Saturday, February 12, 2011

Slovenia 1945: Jerzé Jancar

This post is a continuation of the two previous ones, which should be read first.

The other Slovenian Native Interpreter with a medical background was Jerzé Jancar. By the time of World War II he was already an outstanding medical student.
"During the summer, I travelled a lot, learning about people and life; I cycled along the Dalmatian Coast and in late summer I used to climb, as well as participating in athletics and winter sports. Unfortunately, when I matriculated and started medicine in Ljubljana, the War began in the spring of 1941, and we were occupied by the Italians. They let us study for about two years, and then the university was closed. Unfortunately, I was taken to a concentration camp in Gonars [in Italy] in 1942, and when Italy collapsed in 1943, the Germans occupied us. Once again, we were working with the Underground, helping in hospitals and treating people who had been involved in fighting against the Nazis, the Communists, and the Fascists."
When the German front in Yugoslavia collapsed in 1945, the communist Partisans moved in on Ljubljana. Jerzé found himself on the wrong side and fled with his fiancée through the mountains to Viktring, in southern Austria.

Viktring, famous for its Cistercian monastery, is just north of the Karawanken mountain chain separating Austria from Slovenia. In a large open field that the British had assigned to them, the Slovenian refugees were gathered in a huge camp. There Jerzé joined up with someone his own age, John Corsellis, the English Quaker who, though he was only 22, already had considerable experience in helping to run refugee camps.

Corsellis describes how he met Jozé Jancar:
"When I arrived at Viktring and asked Major Barre [the Canadian in charge of the camp] how I could best help, he referred me to Dr Meršol [see previous post] and he suggested hygiene. He said I would need an interpreter and he had just the right man, a medical student two years older than me who had organisational experience and while interned in the Italian concentration camp at Gonars had learnt the language; and that was how I got to know Jozé Jancar... A little taller than I was, just as thin and with striking red hair, he continued to interpret for me after we had finished hygiene and moved on to education."
Jerzé later recounted his own memories of Viktring:
"Meršol said, 'Look, let's hope he'll be able to do something. He seems young and energetic'. He was expecting someone with more authority, a major or something, for six thousand people, and was a bit sceptical, and then he realised when we started to march around - and, my God, you were walking fast! And really it was a great success because Meršol was often saying, 'It's unbelievable how much you two did.'"
Later Jozé moved from Viktring to Graz, where he played a key role in the opening of a camp for university students and continued to interpret. Then, with the help of John Corsellis, he managed to cross the Dolomites illegally to Padua, and continue his studies there in Italian.

After that, his already tumultuous life took another surprising turn. In 1948 he went to England with his wife and there he became at first a nurse for the mentally handicapped. In 1956 he was obtained a post as junior medical officer at Stoke Park Hospital, a famous hospital in Bristol for people with learning difficulties, where he was appointed consultant psychiatrist in 1961. He won the Burden Research Gold Medal and Prize for research in mental handicap in 1971. By the end of his career, he was Dr Jozé Jancar, MB, Bch, BAO, DPM, FRCPsych, Hon FRCPsych, "one of the greatest figures in the field of the care of those with learning disability." He died in 2000. The photograph at the head of this post shows him in later life.

When he was interviewed at Bristol in 1992 (see References), he was asked, "How do you think your wartime experiences affected you?" His reply:
"They taught me a lot about psychiatry, particularly in the concentration camp, when men's masks dropped, and you see each man as he really is. There were both University professors and road sweepers who were most helpful and real people; while others, without their masks, weren't really the people we had been seeing before."

John Corsellis. Slovenian Phoenix. Privately circulated as a .pdf document, 2009.

John Corsellis and Marcus Ferrar. Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival After World War II. London, I B Taurus, 2005. There are Slovene and Italian translations.

Hugh Freeman. In conversation with Jozé Jancar. Psychiatric Bulletin 17:323-330, 1993.

Image: Psychiatric Bulletin.

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