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The Enigma of Janko Soklič

This month's archivalia presents some documents created in 1947 during the handing over of Janko Soklič by the British military intelligence Field Security Service to the Yugoslav authorities. Soklič's activities both during and after WW2 were often contraversial and shrouded in mystery, since many believe him to have been a triple agent. After being handed over to the Yugoslav authorities, he was charged with collaboration with the Gestapo during the war, liquidations and organizations of Quisling activities. On April 16, 1948, he was sentenced to death, and was believed to have been executed on June 10 of the same year. However, some reports indicate that Soklič continued to work for the state security administration for some years after that time and that he was actually executed in November 1950. For a long time, many people from the Upper Carniola believed that Soklič was still working as a Yugoslav intelligence officer somewhere abroad even after that time.

Initiation of proceedings against Janko Soklič.

Introductory letter, State Security Administration for the Sežana district, July 16, 1947. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

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Documents on the Handover of Janko Soklič by the British Military Intelligence Field Security Service to the Yugoslav Authorities on June 21, 1947

On June 21, 1947, the British military intelligence Field Security Service (FSS) handed over Janko Soklič, who had been arrested for suspicion of collaboration with the Yugoslav intelligence service (Ozna) and had spent almost a year in the British prisons in Italy, to the Yugoslav authorities, at his request.

Soon after the end of WW2, Soklič made contact with the Yugoslav embassy and began collaborating with Ozna. He met regularly with the “Ozna Major Vaso” and obtained illegal names of Ignatius and David. He was informing Ozna about the activities of the Slovenian political emigration and sent reports and documents obtained from military and civilian camps. His reports of February 1946 clearly show his serious suggestion to Ozna to eliminate two of the leading political emigrants, Dr. Miha Krek and Dr. Vladko Maček.

But who exactly was Janko Soklič, whose operations both during and after WW2 were often controversial and shrouded in mystery? Born on July 13, 1912 in Breg near Žirovnica, he was a member of the Sokol movement, a Yugoslav naval officer, technical employee, an employee of the Carniolan Industrial Society in Slovenski Javornik, and allegedly also a “gendarmerie agent”. His opposition to Catholicism led to his conversion to Orthodoxy. In 1938, he was a member of the Chetnik society in the Ljubljana subcommittee. Following the occupation of Slovenia, Soklič, being a supporter of the Royal Yugoslav Army and his commander Draža Mihajlović, became involved in the operations carried out by the Chetnik intelligence services , assuming an illegal name of Jovo. Soklič is believed to have been at least a triple agent. Following the instructions received by the Chetniks, he inserted himself into Gestapo, he occasionally collaborated with intelligence services of some of the pro-Catholic groups, and also had his informers among the partisans. He is also believed to have been a member of the Chetnik organization the “Black Hand”. After the Slovenian Communist Party’s security intelligence service (VOS) of the Liberation Front killed Franc Planinc from Jesenice in 1943, together with some others, whom they accused of collaboration with the “Black Hand”, Soklič and his co-worker Milutin Ludviger are believed to have actually killed five of the local Liberation Front supporters, in retaliation for the previous killings. When he was being interrogated by the Slovenian branch of the State Security Administration (UDV) in October of 1947, he admitted to collaborating in some of these liquidations.

Since 1943, he lived mostly in Ljubljana, but made frequent trips to Upper Carniola. He maintained contacts with the Chetniks as well as with the Gestapo in Ljubljana, Bled and Jesenice. The partisan intelligence department included him on the list of the leading members of the “Black Hand” in Upper Carniola. As an informer for the Chetniks, Soklič was the main courier for the Chetnik intelligence service (DOS) and maintained connection between the headquarters of the Chetnik state intelligence and its regional departments in Kranj, Klagenfurt and Trieste. He is also believed to have been a confidant and an agent of Dr. Anton Krošl. Due to his connection with the Gestapo, Soklič had no trouble obtaining German permits for travel, which is why Slovenian Chetnik headquarters sent him to see General Mihajlović in Serbia in April and June 1944. Upon his return to Slovenia, a number of Chetniks were arrested, which made his Chetnik friends lose some of their trust in him. Due to his contact with the Gestapo, he was less trusted also by those connected to the Slovenian People’s Party. Many believed that it was because of him that the Gestapo arrested several members of the Slovenian Legion and the Slovenian People’s Party. It is a fact that Soklič was connected to Druschke, the head of the Gestapo in Jesenice, to Dichtl, the head of the Gestapo in Kranj, and to other Gestapo officers; he is believed to have been informing them about the activities of the members of the Liberation Front as well as about the movement of the partisan troops. By December 1944, he was also an employee of the intelligence agency Sicherheitdienst, and by January 1945 he became a Gestapo officer. Soklič’s role during the war is not entirely clear. Some believe that he betrayed his boss Anton Krošl, the head of the Chetnik intelligence service, to the Gestapo. Krošl and a group of his co-workers were at the end of June 1944 arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau concentration camp. There are also some who believe that Jože Vidic was right in his 1975 book Po sledovih črne roke where he claimed that Soklič was one of the liquidators who killed Stanko Vuk and his wife in Trieste on March 10, 1944.

With the approach of the end of the war, Soklič withdrew to Italy with the rest of the Chetniks and continued to stay in contact with Slovenian political emigration, especially with the Chetnik General Ivan Prezelj – Andrej, while at the same time began cooperating with Ozna. In Yugoslavia he was included in the list of war criminals. Because of the crimes he had committed and because of his collaboration with the Gestapo, he also had bad reputation among the locals of his hometown, including among his family. When Soklič arrived to Prvačino near Gorica in the autumn of 1945, his brother-in-law Anton Uranič handed him over to Ozna. He was imprisoned, but Ozna stroke a deal with him for further cooperation. He was then released and returned to Italy, and Ozna concocted a story about his “escape”. After this event, Soklič completely lost the trust of Slovenian political emigrants, who did not believe the story about his escape from Yugoslavia. On July 9, 1946, he was arrested by the carabineers in Servigliano and handed over to the Field Security Service. The British were in addition to his contacts with the Yugoslav intelligence service interested also in any connection to the Zionist paramilitary organization Irgun, which bombed the British embassy in Rome in 1946.

After the Field Security Service handed Soklič over to the Yugoslav authorities in June 1947, Slovenian State Security Administration “helped him out”, but still called for further instruction from the federal state security administration in Belgrade. They established that Soklič was much too compromised to ever be useful to them for any intelligence work, but they also could not let him “go free” because he was much to well-known for the crimes he had committed during the war. Thus, the federal state security administration thought it would be best to put him on trial. He was accused of collaboration with the Gestapo during the war, liquidations and organization of Quisling formations. At the trial against Mirko Bitenc and his co-accused on April 16, 1948, he was sentenced to execution by firing squad. According to the report issued by the Institute for the Enforcement of Criminal Sanctions, he was executed on June 10, 1948. However, it is believed that he had no longer been in Ljubljana since April 1948. In the introduction of the document prepared for the trial we can read that even after the verdict, the State Security Administration would continue to “use him for work and for us”. Even prior to that, Boris Kraigher wrote to Aleksandar Ranković, saying that Soklič was a good and reliable agent. Soklič was an agent of the State Security Administration for at least a couple of years longer. According to the report written by Niko Šilih to the Minister of the Interior Boris Kraigher , Soklič was executed on November 18, 1950, but Kraigher wrote his name in brackets. However, the belief that Soklič was still working as a Yugoslav intelligence agent somewhere abroad, persisted in Upper Carniola for some time after that. Jože Vidic tried to research these rumours at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s, when he also became aware of some unusual circumstances in regard to the trial of Soklič. Vidic was never able to resolve all the dilemmas because the then State Security Service did not enable him access to all of the archival documents related to Soklič.

Matevž Košir