Memories of Wartime and the Border

On the Burning of Slovene Books

“We had to take all Slovene books to Donatski dom [Donat Hall] and they (Germans, author's note) made a large pyre and were burning Slovene books. At the very beginning. There was an enormous pyre there. I carried books there too; we all had to carry something. I was the saddest one, because I had a beautiful book /.../ There were pictures in that book and I hid that book under the roof of Donatski dom behind a column. I went to get it after the war but it was gone.” Ela Krumpak

Oppression of the Slovene Language

“Now, Good Friday begins for the Slovene people. The German occupier that has deported almost all the intelligentsia from Rogaška Slatina, with a few exceptions, has begun to show its true face. It has oppressed the Slovene language everywhere; overnight, the school became German. It was strictly forbidden to speak Slovene in school and whoever trespassed was in fact punished.” Rudolf Predan (School Chronicle of the Rogaška Slatina Primary School 1898–1958)

Food Shortage and Smuggling

“I, too, smuggled. Some Germans were loyal – for instance, the customs officers at the Sotla River – but on the other side, the Croatian side, they were more helpful. I had a sister in Croatia and we bought tobacco illegally and gave it to the customs officer along with a bottle of schnapps and he let us cross the border at a specific time. Then we spent the night and took the train to Zagreb the next day to visit my sister. She was living in the countryside, so she still had access to fat. I, on the other hand, had a salon and I couldn't charge the customers more because I had to go all the way to Vienna for supplies; in exchange, I had to bring fat, flour or eggs. So, for example, I charged a cup of fat for a perm. If they had it, they gave it, but if not, then not. In those days, wheat grew poorly, but eggs were still accessible. I didn't have any bread to give my son. There was very little to eat. Sometimes we secretly got meat from our fellow villagers. And tobacco, salt and sometimes bread. They didn't have any sugar. Those with small children were able to get a little sugar in Croatia. But we always had salt. We got tobacco from Croatia. Those who smoked would do anything to get tobacco. The Croatians got their tobacco from Dalmatia.” Ela Krumpak


“The following goods were carried across the border: sugar, tobacco, vitriol (for spraying vineyards occasionally) and meat. One time, they tried to take 20 head of cattle across the border.” Jože Zbil

“Švercanje” (Smuggling)

After the border fortification works were finished, the “grenslerji” arrived (that's what we called the border guards); they had a post here at the Zupanc residence; here, where my house stands, a bit further down, they had their munitions (weapons) warehouse. They were mainly Austrians, older men, and they walked up and down along the border. I remember one time when we were children, we were jumping along the riverbank; the bridge had a door and it wasn't mined, and people came from the other side (they used to smuggle tobacco and salt there). They were headed here as an older soldier came by and saw them. And he said aloud: 'Those devils just had to come here now that I'm here.’ He grabbed his gun and fired into the air. We laughed as those people ran away.” Emil Kranjc

On Moving the Border

“The border was not always in the same place. At first, it was up there (“in Taborsko”), but the Germans changed it so it ran along the Sotla River. The Germans first placed it “up there”, and only later (during the occupation) moved it to the area along the Sotla River.” Josip Majcenič

Croatians Wanting to Enter the Reich

“Did anyone from Croatia come to Rogaška Slatina? I'll tell you this much: the day after the Germans had arrived, people came wanting to enter the Reich. They were standing in front of my salon, yelling that they wanted to enter the Reich. It was horrible, we started shutting our windows. Those Croatians sat on the ground for two days and were then sent back.” Gabriela Krumpak

Border Protection

“Most of them were soldiers who had been on the Russian Front and were brought to the hospital here in Rogaška Slatina to recuperate; afterwards, they gave them new uniforms and made them the border police. These men were no longer fit to be soldiers – they had either a severe injury or surgery and were not sent back to the front. So, they were sent here, to the border. And these men would often pass by our house while patrolling the hills along the border, from where they could see for miles. That way they supervised the border and saw if anyone was trying to cross it illegally. There were two pairs of guards. I think they had a 12-hour shift. I don't remember any watchtowers. But there were guardhouses. They would switch guards by moving them from place to place, so they wouldn't become too friendly and close with the locals.” Jože Zbil

Fortification of the Border in 1941

“I was there when it started. How did they fortify it? They brought sharpened spruce poles by car (some men sharpened, while others sawed); they felled the spruce trees in the forests, but if there was no forest nearby, they brought them by car. The locals did that. Our people. They felled entire forests. They drove the poles into the ground and then stretched out the wire. It was higher here than it is today; it was about 2m or maybe 1.5m high. 'Later', they started erecting a fence behind the Sotla River. Until then, we were able to go to the border; there was a German guard there. We called the building “Bajta”, there by the mill, in which the police are now stationed. There were border crossings there and we were allowed to cross. We never had any problems. But then they closed the border and we weren't allowed to cross. So, we jumped over the fence with a ladder. The place where we jumped over was called “Čerena”; we also crossed at “Bajta” where there were no police officers, only Wehrmannschaft soldiers. Two of them had to patrol an area the size of 300–500m; when they went far away, we quickly jumped over the fence.” Vjekoslav Petek

Wire at the Border

“There was a wire at the border. It was 1.2–1.8m high. It was higher in some places and lower in others. It was definitely higher than today. The wire was stretched 4 metres wide. The poles were spaced 4 metres apart and the wire ran from the top down to the ground and from the top of another pole to the other pole, so the wires crossed. Several rows. They criss-crossed from each side. In the middle, there was also a coil of barbed wire. The coil was stretched down the middle between the poles. There was also barbed wire on top of the coil from pole to pole. The ground was mined with hidden landmines. The landmines were placed on both sides. The first time they placed the mines they used French hand grenades (those were the first mines). They were connected to a tripwire. Afterwards, they placed other mines along the border. I held some in my hands. They were still here years after the border collapsed. But not everywhere. They had been removed in some places. Soldiers came with very long needles on long sticks (resembling stakes). They said the needles were steel. Then they started probing and looking for landmines. The Yugoslav Army did that. I never placed any landmines and I didn't dig them up after the war either.” Jože Zbil

Placing Mines and Wire

“They were making a barbed wire fence along the entire Sotla River, but not the kind we have today; it was about 1.5 to 2.5m wide. The wire was strung up and mines were placed in between. I remember to this day that some of them were black and rectangular, while others were yellow and round. The yellow one was tripwire-activated, while the black one was pressure-activated.” Emil Kranjc

View of an Impassable Border

“I remember sitting on my uncle's lap, looking at the guarded border with the German Reich on the other side. The Germans had fenced off the border with a barbed wire fence and mined it.” Branko Mikša

Mining of the Border in 1941

“I remember that the Germans were mining (placing mines) a bit farther away, when a mine went off and they came back, holding up a German soldier. That soldier said: 'Herr kommandant, Ich kann nicht sehen.' Commandant, I can't see. The explosion gouged out his eyes. I saw it, down there at the Straža glassworks. We were children, playing, and I remember it happening. It was at the very beginning.” Emil Kranjc

Crossing the Border

“The right guard would let you cross with the people going to work at the glassworks. They left the Croatian side at 4 a.m. so they could start work at 5 a.m. Sometimes you passed through and the guard asked for a kilo of meat or bread, wine; sometimes you had to bribe him a bit. Then he pointed at the clock to show you when you had to come back so he'd be there.” Mirko Halužan

How a Mine Killed My Uncle

“Because the border was mined and there was barbed wire, my uncle created a passage. He cut the wire and checked for mines. He often used that passage to go to the other side, mostly in the evenings. In 1944, on Easter, he wanted to cross over again. And my mother told him: 'Francl, don't go today, it's a holiday.' But he said: 'So what, it doesn't matter, I'm going anyway.' A bit later my parents heard an explosion and were frightened because they guessed what had happened. A guard must have noticed the passage and placed a mine there. While my uncle was crawling past the cut wires, he touched the mine with his hands and it exploded. He called out for help; the explosion damaged his hands and face. He was blind. My family brought him home and he lived for another four days. They couldn't take him to the hospital. Until the wire was removed after the war, fragments of my uncle's clothes were hanging from it. No one dared to remove them. We, the children, remembered that well.” Branko Mikša


“They had tall towers like the hunters do, so they could see down – the watchtowers. In the village of Rjavica they probably had 2 or 3 places far away from the railway tracks, where they could see from above if anyone was passing by.” Mirko Halužan

Fortification of the Border

“They just showed up and took a lot of my hornbeam and spruce wood (and other wood as long as it was thick enough) to build the bunkers. They didn't pay, they just took. Each bunker was made from three layers of round wood, stacked on top of one another down the entire height or length of the bunker. The wood was very thick and soil was placed between the layers, so if a bomb was dropped it would lose its explosive power. But it wasn't a concrete bunker. It was quite big. About 16–19 soldiers could sleep in it; they had bunk beds. Today you can still see the pit where the bunker was. The firing trenches ran in a zigzag pattern.” Jože Zbil

Removing the Wire after the War for Home Use

“We went to the border to get the wire and we took it back home, so we could fence in our homes. We had a large estate. Every farmer went to get that wire; it was a nice wire. It was galvanised. It wasn't like our brown wire – all rusted and no good.” Vjekoslav Petek

Soldiers Clearing the Border and Singing Partisan Songs

“Shortly after the war, a Yugoslav troop arrived. I remember how they were marching and singing Partisan songs, such as “Druže Tito mi ti se kunemo” and the like. They came carrying long spears and marching like a Greek phalanx. The spears were about four metres long with a metal spike at the end, about 40–50cm long. They jabbed the spike into the sand, looking for mines. They received food supplies from Rogaška Slatina, but their bread was baked here.” Branko Mikša

Picking up Mines after the War

“After the war had ended, when people were picking up mines: four of our soldiers, the Partisans, walked side by side, carrying stakes; there was a long needle on the stake and they jabbed with it. If the ground was hard, they knew it was a mine. They also had a small hoe for scraping around it. It was either a mine or a rock – where the ground was hard. And you had to get under it and lift it up.” Vjekoslav Petek

Mines after 1945

“In 1945, a boy was killed near the glassworks while he was clearing the border. There, at the Straža glassworks; we called the place below the glassworks 'šuthaufn' (coal remains) – it was about 5–6m away from the Sotla River; he went there and was blown up.” Emil Kranjc

Father Removing Mines from a Field Using Harrows

“After the war, despite the soldiers clearing the area, there were still mines in the fields along the border. Even today, people digging there occasionally stumble upon mines. We had land on the Slovene side; after the war, animals often stepped on mines and were killed. My father bought harrows to break up the soil. He adapted one harrow – he had the blacksmith make long knives and he attached them to the harrow. He placed extra weight on it and cows pulled this harrow on a long chain across meadows and fields. I remember two instances when a mine went off. Later, it was still very dangerous. Many people were hurt after stumbling upon a mine. They lost a hand or their eyes. At our neighbour's, at “Bajta”, one man stepped on a mine and tragically died there. My mother was very afraid for us boys in the years after the war, because there were still many munitions left along the border and in the forests.” Branko Mikša