Katarina Milavec

(Postojna 1893 – Klagenfurt 1989): Supporter of the Carinthian partisans

Auschwitz survivor

Katarina Milavec was born in 1893 in Postojna in present-day Slovenia and moved with her family to Aich/Dob near Bleiburg/Pliberk as a child.

The persecution of Carinthian Slovenes began immediately after the “Anschluss”. In a first wave of arrests, the intellectual and cultural elite of the Carinthian Slovenes were taken to concentration camps. Further arrests followed after Hitlerite Germany’s invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. In 1942 the expropriation of Slovene families began. Many Carinthian Slovenes subsequently joined the partisans.

In her memoirs, Katarina Milavec recounted that both partisans and Bleiburg police disguised as partisans were her family’s guests. They called the latter “raztrganci”, the “phonies”. After a neighbour denounced them for supporting partisans, the police searched the house and first arrested Milavec’s brother and then, in May 1944, also Katarina Milavec. They were interrogated and severely maltreated by the Gestapo in Klagenfurt. After some time in Gestapo custody, Katarina was deported and placed in various prisons until finally being taken first to Ravensbrück concentration camp and then, soon afterwards, to Auschwitz.

Milavec remembers her arrival by train following a transport that had lasted for days: “We arrived at the station around twelve o’clock. The men went in front, the women at the back. There were an awful lot of us, we looked up, electric lights everywhere, a high wire fence all around, impossible to put your hand through. If I had tried, I would have been dead, the fence was electrically charged. My Lord, how it stinks, we won’t be able to bear it, it smells so bad, they thought. It stank because people were burning. I was walking with a Slovenian woman from Eisenkappel a little further towards the back, the guards were behind us. There were two Slovenes and they understood what we were talking about. They asked us, ‘You’re Slovenes?’ ‘Yes.’ The two of them were reliable, both Slovenes, not denunciators, and they said, ‘People are burning.’ Neither of us had realised that people were burning, they were the first to tell us that. And they said, ‘But you mustn’t tell anyone that we told you.’ Then we were chased into a barrack, they switched off the light, and it was dark. The only light came from the fires of the crematoria.”

Milavec was deployed to perform excavation work until she fell seriously ill and collapsed during roll call. In the hospital she was lucky enough to be noticed by a Slovenian doctor who took her into the “operation Yugoslav”, put her in a good bed and provided her with food. Afterwards, she no longer had to dig; instead she was put to work weaving rubber bands. She continued to be subjected to abuse, daily violence and arbitrary acts: “I was tough and actually resigned myself to the fate of being murdered sooner or later.”

Before the camp was evacuated, she was lucky once more: a Slovene-speaking SS doctor took her off the death list and had her transferred to a barrack that was still occupied. She was able to stay there in hiding until the camp was liberated.

Katarina Milavec returned to Carinthia and died in Klagenfurt in 1989.



Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (ed.), Spurensuche. Erzählte Geschichte der Kärntner Slowenen, Vienna 1990, p. 329–334.

https://www.doew.at/erinnern/biographien/erzaehlte-geschichte/haft-1938-1945/katarina-milavec-menschen-brennen (24.11.2021).