By: Lena Reis
Chapter 3: But what about Yugoslavia itself? It is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. I personally think that God created it first and was so pleased with his creation that he decided to pattern the rest of the world after it. Where else can one ski on mountains of snow and in the same day travel only 50 miles to sit in the shade of a palm tree or go swimming in the warm waters of the Blue Adria? Yugoslavia is rich in agriculture, timber, copper, iron ore, natural gas, lead, coal, wine, seafood, tobacco and many other things needed in daily life. It is a veritable Garden of Eden here on earth. It abounds in natural beauty, for it contains mountains – the Alps, valleys, lakes, rivers, lagoons, forest and plains.
But it also must have had the tree of forbidden fruit from which people eat and have to suffer over after, as history tells us that what is now Yugoslavia hold the territory in which some of the world’s biggest hardships started. I will speak only of recent history, which must still be very vivid in many people’s minds to this day.
In 1914, the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo, which brought Austro-Hungary into a political dilemma and indignation. This triggered World War I. My mother reminisced many times about how everybody regarded the War as an adventure that would be nothing more than a long breakfast. But the breakfast grew into dinner and supper and for many men it lasted their lifetime. My father and his brother Josef were both drafted. Uncle Josef never came back. He was killed by flying shrapnel and is buried in Chernovic, Rumania. He left his wife of one year behind. My father was captured by the Russians and remained a prisoner for three and a half years.
My mother told us how one day, two Austro-Hungarian soldiers stopped at the house and ate lunch with them. As they were eating, my brother started to sing, “Aidemo momci preko Drine, da ubimo sve Srbine” – “Let’s go Fellows over the Drine River to kill all the Serbs.” He was so young that he still used the letter “L” in place of an “R” when he sang. One of the soldiers had looked at him and had said, “Tko prvi pjeva Zadnji Place – “Whoever sings first will cry the last.” And that is exactly how it turned out.
The Serbs won the war. This did not matter much to the Germans for they never bothered themselves with politics. However, when Alexander Karadjordjevic the First was crowned King, he united Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia under the one Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which means South Slavia. It was just like here in the United States. Their federal government was situated in Belgrade, the capitol city of Serbia, and our local government of Croatia had its capitol in Zagreb. Slovenia’s capitol was located in Ljubljana. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia lasted until April 1941, when the Germans invaded it and our King Peter Karadjordjevic II – who was recently buried in Libertyville, Illinois – had to flee to England, and the Germans occupied the country and placed Ante Pavelic as head of the Independent State of Croatia. This existed until the end of the Second World War, when it became known as the Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Tito Josef Broz.
My father was born in Austro-Hungary in April 1887. I was born in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1922. My daughter Hildegard was born in May 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia. All this occurred in the same town of Palesnik!