Vera Albreht, born Kesler – a versatile artist who has never forgotten the town of her childhood

Vera Albreht was born in Krško in 12 February 1895 in a bourgeois Kesler family. Her mother, Marija Kesler, was a German from the Trenz family who lived in the Draškovec manor near Šentjernej in the Dolenjska region. Their family spoke German at home. Vera’s father Alojzij was a nation-aware Slovene. He has worked in various rural areas as a judge. Soon after Vera’s birth, the family moved to Novo mesto. After moving to Ljubljana in 1906, the Kesler family became a well-known supporter of the Slovenian modernism. Many important cultural personalities gathered at their house, including Ivan Cankar and Oton Župančič, Vladimir Levstik, Hinko Smrekar Etbin Kristan etc. Thus, the home of the Kesler family became a sort of an art salon with regular artistic evenings, at which music and recitals (e.g. Dehmla, Verlaina) were played and talked about modern art movements (Mahnič 1976).  Spending time with artists had a great influence on the young Kesler’s daughters, including Vera, who showed her writing talent very early.

In 1907, she enrolled the town
all-girls grammar school in Ljubljana, where her rebellious nature was soon noticed. After the first school year, she and other grammar school students attended lessons in bright red blouses as a sign of protest against the Austria-Hungary Monarchy because its soldiers shot at demonstrators, in the school year 1910/11, they published a secret hand-written bulletinGospodična Cizara (named after the tale by Janez Trdina), wrote poetry and prose and tested their journalistic skills under pseudonyms, they criticised the Austrian politicians and the reactionary professors, stood up for the Slovene language autonomy etc. Vera was the initiator and the heart of the bulletin. She wrote contributions for it, made illustrations and acquired other authors. Among others, she has gained Ivan Cankar (under the pseudonym Janez) and Oton Župančič (under the pseudonym Kiroilija, Finish for a writer) to write for the bulletin. It is supposed that Ivan Cankar made a hand-written article on the “school” under the bridge - a place where the young gathered (the origin of his later short storiesMoje življenje), and that Oton Župančič wrote the comedy Vralo on the cunning gipsies from Bela Krajina in the Dragatuš dialect. Vera and her colleagues also sent their texts to Prague, where Zofka Kveder edited the magazineDomači prijatelj (Župančič 2016).

After grammar school, Vera enrolled the export academy in Vienna in the school year 1913/14, but she had to pause the studies because of the war. She moved to her sister Mica, who was a teacher in Jesenice, and spent her time carrying out philanthropic activities there. In 1919, she served as a nurse for the northern border fighters. In Jesenice, she met the writer Fran Albreht, her later husband. They got married soon and their home became a meeting point for numerous culture workers, just like her mother’s. At that time, she cooperated at the PEN club and published poetry in the publications Jugoslavenska žena (Zagreb, 1918–19), Svoboda (1919–20) and Ženski svet (1923–34).

Vera Albreht has personally felt the negligence of women, but was rebellious and self-confident enough to join the Slovenian feminist movement and the International League for Peace and Freedom. After occupation in 1941, she became an activists of the Liberation Front and cooperated at the Kričač radio programme preparation. During the war, she has been imprisoned many times; in January 1944, she was taken to the concentration camp Ravensbrück, where she stayed until the end of war. After liberation, she lived in Ljubljana, where she was an active publicists, youth writer and translator, mostly for youth prose and poetry, which she translated from German, Czech, Bulgarian, Serbian and Croatian. She received the Order of Merit for People with a silver star (1963) and the Order of Brotherhood and Unity with a silver wreath (1967) for her work during and after the war. She died in Ljubljana on 25 May 1971.

After the war, Vera Albreht dedicated her work mostly to youth literature. The mature poetry by Vera Albreht for adults was published in magazines or was preserved in her manuscripts. Her nephew’s daughter, Alenka Župančič assumes that the reason for this could be her unease because of her husband Fran Albreht and her brother-in-law Oton Župančič, two renowned and well-known poets. After her death, the collection Ravensbrüške pesmi (1977) was published, which contains her and Katja Špur’s poems. The cycle Noči brez zvezd presents shocking lyrical Vera’s memories of her suffering at the concentration camp; she wrote some of those poems in Ravensbrück. At the occasion of the 120th anniversary of her birth, a collection of her unpublished poems titled Pelin v srcu (2015) was published.

She published poems before World War II in the magazines Novi rod (1922–24) and Zvonček (1929–31) and in the magazines Ciciban, Pionirj etc. after the war. Her most popular poems were published in the collections Orehi, Vesela abeceda, Pustov god and many picture books. They are mostly traditional, with characteristics of the youth poetry by Dragotin Kette and Oton Župančič; some of them were set to music by Peter Lipar, Slavko Mihelčič and Karol Pahor. Her play Punčka se je vrnila was broadcast by the Ljubljana radio in 1951 and 1964. Her collection of short stories Lupinica (1957) has been reprinted many times; she received the Award Trdinova nagrada in 1961 for her youth memories of the family manor Draškovec near Šentjernej Nekoč pod Gorjanci (1960). At this occasion, the newspaper Dolenjski list evaluated the awarded book as follows: “Her works revive the lonely farms under the Gorjanci hills, the special persons from villages and market towns, the poor and kind-hearted people as well as the rich, vain and haughty German single women. The writer has told the children many nice things about the good Otilija, who picked up and raised babies, about the magicians who perform magic, but do not enchant anything, about the miserable and strange people ... All this from the viewpoint of a child who can be cheered up by a tiny action. The literary works by Vera Albreht are full of the past moments captured in her childhood memories, of her charm and grey days as well as the hard work by the Gorjansko region people. When reading these memories, the youth is seized with quiet happiness that enriches the hearts and is ever-lasting. Soon after publishing, the book was very well accepted among readers.” (Dolenjski list, 20 July 1961.)

Although Vera Albrecht lived in Novo mesto only during her childhood, she has always returned there with joy and called it “my town”. She has shown her association with Novo mesto and the Dolenjska region by donating her literary legacy to the Miran Jarc Library in Novo mesto.

 

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