There is a long island under Mount Velebit, the longest one in the Adriatic Sea, white and naked over the hills, green across the vineyards in a narrow strip close to the sea. It fears only gales, but not the winter ones. It is used to them, submissive to the regular annual evil. Even if they pour over it tonnes of sea salt raised from the froth of the channel under Velebit, the gales of January and deadly February cannot harm it much: the wine is in the cellar, the sheep has not given birth to a lamb yet, and the grapevine bud still sleeps its winter sleep in a tiny woolly cover. Although roofs and walls shake, chimneys scream, roof tiles caught in the wind whine and fly off, nobody fears the gale. Used to the loneliness of those days, knowing the ties with the rest of the world are cut, the islanders live their lives in a sort of a heightened reality in which they made their peace with the destiny they have chosen.
In fact, the only thing they actually fear are gales that come in spring and summer, when the bright green gentle shoot comes out of the grapevine bud, when it shakes its little bunch and spreads its white flower petals, and the gale strikes. Only in two hours the whole strip of cultivated land that stretches for kilometres along the sea and in secluded docks, turns into a black sorrow that blackens both faces and eyes of men and women, martyrs of their labour which was gathered by the gale.
The gale storm struck amidst the silence. It broke and grazed, and then disappeared. Silence has returned; the silence with a curse.
A gale like this one does not come every year. Nor even every decade. The worst, the most savage one, one they expect will come when the sky is black over Velebit, they do not see even for decades, or they forget about it and start to believe in their desires, that their island is quiet, left to its own natural peace, and that the great evil will not and cannot come! People have lived for centuries on the sandy strips of land and sunny and rocky terrain that stretches for kilometres. They went from one loneliness to another with hope that they could continue living in that distant domestic peace, although they heard of wars that boomed in the distance. One of their own would be sometimes returned in a coffin with the accompanying letter saying that he had fallen for the homeland. All these things are in the hands of powerful people, while the people on the island mourn for each other, everyone comes to every funeral, everybody prays for everyone else. Dignity in those people, walking in home-made shoes, grew with each and everyone of them – an achievement than has not been hampered for centuries. Even when they were members of different parties they did not fight (except with the Autonomists). Of course they thanked God if the gale had not come!
But in that misfortunate year of the April war, the gale did come. It started right after the quietness of April, after the kingdom had fallen. The kingdom they had hoped and rejoiced for after the First World War, and the one that had disappointed them and against which policy they had been forming strong ranks in the last couple of years. After the state fell apart and the military was disbanded, they gathered around their island municipal administration. But it was being destroyed by some new people, who had attached the letter “U” on their hats, took over municipal offices and started threatening. There were few of them, but they had power from the new so called state who convinced them that it was independent, although it was obvious the state had been firmly controlled by armies of Hitler and Mussolini, people they had heard about before the war, and who they started to know better, now that they were under their authority.
On April 17, a company of the occupying Italian force came to the island walked into the town. The “new authority”, “representatives” of the islanders met them with flowers on a little bridge. The Italian army, accompanied with their hosts, walked into the town of Juraj Dalmatinac, approached the flag post carrying the flag of the newly formed state, took it off and raised their own – Italian… There was confusion, Ustashas were surprised, disappointed… but after a few days everything was straightened out in a “friendly” way: the island will remain a part of the Independent State of Croatia, the only one from all of the islands, and Ustashas will remain in authority.
“We Praise Thee o God” will be held on the Pentecost Sunday. Ministry Commissioner Jure Crljenko send on behalf of the people the following telegram: “In this historic event when I am taking over the command of the Island of Pag in Your name, for it to be a part of our beloved Croatia, the delighted people thank you very much for the great act of liberation and express their love and loyalty! Commissioner Crljenko.”
Sunday, May 24, 1941. Jofe.