Many of you have been moved by my Mom’s five-part guest-blogging on Holocaust Children (part I, part II, part III, part IV and part V), so I asked her to let me reproduce here her wartime story, as it appeared in the first volume in the series We Survived published by the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade.
It will appear here in five installments starting today and going throughout the week at the same time of day, so please come back every day and ask her questions in the comments. Proceed under the fold:
Rea Zivkovic Reiss was born in Sarajevo on November 23, 1932. Her father, architect and engineer Isidor Reiss, was born in Sarajevo and her mother, Dr Kete (nee Podebrat) in Prague. Her father was killed in Jasenovac on the eve of the breakout in April, 1945. Her mother is believed to have been killed after the Djakovo camp was evacuated. Her paternal grandmother died of typhus in Djakovo on June 10, 1942, and her paternal grandfather died in Jasenovac in 1941. Her mother’s entire family from Czechoslovakia was killed in various European camps.
She worked for Jugometal and then for the Central Committee of the Union of Communist Youth while studying part time. After graduating she worked as a primary school teacher of English and then in the Serbian Ministry of Information from 1961 until her retirement.
She married Dushko Zivkovic in 1959 and has two sons, Marko (born 1961) and Bora (born 1966), both of whom are postgraduate students in the United States. She also has two grandchildren.[Note: my brother is now a professor at U of Alberta in Edmonton and I am an employee of the Public Library of Science, BZ]
MEMORIES OF WAR
by Rea Zivkovic
I was nine years old when the war began. I remember many events and various people and situations. The memories are fragmented of course, and merged with stories and knowledge learned subsequently, but they reach far back into the past.
I remember very clearly our apartment in Sokolska Street in Sarajevo and I know that this apartment was in a building designed by my father. Our apartment was furnished in a completely different way from those I remember my grandmother and cousins living in at the time. It had three rooms and my father had his office in the apartment. The furniture in the sitting room wasn’t finished in wood veneer, instead it was painted red. The floor was covered with a thin, woven wool carpet. There weren’t many ornaments and I don’t remember any paintings on the walls. The bedroom was large with three day-beds, not the traditional bedroom with double beds. Each bed was covered with three large cushions which at night were turned over to make a mattress. The bed linen was stored in trunks below the mattresses. There was a smallish cupboard in the room but most of the clothes were kept in tall wardrobes which stretched the entire length of the long hall.
My mother was Czech and moved from Prague to Sarajevo after she married my father. She had beautiful black hair, black eyes and carried herself with dignity. I remember her as a calm and steady person. She had graduated in philosophy from the Karlov University in Prague and in Sarajevo she learned our language quickly and was soon working in a company. I always remember her with a book in her hands; she would bring books home from the library behind the Minerva bookstore. I remember her taking lessons in Spanish. She also went to classes in glove-making because before the war it was considered useful for everyone to learn a trade. She chose to learn to make leather gloves! I would often break off from playing to take my mother a piece of paper or a short thread to mark the page in her book where she had left off her reading. I would sit on her lap and ask her to play with me. I remember she taught me English and French.
Sarajevo was a completely new atmosphere for my mother, but I think she very quickly became accustomed to it, fitting in and adjusting. My father’s family accepted her warmly and this Sarajevo family also accepted her family from Prague. They especially loved my grandmother from Prague and would call her “Goldige”, the golden woman.
My mother met my father when he went to Prague for further studies after finishing his architectural degree in Zagreb. They decided to marry within weeks of meeting. They became engaged in Prague and my grandfather attended with one of his daughters. This was when my mother was given her engagement ring which, by sheer luck, has survived until today and which I treasure.
I remember my mother sitting reading a letter one evening and weeping as my father held and comforted her. It was bad news from Prague: my mother’s family was in danger from the Germans or had already been taken to a camp. Her large family spent some time in Terezin before all finishing in Auschwitz.
Before Hitler’s troops arrived in Prague we had visited my mother’s family there several times. I have hazy memories of scenes and events, but I remember visiting my great grandmother. She would lie in bed and every day there would be a bar of Nestle chocolate in its shiny red wrapping waiting for me on her dressing table. I remember very clearly one morning we found our great grandmother was not in bed and we were all excited. I didn’t understand then, but she had died that day.
My father worked long hours but would take us for outings in his car. I remember the hot sand of the Boracko lake. I remember the wild strawberries we would gather behind the sanatorium in Pale (which was designed by my father). My clearest memories are of our frequent visits to my grandmother and grandfather and the gatherings of the whole family on Friday evenings and on holidays. There were a lot of children and it was always fun and cheerful. I know that my grandmother ate a strict kosher diet, but I used to like ham so I was not allowed to eat from a plate at the table, but instead ate from paper on a chair. During the day we children would play on the large terrace of my grandmother’s house. My grandfather’s big cleaning and dying business, Reiss, was also in the house, and he also had several branches around the town. As well as cleaning and dyeing, the business also pleated fabrics and covered buttons.
My mother was working, so I had a German woman to take care of me. I don’t remember, but they say that I learned German well with her and spoke it excellently. My mother spoke German to me and I remember that I would reply to her in Serbian.
Continued tomorrow, same place and same time….
The entire series can be found here:
Memories of War, Part I (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part II (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part III (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part IV (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part V (guest post by Mom)