December 3, 2022

Anton Zakelj - Diaries and Memoirs



On the back of this picture is written, “To Cilka, from Tone, 1946".    Anton (“Tone” for short) and Cilka were married in a refugee camp in Austria in 1946.  When this picture was taken, Anton was 39.


My father, Anton Zakelj, was born June 1907 in Ziri, Slovenia, a village nestled in the green foothills of the Julian Alps, about 30 miles west of Ljubljana.  He began his diary when he was 18 and continued some writing almost 80 years.  He died  peacefully in January 2006.  For about the first 30 years, he wrote in Esperanto, partly because he liked the language and partly to protect the information.  During some of those years, people were sometimes jailed simply for thinking the wrong thoughts.  Later, in America during the 60's and 70's, Anton started writing in Slovenian.  During the 80's, he started translating his earlier diaries into Slovenian and adding memories.  He had a near-photographic memory and an amazing ability to connect events in his life with major events in world history.


During World War II, the Germans occupied Slovenia, which was then part of Yugoslavia.  At the same time, a civil war raged, with a number of groups fighting each other for post-war control of Yugoslavia.  When the Allies defeated the Germans, the communists took over Yugoslavia and took revenge on anyone who did not support them.  Anton and his future wife Cecelia became refugees, living in temporary camps for the next five years.  I was born in one of those camps in 1948.  In 1949, they emigrated to a farm in Wisconsin, where they lived for 6 months.  In 1950, they moved to Cleveland where factory jobs were available.  They lived in Cleveland the rest of their lives.


During the 90's, I started working with my father to type the Slovenian version of parts of his diaries for publication in Slovenia, and to translate them into English for publication in America.  At the same time, we sorted through his wonderful collection of photos and combined them with the diaries.  The American Home, a Slovenian-American weekly in Cleveland, began publishing excerpts each week and published most sections from 1943 to 1957.  In Slovenia, the journal Zirovski Obcasnik has published, in Slovenian, many of those same years.  In fact, it was Miha Naglic, the editor of the Obcasnik,  who originally inspired and encouraged us to publish these diaries.  Many years still remain to be translated, edited and published.


This web page proudly presents excerpts from my father’s diary.  This material is copyrighted and is not intended to be used for sale or publication.  Please contact me for permission if you would like to quote from this material on a web page or other publication. 


The Slovenian version of 1945-1949 has been published as a book titled Beg v neznano or Flight to the Unkown.  If you would like a copy of the book, you can contact me, or the publisher Studia Slovenica in Ljubljana, or the Slovenska Pisarna in Cleveland.  If you have questions or comments, please send me an e-mail at   


John Zakelj

St. Paul, Minnesota


Click on the headings below to see a eulogy and excerpts from the diary:


Eulogy for Anton Zakelj - January 17, 2006 (htm)


Escape from Communism, Part I - October - December 1943 (htm)


Escape from Communism, Part II - May- June 1945(pdf – 1.4 MB)


Anton Žakelj’s Refugee Camp Diary – Commentary and Summary (htm)


BEG V NEZNANO: Maj - December 1945 (this is an excerpt, in Slovenian, from the book) (pdf – 15 MB)

Begunsko zivljenje v Judenburgu: 1946 (pdf – 44 MB)


Life in the Refugee Camps, July - December 1945 (htm)

Life in the Refugee Camps, July - December 1945 (pdf – 11.6 MB)


Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1946 (htm)

Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1946(pdf – 35.9 MB)


Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1947 (htm)

Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1947(pdf – 7.2 MB)


Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1948 (htm)

Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1948(pdf – 15.7 MB)


Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1949 (htm)

Life in the Refugee Camps, January - December 1949(pdf – 10.7 MB)


Starting Over in America, December 1949 - June 1950 (htm)


Cleveland in the 50s (htm)


Mama’s Story - 1950 (pdf – 5 MB)


Starting Over in America, June 1950 - June 1953 (htm)

Starting Over in America, June 1950 - June 1953 (pdf – 50 MB)

Starting Over in America, June 1953 – December 1954 (pdf – 6 MB)

Starting Over in America, January – December 1955 (pdf – 2 MB)


Please let me know at if you have problems downloading the files or if you need a different format.  The pdf files look better, but depending on your connection, they may take a while to download.