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Nazi camp survivor celebrates 100th birthday on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Ljubljana, 21 January - Marija Frlan, who will celebrate her 100th birthday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, spent the last year of WWII in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She told the STA ahead of her birthday she was not surprised when Nazi secret police came for her, because she had worked against the Germans.

Ljubljana
Former internees of the Ravensbrück and Auschwitz WWII concentration camps.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
File photo

Members of the Nazi secret police came for her in the spring of 1943 and first took her to forced labour. She had to clean and tidy Gestapo offices and other rooms in Škofja Loka for nine months.

During that time, Frlan helped an incarcerated female Partisan, so she was not surprised when she was brought in for questioning and took to prison in Begunje na Gorenjskem.

Her husband was also incarcerated at the time and killed soon after.

After more than two months in Begunje, Frlan and other prisoners were taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, north of Berlin.

"We walked from Begunje to Lesce in the snow and waited for the train there, which took us to Munich, where we changed trains and then drove straight to there," she recalls.

Ravensbrück was the biggest concentration camp for women between 1939 and 1945, and also had a male section in the final years. Some 120,000 women and children of 30 nationalities were brought there.

More than 80% were political prisoners, including Frlan.

She said she had made new acquaintances at commemorative events of former internees. But all Slovenians did not all knew each other while at the camp, because they were divided in two sections.

She said no respect could be felt at the camp. "They were Germans, we were convicts."

Being accustomed to hard work since early age, Frlan made it through all the hardships. She said she had quickly learned it was best to stay quiet, calm and not make any trouble.

But even in this ordeal, the internees made some moments even pleasant for themselves. "There's plenty of memories, even a bright moment now and there, I can't deny that."

Frlan spent 13 months at the camp and was liberated on 27 April 1945. But on their way home, the former internees feared both the Red Army and German soldiers and were hiding from them all.

Her journey back to Slovenia in a group of 30 people, including some men, took one month. They walked home but used any transport available along the way.

Frlan remembers the last train they took in Austria before reaching Maribor. "There were some soldiers there, and I didn't know who they were. They told us to get off, so we did, then we got back on, but they told us to get off again.

"So we asked why, if we just want to get home, and they said that whoever comes to Yugoslavia gets shot. But since we were so used to it all we said ok, so we will die at home if we didn't up here."

The soldiers' threat did not materialise, but the group was taken to questioning in Ljubljana after which Frlan could return to her home town of Škofja Loka, but there was noting there waiting for her. "I came home to nothing, neither a husband, nor apartment nor a bed."

Accompanied by a security guard she searched other people's homes to find her property. "My husband was a carpenter, he made everything himself. I got the entire kitchen, a bed and a closet," she said about her quest.

She slowly got back to her feet, found a small apartment and a job and later started a family. "I'm used to everything. There was more bad than good, but life goes on," said Frlan who will turn 100 on 27 January, the day that the UN declared International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army.

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© STA, 2020