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Commemorative Book on the Persecution of Slovenes in the Carinthian Region

Early in July Brigitte Entner from the Slovenian Scientific Institute in Klagenfurt came to pursue research at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. She dedicated her visit to the persecution of Slovenians in the Carinthian region under the Nazis’ reign. “Initially I had estimated casualties to amount to about 300”, relates Entner. “Meanwhile I have come to uncover and confirm the death of more than 500 men, women and children who fell victim to National Socialist terror.”

Little research has been undertaken so far on both, the persecution the Slovenian minority among the Carinthian population was exposed to and the resistance action they engaged in, knows the historian. A commemorative book remembering the victims and rendering an account of events between 1938 and 1945 is now planned. “The ITS has allowed me to complete the numerous single, loose data I had”, says Entner. “Just to give you an example: Though I knew in general that more than 200 persons were deported to concentration camps, I lacked the specific knowledge of when they were sent off and into which camps.”

Around 1900 a quarter of Carinthia’s total population had claimed Slovenian to be their native language. The minority had been guaranteed equal status and granted the right to speak their mother tongue in a 1919 state treaty (Staatsvertrag). As early as of 1920, however, the Slovenes were faced by drastic endeavours to assimilate them into the German ethnic group in Carinthia. Following the Anschluss, Austria’s annexation by Germany in 1938, the Nazi regime’s denationalization policy fell on fertile soil. “The first major wave of arrests overran Carinthia’s Slovenes after the assault on Yugoslavia in April 1941“, explains the historian. “While countless individuals were sent to concentration camps, priests and teachers, the national intellectual elites, were moved to German speaking territory.”

One year later the Nazis started evacuating whole families from Carinthia. It took them two days to expel, without prior warning, 1,075 persons from their homes, intern them in camps specifically opened to hold them, largely in the Nuremberg region, and recruit them for forced labour. “This brutality in dealing with human beings provoked protest and resistance among the Slovenes who had been loyal to their rulers so far”, knows Entner. “That is why a sort of hitherto unorganised resistance turned into an active and systematic struggle against the occupiers.” In the autumn/winter of 1942-43, another wave of arrests took the Carinthian resistance fighters by surprise. Those caught were often committed to camps. In April 1943, twelve men and one woman were condemned to death and executed a few days after the court decision.

“It proved very emotional an experience for me that I could finally re-examine the fate of Jože Kokot more accurately“, says the Austrian. Together with his parents and eight younger brothers and sisters, 18-year-old Kokot had been deported in April 1942 first to a camp in Rehnitz near Glasow and later on to Rastatt. It was in his ‘forced labour’ workplace in Ettlingen, where Kokot was arrested presumably for having collaborated with Russian forced labourers in spring 1944.

In May 1944 he was committed to Concentration Camp Mauthausen and hanged there. “The camp was the scene of a monstrous mass execution action“, knows Entner. “On 25 September, 137 men were hanged one by one in five-minutes-intervals starting from 7 a.m. and ending at half past six in the evening. Jože Kokot was murdered on 4.30 p.m.” From the literary memoirs written by Jože’s youngest brother Andrej Kokot it is evident that his parents had been left in the dark about their eldest son’s fate until 1953.