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They Made Him Drink Black Oil

On December 27, 1936, after the performance of his choir in Podgora, the Gorizia patriot, composer, organist and choir conductor Lojze Bratuž (1902–1937) was forced to drink a mixture of machine oil and petrol by a group of fascists. Less than two months later he was dead. Although the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia does not keep documents about the actual horrific attack, we do keep documents that may shed light on some less known reactions of the Italian local authorities to his death. Namely, the preserved documents reveal the plans of the Gorizia Office of Quaestor to secure Bratuž's funeral, which points to a fact that Italian authorities feared that the funeral may lead to riots. The authorities also supervised Bratuž's grave, because they were afraid that the so-called "cult of Bratuž" might be developing.

The author of the document is the Royal Police Headquaters Gorizia.

Excerpt from the report on the funeral ceremony for Lojze Bratuž, February 19th, 1937. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

Documents on the Funeral of the Composer Lojze Bratuž

The story about the death of the Slovenian patriot, composer, organist and conductor Lojze Bratuž (February 17, 1902, Gorizia–February 16, 1937, Gorizia) takes us back to the time when Europe was in the grip of liberal state crisis, and Italy on top of that was also facing the rise of fascism and transition of fascism into all aspects of public life. The story of Lojze Bratuž bears witness to such violence towards Slovenian patriots perpetrated by the fascists in the Julian March from the mid- 1920s on. Unfortunately, the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia does not keep any documents of fascist authorities regarding the actual attack on Bratuž, but we do keep documents that may shed some light on some less known reactions of the Italian local authorities to his death. According to them, his death was also of a political nature.

But let us step back for a minute. Lojze Bratuž spent his musically colourful childhood in Gorizia, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. He started his musical path as an organist in several of the Gorizia churches, something he never gave up, not even during the Great War. Although twice wounded and buried under ruins, his most challenging time was yet to come after the war. Following the agreed armistice with the Entente, the Kingdom of Italy occupied the Austro-Hungarian territory assigned to Italy under the 1915 Treaty of London. The Italian army swiftly occupied Gorizia and other territories in the Julian March, eventually annexing them to Italy in 1920 following negotiations under the Treaty of Rapallo. More than a quarter of Slovenians or a good third of Slovenian ethnical territory thus came under Italian rule.

During this time, Lojze Bratuž continued with his studies, which he had been forced to interrupt during the war because of his family’s temporary exile to inland Italy. In 1920 he completed his studies and graduated. The end of the war and the emergence of civil administration seemed a promising dawn of democratization, but Italian authorities began to support the rising fascist movement and so clear the way for various violent nationalistic actions. Italy’s appetite for the Balkans dictated Italianization of areas alongside its eastern border, which was further aggravated by the rise of the Italian fascists to power. Since 1922 the use of Slovenian language in churches and schools was forbidden, Slovenian societies were dismembered and Slovenian names were Italianized. At the time when Slovenian songs were banished from all churches, Bratuž was working as a music teacher in Gorizia, in Šmartno pri Kojskem, in Solkan and in Batuje. Throughout all this time he strove to preserve and cultivate Slovenian songs and culture and he became increasingly active in politics as well. Right before the 1924 election, the authorities asked him to take some time off work so that he wouldn’t have a chance to influence the results of the election. This did not stop him which led to him losing his position as the head teacher in 1926, his relocation to Abruzzo two years after receiving police warning, and finally his imprisonment. When appointed the head of church choirs by the Gorizia Archbishop Frančišek Borgia Sedej in 1930, Bratuž was in October beaten by a group of six fascists. 

In the meantime, the fascist violence towards “ethnic minority (allogeni)” patriots intensified and escalated into the events that took place on December 27, 1936, when Bratuž’s choir performed Slovenian songs in the church in Podgora. After the mass the fascists made the conductor drink “black oil”. Despite being hospitalized, Bratuž died of the effects of machine oil mixed with petrol. He died a day before his 35th birthday, leaving behind his wife, a poet Ljubka Šorli, and their two children.

In our collection of the records of the Royal Office of Quaestor in Trieste and Gorizia we keep Italian translations of the Slovenian newspapers Jutro and Istra, as well as translations of the confiscated letters that Slovenians sent to their friends and families across the Rapalllo border, describing the attack on Bratuž. The preserved documents also reveal the plan of the Office of Quaestor in Gorizia to provide security for Bratuž's funeral, which goes to show that Italian authorities feared that riots might break out at the funeral. In the end, the funeral was guarded by more members of the police unit than was initially intended. In the report, which was sent to the Gorizia Office of Quaestor, we can read that despite the fears of the authorities the funeral went by peacefully: The funeral was attended by around fifty people, all ethnic minority citizens and mostly women. The report also mentions that there were no speeches at the funeral so there were no hints as to how Bratuž died, however /…/ as the coffin was being lowered into the ground, his relatives were saying the Lord’s prayer loudly and in the Slovenian language. Police was alert even after the funeral, as they report that /…/ people who attended the funeral drove away in the same cars they came to the funeral with, and their licence plates were written down.

Meanwhile we learn from the report of the Gorizia prefect that Bratuž’s grave was supervised that day and that an unknown person later placed on his grave some red carnations tied together with a red ribbon as a sign of protest. The quaestor in Gorizia feared that riots might break out during the first couple of anniversaries of Bratuž’s death and for two years after his death he ordered his grave and also his widow to be closely monitored. Also preserved is the order of the border fascist police in Tolmin saying that they need to strengthen border security during the anniversaries of Bratuž’s death. The quaestor regularly gathered reports about the people who marked the anniversary of Bratuž’s death, he supervised the circulation of publications about him and their readers, and warned his supervisors about the possibility that the so called “cult of Bratuž” might be developed. Throughout this time, quaestor received reports from his superior officers, assuring him that Slovenians were marking the anniversaries of his death peacefully, and finally, that on November 1, 1939, the requiem mass was held in Latin. Such peace, however, was deceitful.

Slovenians never gave up on their national liberation struggle and Lojze Bratuž was not the only Slovenian patriot who paid with his life for what he believed in. Dismembered Slovenian societies went underground, the national liberal movement gave rise to the revolutionary underground organization Tigr, and Christian social movement, assisted by clergy, fought for the national rights of their parishioners and for the right to teach Slovenian language. Fascist Italy entered the Second World War in June 1940 and in April 1941, with the collaboration of the Axis powers, it attacked and annexed part of Slovenia, re-opening the fight for the Julian March. With the Second Trieste Trial in December 1941, more patriots lost their lives, but Slovenian anti-fascist fight eventually led to the restoration of the Slovenian Littoral to the motherland. Although post-war minority rights legislation was supposed to protect the national rights of those Slovenians who remained in Italy, they still have to fight for their rights till this very day. Nowadays, when Gorizia is again faced with occasional demonstration of neo-fascists, hopefully the Cultural Centre of Lojze Bratuž and the preserved archival documents can serve as a powerful reminder to never make past mistakes again.   

Tadeja Tominšek Čehulić