February 6, 2024

The “Spanija” series translates selected autobiographical accounts by Yugoslavian and Montenegrin volunteers of their actions in the Spanish Civil War. Dr. Ray Hoff used Google translate from Croatian to English and he edited the selections. As this is a machine translation, the idiomatic features of Croatian or Serbian and the translation of names and places are “best effort”. The full five-volume collection was entitled:

“The Participants write Spanija 1936-1939: collection of memories of Yugoslav volunteers in the Spanish War”

It was assembled by Editor-in-Chief Cedo Kapor and published by the Initiative Committee of the Association of Spanish Fighters, The War History of our Peoples, Book 130, Military Publishing Institute, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1971, 5 volumes.

Chris Brooks posted and provided links to volunteers.



Dr. Adela Bohunicka, Spanija, Volume 1, pp. 410-418

In the 1930s, Czechoslovakia was the only bourgeois-democratic state in Central and Southern Europe. Due to its geographical location, it was a convenient crossroads and center where representatives and fighters for democracy from various smaller European countries met. There were Yugoslavs, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians and others in it. The most numerous were representatives of the Communist Party.

Czechoslovakia had a developed working class, and its Communist Party was legal. The Czechoslovak Communist Party and progressive movements under its influence provided considerable help to the fighters against dictatorship and fascism. Hence, among the foreigners in Prague who fought for democracy in their own countries, there were mostly those who belonged to Communist parties. Meetings were held in Prague, illegal literature was printed, couriers arrived from various countries. Travel was made via Prague to Moscow, Paris, and Belgrade. Many emigrants found a home in Prague. Prague provided illegal apartments to all fighters, emigrants, and the technical apparatus of individual parties and helped them in everything else. With the coming to power of Hitler in Germany and Dolfus in Austria, the number of emigrants and Galatians in Prague increased enormously.

Many students from countries where dictators and pro-fascist regimes were in power studied in the capital of Czechoslovakia. For decades in Prague and other cities of Czechoslovakia, there were a lot of students from our region. In those years, three hundred studied in Czechoslovakia, mostly from Bosnia. When I arrived in Prague in 1932, our student movement was already well known in Czechoslovakia and in our country because of its militancy. At that time, there was a small group of students in Prague, which had its own party organization and sympathizer groups and gathered progressive students around the “Matija Gubec Club”. Miron Demić, Marijan Krajačić, Vlajko Begović and Borka Demić Pihler belonged to that party organization.

Marijan Krajačić, Miron and Borka Demic were there because of they were expelled from Czechoslovakia. They went from Prague, by order of the Party, to France to work with emigrants, and from there to Spain.

A large number of students and political elites who lived in Prague for a while and later fought in International Brigades also went to Spain. According to the Prague police archive, the police at the time registered a group of 15 students who went to Spain at the end of January 1937 from the Alexander College. This list includes: Sigbert Bastijančić, Ahmed Fetahagić, Mirko Horvat, Rudolf Janhuba, Mirko Kovačević, Lazo Latinović, Ratomir Pavlović, Anđelko Radošević, Marko Spahić, Matija Siprag, Ivan Turk, Lazo Udovići, Branko Krsmanović, Velimir Vlahović, Ratko Vujović.  In that group, which traveled collectively from Prague, was Ilija Engel, who lived outside the college. In addition to this group of sixteen students from Prague, Braco Vajs, Ivan Vejvoda, Olga Dragić, Ivan Repac and Ratomir Belović left for Spain.

The disappearance of such a large number of students from the college caused lively comments in the Czech public. The unexpected Yugoslav ambassador and representatives of the city of Prague, who came the next day to the Alexander College for the traditional celebration of Saint Sava, were uncomfortable.

The most active in the party organization of our students was Miron Demić, who was killed in the offensive on Madrid, at the beginning of November 1936. He was equally very popular among our Czech and foreign students. A tireless, good orator, he used the public forum at every opportunity to attack King Alexander and the January 6 dictatorship. In the Sarajevo prison, he experienced all the torture methods of the time.

The political life of Yugoslav students in Prague in time of the proclamation of the six-year dictatorship created a very similar situation among students in the country. Most of the students who are studied there were from middle-income and poor urban layers. Almost all students who came to Prague were loyal to the regime. For them, the King was a person whose the name should be pronounced with awe. When Demić spoke to student assemblies about the bloody terror of the King Aleksander, there were physical altercations among the students gathered.

But the facts were irrefutable and honest nationalists, under the influence of advanced students, events in the country and the world, began to reorient themselves. Marijan Krajáčic, for example, came to Prague as a nationalist and was influenced by the regime students. Miron Demić and Vlajko Begovic were trained according to students from the opposing camp, who would devote a lot of time to them. It was a method of personal persuasion, they stood out with their personal qualities and ability. The process of reorientation lasted for months for some students. Many of them told me later about their sleepless nights and hesitations. This is understandable when it is known that these were young people, most of whom only read the regime’s press and were not interested in the state of the country, nor did they come into contact with the workers.

Krajačić’s transition to the ranks of advanced students meant a great deal of trouble for the Slovenian Communists-Prague students, among other things, because his political orientation led to a split in the ranks of nationalist-oriented and organized students. Since then, Demic and Krajačić have always been at the forefront of all the actions of the advanced students. The Yugoslav embassy was very interested in their work, which otherwise kept a watchful eye on every step of the students, as well as trying to discover the work of the leaders of our Party who were staying in Prague. Numerous professional agents from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were in the Embassy’s service. At the request of the Embassy, Demic and Krajačić were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1932. Demić in the spring, and Krajačić in the fall. The reaction of Yugoslav students to the decision to expel two of their most advanced and influential comrades was contrary to the delegation’s expectations. The Yugoslav students escorted their two comrades to the station and waved goodbye to them as exalted poets.

After the expulsion from Prague, Miron Demić and Marijan Krajačić (and with them Borka Demić, who also had to leave Czechoslovakia a little later) worked among our emigrants in France, where the Party later sent Vlajko Begović. Marijan Krajačić and Miron Demic arrived with the first volunteers in Spain. Demić was killed during the second offensive of Franco’s phalanxes on Madrid, at the beginning of November 1936. Krajačić was seriously wounded twice, the first time in the stomach, and the second time a bullet shattered his jaw. After Spain, he arrived in home and was a member of the KPH Central Committee. In 1941 he was arrested. He ended his rich revolutionary journey in one from the dark cells of the infamous Ustasha prison in Stara Gradiška[1].

The persecutions of the Yugoslav Embassy could not weaken our ranks or interrupt the continuity of our work. The movement grew steadily stronger. The party cell in Prague was in constant contact with Vienna, where Vlajko Begović {Stefanovich, in Spain – rmh} often traveled. During the Sixth January dictatorship, when the situation in the party ranks was difficult, the Central Committee of the KPJ sent him to home to rebuild the party cells in Bosnia. The Yugoslav Embassy and the Czech police did not know about Begović’s work. They thought he was from Pribićević. Only a small circle of party activists knew that he was in charge of a strictly conspiratorial work. Even today, his name cannot be found in the Prague police archive. From his trips to Vienna and the country, Vlajko Begović brought us messages and informed us about the situation in the country. At the beginning of 1933, we learned that he was in danger, because there were numerous arrests in Bosnia and throughout the country. Since we did not hear that he was arrested, we assumed that he was hiding. For a long time, we could not know anything more concrete; none of the comrades from Vienna and the country knew anything about him. One day in the canteen of the Starkove Academy, Zora Gavric brought us a card she had received from Albania: “Von Sarajevo bis Tirana zu fuss, Gruss, Russ.” {From Sarajevo to Tirana on foot, greetings, Russian}. The Russian was none other than Vlajko Begović. That’s what his close acquaintances called him.

Otherwise, there was always a lively discussion in the canteen of the Starkove Academy at the table of Yugoslav students. Ivan Vejvoda would usually come to lunch with a magazine or a new edition of a book. He regularly maintained connections with advanced intellectuals in Prague and at home. He was a great admirer of poetry and painting. He was enamored with Davič, Nezval, Aragon. He introduced us to reproductions of Bruegel, Goya and Picasso, organized visits to exhibitions, the theater and the cinema. The Central Committee of our Party also sent him back home. And while he was carrying out some task, Vejvoda was arrested in Belgrade, tortured in Glavnjača[2] and exiled as a Czech citizen. He went to Spain after the departure of the group from Alexander College.

When Hitler annexed Austria to his Third Reich through the Anschluss, part of the technical apparatus of the CK KPJ had to move from the capital of Austria. The largest part of that apparatus moved to Prague, so the already existing mechanism of the Party in Prague was increased even more. Together with Zora Gavric, I worked several years on that job. The conspiratorial nature of party work will demand that the people who work as the party’s functionaries also change. At the end of 1935, Ivan Jakšić Milan took over Technical Office in Prague. Jaksić’s election to that position was not the happiest decision, since he was known to Yugoslav and Czech students as a leftist. In addition, it was known that he was the President of the Association of Technicians and that he had already been interrogated by the police twice for his participation in publishing the illegal newspaper “Pitomci”. Party Secretary Gorkic, however, stood by his decision.

Jozo Rukavina also lived in Prague as an emigrant at the time. He quickly learned Czech, made many acquaintances with Czech Communists and sympathizers. They helped him find legal apartments, provided him with couriers and helped him with the accommodation and dispersal of literature. That’s how he also got involved in the work of Technica and cooperated with Jaksic. Both were overworked, both of them were already known to the Czech police, so they did not work for as party functionaries for the work of the KPJ Central Committee. In March 1936, for example, they prepared with the help of the Czech Party, a plenum of the CPJ Central Committee. The plenum was not stopped, but the participants managed to escape. Even before arriving at the plenum, because the police raided the premises where they had just started, the police identified some comrades from the Central Committee on the street. Among many Yugoslav Communists and other students, some Central Committee members were later arrested. Ivan Jaksić and Jozo Rukavina were also arrested. Rukavina managed to get out of prison with a supply of Czech documents and continue working in the party’s apparatus while Ivan Jakšić was expelled from Czechoslovakia. He left Prague for Vienna, and from there to Spain, where he arrived in the first days of the struggle. He was a Political Commissar in the Czech Anti-aircraft Battery “Gotwald”. In their memories, Czech fighters remember him as a leader who maintained the morale of his fighters even in our most difficult situations. Ivan Jakšić died in January 1942 in near Prače, in Bosnia, as a fighter of our liberation war.

Thus, Prague increasingly became the gathering center of the most ardent fighters and revolutionaries, who managed to penetrate even where it seemed impossible to reach and win over those who seemed too far from everything advanced and revolutionary.

For example, in the years of the Sixth January dictatorship, only verified students could be admitted to the student dormitory in Prague, Alexander College. Hence, for a long time, leftists among these students did not have any notable success. The first actions of removing the flag from the college in which Miron and Borka Demić and others took part, after which some students were expelled, did not bring results. It was necessary to find students who would work systematically in the college itself. That task was taken on by Lazo Udovički. With his energy and optimism, he created a friendly atmosphere around him. Students gathered in his room every evening regardless of their political beliefs. With his simple arguments, never underestimating the opinion of his opponent, he won over those students who were thought to never join our ranks. When Branko Krsmanović arrived at the House of Yugoslav Students, and a little later Ratko Pavlović and Veljko Vlahovic, Aleksander’s College became the revolutionary headquarters of Yugoslav students in Prague.

Czechoslovakia and its capital were not only a gathering center for advanced Yugoslav students.

Many emigrants also gathered in Czechoslovakia, who according to the direction from the party had to leave the country, because the police physically exterminated the ranks of the Party. From there, some traveled further to Moscow, and others went to work among emigrants in France and Belgium or returned to the country from there. Part of my memories from Prague concern the meeting with comrades who, according to the tasks of the Party, stayed in Czechoslovakia.

Once, for example, the Central Committee from Vienna told us that a comrade who is very deserving of the Party is coming to Prague and that we should take care of him as best we can. Knowing the conditions under which they fought, we received all comrades who came from home with great attention and respect. The attention and camaraderie, as well as the friendship, were much more pronounced this time. The announced friend was Julio Varesko, graphic artist, Italian citizen, born in Bosnia. He was a prominent party and trade union worker. Since the Unification Congress, he has been a constant member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Graphic Designers. During the Sixth January dictatorship, he was a member of the provincial committee, and in 1930 he was arrested. In the Sarajevo prison, the police beat, tortured and mutilated him, so that many comrades, when they saw him in Prague, asked themselves: “Will I be able to withstand something like this?” At the police and the court in Belgrade, he did not confess. He was acquitted, but also exiled to Italy. Instead of Italy, Varesco arrived in Prague. In conversation with those of us who cared for him, he never mentioned torture in prison. I remember him as a man forever very sensitive: it was harder for him than the torture in prison that he had to leave his wife and three children behind. And, as a revolutionary, he never asked for honors or rewards. His comrade Marica, who came from Italy to Prague with her children in days after Varesko’s departure to Moscow, she told us that whenever her husband was sick, the only thing he feared was the thought of dying in bed. Because that is not befitting a fighter. Varesko did not die in bed. He left Moscow to Spain and fell there charging in front of the International Brigadistas. I was also a witness to that death in a way. I was a doctor at the “Universidad” hospital. I remember: when the Poles from the Madrid front arrived at the hospital, they were depressed not so much because of their wounds, but because of the death of their political commissar, Romero Vareska. They only visited me so that they could tell me about Vareska: “He was our father and mother, he covered us with blankets, he gave us strength; after his death, we felt lost,” they said.

Among the Communists and emigrants from the country, whom I met in Prague and who were later in Spain, I remember some other comrades. One of them was Diego Rokov, a worker from Kaštela. Rokov was a member of the Party from the first days of its establishment, organizer of party cells in his area, often arrested. He was among the Communists on whom the Party built its foundation and was able to maintain continuity in its work. Rokov never traveled anywhere, he only knew his Kaštela, Split and Zagreb, where he worked in recent years and was arrested. He came to Prague in 1935. We happened to meet quite uniquely. Somehow, we arrived at the lawyer Stein at the same time. He to report, and me to hand over some illegal passports to the lawyer. In the passage, above which was Stein’s office, a man was standing. He looked suspicious to me, and I thought that maybe the police had already “sniffed” what kind of work attorney Stein was doing. And that’s what I told the lawyer. He got up, went outside and after a while came back, seeing “the suspicious man”. “This is Diego Rokov”, Stein said. We all laughed.

Our emigrants lived in the working-class settlements of Žižkov, Brevnov and Holešovice. Although the Czechs and our comrades welcomed them nicely, coming to emigration for many of them meant living in changed conditions – with different people, with a different mentality, with different habits and requirements. Many of our emigrants found it more difficult to bear. This is especially true for Rokov. He got used to his friends and the environment, and the Czech language also caused problems for him, he had a hard time enduring emigration. The party sent him to work with emigrants in France, from where he came to Spain in February 1937. I met him there during the evacuation in 1939. He was exhausted and sick. He participated in the resistance movement in France. He died in a French camp in 1943. His fellow citizens, in memory of their brave son, raised a nice memorial plaque to Diego Rokov in his native Kaštela.[3]

I met some other friends in Prague. Thus, after his arrest in connection with the plenum of the Central Committee, Jozo Rukavina continued to work at Tehnica, and the main work at Tehnica was taken over by Marko Perić, who arrived in Prague as an emigrant in early 1936. He worked in the student party organization, maintained contact with the Central Committee and participated in the preparation of students to go to Spain. He was lucky and was not known to the Prague police.

In May of the same year, Ivan Krajačić arrived in Prague, whom no one met, because it was necessary for him to remain strictly illegal: he maintained a relationship only with Perić. A little earlier, I think in 1935, Sojka Rausević Danilo, who came together with Simo Budak, also lived in Prague as an emigrant. Rausević was a member of the Provincial Committee of Croatia, and Budak was a member of the Local Committee in Zagreb. Budak returned home, and Rausevic went to France. He fought in Spain in the Balkan Company in the “Edgar André battalion.”  He died in Germany.

Two soldiers also passed through Prague, Sergeant Joksimońá and Jože Kopinić. Both of them traveled from Prague to the USSR, and later came to Spain and served in the Marines. I found out in Spain that Joksimović had died, but no one knew enough to tell me about his death, probably because we didn’t have enough connections with the fighters in the Navy.

Well, that’s a brief summary of my “Spanish acquaintances”, concluded far from Spain, in Prague.




[1] {Note in translation:  See Stara Gradiška on Wikipediate}

[2] {Note in translation: Glavnica on Wikipedia}

[3] {Note added in translation: This plaque was apparently at the birth house of Rokov in “Kaštel Gomilica” {on the Dr. Franje Tudmana Road), in Kastela in Split, Croatia, and the plaque was destroyed in 2010.  The house may still have a memorial to 46 anti-fascist fighters.  See Diego Rokov plaque.}


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