History

The antifascist resistance in Carinthia is part of the most important and effective struggle against the National Socialist Regime within the borders of the Third Reich. The resistance activities are inseparably associated with the Carinthian-Slovenian population. The National Socialist policy towards the Carinthian Slovenes is a history of oppression, persecution, deportation, expropriation and a gradual ban of the Slovene language in all public life. It is only against this backdrop that the resistance activities of the Slovene-speaking or bilingual population and the Carinthian Partisans can be fully understood.

The National Socialist policy did not represent a historical exception in Carinthia. On the contrary, by getting rid of the Slovene language, the Nazi regime continued preceding decades’ organizations and political practices. After the end of WW II, this policy was kept up in Carinthia by non-compliance with the minority rights of the Austrian Treaty (“Staatsvertrag”).

Even on the level of commemoration culture, the discrimination of Carinthian Slovenes was felt until as late as the 21st century. The history of the memorial site of the Peršman farmstead is a striking example thereof.

 

Massacre of the Peršman family

On 25 April 1945, only few days before the end of the war, the Peršman farmstead – an important base of the Partisans’ resistance – became the site of one of the last war crimes on Carinthian soil. After a skirmish with Partisans camping down at the farm, members of the 4th company of the 1st battalion of the SS and Police Regiment 13 murdered four adults and seven children, all of them relatives of the Sadovnik and Kogoj families. Three children survived the massacre, in part severely wounded. “On that day, dung was transported”, Ana Sadovnik, one of the surviving children, will tell the examining magistrate later, to describe the massacre of her family. The sober protocol of her testimony on 31 May 1946 says, “In the kitchen, two policemen appeared, one of whom shot at me and little Gottfried, whom I was carrying in my arms. The other policeman stated that he didn’t want to shoot at children, and that’s why he didn’t shoot. (…) The policemen left the kitchen saying that everybody there was already dead.”

In the course of the armed struggles, the Peršman farmstead, one of the biggest farms in the area, and its outbuildings burned down for the most part.

 

The victims

Only three of the children who were present survived the massacre: two daughters of the farmer’s family – Ana and Amalja Sadovnik – suffered bullet grazes and were considered dead by the perpetrators. Both were seriously wounded. The farmer’s nephew, Ciril Sadovnik, who could hide in time and was overlooked, was the only one to remain physically unhurt. The eldest son of the family, Luka Sadovnik, was not on his parents’ farm on the day of the massacre, and was thus also numbered among the survivors.

Murdered on 25 April 1945:
Franciska Sadovnik (born Dlopst), born 26 January 1868, retired farmer’s wife
Luka Sadovnik, born 6 October 1906, farmer
Ana Sadovnik (born Haberc), born 15 June 1909, farmer’s wife
Franciska Sadovnik , born 4 February 1932, daughter
Viktor Sadovnik, born 4 April 1941, son
Bogomir Sadovnik, born 4 August 1944, son
Katarina Sadovnik, born 25 April 1901, farmer’s sister
Albina Sadovnik, born 11 February 1938, niece
Filip Sadovnik, born 20 May 1940, nephew
Stanislav Kogoj, born 13 November 1935, nephew
Adelgunda Kogoj, born 28 January 1942, niece

The mutilated and partly burned corpses of the victims were buried on the cemetery of Bad Eisenkappel/Železna Kapla on 30 April 1945.

 

Judicial history – between law and justice

From 1946 to 1949, the Peršman crime was the issue of an extensive judicial inquiry at the People’s Court in Graz/Gradec, Senate Klagenfurt/Celovec. Several suspects from the ranks of the SS and Police Regiment 13 were in custody. The surviving children had testified unanimously that the murder of their family was the “policemen’s” doing.

The accused suspects – mainly German citizens – made partial confessions during the interrogations of the examining magistrates. Two men admitted having received their superior’s order to fire. Nevertheless, the inquiry was suspended in 1949.

In Carinthia, these events resulted in different conclusions, depending on the respective political views. The political rightists concluded that the men were innocent and that it was the “Tito Partisans” who were to be regarded as the perpetrators, and who had performed an act of vengeance on the family. The Carinthian Slovenes suspected – rightly so, considering the prevailing judgements of the People’s Court in the years 1948/1949 – that the Austrian justice had once again decided in favor of former Nazis.

Neither of the two assumptions corresponded to the facts.

For the first time, a discovery of court records in the year 2004 enabled clear findings on a solid base of reference.

On the one hand, the partial confessions of the men in custody made it possible that the war crime could be clearly ascribed to the perpetrators who could be undisputedly identified as a small circle of the SS and Police Regiment 13. On the other hand, the course of the trial in the years 1946 and 1947 first showed that the judicial authorities proceeded with a high degree of commitment, but that this commitment tended to decrease in the years 1948/1949 along with the overall societal situation. However, the suspension of the inquiry was not based on a judicial scandal. The problems were mainly based on the legal position in effect in Austria, which followed the principle of “in dubio pro re” (=innocent until proven guilty). For a charge and a conviction, an individual proof of guilt was required, which was not possible due to the mutual accusations of the perpetrators. Thus, on a judicial level, there was no expiation for the crime. The stale aftertaste that law does not always mean justice still prevails.

 

History of the memorial site

After coming of age, the eldest son of the Sadovnik family, Luka Sadovnik, took over his parents’ farm and rebuilt the farmstead with its residential building and outbuildings with the help of neighbors. In the 1960s, the farmstead was sold to a Carinthian Slovene gunsmith, who granted Ana Sadovnik the lifelong right to live on the Peršman farmstead.

The path from a farmstead to a memorial site began in 1965, with the unveiling of a commemoration plaque for the victims of the massacre, mounted on the residential building in the course of the first commemoration ceremony on 25 April 1965. Personal reminiscences of the Sadovnik family and memories of the time before the massacre marked the 20th anniversary of the massacre. Only 10 years later, in June 1975, the second commemoration ceremony took place. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1990s that regular commemoration ceremonies became established.

In 1981, the Union of Carinthian Partisans took the residential building of the Peršman farmstead on lease and undertook to convert the Peršman farmstead into a memorial site and to set up a museum. After the restoration of the residential building, the museum Peršman farmstead was inaugurated on 25 April 1982, with the first permanent exhibition. The exhibition, designed by Marjan Sturm and Peter Wieser, was the first in Carinthia and Austria to be dedicated to the history of the Carinthian Slovenes and the antifascist resistance of the Carinthian Partisans. Ana Sadovnik went on living in the second part of the building with her children, even after the establishment of the museum. Until 2002, she lived next door to the museum. Only at old age she moved to Bad Eisenkappel/Železna Kapla and died there in winter 2012.

The reerection of the memorial, which had been blown up in Völkermarkt/Velikovec in 1953, at the Peršman farmstead in August 1983, marked the transformation of a small place of remembrance into a central memorial site of the Carinthian Slovenes. Since then, huge annual commemoration ceremonies have taken place every last Sunday in June, attended by people from home and abroad.

Since the 1980s, the Peršman farmstead has developed into a prominent place of remembrance as well as into a place of reflection, an aspect further highlighted by the extension and redesign of the museum. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its foundation, the new museum was inaugurated on 24 June 2012.

 

The Partisan Memorial in the forecourt of the museum

As a central element of the memorial site Peršman farmstead, the memorial of the anti-fascist resistance in the forecourt of the museum visually dominates the first impressions of the visitors. The memorial was erected one year after the inauguration of the museum at the Peršman farmstead on 14 August 1983. Originally erected in 1947 at the cemetery of St. Ruprecht in Völkermarkt/Šentrupertu pri Velkovcu as the first Partisan Memorial in Carinthia, it was blown up on its original site in 1963. The perpetrators have never been found out. Despite vehement efforts of the Union of Carinthian Partisans, the Republic of Austria, responsible for the memorial as prescribed by the Austrian Treaty (“Staatsvertrag”), did not reerect it in its original form.

When the blown up parts of the memorial were found again in a warehouse in 1983, the Union of Carinthian Partisans decided to have it reerected at the Peršman farmstead – not least as a symbol of the Carinthian majority population’s discriminatory dealing with the minority.

Accordingly, the inscription in two languages no longer points out the victory over fascism, but the eventful history of the memorial:

„In remembrance of the Partisans killed on the Saualpe – members of eight nationalities – the Carinthian Partisans unveiled this memorial in St. Ruprecht near Völkermarkt/Velikovec in the year 1947, in the presence of representatives of the Allied Forces. The memorial is a symbol of the Carinthian and international fight against fascism. Unknown perpetrators blew it up in the night from 10-11 September 1953. The Austrian authorities did not restore the memorial in its original form. Thus, the Union of Carinthian Partisans restored it in 1983 and erected it at this site.“

 

Further reading

At this point, the Association offers a special service by listing a few texts for further examination with the history of the Carinthian Slovenes. Here is a list of texts courtesy of the following authors and publishers: