French version here.

Zvonko's Story

Memories of a Croatian Soldier

Zvonko, May 1943 Note that my native language is croatian. However, I also communicate in English and German adequately.

Firstly, my name is Zvonko - being the short form of 'Zvonimir'. I was born June 1925 in Osijek, a large town near the confluence of River Drava in Danube. It was then in Kingdom of Yugoslavia then but later in what was called Independent State of Croatia (NDH) until end of WWII. (Later, it became known as Marshall Tito's 'Federal National Republic of Yugoslavia').

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 home town Osijek. Many people cheered and some had an arm-band with a 'swastika' on their upper arm. Fascinated and mesmerized by this event, I made a paper arm-band with a 'swastika' at home secretly. Suddenly, my cousin entered my room and found me with that awkward band on my upper arm. The same instant, I recognized how foolish and stupid I was and tore it off. I never wore any such thing after - I'm still ashamed of it. (My cousin had left for Israel after WWII and lives in Canada now.)

I graduated from my Gymnasium (Secondary school) in 1942, and was called to Croatian army service on the side of Germany in October 1943. I was a teenager without any life experience facing new circumstances. What would it be like being shot or mutilated or caught as a Prisoner-of-War? How does one wait for one's own death? How will that death come? Zvonko, Nov 1943 In the years that followed I learned mortal fears, experienced the instincts of survival, felt death's scythe swish over my body - survived the intended massacre of croatians. (Did you believe that 'ethnic cleansing' was new? We had it in 1945 already.)

At war's end it was our aim to surrender to British Army units but the Croatian Army was stopped by the British at Bleiburg on May 13, 1945 and they turned over all their prisoners to Tito's Army.

Then came the croatian death march, which is a story that I will tell at some other time.

You must remember that this was after the end of the war in Europe, but I was on the wrong side and after was no better than before. During the Croatians' retreat westwards, there were some 1.2 million of people plus their lifestock on the move.

I lost many relatives and close friends of our family who lived mostly in Croatia. There were some in Austria too. All of them - who were either detained for political reasons or abducted to concentration camps for their origin - died sooner or later during WWII. Many thousands died and some more never returned to their homes anymore. Tito's Army or Government did not care at all for the peoples whom they fought against. Sorry, this is a rather painful and sad story for me. I hope you will understand.

Remember that prejudice was part of fascists' system but the communists' one wasn't better either. Why was this happening? Oh, how can I answer this? Better put that question to the politicians and economists, leaders and preachers who guided 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?

After the war I buried in my subconcious most of my rather traumatic experiences during those terrible times. I forgot my happy childhood - I hardly talked to anybody about it. I had many nightmares too but never did I talk about them, even with my dearest ones. My wife did learn about few of these deep buried experiences - rarely we exchanged more than few sentences about those events in 1945. It was a taboo theme under the system in Tito's ex-Yugoslavia.

Subsequently, Croatians won their freedom and sovereignty and the Republic of Croatia is a worldwide recognized state now. The Croatians have the chance to rule in their own way there - this has happened after 9 centuries of domination by others.

Zvonko, 1986 I believe that you have learned a little about of my life's history by now. Try to understand the circumstances and events which have stamped the last years of a teenager. This teenager lost more than half of his weight and was 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.

I was asked before, what did this war lead to. My two word answer is...

irrecoverable waste .. of lives - youths - loves - ideas - thoughts - energies - values - natural beauties etc.

Zvonko Springer
Zvonko of the Oak Hill:
the "Croatian Soldier"
24th March, 1997

Zvonko is a member of the MEMORIES Panel of EldersYou can click here to write to him, or you can find out more of his story at * Memories of a Croatian Soldier - Life Story -- including