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 Monday and going throughout the week at the same time of day so please come back and you can ask her questions in the comments. Proceed under the fold:
Left: Rea in Osijek, in 1941 or 1942. After she left Djakovo,
this photograph was sent to her mother in the camp
and her relatives in Split. Right: April, 1945.
There were battles raging in the immediate vicinity and the Germans and the Ustashas were getting closer and closer. We began to think about leaving the village, to get as far away as possible from Gracanica. I remember Ibrahim, an Ustasha captain who was a frequent visitor. Rutika had caught his eye; she was cheerful, likeable and always good at striking up friendships. One day, knowing that we were in danger, Ibrahim offered to help us escape from the village. He got hold of some horse-drawn carts and that night we loaded almost all the furniture and set off for Trebava. Ibrahim had secured us safe passage across what was supposed to be the Chetnik territory. This was apparently safer, because the Germans and the Ustashas stayed away from it. We were a long way from any road or railway and no kind of regular army ever went there.
The people of Skipovac and Zelinje didn’t have their own Chetnik army but they were afraid of the Partisans. They didn’t ask us who we were or why we had come, but they did need a doctor. There was no syphilis here, instead there was tuberculosis and typhus.
I remember a number of events from that period. My Uncle Nedjo visited us in Skipovac. He knew that we were in eastern Bosnia and when his Partisan unit arrived in our village he asked one of the locals whether he knew a Dr Schmuckler. The man he asked worked as a scout in Skipovac, sending information to the Partisans about military positions and the situation in the field. Uncle Nedjo took my photograph from his pocket, the one we had sent from Osijek to Split in 1942. He was given precise information about where we were and, as soon as he got an opportunity, he sent us a message to come and meet him.
It was a warm summer afternoon. We all set off for the house, which was quite a distance away. We were excited and curious about this reunion after such a long time, especially after everything that had happened.
It was an exciting meeting. I remember Nedjo and I standing facing each other for a moment before exclaiming at the same time “Look at you, with your hair cut like that!” Nedjo had had wonderful, thick, black hair and I had had nice, thick curly hair. Now we both stood with our heads shaved and, after looking at each other for a moment, we quickly hugged. We met again not long afterwards. I remember we had just sat down to lunch one day when Nedjo appeared on a white horse wearing a Partisan cap and a red star. We were surprised and pleased, but also rather frightened, because it was rather foolhardy to ride into a Chetnik village wearing a Partisan cap.
In Skipovac we lived in our own house, with plenty of space. We would collect water from the well and the toilet was in the yard. Summer was easier and we could find food more easily. There were a lot of orchards and plenty of wild fruit. If there was nothing for lunch we could always go to a plum orchard and stuff ourselves with plums. Every day we would go into the broad forest and collect wood, crushing dry branches and tying them into bundles to drag them home in preparation for winter.
The winters were long and harsh. We didn’t have decent shoes and for days we couldn’t go out into the snow and mud. At one time I was the only one who had proper winter shoes, which Nedjo had given me. The others could only go out when the ground was frozen because they only had peasant-style shoes. I didn’t mind doing all the housework, I was strong and capable and knew how to cook and do the laundry. I could carry buckets of water from the well. I remember one winter when we had neither wheat nor corn flour. Instead of bread we cooked dry corn and ate it.
So as not to use our precious gas for lighting, we would go to bed early, especially during the winter. Sometimes all six of us would sleep in one room. On those winter nights Aunt and Uncle Schmuckler would talk about their lives and tell us stories from their younger days. Uncle Vili often sang operatic arias and I gradually began to like them. I could say that this was my first contact with opera!
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)