HOW THE BEVC FAMILY GOT OUT OF YUGOSLAVIA
After his successful escape from the communists and the British my father
spent about four years in various camps for displaced persons in Italy.
While he was staying in those camps he, of course, could not have his family
there nor would we be allowed to leave Yugoslavia to join him. His sister
and her family invited him to come and live with them in California but it
was only in September 1949 that he finally got his visa for the United States
and when he arrived to America he could start the process for getting us
over. There were, of course, problems in getting a job since he was
already 59 years old, not that it would have mattered for a civil engineer,
but in America there are deeply entrenched prejudices against older people.
As soon as the communists came to Ljubljana they kicked us out of our apartment
and robbed us of everything we had. My mother found a couple of rooms
in a villa that belonged to a German nobleman. We stayed there for a
few months then we were ordered to move some three miles out of the town where
we spent about three years and a half. My sister and I had a long walk
or bicycle ride to school, rain, snow or sunshine. My mother supported
us for a while by knitting sweaters and other items for people who could
afford them but eventually, under the pressure of a local communist, obtained
a job as a bookkeeper in a state enterprise. The authorities wanted us to
move again to even less acceptable quarters but we did not want to go there
and my mother and sister got a room with a family we knew while I had separate
lodgings elsewhere, sharing a room with another student.
Every application for passports we made was turned down by the authorities
on the grounds that it was not necessary for us to emigrate as my father could
return to Yugoslavia where he would undoubtedly be imprisoned or shot.
We examined the possibility of crossing the border illegally but the undertaking
proved to be too much of a risk.
In the meantime father was lining up his friends and began a campaign for
the release of his family. He left no stone unturned and even requested
the International Red Cross for assistance in getting his family out of Yugoslavia.
He received an inane letter from the Red Cross telling him that my mother
should apply for passports with the local police. Later on, in the United
States, my mother spent many years working as a Red Cross volunteer but I
certainly would not care to lift a finger for this organization.
My father, of course, had other, more promising resources. His friend
Dr Bogumil Vosnjak who lived in Washington where he lobbied on behalf of the
Yugoslav émigré political committees was eminently situated
to be of help. For Vosnjak this was the second emigration in America.
He was here during World War I (1914--1918) working with the Czech politician
and later president Masaryk for the disintegration of Austria and the creation
of the new state of Southern Slavs. Vosnjak was one of the founders
of Yugoslavia. In 1917 he journeyed on board of a French battleship
to the island of Korfu where the Serbian government had taken refuge from
the invading Austrian army under the protection of the British and French
navies. I am enclosing his diary of that event which I discovered in
Bancroft Library among the papers of the late professor Kerner at Berkeley.
This is quite a historical document for the Yugoslavs (Vosnjak's diary) which
would otherwise have been lost. Bancroft library would probably go after
me for having published that but I have some insurance to cover myself in
this respect (Dr Vosnjak left a will in which he suitably provided for all
his writings). In any case, Berkeley scholars do not read these publications
and they never found out what I did.
Dr Vosnjak thus went to work and prepared a memorandum for the Human Rights
Committee of the United Nations. Naturally, he had to get the appropriate
connections in order to get his paper beyond the various secretaries, aides
and so on. Being a seasoned diplomat (at one time he was the Yugoslav
Ambassador to Czechoslovakia) he was able to accomplish this. In addition,
his memorandum also was published in The New York Times which all the United
Nations diplomats read. The embarrassment and the pressure brought on
the Yugoslav delegation was probably too much and the Yugoslav government
decided that it should somehow defuse the issue of its holding hostage the
families of political émigrés. Soon, I believe it was
sometime in 1953, the Number Two man in Yugoslavia, Aleksandar Rankovic, Minister
of the Interior (secret police boss) made a public statement to the effect
that the Yugoslav government would allow the relatives of political émigrés
to go abroad and visit them and those who should so desire would be allowed
to stay with their relatives abroad permanently. Thus the Yugoslav
government went on record that it would respect the human right of emigration.
This sounded fine but when we again applied for passports (one could only
do this every six months or so) the application was again routinely denied.
Some time before that, Senator Leroy Johnson, on urging of Dr Vosnjak, asked
the American Embassy in Belgrade to process our application for immigration
to the United States even though we had no passports which the Embassy did.
We had to go to Belgrade (a day long trip), get a medical examination
(they were checking if we had TB, VD and what not -- today, of course, you
can be decomposing with all the loathsome diseases and it doesn't matter),
be interviewed by the American Consul (from me he wanted to know what I thought
of communism -- we spoke English and my answer was: "It is a denial of every
human right, repression of liberty and violence over the body and spirit of
man") who told us that the Embassy would write on behalf of the senator to
the Yugoslav government. At that time American diplomats were still
doing such things, today something like this would be impossible, particularly
in connection with the Tito's regime the support of which was considered one
of the cornerstones of the US foreign policy. Soon after that the McCarran-Walter
Immigration Act was enacted and we lost the preferential status for immigration
visas. We were informed that even if we got passports we would have to wait
several years before our turn for getting a visa would come up. There
were only 933 visas available per year under that law for people born in
We were thus finding obstacles on both sides. My mother and Mrs Glusic,
a friend of ours whose husband, Colonel Glusic, also was in the United States
and worked with the US Army map service in Washington, decided that my sister
Breda and Mrs Glusic's daughter Andra would go to Belgrade, seek an audience
with Rankovic and ask him to make good his word that he would let us go. The
two girls indeed traveled to Belgrade where, however, each acted on her own.
Andra got to see Rankovic first. When my sister came to the Ministry
of Interior the scene was discouraging. The antechamber was filled
will all kind of petitioners, some had complaints about the joint use of
kitchens in their crowded apartments and similar trivia. However, the
ancient Serbian custom according to which the king would see the person who
came from furthest away first worked in Breda's favor and soon after she
applied for the audience she was ushered before an aide who inquired what
was that she wanted. Breda insisted on seeing Rankovic and the aide explained
that she would be able to but that it was his job to get first all the information
about her request and her background. Breda told him that she was going
to ask for passports and an exit visa of which the aide took note and told
her that the minister would see her "in a few hours." Indeed, someone
came after a couple of hours and escorted her up a staircase to the presence
of the mighty Rankovic. At first Rankovic was very reserved and questioned
Breda curtly as to why my father left the country and why did we want to
leave Yugoslavia. Breda told him we had nothing there, everything was
taken from us and we could get nowhere because we were considered to be,
as in fact we were, anti-regime. Rankovic then said that my father
and his friends must have been collaborating with Germans to which Breda
responded that this was not so, had he collaborated with the Germans they
would not have imprisoned him from December 1944 through April 1945. This
appeared to be news for Rankovic, he asked for the particulars, and when
he got them his attitude visibly changed. I am sure that whoever
sent our dossiers from Ljubljana over the wires during those two hours my
sister was cooling her heels in the antechamber had to sweat for it later.
Rankovic then suggested that there was a possibility for my father to return
to Yugoslavia and that perhaps we should not be all that eager to leave.
Then Breda burst into tears and said that my father would not return and
that mother was at the end of her nerves and strength, mentioning the miserable
circumstances in which she lived. Rankovic then said she need not weep
because he would see to it that the matter is resolved.
When my sister came back from Belgrade I was somewhat skeptical that anything
would come out of this especially because thinking legalistically I thought
that the way the minister phrased his concluding remarks did not commit him
to anything. Within a week, however, with no application having been
submitted, a post-card arrived from the local passport office instructing
my mother and sister to bring in two photographs and a fee of 9,000 dinars
each (my mother earned about 10,000 dinars per month but you could get that
kind of money for some $20) so that their passports could be issued.
There was no need to fill out any of the lengthy and detailed questionnaires
we had to submit before. The passports were duly issued to my mother
and sister but not to me. I had to stay behind as the Yugoslav People's
Army wanted me to undergo the military training first. We notified the
Embassy which, on account of the earlier application accepted through the
kind intercession of Senator Leroy Johnson, was able to issue the visas to
my mother and sister promptly. Within a month they left for Paris where
they were booked on the French luxury liner Liberte and thence to New York
and by air to San Francisco where my father whom they had not seen for nine
years was waiting for them.
I inherited the little room in the center of the city which a kind landlady
sublet to my mother and sister. It was a 6 by 10 feet affair but it
was a private room which I had all to myself. I had no intention ever
to serve in a communist army and I began to systematically explore the possibilities
of escape from the communist paradise. Things did not look too promising,
however. A friend of mine, Milan Dietz, for instance, attempted an escape
across the mountain Stol on the Austrian border. A few hundred feet
under the peak and the pass there is a lodge. Dietz was so cocksure
that he would make it that he made an entry in the guest book: "Farewell Tito's
red paradise, I am not coming back to thee!" Naturally, in this sensitive
area the innkeeper was a police informer and alerted the border patrol.
Dietz was summarily apprehended, marched down the mountain and sentenced to
six months' imprisonment. I think he was lucky he did not get shot because
the border guards were competing which of them will shoot more of the fugitives.
Many years later, in September 1992 I was visiting Slovenia and I hiked up
to Stol with some friends. The border guards were gone and the border
is now marked with a simple sign saying that persons who cross it must be
in possession of their passports and remain on the trail, there was no one
to check the papers, however. The view both toward Slovenia and Carinthia,
Austria was fantastic, the day was clear, visibility unlimited. I met a couple
up there and the man was telling me how many people were shot at that very
place. I often look at the photographs of that place and reflect how
things that vex you for a time eventually dissolve like tears in rain.
I was delaying my studies because that allowed me to get deferments from
the military service. At that time something like $20 per month sent to me
from America kept me in a fairly good shape. In addition, I had a small
job as a teaching assistant at the university -- the Communist Youth Organization
protested the appointment but I got to keep the job anyway. One day
I worked on a lengthy problem in frequency filters (we had no computers or
even hand calculators then, it was all done on the slide rule) and was late
in getting out for lunch which I used to take in a small restaurant (quite
a luxury, in fact, compared for the slop dished out at the student feeding
place). On the way I met Mrs Lote Marcikic, a friend of ours who, too,
was about to leave for America but she did not want to leave without her son
Savo. She told me that her son obtained a release from the military
authorities to leave the country permanently. Apparently a personnel
change had taken place at the Military District of Ljubljana and the new major
in charge of recruits, a Serbian, felt that the Army should have no use for
those who want to leave and that it would be a waste of resources to require
such people to undergo military training. Actually, he had been reported
to have used some rather uncomplimentary words from the Serbian vernacular
as to where he thought such persons should go but they need not be repeated
here. You seldom get rational thinking in a bureaucracy, much less in the
military but apparently it did happen. Later I heard that the major
did not last long in that assignment. Naturally I made a beeline for
the military district office and requested the appropriate forms. The
surly clerk reluctantly produced them with a remark that I stood no chance
of getting something like that approved. I am sure she would love to
have me shot if she could. I filled out the forms, turned them in and began
the three day wait the Army had to give you a decision in three days (how's
that for performance!). I could do nothing but wait for the hours to
go by. I hiked up a local mountain, I walked in the park at night --
I could not sleep at all -- I just killed the three days' time as best as
I could. On the third day I came to the military district office and
the same surly clerk silently handed me the decision. I perused the repetitious
military gobbledygook all laid out in the cyrillic script but there, in all
its beauty, stood the liberating sentence "And in view of the facts
set forth herein above it is found that there exists no obstacle for the subject's
permanent departure to the United States and that the military authorities
do herewith permit him to leave and depart for good," or words to that effect.
I then took that paper along with my application to the passport office and
indeed within a few months I got my passport which, however, was carefully
marked that it was good only for travel to the United States. Obviously
the communists knew I would be in Trieste within two hours if the passport
were good for anything else. I still think that they might have been
playing some games but who can ever fathom the totalitarian mind.
My problem was that by the time I got my passport I was already over twenty-one
years old and under the definition of the American immigration law no longer
qualified for a preferential visa as a "child" of permanent residents of the
States. Without the preference I was consigned to the bottom of the
waiting list at the embassy which meant several years of waiting. Here
our friend Dr Vosnjak came to my rescue. He went to see The Honorable
Hubert Scudder, Republican congressman from California's First District, who
agreed to introduce private legislation in Congress to make me, for the purpose
of the immigration law, a "child" of my parents again. For this the
congressman wanted recommendations in the form of letters from three citizens
in his district -- my parents had not yet been citizens at that time.
My father obtained such letters, one from mayor Warner in Napa whom he got
to know, and two others from two teachers who taught citizenship classes
at the college. The congressman was satisfied, sent the FBI around
to check on us (much later I got to read the report where it was noted that
the FBI found "no record of being on relief or anything derogatory"), and
introduced the legislation which eventually made it through the hoops and
got enacted. I have a copy framed in my office at home. Dr Vosnjak
wrote that President Eisenhower, or rather his office as the President no
doubt would not be bothered with the signing of such a minor private bill,
was scratching his ears before he signed it as he was generally opposed to
such exceptions. Possibly the fact that Congressman Scudder was a Republican
congressman saved the day. Now everything seemed to be in place
and father went to the immigration office in San Francisco to secure a preferential
visa for me. To his consternation the immigration officer told him that
because he had in the meantime become an American citizen my private law
could not be executed because it referred to him as a "lawful permanent resident"
which was no longer his status because he had in the meantime become a citizen.
The immigration officer told my father he was free to file the application
if he wanted to waste the $10 fee but that the application would be denied.
On learning about this, Congressman Scudder called the Board of Immigration
Appeals which promptly issued a directive that the fact that my father has
become a citizen not only did not vitiate my private law but that it entitled
me to a non quota visa. In other words, I did not get charged to those
933 Yugoslavs allowed to receive a visa in that year.
When this was straightened out the American vice consul in Belgrade inquired
if I had my passport and would I please send it to the consulate. I
decided to bring it in in person -- the last thing I needed was for it to
get lost somewhere in the Balkan mails. Again, I went through the procedure
of applying for a visa, the medical examination and the rest. The Serbian
doctor who was authorized to make those medical examinations hinted I should
tip him in addition to paying his fee. I was flabbergasted and gave
him no tip. Then I was told to wait for a few weeks until the visa would
be processed. As my passport was about to expire in a few months I
asked the vice consul if he would please see to it that I get a visa while
my passport was still valid lest some bureaucrat change his mind and decline
to extend it. Vice consul Moncrief J. Spear was a young man and he struck
me as an awfully green person to represent such a great country as the United
States. Apparently he had no understanding of the difficulties one
had in getting out or was totally insensitive to that as the diplomatic personnel
usually is. Of course I did not tell him that. The vice consul
did notice that there was a notation on my file that "Ambassador Riddleberger
was interested" -- probably because he was visited by Dr Vosnjak when he
was in Washington for consultations. In the meantime I made another trip
to the passport office in Ljubljana and had the document amended so that
I could travel through Italy, Switzerland and France but only when en route
to the United States. Without the American visa I could not leave Yugoslavia.
It is quite possible that the communists thought I would never get one.
Eventually I got word to come again to Belgrade and pick up my visa.
The visa consisted not only of a stamp in the passport but of a bunch of papers
including chest X-rays all sealed in a big manila envelope. I was to
hand that to the port authorities in New York. On that occasion I took
a plane to Belgrade to avoid the tedium of travel by train. The plane
was a DC3 and it was my first airplane flight. I was surprised on how
slow the airplane seemed to move once it was in the air. Little did
I think then that someday I would be a pilot and a flight instructor myself
with more than a thousand hours in my logbook. In Belgrade I stayed with
friends of my family with whom we used to vacation together on the Adriatic
coast while they still lived in Ljubljana. After I got my American visa
I collected the French, Italian, and Swiss transit visas, in that order.
The Swiss were, as always, the most difficult to deal with. Once I had
all these visas I checked for the first plane out. The airline said
I should hurry up as the plane was ready to leave within an hour. At
the airport they would determine I could get on the plane, depending on the
total weight. I took a taxi to the airline terminal on the Terazije
Avenue and as we were driving toward the terminal we saw the airport bus pull
away. I asked the taxi driver to chase the bus down the Terazije Avenue
and flag it down which he was pleased to do and the bus stopped to let me
on board. On paying the taxi it turned out that I only had big bills
on me so I gave him 1,000 Dinars which, I think, was quite a bit. I
was leaving Titoland!
At the airport in Zemun there was no problem for me to board the plane.
In a few hours I was back in Ljubljana and immediately began packing.
I had already sent a cable from Belgrade to my parents that I was coming.
My uncle helped me get a few books and other belongings through the customs.
A friend asked me what would I do with furniture and appeared surprised when
I told him that we had been liberated of all possessions as far back as in
1945. I had a going away party in the kitchen of the landlady who was
subletting my room. In the morning I boarded the Simplon Orient Express
for Paris. My grandmother accompanied me on the train to the Italian
border where she got off and took another train back. The passport control
came and stamped my passport just outside of Ljubljana still some 50 miles
from the border. He was very deferential, he probably thought I was
a dependent of some communist diplomat. I never quite figured out how they
made sure that people without passports did not remain on the train. Probably
they kept everybody under surveillance. In Sežana, the last stop in
Yugoslavia, I heard an altercation at the entrance of the car: someone was
being told to get off the train in a hurry or he would be arrested.
Then, in a few minutes, we were in Italy and I was free.
In Trieste I was met at the train by Dr and Mrs Mihalic, friends of my family
whom I had not seen for almost ten years. It was like coming to another
planet. In Paris, the travel agency Patratour did not expect me so soon
and had no passage booked for me. I waited in Paris for a week, my
lodging and food was all paid for but I only had $10 in spending money --
all that the communist authorities would allow me to take out of the country.
So I walked everywhere. Eventually space was found for me on the French
Line ship Flandre and I arrived in New York on the 29th of October 1955. At
the dock I was met by two friends of my father, Tone Osovnik and Dr Bozo Drnovsek.
I stayed with Tone and we went to the Hayden Planetarium, the Music Hall
and saw the sights of the big metropolis. I was sending postcards to
everybody, mainly the Statute of Liberty. From New York I went to Washington
which my father wanted me to see and where I met Dr Vosnjak and Colonel Glusic.
I stayed with the Glusic's. With Dr Vosnjak and the colonel we did
the whole town. The colonel was an experienced photographer and knew
all the places from which good shots could be made and I think we visited
them all. Dr Vosnjak and I called at the office of Congressman Scudder,
the congressman was not in but we talked to his secretary who had done all
the work on my behalf and presented her with a bouquet of flowers as a token
of our gratitude. She said she thought I was a much older person and
was wondering about the ways of the bureaucracy which required so much effort
to get me over here. I have managed to visit Washington about every
five years on the average. Once I stayed there for more than a week
as a consultant to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and
testified as government expert in the famous antitrust case against the American
Telephone and Telegraph Company. I always reminisce on my first visit
to this city which now has the same role as Rome once used to have.
I never miss to visit the Jefferson memorial and reflect on his eternal ideas
about liberty. And although the world, America, and my views of it
have undergone profound changes in those thirty-five years since I first
visited the Jefferson memorial, his ideas still remain an eternal beacon
On November 2 I left for California by air where I arrived in the evening
and saw my parents again, I had not seen my father for more than ten years
but he did not seem to have changed at all.
The "How the Bevc Family got out of Yugoslavia" is part of the manuscript
of my father's memoirs which will be published in a few years. It appears
that the memoirs cannot be published in Slovenia in Slovenian, therefore I
shall translate the rest of it and publish it here in the USA.
P.O. Box 561, San Ramon, California 94583
United States of America
James R. Dangel
1504 Sawmill Creek Road
Sitka, Alaska 99835 USA
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