During WWII, my dad was on a train when a communist guerrilla bombed the tracks. They killed many passengers and took the survivors as prisoners. My dad was an independent journalist who had been a prisoner of the fascists for criticizing Mussolini. Now only because he was on that train, he was under the communists. When they discovered his identity, after three days of running into the woods without food and water, they wanted him to stay with them to work in their propaganda and agitation system. He didn’t want to do it because he wanted to remain independent and free. The following is how he tells the story in his diary:
At midnight a guard woke me up.
-Comrade, get up, let’s go to the barracks!
I stand and pray to Our Lady of Fatima. Several feet away, there are some prisoners. They are passengers from the train. Some are moaning and crying. Probably they are mistreating them. I hear bumps. I can’t see in the darkness too much.
-Don’t be afraid, comrade, you’ll be safe. -says my guide.
I don’t answer. I’m ready for everything. Suddenly, I remember that today is the feast day of St. Joseph, patron of the good death. I feel a chill when I hear those loud moans and screams.
In the main room of the barrack, I’m not alone among the prisoners. There is more waiting, and another one arrives behind me. I don’t even hear what they say to those who are before me.
It’s my turn
I don’t have to approach the table because the commander comes towards me menacingly:
-You are a bandit like all the others! He yells to my face.
I stay silent. I’m fully aware that the accusations unfairly. But also understand that any answer would be useless.
He looks me with his eyes blazing and his gaze sharping like the grey cliffs of my homeland.
I try to awake in me the perfect contrition. I forgive everything to all those who wish me ill. And may God forgive me.
I see that it is impossible to talk with this man because he doesn’t have time to listen to me nor the willingness to accept any reasoning.
-Are you going to stay with us?
-I can’t. I’m not a man of war
-You have not been a combatant; you can be what you were before
-I can’t -I said this time with more strength.
-Then, we will shoot you.
I shrug my shoulders. I feel indifferent. I lived so long thinking in the eternity that I almost wish to reach it soon.
The guard takes my hand. We go out. Close to the door, there is a group of men sentenced like me. The guards made us dig our grave and stand in line in front of it, tied one to the other. The members of the guerrillas with their weapons are in front of us.
So really, the last moment is near. I’m at peace. Eternity is in front of me.
Suddenly I startle.
I hear the words:
-The comrade journalist out!
-A guard unties me. I don’t feel him, only the rope falling apart. Something similar to disappointment enters my soul. At the same time, I think with intensity what a big sin is to wish death.
I try to rebuild what has happened. I feel exhausted. Not in the body, but the soul. And when I close my heavy eyelids, I hear five shots: the others have been shoot!
The man who took off my dad from the line of shooting was a journalist who was with the guerrilla and convinced the commander at the last moment to spare his life. When my father was ancient and sick, he returned to Croatia to receive an award from the University of Zagreb. That man saw the news and went to the hotel to see my father. They embraced like old friends. Dad said that he prayed for him every day since that dramatic episode.