Anna Maria Island, March 2, 1988

The Cracker remembers a Chetnik

By Gib Bergquist

The Cracker was fortunate during his FBI days to spend a whole year immersed in the language and culture of the Yugoslav people while attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

While certainly not in support of the communist-backed government of present-day Yugoslavia, the Cracker recognizes the tremendous contributions made to our own culture by the immigrants who came to our shores from Serbia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Hercegovina.

These countries were lumped together after World War I to form Yugoslavia as we know it today.

The Cracker cherishes the friendship of a former officer in the Yugoslav army during World War II.

The Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941 and factored with overwhelming odds, the Yugoslav army surrendered two weeks later. Many of the armed soldiers, including the Cracker’s friend, kept their weapons and fled into the mountains to form a guerrilla army called Chetniks.

This former Chetnik related the following folk stories which gives one a little insight into the character of the Yugoslav people and bears retelling.

During the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Germans in World War II, a regiment of Nazi troops was headquartered in a small Serbian village.

One morning the regimental commander, a Nazi colonel, strutted down the village street, slapping the sides of his polished boots with his swagger stick as he walked. He entered the village barbershop and announced that he wanted a shave. The petrified barber quickly emptied the barber chair and as the colonel sat down, the colonel drew his 9mm Luger pistol from his hip holster and placed it on his lap.

“If you cut me, I’ll kill you,” he announced to the barber who stood there quaking in his shoes as he honed the straight razor on the leather strap. Skill overrode fear and the barber, even with trembling hand and his heart in his throat, managed to shave the colonel without any blood-letting. The next morning, the colonel again arrives for a shave but on this occasion the barber’s apprentice is running the shop since his boss is at home in bed with an acute attack of stomach ulcers.

As the colonel sits down in the barber chair, he again draws his Luger and places it in his lap and repeats his “I'll kill you if you cut me” ultimatum.

The apprentice shakes out the barber cloth, nonchalantly tucks it around the colonel’s neck and adjusts the chair into the prone shaving position. As he froths up the lather in the shaving mug and slaps it on the colonel’s chin, he whistles a merry little Serbian folk tune as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“You did understand what I said, boy?” asked the colonel.

“Yes sir, colonel,” replied the apprentice. “If I cut you once, I’ll have to cut you twice.”

As the story goes, a very nervous colonel reholstered his Luger.

Then there was Uncle Miroslav, a very sprightly octogenarian, who had outlived several wives.

He was teased unmercifully by his Serbian friends when he took as his most recent bride an 18-year-old village beauty.

“Well,” says Uncle Miroslav, “It’s better to have a young chick to share with your friends than to have an old hen all to yourself.”

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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