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 Yugoslavia.

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 of liberty.

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.

Vlado Bevc
P.O. Box 561, San Ramon, California 94583
United States of America


James R. Dangel
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