Andrej Tumpej C.M. (1886-1973) called himself “the old Balkan man” in his later years. He lived almost a full life outside his native Slovenia (Istanbul, Macedonia, Belgrade, Kosovo), and this title belongs to him.
The bishop-lazarist Gnidovec obtained it in 1926 for his diocese of Skopje-Prizren. He worked as a parish priest in Bitola, but the bishop told him that “his parish was in the whole of Macedonia”.
He arrived in Belgrade in August 1929. In the new parish of Saints Cyril and Methodius, he became the first parish priest and developed a lively pastoral ministry. He gathered around him the children of the neighbourhood, regardless of their religion or nationality, and formed them into a choir.
When the Second World War broke out, the parish priest proved to be a man with a big heart, helping many people in need. His help to the Jews, in particular to the Kalef family, is well known. The father of this family was Jewish and the mother was Slovenian; they had two daughters. When the Nazis perpetrated the genocide against the Jews, the mother came to Father Tumpej to ask for help and protection. He immediately agreed to take care of the girls, Matilda and Rachel (10/11 years old). They were given new names: Lidija and Breda.
One day it was learned that Father Tumpej had been arrested. Then it was revealed that he had helped yet other Jews. He issued false papers to two Jewish girls, who were recognised at the Belgrade railway station, before leaving for Germany. They were arrested and, under heavy beating, they said that he had given them false papers. When the Germans insisted that Tumpej had helped the Jews, he replied that he would have helped them too if they had been in a similar situation. He survived similar torture in Gestapo custody, as did the Jews he wanted to help, but he was released anyway. All members of the Kalef family were killed.
Breda Kalef, in her various interviews, paid tribute to Father Tumpej, pointing out that her artistic career, which led her to the title of prima donna of the Belgrade Opera, began in the Catholic Church, where she sang as a girl.
She expressed her gratitude when she started the procedure and succeeded in having Father Tumpej proclaimed “The Righteous Among the Nations” (12.04.2001). The name of her saviour, among many others, is engraved on a stone tablet in the Garden of the Righteous (Yad Vashem) in Jerusalem. Some call him the Slovenian Schindler.
The former opera champion (Mezzosopran/Alt) Breda Kalef died on 13 February 2023 at the age of 93 in Belgrade. During her career, she played 61 leading roles, 710 performances in Belgrade and 242 performances in many European countries. Until the end of her life, she proudly identified herself as a pure Jew, but she maintained a friendly relationship with the Catholic priests of the parish.