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Attempt at Reconciliation During the Maelstrom of War

This month’s archivalia is a transcript of the letter written by lawyer Lojze Ude (1896-1982) to his lawyer colleague Albin Šmajd (1904-1946), a prominent member of the Slovenian People’s Party. This letter of April 21, 1943 is not the only letter that Ude wrote to try and reconcile the two Slovenian opposing sides, but it is a very informative one and has great symbolical significance. The letter, which at the time when it was written met with no success, managed to be preserved in two copies (transcripts) among the records of the "archives of the former Yugoslav Secret Police".

Picture of the protagonists next to each other.

Lojze Ude (left) and Albin Šmajd (right). | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

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A Letter by Lojze Ude to Albin Šmajd in the Spring of 1943

World War II made a tragic cut into the lives of all Slovenians. On April 6, 1941, the Axis powers invaded, dismembered and forcefully subjected the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to their rule and began to apply their nation dividing policy. This set in motion fatal historic processes that were most apparent in the Italian occupied Province of Ljubljana, where part of the population, headed by the communists, began to put up armed resistance against the oppressor. It also led to collaboration, revolution and counter-revolution. It is here that Slovenians, roughly divided into communists on the one side and anti-communists on the other, got involved in increasingly serious dispute, which in the summer of 1942 turned from ideological into armed conflict. Conditioned by the war and in the face of the growing violence of the oppressor, it all escalated into a sort of civil war in which many lives were lost. Tragic epilogue ensued in May and June of 1945, when Home Guard soldiers and civilians were returned from Carinthia and killed in mass killings without being tried.  

This month’s archivalia is a transcript of the letter written by Lojze Ude (1896-1982) in the maelstrom of the war on April 21, 1943 to his colleague Albin Šmajd (1904-1946), a prominent member of the Slovenian People’s Party. Both protagonists were from Upper Carniola and had been friends since they were students. Šmajd started out on his career in Radovljica, where before the war he opened his own law office and became involved in politics. In 1938, he became a member of the Yugoslav assembly. During the war, his position grew stronger, mostly due to absence of some of the more distinguished members of Slovenian People’s Party and also due to his ever-growing ambition and readiness to organize illegal paramilitary units. He was among the leaders of the anti-communist political body, the so-called Slovenian Alliance and was also collaborating with the leaders of the Slovenian Legion, where he was in charge of the intelligence. He applied himself actively in establishing anti-communist volunteer militia and Slovenian Home Guard, both of which acted as occupier’s auxiliary militia units. In 1944, he became one of the main organizers of counter-revolutionary National Committee for Slovenia. After the war, he escaped to Carinthia and in his capacity as a member of the National Committee maintained contact with Miha Krek, one of the leading politicians of the Slovenian People’s Party, who was in Rome at the time. In February 1946, he was kidnapped in Trieste by members of the sabotage unit of the Slovenian secret police (OZNA). He was taken to OZNA prison in Ljubljana, where he was interrogated and most probably killed. Lojze Ude, a fighter for Slovenia’s northern border after WWI and participant in the 1920 Carinthian Plebiscite, also had his own law office in Lenart, where Šmajd often visited him. Ude, who in addition to law also studied philosophy for a while, was a keen supporter of the fight for Slovenian national authenticity, which he clearly expressed in his numerous writings. He soon became aware of the dangers of the growing Nazism, which he perceived as a serious threat to Slovenian democracy. Although initially a member of the Slovenian People’s Party, by the start of WWII he began to get closer to the ideas of Christian Socialists, who by then cooperated more closely with the communists. 

At the start of the war in Slovenia, both protagonists, who by that time had already taken opposing political views, withdrew from German occupied territory and moved to “safer” Ljubljana. The two friends could now meet again, exchange books and probably also ideas. Both of them were deeply hurt by the violence committed by the Germans in Styria and Upper Carniola, and this topic became the central theme of their discussions. One subject they also could not avoid in their discussions was the nature of the Liberation Front, which Ude joined in the summer of 1941. They kept up regular correspondence until 1942, but by the next spring there was a temporarily break in their relations.

This letter is not the only letter that Ude wrote to try to reconcile the two opposing sides, but is a very informative one and has great symbolical significance. Ude did not turn to Šmajd as just a fellow student, he addressed the letter to “a man, whom from my student years I consider to be a good Slovenian”. It is an example of sincere confession to a friend. In the letter, Ude appealed to Šmajd’s intelligent and nationally conscious stand, hoping that in the spirit of reconciliation Šmajd would intercede with the Catholic side. The letter is valuable also in that it was written by a man, who was directly entangled in war events. Ude warned his friend Šmajd about the “deadly” divisions in “nation’s organism”. He was convinced that such “sickness” of a nation needed to be treated, since for him a nation was “… the most fateful community of life. It is a fact and not ideology”. A few months before Italy surrendered, he warned Šmajd that this was a case of “to be or not to be”, since: “It is by starting civil war among Slovenians that oppressor has really won. There is nothing worse than this.” In his letter, Ude criticises Slovenian People's Party, accusing it of armed collaboration with occupying forces. He believed that this was something that allies in anti-Hitler coalition would never be able to understand. He also wonders who should be responsible for the created situation, writing that: “I know who is to blame, you ask me. And you answer: Liberation Front, communism and communism alone. You are sure that you carry no guilt. Are you absolutely sure? I will not go into the question of guilt of one or the other, even though this may prove inevitable at times. The side that you are supporting, surprises me, especially considering the way you are fighting in the name of Christianity and Christ. I don’t understand this and nor can anyone who loves spiritual purity.” At the same time, Ude was critical of communists as well. He did not agree with their strategy and tactics of premature armed struggle, and he was more in favour of solving this human tragedy in a peaceful and considered manner. This is why Ude was one of the intellectuals within the Liberation Front, who disagreed with assassinations of political opponents, knowing very well that such actions only deepened the rift and escalated civil war.

Later correspondence of Ude to Šmajd reveals that Šmajd delayed with his reply to Ude, but it is a fact that this attempt at peace was something they continued to discus and write to each other about. When he was being interrogated at OZNA prisons in the spring of 1946, Albin Šmajd explained to his interrogator that he “considered Ude to be the Liberation Front official” and that together they had sought a connection with the Liberation Front for Šmajd “somewhere near Muljava”, but the plan had failed. After that, it was impossible to reach any sort of reconciliation, the genie was out of the bottle. Šmajd himself had doubts about reconciliation, mostly due to unclear political circumstances and division of power after the war but also because of the opposition of some groups within his own political party. Just before Italy’s surrender, Ude admitted to Šmajd that his intervention had been an unproductive attempt and decided that “further mediation is now useless”. By the autumn of 1943, the division between the two ideological opponents got even deeper. In September 1943, Ude arrived to the Partisan territory, where he turned his attention to other issues, such as relations to clergy, war crimes and especially to post-war development of Slovenia within newly drawn borders. It is important here to mention that even after the war Ude never became a member of the Communist Party. This conviction of an engaged intellectual like Lojze Ude, who believed that ideological divisions never lead to anything good, is something we can learn from even today, since such political and other divisions are something we are continuing to witness in our present daily life.

Tadeja Tominšek Čehulić, Mojca Tušar

Attempt at Reconciliation During the Maelstrom of War