Split WWII Refugee Tales: A Diary for Puse

Total Croatia News

A new weekly feature in our The Croatian Diaspora section starts today, January 14, 2016. Split WWII Refugee Tales: A Diary for Puse.

The TCN inbox is a fascinating place to be, and we are really humbled at the number (and quantity) of great Croatian stories you have been sending from Croatian communities around the globe. Among the most intruiging was this one from Manuela in Italy:

“Ciao Paul,

this is a story about Croatia and Italy, a matrioska of female stories starting in 1919, still echoing.

I came across your blog via Facebook, and I decided I would give this story a try by writing to you. First of all, please excuse my English, and excuse me for taking your time to read this email.

Good: apologies made, here is the story: my name is Manuela, 45, I live in southern Italy (Bari), daughter of a WWII refugee from Split, grand-grand daughter of Vinka Sperac Bulic (http://www.domine.hr/?lang=hr&index=111). Dalmatia-addict and uvala Basina wannabe resident.

Reading your blog soothes my islandsickness and intensifies envy  ðŸ™‚

The story is about a diary that my grand-grandmother Vinka wrote for her daughter Jelka (Puse),

This diary covers the years from her birth, in 1919, to 1953 when Jelka and her family had moved to Bari, Italy, due to WWII.  The document was given to my mother, who in time translated it into Italian and edited it to be a book, published this year.

The “try” I would like to give to this family “saga” is to make it known in/to Croatia. It is a family tale, it is an historic tableau of Split at that time, it is well written and, well, in my most humble opinion it deserves a chance.

I would love to send you some excerpts (in Croatian), may Idisturb you this much? (I consider “No” a possible answer, don’t worry.)

Part of my roots are Croatian, and whenever I can I try and keep them alive by watering them with Jadransko more, having chosen Jelsa as my summer buon retiro. They say blood is thicker than water: in my case, its salty water.

Hvala puno for your time, really.

Best regards,


The diary is a beautiful story, and we thought it would fit perfectly in our new feature, The Croatian Diaspora, and so we will be serialising it weekly in a special section called Split World War II: A Diary for Puse. Many thanks to Ivana Zupan for translating. 

Copyright with the author obviously, and Manuela would be interested in finding a publisher in Croatian, so contact TCN on [email protected] for more information. 

Part I.

– “The Story of Puse” told by her mother Vinka Šperac Bulić is a story about a family from Central Europe in the period between 1919 and 1953.

Vinka comes from a family of well-known intellectuals from the town Solin. She is a self-taught lady with an encyclopaedic knowledge, a journalist and a feminist ante litteram, an assistant to the priest and archaeologist Father Frane Bulić (ungle of her husband), the curator of the Archaeological Museum in Split, who discovered the Roman ruins in Salona.

Her husband Mate Bulić, a Commissioner of the Ban authorities in Split, a kind of administrative manager of the province, completely dedicated to his work, which is why he is rarely mentioned in the diary..

Vinka gave birth to two sons, in 1907 and 1908, at the age of 23 and 24.. When she conceived Puse, born in 1919, Vinka was surprised and in disbelief, that a “dry vineyard”, as she described herself, at the age of 35 can still create a new human being.

Story of Puse1
Vinka and Puse

This diary came as a result of a surprise,.. and an awareness about the fact, that she is becoming a mother in adulthood, but it was also written out of love towards a part of herself, that is separating and will live independently and grow over time. It derives from the need to discover and tell someone, with a typical intellectual curiosity, the mother-daughter relationship, which even Vinka alone doesn´t know at the beginning; she doensn´t know how it will develop and at the same time feels like an amazing journey to the puzzle of the human emotions.

Puse´s first name is Jelka, but for everyone she will always be know only as Puse; a nickname she got from her mother as soon as she was born. –
“The Story of Puse” is intertwined with the terrible story of European nations in this period: born in 1919 in Zadar, which is part of the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but in 1921, in accordance with the Treaty of Rapallo, which follows the Versailles peace treaty in 1920, the city is assigned to Italy. Puse, as young as two, has already escaped with her family to Split at the Croatian territory.

Then… Days of her childhood, teenage years, first loves..
Then.. Nazism, which she experience first-hand as a student in Vienna..
Then.. World War II, bombing, hunger, difficulties..
Then.. Youth and desire to live in spite of everything, in spite of the times of death..
Then again.. another escape and a refuge in Bari

In this diary, among other things, the incredible courage of two women is highlighted – mother and daughter, Vinka and Puse: neither of them wants to tell the other one her moments of pain, hopelessness and anxiety.

Neither of them wants to tell the other one.. Up until the moment of truth..

As long as she will be able to, Puse will not tell her mother about the painful years in Italy, from 1945 to 1953, about the disease of her husband, about the economic difficulties of the family facing the post-war period.

As long as she will be able to, Vinka will not tell her daughter, except superficially and informatively, about the unbearable moral violence, a person like her is suffering, a person with heart, a person wise, deprived of her home, belongings and books, forced to live with strangers after the communist regime takes over in Yugoslavia.

Finally, between the lines of this diary, the power, love and determination of two other women comes to sight – mother and daughter, Tea and Manuela.

Tea truly wanted, that the handwriting that her grandmother entrusted her with would become a book for the family and, to be able to translated it into Italian, she spent years teaching herself the Croatian language, which she only knew in spoken form.

Manuela proofread, corrected drafts, worked on the computer as she travelled back in time, discovering her “nona Puse” (grandmother Puse).


Click here for Part II


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