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»And Apart From All This There Are Also the Wolves /…/« or »Lupus homini lupus«

Although it was recently discovered within the scientific project Slowolf that in Slovenia there hasn't been a case of wolf attacking humans for the last 100 years, the report written by the deputy representative of the Ribnica District Department of National Security paints a different story. Namely, in winter 1945 two members of OZNA had a rather unpleasant experience with wolves in the wooded hinterland of Ribnica.

First page of the typescript.

Report of the Deputy Representative of the Ribnica District Department of National Security, p. 1. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

Report of the Deputy Representative of the Ribnica District Department of National Security

Documents that are being selected among our records and presented as our archivalia of the month are generally extraordinary and special, either in content or in their shape or form. The document presented here as this month’s archivalia is an obvious exception to the rule: even at first glance one can spot the poor quality of the paper and the barely legible typescript with numerous corrections and no ornamentation. Still, it is not uncommon for important – or at least interesting – stories and facts to be found also among such “undistinguished” records. This is particularly true for WW2 records – especially those created by the partisan movement - whose poor legibility could legitimately be ascribed to objective circumstances. After all, such documents were not written in offices, but mostly “on site”, using paper that was available at that time and place. Shortage of paper meant that each sheet of paper had to be used very efficiently and filled with as much information as possible.

Sent on February 13, 1945, the report by Mirko Turk – Bine, the deputy representative of the Department of National Security (OZNA) for the Ribnica district, to his superior OZNA representative for the district of Inner Carniola Albin Logar (whose nom de gurre was also Bine) is an interesting document, despite its rather modest external appearance. As is characteristic for all OZNA records, this report – together with the preserved records of the Slovenian anti-revolutionary camp – abounds in data that reveals conflicts existing among Slovenians in the final stage of WW2. One of the regions where such national split was most prominent and at times also brutal, was Ribnica and its surrounding area; as in other places in Slovenia, the conflict reached one of its peaks here in winter 1944/1945. In that sense, the report presented here is an account of weekly events taking place within a narrow geographic area, but when combined with the rest of OZNA records, it provides an interesting insight into people’s wartime behaviour: their military conflicts, executions, arrests and restrictions of movement, deportations to concentration camps, intimidation of supporters of the opposite side, careful gathering of data on opponents. In other words, the report illustrates behaviour that can best be described by the Latin proverb Homo homini lupus est (A man is a wolf to another man).

And as if the conflict itself wasn’t enough of a problem, wolves had to get involved in the whole affair as well. Due to short notes scribbled on pages one and two, the document suddenly and unexpectedly becomes interesting also for researchers of wolf behaviour. The latter was in recent years researched within the science project Slowolf, which among other things states:” According to known and documented data, wild and healthy wolves in Europe do not pose any threat to humans. In Slovenia, there has not been a case of wolf attacking humans for the last 100 years. We know of instances, where wolves live in immediate vicinity of human residences, are used to seeing people and do not cause them any trouble.”  

This statement is undoubtedly true, although wolf attacks on humans over a longer period of time have been researched and also proved by historical sources, particularly for the territory of France. However, the author of the here presented report and Ivan Juhant, his subordinate assistant of the OZNA Ribnica district representative, would most probably disagree with the said statement. Namely, both of them had a rather unpleasant encounter with wolves in the wooded hinterland of Ribnica, near the former Gottschee German villages of Grčarske Ravne and Grčarice. Mirko Turk managed to avoid being attacked by three wolves by shooting at them and running away, while Juhant found himself in an even tighter spot. He was attacked by as many as six wolves and was forced to climb a nearby tree. He stayed there for the next four hours with wolves howling beneath the tree. Therefore, when reporting to his superiors, primarily about the activities of the Home Guard units, Mirko Turk also added: “Apart from all this, there are also wolves here, so for this reason it is not safe to walk through these parts alone.”  

Based on the proximity of time and place of the two events, it is safe to conclude that wolves of the same pack were involved in both attacks. According to the report, the attacks took place when the land was covered in thick layer of snow. Since the report lacks any further information on the incidents, we can only speculate about the rest of the details and possible causes for both attacks. Perhaps wolves multiplied during WW2, as was the case in WWI, despite the presence of soldiers in the forests, or perhaps their attitude to humans for various reasons changed during wartime. It is also possible that the two attacks were coincidental exceptions. But one thing is certain; the number of cloven-hoofed game - normally the primary prey of wolves – dropped during war, most certainly because these animals were a source of food to partisan and probably also to Home Guard units. Precisely because of this decline in numbers, red deer and roe deer hunting was prohibited from the end of the war until 1947; the opposite was true for wolf hunting, which during that time was strongly encouraged by the authorities, perhaps also because of the drastic wolf population growth.

Currently, there are only about 40 wolves living in Slovenia. Forests from Velika gora to Goteniška gora are important part of their natural habitat. Even though 72 years have passed since Mirko Turk – Bine wrote his report and there has not been since then any data revealing wolf attacks on humans in Slovenia, it is still not probable that wolfish nature changed entirely since that winter of 1945. Let’s just hope that human nature has.

Tadej Cankar