A Moment Of Decision From Ljubljana Slovenia To Trieste Italy

A Moment of Decision


By Joseph Gottfried

Much has been written, in many languages and in many forms about both the reasons for and the events of the Holocaust. Future generations will "see" all this through the prism of time. However, the individual nar-ratives of those who survived, those who managed to save themselves are as fascinating from a micro perspective as the view from 30,000 feet. From the European territories formerly called Yugoslavia, for example, 1 out of 7 Jews survived the cataclysm. Their small stories, the split-second decisions that then influenced the course of the rest of their lives, may be of interest.It is almost incomprehensible, yet time and again one MOMENT OR DECISION MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR AN INDIVIDUAL OR FAMILY TO ESCAPE THE VIOLENCE OR DEATH CAMPS!!
After the conquest of the Balkans in 1941, Germany and Italy, divided Slovenia into German and Italian sectors, with Ljubljana (Capital of Slovenia) falling within the Italian sector. My school buddy from Sarajevo & Dubrovnik, Silvio Finzi, and I were hiding in Ljub-ljana at the time.
On July 15, 1943, Italy changed its political direction and joined with the Allied effort. Almost immediately, the question arose whether the Italians would defend their part of Slovenia, or, whether they would withdraw to their borders. If they decided to withdraw, the Germans would be able to enter Ljubljana to take control of entire Slovenia.
For Silvio and me, this was a time of insecurity and, as time passed, the situation became ever more dan-gerous. There was talk of German military concen-trations north of Ljubljana, and travelers brought news of German patrols near Medvode and Domzala.
Here and there we heard that Italian civilians were leaving Ljubljana, so we decided that we, too, should leave the city and try to reach Trieste. We packed only the most necessary items into two small suitcases and, with the permission of local authorities, purchased train tickets to Trieste, normally a 3-hour voyage.
The train was full, mostly with Italian passengers. The coach car had individual compartments with doors that opened to the OUTSIDE. Everything seemed to be going well, and the train stopped near the Italian border at Sezana. Parallel to the tracks, about 60 to 70 yards away, we spotted a tiny village. As the train slowed and pulled to a stop, German soldiers appeared along both sides, patrolling up and down, about one soldier per 2 or 3 cars. Soon, the train conductor appeared and told passengers -"This train is returning to Ljubljana for document control."
At that moment, we understood that if we stayed on the train and subjected ourselves to German inspection, we would certainly be doomed! The end! I turned to Silvio and told him—-“Follow me! I will open the compartment door when the soldier walks in the opposite direction. We will hop off quickly (through the OUTSIDE door) and I will ask the soldier in German whether we are allowed to BOARD this train.” That is what we did. When the soldier turned around and saw us behind him, he immediately confronted us. “What do you want?” he demanded. I asked him in German whether we could get on this train, as if we had just come out of the station. He blustered in that authentically gruff Teutonic manner that “Nobody can go on this train” and that WE SHOULD IMMEDIATELY RETURN FROM WHERE WE CAME.” So, following his “orders,” with palpitating hearts, we retreated to the nearby village.
We knocked on several doors until we found a lady who offered us a small room. Through her window, we could see the railroad station. The train we had just escaped from returned to Ljubljana. After a few hours, we walked over to the station again and were informed that the same train was expected to return later in the day. We wondered whether the Germans were still around, but we did not see them anymore.
Late in the afternoon, as predicted, the train returned, but this time, with far fewer passengers. As if nothing happened, the two of us boarded the train again and within an hour, reached Trieste.
The next day, we went to the police station to report our arrival in Trieste. There we spoke with a police official who, although sympathetic, told us in no uncertain terms that we could not safely remain in Trieste. He advised us to leave the city and head for the interior. The official explained that we would most likely be sent to a camp for "internati civili" (interned civilians) or "campy libery" (free camps.)
We appreciated his advice, but two days later, we were on a train full of Italian soldiers returning home. We were 23 years old and on our way to Rome!
Our story continued, and there were many similar moments of decision. Perhaps next time, I will tell you about them…

A Quarterly Journal of Politics and Culture Selected and Edited by Ivan Ninic
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LAMED-E Spring 2011 Number 10