Details of the Shutterhub Borders exhibition

Do come along to the exhibition, here are the details

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“Go ahead and shoot the devil”

 

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The first of my photos about my father’s story. This is an experiment and may not be the finished photo, but it’s a start at trying to show what happened. I was lucky to get hold of some of Dad’s diaries, written when he was sixteen and with a death sentence on the whole family. I translated these words myself with the help of Google, Pons.si and my Slovenian lessons. It’s a good thing we’ve started to learn the past tense, I can finally make more sense of the words.

My main difficulty in trying to do work about Dad is that I can’t imagine I will ever be able to convey how awful the experiences he had were. It doesn’t help that Dad won’t tell me everything and he absolutely refuses to talk about his brother who died.

I decided to place Dad and his words in the farmhouse where he was born and lived before he became a refugee. His diary was written in this house and some of the descriptions are about what happened there. The house has been empty for many years and is now in need of extensive repair. A house in Jungian dream therapy is a representation of the person dreaming about it. It is fitting for the photos about my Dad that it is not whole anymore. It is largely unchanged since the days my Dad lived there, as his brother in law, who was also a surviving Home Guard, refused to change with the times. He said if it was good enough for the last generation, its good enough for him. This means the photos of the house are fairly true to how it would have been 70 years ago, although there are some things like plastic bags and other things that show it is taken now. I can remember visiting and using the outside toilet, tin bath and aga-type stove, they still used the bread oven too. I used to love it there.

The words on the photo are

Then one of the two in the house said “Go ahead and shoot the devil” He held a gun to my head for a long time.

Tedaj je eden tistih dveh rekel v hiši:« Kar ustreli ga hudiča«. Dolgo časa mi je grozil s pištolo.

My father’s reaction to reading his State Police files

Looking at the video, I can’t help wonder if I’m being cruel to show the files to him. Although he did want to see them. Hopefully, it will be better next week when we go over his diaries.

My father’s State Police files and diaries written during the war at age 16.

How I wish I could understand Slovenian to read my father’s diaries and police files! I’m learning but it’s going to take some years. In the meantime, I will have to use a translator. It may be quite a job, as my father used a mixture of languages, mostly Slovenian, including very old words not used now, plus Croatian, Italian and even some German words. Probably because of the occupation by the Italians and Germans. The Police files are in Serbo-Croat, the official language of the Yugoslav army.

I’ve just returned from another trip to Ljubljana, researching my Father’s history and looking for inspiration for an art project about how he became a refugee. On this trip, I collected the State Police files about my father and his brother who died. I’m not allowed to publish them until they send me a version that’s acceptable to publish. This is correct as there are other names on my father’s files. These need to be removed, as I only have permission to use the files about my father and his brother. I had to sign an agreement and my father had to sign and have witnessed his permission for me to see the files. There were also files about one sister of his, but apparently, they are very sensitive and her son, who was adopted by his aunt, needs to see them first. It will be up to him if he wants any of the family to see them.

I’ve been told what’s in the State Police files. He was given a death sentence for escaping from prison. My father says that if he had not escaped he would have died anyway with a sentence of up to ten years hard labour. He was in prison for being part of a group of fourteen men in the army who had affected the morale of the battalion by spreading propaganda. I was relieved to see that my father did not kill the guard when he escaped with one friend. He took his gun but let him go. My father will be happy to hear that his friend survived and wasn’t caught. They fled to the woods, and dad waited while his friend went to see his family and say goodbye. He waited two days and nights, then decided he had to go on his own as his friend had probably been caught. I went to the woods he hid in, at twilight, to take photos and imagine. I was really glad to leave before dark. My dad travelled through the woods at night as it was safer to do so. He was then recognised near the farm and shot at, hiding in the cornfield. He eventually made it to the cow shed and got civilian clothes then went over the mountains again into Austria.

 

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Woods my father hid in.

 

 

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The cow shed my father hid in

 

I found it surprising and disturbing that the files had our home address in England, where I was born. They accused him of being a terrorist and plotting to overthrow the Yugoslav government from England, where he ended up. This was at a time when the Yugoslav government was known to send execution squads to eliminate enemies abroad. A whole family was killed in one instance. I need to research this further and get actual facts about this, but it means our family could have been killed in our house.

My cousin had my father’s diaries, they had been kept by my Aunt in amongst 1000’s of books. It’s very lucky we found them as the farm had been raided at least three times, looking for documents to destroy. The letter sentencing the whole family to death at the beginning of the war, one volume of his diaries and the diaries his brother wrote while fighting the Communists cannot be found. To have those diaries survive after more than seventy years is a fantastic find, when most documents have perished. I showed them to the professor at the Institute of Contemporary History when he gave me the State Police Files. He was quite excited by the diaries and said there had been great interest in them at the Institute. He said my father had written well and it was interesting that he had written about his feelings. He wants permission to publish them and thinks that a TV producer may be interested in interviewing my Dad. Unfortunately, I don’t think my Dad is up to it, as he is now mixing up languages and finding it hard to talk about what happened. It’s taken me more than a year to get what information I have from him.

I was fascinated how the two sets of documents checked out. The state Police files say the date of his brother’s funeral. His diaries start on the day after the funeral. My father said he started them after his brother’s death, but not that it was the day after the funeral.

I hear quite often that even though Slovenia is now independent, it hasn’t changed and is still run by Communists. But I would never have had access to my father’s Police files, before independence. Nor would there be memorials of those killed after the war, granted they could do better, the Italian occupiers who died have a big area in the main graveyard and are all named with an individual cross, the Home guard have just a tree and no names anywhere.

I will post more about our other exploits on this trip, over the next week or so.