Author: Vlasta Jalušič, Peace Institute, Ljubljana
Until the conclusion of Primo Levi’s life, which ended with suicide, he dreamt of his Auschwitz experience. Within the repeating nightmare of the concentration camp (a place without exterior), his previous life, his family, everything that existed outside the camp, seemed only as a short breath, trick of the senses, just a dream from which he was repeatedly awaken – by the order “get up” – into the overwhelming and the only existing reality of the concentration camp. Despite the awful burden of being a victim, which was completely dehumanised in the Nazi extermination camp, Primo Levi opposed the act of suicide, which, for instance, Jean Améry considered as the only dignified solution in such a situation. From being nothing, Levi seized his existence and dignity through lifelong testimony about the institution of extermination camp. He tried to comprehend it and warn us (who were lucky never to know that odious experience) about the extremely thin possibility of retaining individual’s dignity. Nevertheless, as he wrote in The Drowned and the Saved, it were the best ones that drowned in the camp, that is, they did not survive.
After almost a month, the public of Slovenia learned that Aleksandar-Aco Todorović was missing, and immediately afterwards, that he died by his own decision – or as they would say in German – that he chose “Freitod” (free death). Those of us who knew him, hoped he would be found alive, fearing all the while that he made his final decision.
Aco was one of the 25,671 erased permanent residents of Slovenia. To say that he was “one of” is infinitely too little, although it became his primarily denotation during the last 22 years. In the beginning, he really was “only” one among the anonymous erased individuals — those people from whom a group of known perpetrators/rulers took that foundational trait which human beings need in order to live: the status of a person that has a right to have rights. The erased lost the basis for their existence, property, job and income, apartment, health and social insurance, access to schools, while at the same time they were losing family, friends, health, both physical and mental, and what is the worst – their dignity was denied. Those most responsible for the erasure, created bumpers for own responsibility: for everything that happened (or did not), they blamed the erased individuals themselves, framing them as criminals, renegades, sluggards, liars and cheaters…
Notwithstanding the preparation of reparatory measures and indirect acknowledgement of the erasure through issuing of retroactive decisions, and in spite of the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, the cruel facts about the crime of erasure, dug out by the researchers and activists, continued to be swamped by the systematic lies promoted by those responsible for the erasure. The responsible ones have not apologised to the erased, nobody admitted the crime, while the overall denial of the event and shifting of the responsibility continues.
Aco was one of the brave ones, one of the best. By this, I do not mean only one of the bravest among the erased people, but in whole Slovenia. He stopped being anonymous and though he had no identification document, he stood up in the public, started talking about the erasure, organising other erased people – he started fighting. For the first time I talked to him on the phone upon the foundation of the Association of the Erased, at the time when the majority did not want to believe nor hear that the erasure did happen. At first he was unsure, but headstrong, decisive and unyielding. He gathered a handful of those who were ready to speak up in public and in this way he brought the seemingly nonexistent people directly into the existence. The man, who dug out himself out of the hole of nonexistence with his own hands, reclaimed dignity for himself and the others, thus becoming an individual and a responsible political being.
We met twice during the last two months. At a theatre performance about the erasure in Kranj, which I attended together with my neighbour, also one of the erased. He seemed to me stable and somehow at peace: some people understand what had happened, the debate about the reparations is ongoing, things happened that would remain unimaginable without his activism. I saw him for the last time when he and Mirjana Učakar attended the film and debate about Hannah Arendt in Ptuj, where we spoke about Eichmann mentality and Slovene bureaucrats that executed the erasure. Aco was knowledgeable in humanities. He understood well the wider relation between the erasure and crimes against humanity. He was also well aware of the importance of public testifying about the erasure, the necessity to acknowledge it as a crime, and the fact that the denial of the erasure and impunity given to the perpetrators opened the door to the impunity regarding other transitional offenses and crimes.
I will not speculate about immediate reasons for his death, since it is impossible to look into human’s soul. Still, I cannot ignore the fact that the erasure, testifying about it, the fight for the acknowledgement of the erasure and the reparation of the injustices, brought tremendous consequences to him personally. We will never know what dreams of injustice reparation and nightmares of the erasure Aco Todorović dreamt. Nevertheless, we could be sure that we have here yet another death casualty of the erasure. This, however, is not an anonymous death. It is a screaming statement to the public in Slovenia, which speaks that putting head in the sand while crimes and violations of human rights of a minority take place, or even giving support to it, opens the door not only to suffering of that minority group, but also to the human rights violations of the majority. Unfortunately this is not a matter of general insight. At the notice of Todorović went missing, some anonymous commentators could not withhold racist and chauvinist remarks. They should be ashamed!
I pay tribute to the courage displayed by Aleksandar-Aco Todorović. May he rest in peace.