The crime in the Češirkov Forest in 1942 shows that all those murdered were exemplary, patriotic Slovenians and honest farmers, but each of them had already achieved a certain degree of economic or cultural progress, which gave them a certain prestige in their home environment. Some of these boys were even associated with the National Liberation Front; they were members of the so-called National Protection, but when they were shocked to find that the partisans had started killing their acquaintances and fellow countrymen – innocent people, they began to express their doubts, they protested – and this was fatal for them.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the erection of parish memorial plaques, the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Home Guard Army, and with the upcoming Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, a memorial service and ceremony took place in Rovte above Logatec on Sunday. The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Matija Ogrin, President of the New Slovenian Testament (Nova slovenska zaveza). The mass was held by the Auxiliary Bishop of Ljubljana, Anton Jamnik.
Rovte are one of the Slovenian places that were already hit hard by the Revolution during the war – especially the male population there. Many villagers were brutally tortured and murdered. What should specifically be mentioned here is the infamous Korenčan slaughterhouse (the Jeršin Restaurant) in the centre of Logatec, where in 1945, the innocent blood of people from Rovte flowed in streams.
Below, we are publishing the full text of Matija Ogrin’s speech, which specifically highlights the crime in the Češirkov Forest in 1942.
“As is true of the entire history of the Communist Revolution in Slovenia, of all the massacres and suffering it caused, the same things have been said by this or that person about Rovte: it is a pity that the events were not recorded in more detail; it is a pity that more local people, who saw the events with their own eyes, did not write their memoirs in time to record more extensively the terrible things that befell individuals, families, and the whole parish. This desire to know and understand more is justified. Especially on the 30th anniversary of the erection of the parish memorial plaques, when we remember more than 240 victims of communism in the parish of Rovte (examples can be found in the book written by Janko Maček, entitled: Rovte in the Storm of War and Revolution – Rovte v viharju vojne in revolucije in Slovenian – 2003, page 136); we would like to know more about the circumstances, how these people were taken away by the partisans, what was known about their last hours, who made the decisions, who shared the details about their graves, etc. But if we go deeper into what has been carefully collected and written about Rovte in the storm of the Revolution, we are left with other thoughts, too. Then we get some sense of the suffering that must have befallen the people of Rovte… As we delve deeper into the written testimonies, we get the feeling that there is a certain disparity between the written word and the events that the word speaks about.
We start to sense that the words are not powerful enough to truly capture and express the catastrophe of those days, the fear of the children, the anguish of the families, the pain that came with the murders, the sense of the world collapsing, the sense that everything that people have long considered just, fair and inviolable was suddenly defeated. How can human words express and capture the immense weight of this human pain, which then remained unresolved for decades in the hearts of people living in the Rovte homesteads? This disproportion has probably left many speechless, which is probably also why they lost the will to bear witness and to write what happened down. Not only because of fear of violent power. Many must have felt that, in the face of the enormous death that came at the end, even good recordings of it were irrelevant. And as much as we as historians defend the value of written sources and documents, that feeling was surely right in something fundamental: that documents cannot express the pain of tortured and murdered lives, and above all, they cannot reverse the violent course of history – documents as such cannot fix anything, cannot revive any extinguished life, cannot alleviate any grief.
It is understandable in light of such feelings that many memories have remained unrecorded – and have thus faded away. But despite all this, more than enough documents and testimonies have survived for us to know the essentials. And what is essential? The fate of the seven victims of the Češirkov Forest, to whom the State of Slovenia has erected a worthy monument, clearly tells us about what happened. A book of testimonies (Sonja and Jože Malovrh: The Crime in the Češirkov Forest in 1942 – Zločin v Čeriškovem gozdu leta 1942 in Slovenian, 2022) shows that all those murdered were exemplary, patriotic Slovenians, honest farmers, but each of them had already achieved a certain degree of economic or cultural progress, which gave them a certain prestige in their home environment. Some of these boys were even associated with the National Liberation Front; they were members of the so-called National Protection, but when they were shocked to find that the partisans had started killing their acquaintances and fellow countrymen, innocent people, they began to express their doubts, they protested – and this was fatal for them. The course of life of these men and boys was different, and so was their refusal to allow someone to believe it was just to kill their own people.
They were of different ages and professions, but the same Christian culture, with its age-old laws of right and wrong, was at work in them. The feast of St Anne came, and on the 26th of July 1942, all seven of them were murdered, some after severe torture. Many Slovenians know the Čuki ensemble; but few know their ancestors and fathers, the original Čuki – one of them, Valentin Malovrh, who played bass and clarinet, took the last agonised breath of his 21-year life there in the Češirkov Forest (The Crime in the Češirkov Forest in 1942, pages 42-43). So, what is it that appears to us as essential? We could quote the stories of the village guards who, after these events, had to organise themselves in Rovte to protect their neighbours. But perhaps what is even more essential is also more evident in the greatness of the two Lazar boys who were also among the seven victims – Jakob and Jože Filipič, who were even members of the “National Protection,” but who began to protest against the partisan murders (The Crime in the Češirkov Forest in 1942, pages 25, 27). Here, then, is the essential, the “fiery” line: in the decision to do what is right.
Therefore, what is essential is the distinction between good and evil – and it is in these cases that it becomes clear that, in the end, it is always a choice: pro-life or anti-life. This is essential. Long before us, and in circumstances that were infinitely more difficult, some Slovenian people, some simple, honest people, had to decide for what is good and right. Without knowing it, they went ahead and personally created a new tradition. They continued the centuries-old Christian tradition of the Slovenians, but they also made it new and personal. They demonstrated by action how a person concretely chooses what is good and right. Many others followed suit and made similar choices. They probably did not even think about it at first – but they paid for their decision with the worst. The slopes of Hrastnik Hill could tell the whole truth about that. One of those who never returned was a young girl called Merica Modrijan. A survivor of the concentration camp in Teharje testified that “a girl was carried out of the bunker all mangled. He was convinced that he had seen Merica” (J. Maček: Rovte in the Fire of War and Revolution – Rovte v ognju vojne in revolucije in Slovenian, page 77).
A great void was left when none of them were there anymore. “In the autumn of 1945, a girl from the Cerknica area came to the Modrijan family and brought Merica’s coat” (Rovte in the Fire of War and Revolution, page 77). A great pain filled the great emptiness. Along with unshed tears. Thus a tradition was born, for which we have not yet found a name; but because of this tradition, our people, insofar as they survived, even after the victory of the Revolution, never accepted communism, for them it was a strange and cancerous creation, and they defied it internally – and when the time came, they created the Slovenian Spring from this tradition, the State of Slovenia. Culture, or rather manners, grow out of repeating the actions that realise truth, goodness and beauty over time. The many testimonies of those that were killed are a solid guarantee of this. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are still living today with their tradition – which is democratic and Slovenian, paid for with a great death. The continuation of this tradition – namely, choosing what is good and just, ultimately, choosing life – is also the only answer to the trials of our time.
Rovte, the 20th of August 2023
Matija Ogrin “