). I went for a training to become an artillery officer and had joined a fighting unit in Osijek at end of 1944. Poglavnik Ante Pavelic who was a Nazi's Quisling ruled the Croatian State (1941-1945). Thus, Croatian Home Guard's units had fought together with the Ustasas (State's political army wing) on the site of German Army against Allied Forces in Word War II.

I was a teenager without any life experience facing situations and conditions through all those critical years of war. What would it be like being shot and injured, mutilated or caught as a Prisoner-of-War? How one does wait for the final deathblow? How will one know when the death comes?

In the following years I've experienced primordial fears and have learned about instincts of survival. Often I have sensed death knell as the death's scythe swished over my body. Also I have survived the intentional massacres of Croatians by Tito's Yugoslav Army in 1945. The "Ethnic cleansing" - the symbol for crimes against humanity in recent years - is nothing new as it has happened before. The survivors of the Bleiburg tragedy and Croatian Death Marches had been subjugated to in 1945 already.

Early May 1945 the Croatian Army and civilians were withdrawing westwards through Slovenia with the objective to reach the Allies' units. Many Croatian soldiers and civilians had reached to British Army units and were stopped at Bleiburg on May 13, 1945. Few days later the British Command had turned over all their Prisoners of War to Tito's military units. Following this betrayal the Croats were forced to walk onto their many death marches. The Croats were indiscriminately massacred along these many routes particularly in May and June of 1945. I might write about the Bleiburg Tragedy and Death Marches some other time.

I lost many relatives and close friends of our family who lived mostly in Croatia and few in Austria too. All of them - who were either detained for political reasons or abducted to some of the concentration camps because of their origin of faith - died sooner or later during WWII. Many thousands died in various camps and many more never could return to their homes. Tito's military and his new Yugoslav Government did not care at all for Peoples whom they fought against.

Remember that the prejudice has been part of any fascists' system but the communists' one wasn't better either. Why was this happening? Oh, how can I answer this? Better one should put such question to politicians and economists, leaders and preachers who always guide their herds of sheep to an unknown destiny and to new historical Catastrophes. Do sheep ask the shepherd where he leads them at any time?

I have buried deep in my subconscious my rather traumatic experiences of those terrible times as of war aftermath. I have forgot my happy childhood - I hardly ever talked about them to anybody. I had many nightmares too but never mentioned them even to my dearest ones. Only my wife has learned about few of my deep buried experiences. However, very rarely we had exchanged more than few sentences about those events in 1945. It was the TABOO THEME under the communists' regime of Tito's Yugoslavia.

After the Home War in 1991 Croatians had won their new freedom and sovereignty early in 1992. The Republic of Croatia is a worldwide-recognized state now. The Croatians have got the chance to rule in their own way now. This chance has come to them after 9 centuries of fighting for and domination by others.

Few times I have been asked to say in two words what did this War lead me to? My answer would be:



lives - youths - loves - ideal - thoughts - energies - values - valuables - natural beauties and many things more.

I believe that you have learned a little about of my life's history by now. Could you try to understand those circumstances and events that have stamped a teenager's last years? The teenager has lost more than half of his weight in a month time. He has become a human wreck when he got rescued from a marching column on his 20th birthday. Yes, I have been reborn but my traumatic experiences made me a more sensible, thoughtful and wise grayed young man.

Ernst R. Hauschka (German essayist, *1926) stated once:

My spirit's determination and destiny with some of luck had been the ruling factor me returning home and to my family. There were not many colleagues or friends left after the horrors of War subsided. Only now, after more than 50 years, I've met very few with whom I could freely exchange memories and stories of our common past.

I have been raised in a burger's family and was too often ill. Since early childhood I had problems with asthma which is coming back at my old age. I had labored with dangerous angina's (throat illness) until war's times. I was a rather sensitive and not-emancipated young man of a markedly minority complex. All these certainly weren't a very constructive approach for those traumatic events of 1945.

After the POWs' General Amnesty in August 1945 we could return to our homes. Only then could I start with my first study. I had graduated at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Zagreb (Croatia) early 1952. I got the diploma of a "Dipl.Ing." which corresponds about to a B.Sc./M.Sc. after 5 years of designer's and construction engineer's practice. We have married in June 1951 before my graduation and first employment. I've had 35-year long rather interesting international and rewarding engineer's profession. Some 15 years I have been lecturing first as assistant at my home Faculty in Zagreb until 1961 and later at Khartoum (Sudan) until 1964.

I could not advance in my profession or get any promotions when I reached my 36-year age by 1961. This became evident because of my eyewitness' life history of 1945. That is why we my wife and only daughter had left Yugoslavia for good in 1961. First we lived in Khartoum where I was teaching at the Khartoum Technical Institute as Senior Lecturer on a 3-year contract. We stayed together in the Sudan from early 1962 until late 1964.

After that contract expired I got a job in a private business enterprise of the leading Cement manufacturer in Kenya. The following years in Kenya were for us the "Golden Years" until I have been transferred to Salzburg early 1967. There I have started organizing a Design Office for the same Swiss Parent Company. The Design Office "CIPAG" has specialized in the various designs for Cement Industries' requirements. During my times as the Director Civil Engineer of CIPAG we have designed and supervised construction of several new Cement Works in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria in Africa, Brazil and Venezuela in South America and on Sumatra (Indonesia). There were many lesser projects to be dealt with like in USA, on several States on the Arabic Peninsula and on several Islands in Indian Ocean.

We have got the Austrian citizenship and moved to our newly built house on Oak Hill in 1973. Our only daughter Vesna had finished the secondary education and continued with her studies for a BA. at the Salzburg University. Four years later she became Lecturer at the Girls' Gymnasium of St. Ursula in Salzburg - the same schools she has visited as from 1967. Vesna married her former colleague from Upper Austria. Now, Leo is co-director of a Real estate Office in Salzburg. They have two children: Christoph 17 and Maria Klara 7 years old as per 1998.

The Parent Company decided to close down CIPAG's business for good end 1987. I have experienced the fast development of computers since early 1960s during my structural engineer's times. It had started all with pocketsize computers when in 1970s the computer's architecture underwent dramatic changes with PCs' which have enabled those many uses in designs and construction works.

During my professional years I never had the time or chances of using this DEVIL's TOOL (= my synonym for "PC" created in 1993). As a "Gentleman of Leisure" I have decided to start with my second studies at grandfather's age. I got that chance in 1988 and I have started studies at the Institute of Computer science & System Analysis (COSY) of University Salzburg. Thus, I can keep my gray cells staying active.

I have had rather mixed feelings about how a "Gentleman of Leisure" should behave when he is not working or earning anymore. First of all, I do not have to true prove to myself or to anybody else what I am doing. What I do is for my own satisfaction and for my active participation in every day's life. Whether it's done for honor or for money depends entirely upon the circumstances. See now, what a "Whiz Kid over 70" has learned how to use or work with this Devil's tool.

We, the Elders, should remember that we heard our first music from shellacs disks on a "His Master's Voice" gramophone with exchangeable needles. Some of us have built radios with quartz crystals too. Through our 70+ years of life we have experienced that fantastic advancement in Information Technology (IT). There are very few of us who have our own experiences from the World War II. Now, we got the chance benefiting the Information Technology but we must have the will to and the stamina to learn how to do it. We could use it for our own activities, advantages and last not least for fun and our happiness.

Pablo Cassals (Spanish Master of Violoncello) said once: "The dying starts the moment one starts working".

John Knittel (Author) thought about this too saying: "One gets old, when one finds more joy in the past than what would bring the future".

As the last, few words from Grillparzer (Austrian author): "I always have the need occupying myself with any matter of a study. With this knack I can steadily enjoy the after-taste of a childhood at man's age. Thus, I'd stay young, I do hope, until the last two hours of my life come".

Which do you like most? FOR ME IS THE LAST ONE THE MOST VALID.

Memories of a Croatian Soldier - Zvonko's Life Story

DISCLAIMER : On URL: published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.