DP Camp Graz, Austria

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Displaced Persons Camps: St. Veit an der Glan Camp, The Kellerberg Camp, Graz, and Studentenlager Hochsteingasse

From the book Resistance, Imprisonment & Forced Labor, A Slovene Student in World War II by Metod M. Milac mmilac@syr.edu Fax: 347-521-6303 (Peter Lang Publishers, 2002 and 2003):

St. Veit an der Glan Camp
"In the Viktring/Vetrinj Camp we heard in the middle of summer 1945 that the camp would be abandoned and the people transferred to other locations in the British-occupied Austria. Consequently, the Slovene civilian refugees were transferred to two new camps, near Lienz in the Austrian Tyrol and in Spittal an der Drau in the Austrian Carinthia. The accommodations there consisted of standard prefabs or barracks as we referred to them.

"Why just a small group of refugees, myself included, was transferred to a tent camp near the city of St. Veit an der Glan north of the Klagenfurt/Celovec was a puzzle to us. Our group consisted of a few families, single men and women, and a small detachment of Serb Chertniks (approximately thirty men) under the command of a lieutenant.

"The provisions in this camp were slightly better than at Viktring/Vetrinj, but we were still hungry most of the time. A few families still had some meager supplemental reserves, but we did not. Those few who tried to beg at nearby farms were mostly unsuccessful. However, some extra fresh supplies kept appearing in some tents. The sources were not difficult to trace -- nearby farm fields. Ivan and I did not want to participate in these improper activities. However, when a young Serb civilian offered his expert help, we both closed one eye (or both) and readily accepted supplements in exchange for a few cigarettes. No wonder that the farmers hated us; they had to stay up at night and guard their fields.

"The camp had only three or four large barracks located near the entrance; all other accommodations were under tents. One day, to Ivan's and my surprise, the British brought to the largest barracks a beautiful Steinway concert piano. At first we thought the captain might be a pianist. After a day or two when no music came from that barrack, we asked via our interpreter for permission to enter and use this beautiful instrument. Permission to play the piano was granted on a limited daily basis.

"In the camp we had very little to do, mostly keep the place in good order. After the tents were set up, we were able to make some improvements in the interiors; however, we had only limited materials and tools. The center of activity, the kitchen, functioned very well thanks to a few women who enjoyed that extra responsibility. The British crew maintained their distance but nevertheless kept a watchful eye on the camp.

"The day of required disinfecting of the entire camp population brought the British and us for the first time in a more direct contact, physically and to a point socially as well. On that day, the soldiers arrived equipped with hand-held pumps filled with disinfecting powder, I believe it was referred to as DDT. Everybody in the camp, man, woman and child, with exception of very small children, was required to get three puffs on the three most sensitive areas of the body. That stuff burned and itched like hell as soon as it touched the skin. It was difficult to take this treatment without pain and discomfort. A few women shrieked and laughed loudly at the same time, providing all present with a few moments of entertainment. Most of us, however, clenched our teeth until the sharp itching subsided. Soldiers were visibly delighted in these duties; their positive and friendly attitude made the entire procedure more tolerable."

The Kellerberg Camp
Our new residence was near the town of Kellerberg in the Drava River valley, northwest of Villach/Beljak. The Kellerberg Camp consisted of new prefabs, new barracks. Except for the structures and beds, the interiors were bare at first. However, the new arrivals soon took care of many needed improvments; thus accommodations became quite comfortable under the circumstances. Single people had their own barracks (separate for men and women), and families enjoyed life in much-desired separate locations.

Those of us from Camp St. Veit and der Glan were first to arrive. Later, other individuals and families came from all areas under the British administration of Austria, including those who either escaped or were expelled form Yugoslavia.

The camp was multinational. Slovenes were the largest group, followed by the folks from the Baltic countries and from other Eastern and Southeaster countries of Europe. The Slovene contingent organzied educational courses and sport activities to keep people of all ages involved. Ivan and I became piano teachers. In addition to our jobs, Ivan and I attended German and English language courses offered by camp volunteers. Lack of books or language texts made the progress difificult.

Toward the end of summer, 1945, the British authorities offered to transfer university students and those who already completed high school (gymnasium), to a student displaced-persons camp in Graz in Austrian providence of Steiermark, providing the students with an opportunity to take classes at the university and other educational institutions of higher learning in the city.

"After arrival in Graz, we were first stationed in an empty and deteriorated high-school building, the Keplerschule. Today nobody wishes to remember this place of misery; it was cold, dark, dim and unpleasant. The food amounted to much less than in Kellerberg and in other refugee camps. Thus, the hunger and the living conditions during the months of November and December 1945 almost completely deflated our spriits and hopes of success. We tried to supplement our meals in a nearby restaurant. The only thing they had to offer was an aspic of questionable ingredients and nutritional value. You had to close your eyes while eating it. Even portions of the aspic were small and not always available."

Studentenlager Hochsteingasse
"In 1946, we moved to the "promised land." On the northern end of the city, near the radio station, on a small hill under an appealing vineyard, stood a small barrack camp, our new home, that was during the war reputedly a residence for Hitlerjugend, who received their training and indoctrination in the city. We referred to it as Hochsteingasse 37, although the official name was Studentenlager Hochsteingasse. This was definitely an improvement over the Keplerschule. Miss Margaret Jaboor, the administrator, assigned us room by field of study, not nationality. The objectives were clear: more opportunities for professional discussions and faster progress in our studies. At the very beginning there were only a few women in the camp; gradually their number increased.

"Slovene Joze Jancar, a medical student, became the first student representative in the camp. He was one of the few English-speaking students and also the leader of the Slovene contingent, the largest national group. The next largest were Ukrainians, then Poles, students from the Baltic States, Hugnarians, Albanians, Russians, and Serbs. Laer arrivals were primarily Voksdeutsche from Yugoslavia.

"The winter of 1945/46 was extremely cold and tough. Allocations of wood to heat each room were small. During the nights we often shivered. During a snowstorm a tree behind our barracks disappeared without a trace; in our room, we enjoyed a few warm and pleasant days and nights. Miss Jaboor soon discovered these illegal activities and took action. For one month the two rooms proven guility were not allocated any firewood.

"Individual national groups presented key characteristics and culture of their nation. The Ukrainian evening centered around their poet, writer and painter, Taras Grigorievich Shevchenko. His poetry was presented, in addition to the Ukrainian originals, in translations into many languages. Stane Sustersic participated on behalf of the Slovene students by reciting one of Shevchenko's poems in a Slovene translation. Several Croats in the camp were highly educated and avanced in their professions. The emphasis at the Slovene evenings were on the choral performances of the Slovene folk and art songs.

"Almost by accident we learned that a pastor of a poor parish on the southern end of the city was one of the two Austrian priests who during the war came voluntarily to Slovenia to serve the people after the native Slovene priests in German-occupied Slovene teriroty had been expelled to Serbia or to Southern Yugoslavia. With our choral group we thanked him for his help to our people during those difficult, tragic years. "

"The year 1948 brought the first change for resettlement. Canada was accepting only young and single individuals of both sexes, no families. There were also strict health requirements. The first transport to Canada left Studentenlager toward the end of Sumemr 1948. Ties and promises of staying together or in touch at such long distances often came to an end after periods of long separation. The second major group departed for Argentinia, mostly families. The United States also accepted families, but a one-year private sponsorship was required. A few colleges and universities in the United States offered scholarships to a select few. Among the lucky ones in the Studentenlager Hochsteingasse, the Slovene women received the largest number of scholarships.

"Never, never in my life had I any dreams of going to the United States. Far away in New York City, a generous person, Mr. Karl Klezin, signed my affidavit papers and initiated the process for my entry into the USA. Thus, the Interludium in Hochsteingasse, starting in late September 1945 and stretching over the following few years, was not only a time well spent for academic work but offered all of us a significant measure of positiveness and confidence for regaining a constructive outlook on life and on the future."

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