The recently promoted book Tragom Hrvata u svijetu (In Search of Croatians Abroad), published by Naklada Bošković, has already seen its English and Spanish language translations!

The initial suspicion in an Argentinean police case from 1892 that their mother’s lover was responsible for the murder of two children would likely have seen the innocent man found guilty, condemned and executed had it not been for the work of Ivan Vučetić, a native of the Croatian island of Hvar who moved to La Plata near Buenos Aires in his twenties. Thanks to Vučetić the truth was laid bare and it was determined that the mother was responsible for the murder of her own children.

Vučetić, at the time a promising police trainee, became celebrated for his work in the Rojas case, one he solved by applying the method of identifying people on the basis of their fingerprints, as a result of which he is now considered the creator of dactiloscopy, the fingerprint identification method. The police museum founded in the city of Dolores in the Buenos Aires province has been named after him and includes a Vučetić memorial room. A crime investigation school has been founded in Rosario near Santa Fe, also named after Vučetić, as is a municipal park in La Plata. A police academy in San Juan is named the Escuela de Policia Juan Vucetich (Ivan Vučetić Police Academy).

This great innovator in the field of crime investigation, who moved from the island of Hvar in search of a better life across the ocean, has also been celebrated in Argentina with the issuance of a postal stamp bearing his likeness. The Zagreb police administration saw to it that he be saved from oblivion in the homeland and abroad by Branka Bezić Filipović, the head of the Split branch office of the Croatian Heritage Foundation which covers the southern Croatian region of Dalmatia. Ms Bezić Filipović has included the story of the life and work of Ivan Vučetić in her latest publication, the book Tragom Hrvata u svijetu (In Search of Croatians Abroad), published by Naklada Bošković. The tome was recently promoted and has already seen its English and Spanish language translations!

“The book includes archival materials and is the result of several decades of work on my part, touring heritage clubs in the remotest corners of the globe, wherever our people made their mark,” explained Ms Bezić Filipović, noting that she limited her work to what she personally saw, that is to say when the available material could be corroborated by statements from the living descendants of great Croatians.

In the process she has, we would say, toured almost the entire world with the exception of Asian countries given the lack of permanently resident Croatian emigrant colonies in these countries or the negligible size of these communities.

It is no easy task to highlight the most important among those who have indebted not only the country they found a new home in, but also the whole of humanity. We asked Ms Bezić Filipović, the author of what is now her eighth publication dedicated to preserving the Croatian identity abroad, if the Croatian communities during the Chilean saltpetre boom of the early 20th century were not perhaps one of these prominent groups.
“Well, you see, at a time when there was no chemical industry, saltpetre was used as artificial fertilizer. It was extracted far from the maritime coast and shipped by boat to Europe; the saltpetre mines owned by Croatians were called Hervatska (Croatia), Naprijed (Forward), Franjka, Dalmacija (Dalmatia), Brac, Stanka and the like. Today they are the sites of abandoned towns in the midst of the desert near Antofagasta and Iquique – back then they were thriving hubs of commercial life.

It was, however, an unhappy life; the people came from their native islands across the breadth of the world to burrow into the earth and extract saltpetre. They were paid primarily with jettons (counters or tokens) that could only be used to purchase goods and services in the mining town. The town had a shop, postal office and even a small theatre house and brothel for the recreation of the young workers that had not yet found brides to be sent to them from their islands,” said Ms Bezić Filipović.

The labourer communities, she noted, were highly hermetic in nature, largely on account of the imposed currency in which they were paid their salaries. Owners, such as the Sargo and Sabioncello families from the island of Brač, however, amassed fortunes thanks to this payment regime and struck the foundations of the industrial development of Chile.

“When speaking of the most deserving Croatians abroad we should not forget Francisco Orlić (Francisco José Orlich Bolmarcich), a descendant of a Croatian immigrant family who was elected president of Costa Rica in 1962, or Juan (Ivan) Bjelovučić, the founder of aviation in Peru and the first man to fly over the Alps in 1913! His father Miho came from Janjina on the Pelješac peninsula to South America; his son Ivan won numerous decorations and was a high-ranking officer in the Peruvian air force.

One of the most important military recognitions is from North America. The United States of America honoured ethnic Croatian Peter Tomich, who saved the lives of thousands during the attack on Pearl Harbour, by naming the destroyer escort U.S.S. Tomich after him.
This story, about a Croatian emigrant from the Vrgorac area, is perhaps the most distressing – he arrived in America in 1913 as a twenty-year-old and joined the army. In the book I described the story in detail, with the available photographs and other archival material,” noted author Bezić Filipović.

The book also includes the fascinating stories of Anthony Lucas (Antun Lucić/Lukić), who discovered oil in Texas, Henry Suzzallo, also of Croatian extraction and a dean that advanced the American education system, Trojano Darveniza (Trojan Drvenica), the legendary vineyard owner whose wine label was the basis of the Australian coat of arms, and many other fascinating bits of information that will certainly awaken at least a fleeting moment of pride in the knowledge that we are leaves from the same branch – Croatians, that is.
(Slobodna Dalmacija)

Text by: Ljerka Gospodnetić