Zvonko Springer

The war ends - the death march begins

Zvonko, Nov 1943

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 started the nightmare. Here are some notes - but the full story can be found here.

15.05.1945 TUESDAY
During darkness of the night lead Battery's servicemen back on road towards Slovenjgradec. Some time after the midnight have surrendered to an unknown unit of the Yugoslav Army (JA). I was ordered to stop, disarm and turn of road onto a meadow to rest later.

Lost contact with anybody from Battery since my surrender. Changed into civilian clothes and wear but kept my riding boots. At morning started forced "exchange"(brutal pillage and stripping of) by marauding soldiers of unknown JA's unit. Many personal items were taken away as well as all military items and my spare pair of boots. Some hours later all Prisoners of War (POW) were gathered into a fenced orchard situated on a hill south of Slovenjgradec town.

16.05.1945 WEDNESDAY
POWs' number at this rally place amounted to some 40.000 persons. Did not get any food or water since enslaved. Moved around camp some 2 km.

17.05.1945 THURSDAY
At early morning first POWs moved out of camp. Soon after leaving rally camp noticed ill treatment of all fatigued, weaker or elder ones. POWs were tortured and indiscriminately murdered whenever leaving marching column for any moment. Constant shooting devastated POW's marching column. Walked through night some 40 km.

18.05.1945 FRIDAY
A soldier forcibly took away my boots on bridge of Drava River near Celje. From here onwards had to march BAREFOOTED. Short rest near Celje's center accounting for missing and dying ones. Marched that day about 50 km of which my first barefooted 45 km.

19.05.1945 SATURDAY
At sunrise POWs' column moved out of Zidani Most onto road leading to Radece Toplice and Hotemez. Near Vrhovo without any notice accompanying watchmen disappeared after which marching column broke down. POWs from Osijek M.D. gathered at nearby river Sava's Right Bank to rest and quench thirst. Around midday more guards arrived and led POWs without any stops through the night arriving at Samobor at dawn. At times I was deranged and lost mind for a while but companions cared and saved me to next short stop. Day's march until next day's dawn amounted to some barefooted 68 km.

20.05.1945 SUNDAY
POWs' gather to their respective Military Districts at park of Samobor. One estimated an accumulation of some 10.000 captives. Forced pillages continued between POWs by marauding JA's soldiers. Received first food: a handful of maize flour-grit. Ate it raw. Moved around looking for some wrappings for my bare feet: 3 km.

In the years that followed I learned mortal fears, experienced the instincts of survival, felt death's scythe swish over my body - but somehow survived the intended massacre of croatians. (Did you believe that 'ethnic cleansing' was new? We had it in 1945 already.)

When I was finally rescued from a marching column on my 20th birthday I had lost more than half of my weight and was a human wreck.


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