Dragutin Jedvaic is not the only example; there were thousands of them. Many of them were not lucky enough to share with us the life in a free Croatian state. It would be unjust not to point out, in this all encompassing reconciliation of the Croatian people, the merits of all those who have fought in the recent history for a Croatian state. Drago Jedvaic is, without a doubt, one of them; he is s a representative of all those men who quietly carry out their duties, far from the spotlights, firmly, clearly and persistently.
Mr. Jedvaic, tell us about the beginning of your war journey.
On 1/12, 1941, I joined the old Yugoslav Army and went to Valjevo [a city in Serbia]. The war started and we were sent to the border with Bulgaria. On the way we were captured and sent to a camp in Kraljevo. After several days in the camp we were released and sent home.
Upon my return home, I received a draft notice and immediately reported for duty. I was a member of the Varazdin artillery regiment. Once that regiment was in full strength we went to Zagreb where we formed the 369th brigade of the Croatian legion. After that, we went to Stockerau [in Austria] where we passed a three week artillery training, received war equipment and were sent to Russia.
Were you part of a larger unit? Who were your commanders?
We were a part of the 100th division of the Sixth Army. Our brigade commander was colonel Marko Mesic and the commander of my unit was officer [nadsatnik] Marijan Prislin.
How did you experience fighting in Russia?
After traveling by train through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania we reached the Russian border where we got off. From there, we advanced on foot for a month. We would cover about thirty kilometers every day. One evening, we reached Kharkov [in Ukraine]. The battle for Kharkov went through the night and in the morning our units entered the city. We heard over the phone that our fire threw the Russians out of their trenches...
Later, we were moved from one part of the front to another, according to where the situation was the most difficult. The Russians used to say that they would keep a certain defense position until "the devils" arrived. That's how our division got its name, "The Devils".
What was the reaction of people in the places through which you passed on your way?
Russian citizens welcomed us because they were happy to be liberated from communism. As soon as we entered a village or a town, they would bring out the icons from their cellars. Looting and maltreatment of civilians was strictly forbidden. One one occasion, soldiers who had raped three women were sentenced to death. We were not permitted to take things or food from the people unless they were given to us as gifts. I noticed that Russians liked to smoke; hence we gave out cigarettes to older people, cans of food and bread to women and chocolates and candy to children.
How and when did your Russian war journey end?
It ended in Stalingrad. Heaven and earth were in flames there. Stalingrad is located on both banks of the river Volga. We were on one side and Russians on the other. The plan was to attack the other bank in the Spring of 1943. However, the Russians counterattacked and broke through the defensive lines on our left flank where the Italians were stationed. The winter came. Food and ammunition were dropped from the air. At one point we ran out of food and ammunition. We had to kill our horses and eat horse meat. The Sixth Army, which had 360,000 people at the start of the attack on Russia was captured there.
You weren't captured at Stalingrad, but were rescued because you had been wounded. How did that happen?
A bunker, in which I was, was hit. It was built from wood and stones and the whole construction collapsed on top of us. There were five wounded. As those who survived Russian prisoner of war camps later told me, I had been placed on the last flight from Stalingrad. I was wounded in the head and a leg. I stayed in a field hospital for two days and was later transported by train to Kiev. In Kiev I stayed in a hospital for 52 days, was given a three months leave and went beck to Stockerau.
Where did you go from Austria once your recovery was complete?
I was sent to Bosnia to join the same division. I fought in Bosnia since the Spring of 1943 until the Fall of 1944 when Tuzla fell. After the loss of Tuzla I went home for 10 days where I was allocated to the Ustashe unit [bojna] in Zlatar.
Can you describe the battle for Tuzla?
My artillery unit was guarding the German command in the very center of the city. The partisans attacked Tuzla on 10/27. The city was defended by domobrans [Ustashe were elite Croatian fascist troops, similar to SS troops in the Nazi Germany, while domobrans were the regular army, sort of like the regular German army]; their defense lines disintegrated after a while and the Partisans entered the city. We resisted for three days and three nights until we ran out of ammunition. The fighting was so fierce that I was wounded by a shrapnel from my own grenade.
Actually, we were aiming at a point very close to us, approximately thirty meters away. My assistant fired by mistake and the shrapnel hit me in the back. Once we ran out of ammunition, we disabled the gun and tried to break out through the Partisan lines. We stumbled upon a bunker which the partisans had taken from the domobrans and were scattered by fire. Myself and another two men were caught there and taken to the prison in Tuzla. They took our uniforms away, gave us old civilian clothes and promised that we would get new uniforms in three days and be sent to a partisan unit.
However, two days later, the Germans came to our rescue from the direction of Kreka. They were bombarding the city and hit the ammunition dump which was two buildings away from the jail...
The four of us managed to escape in the ensuing panic. We reached the Germans. Since I was wounded and not fit to fight they put me on an armored train and sent to Doboj.
Later, you took part in the defense of Zlatar. As far as I know, the partisans never captured Zlatar but, because they couldn't capture it, simply went around it. This happened close to the end of war. Could you describe those events?
I was in charge of an anti-aircraft gun there. I commanded a unit of soldiers whom I had chosen personally. The Partisans tried to enter Zlatar twice. They suffered heavy losses both times, gave up and withdrew.
Zlatar remained in our hands until Poglavnik [Ustashe leader, Ante Pavelic] announced that Zagreb was an open city. Then, we started pulling back toward the Austrian border. I avoided Bleiburg [Croatian, Slovenian and Serb quisling troops surrendered in Bleiburg, just across the Austrian border, to the British troops. Most of them were put on trains and sent back over the border to the Partisans. According to the Ustashe sources (Ante Pavelic managed to escape and rebuild his organization in Franco's Spain and Argentina) most of them, men and women, were later executed by the Partisans] because I was lucky to be too late. Then I started fleeing back toward Zagreb. On the way, I was captured and taken to the Canal Camp in Zagreb. I was kept there for a while and then transferred to a camp in Precko.
After a while, they separated about 30,000 of us and that is how our Calvary [Krizni Put] started. Our group moved along the way towards Bjelovar, Virovitica, all the way to Pozega. We stayed in Pozega for a while. In the meantime typhoid and dysentery were spreading among the prisoners. One day, they sent the remaining prisoners via Ludberg to Varazdin. In Varazdin they separated us according to whether we had served with the Ustashe, police or domobrans. Fortunately, I ended up with the domobrans and stayed alive.
Since you were in an Ustashe unit, how did you end up among domobrans?
I saw that they were treating domobrans better than the Ustashe and police. In that commotion, I crossed over to the domobrans. In Varazdin, they were taking police and Ustashe to the river Drava bridge where they would be executed. I was later assigned to a working brigade. We were taken to Dvor na Uni where we worked in the woods until 11/16 when we were released.
Where exactly was your position in Zlatar?
My bunker was in front of the church in Zlatar. I forgot to mention this: when we were captured on our return from the Austrian border, they told us that they can not let us go home because the Black Legion [infamous Ustashe unit] was still in Zlatar and they killed all deserters. Of course, we didn't tell them that we were that Black Legion.
The war ended, you came back from Bosnia and tried to find an employment...
I tried to find work in the "Poljanica" mine. They gave me a job and I started working on 1/1 1946 until 6/30 1946. Then I received a draft notice and was supposed to report for my 18 months mandatory military service. Instead, I ended up in jail accused of conspiring with Krizari [I think they were a nationalist Croatian political organization between the two world wars].
Did you really cooperate with Krizari?
One evening, Stanko Simunic came for a visit. He had already been accused of cooperating with Krizari and was hiding because of that. He had enough of sleeping in other people's stables, so he went beck to his own stable. Someone saw him there and informed the military. They surrounded the stable, Simunic was wounded and taken to Belec; Partisan headquarters and jail were in Belec. Simunic was interrogated there and killed in the end.
During the interrogation, he mentioned my name. Consequently OZNA [secret police immediately after the war] took me to Varazdin, where I was sentenced to seven years in jail. In addition to that, I lost my political and citizen rights for another three years. I served my sentence in the jail in Stara Gradiska.
When did you come back home from jail? How did you restart your life after all these years?
Because of an amnesty, I only spent four years in Stara Gradiska. I finally came back home exactly 10 years after leaving to serve in the old Yugoslav Army, on 1/12 1951. I was at home until 5/5 1951 when I again received a draft notice. My mandatory military service was completed on 11/5 1952 and I finally started ordinary family life at home. I couldn't find a job for three years because of the loss of my citizen rights.
You failed to find employment later? How did you survive?
The mines had closed. There were no other possibilities for employment in the area, so I returned to agriculture. During those three years I was under the surveillance of the authorities, so they gave me different duties: I was the president of the committee for the electrification of my area, commander of the volunteer firemen society for Ervenik and Opasenjak and in the committee for the building of the road Zlatar-Bistrica-Opasenjak-Ervenik; all this in order to check whether I had been rehabilitated, in order to prove that I was worthy of having the same rights as other citizens.